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Commentary: Big Ten looks like a one-team conference

BY SETH ROBERTS | OCTOBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jared Crick sat with his elbows on a round table at Big Ten media days in July, dwarfing the dozen journalists seated around him.

The enormous Nebraska defensive lineman smiled when asked about the prospect of opening the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten season in the unfriendly confines of Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium.

"It's going to be a great game, a great competition," the senior said. "It's going to be one of the funner games we play this year."

The way the matchup turned out this past weekend, however, wasn't a great game. It wasn't very competitive. And it really didn't look like Crick was having much fun at all.

Losing by 31 points on national TV tends to have that effect. Welcome to the Big Ten, indeed.

So what did we learn from the first weekend of conference play?

Several things, the first being that Wisconsin is very, very good. As in, "runaway winner of the first-ever Big Ten championship" good. It's still early, but the Badgers have a pretty solid case for a spot in the BCS championship game at this point.

Quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball were sublime, shredding a Cornhusker defense that has looked suspiciously overrated in almost every game (the exception being a 40-7 win over Tennessee-Chattanooga, but that was hardly a real game).

The Badger defense, meanwhile, thoroughly stymied Nebraska "quarterback" Taylor Martinez. Wisconsin picked off three Martinez passes in a six-minute stretch and sacked him twice.

Nebraska tumbled six spots in the Associated Press rankings as a result, although Big Red still sits at a respectable No. 14.

So don't put the Cornhuskers to bed just yet. Bo Pelini — who looks eerily like Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds — shouldn't have any trouble motivating his team, which returns home to face a bad Ohio State team this week.

Martinez isn't a very good pure quarterback, but he has the potential to be magical while running around. Crick and linebacker Lavonte David were All-Americans last year for a reason. Everyone has bad games once in a while, and good teams bounce back from them.

While we wait for that to happen, though, there are plenty of other stories to be found in what has been an entertaining Big Ten season.

Consider, for example, the fashion in which No. 12 Michigan destroyed poor Minnesota. Granted, the Gophers are a horrible football team, but watching Denard Robinson do his thing in the 58-0 win was like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.

Illinois is still confusing, despite being 5-0 for the first time in coach Ron Zook's tenure. The Illini have a hell of a quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and a good win over Arizona State. But the team has also won its last three games by 9 points combined; the Illini will have to learn how to put teams away before Wisconsin visits on Nov. 19.

Penn State doesn't have a quarterback, a problem that pales in comparison with Ohio State's complete lack of an offense. It's a shame the Buckeyes don't play Northwestern this year; the Wildcats don't have a defense.

And if you like noncompelling football, rejoice.

Minnesota plays Purdue this week.

And it'll be on ESPN.

Woo. Hoo.


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