Why the Big Ten has bragging rights after a dominant Week 3

Note: I’ve coined a new name for this column (which went nameless for the first two weeks), inspired by the officials in the Texas-Cal game.

It’s Monday morning. Time for Immediate Recovery.


There have been many ugly day-afters for the Big Ten over the past several years, whether for embarrassing itself on a Saturday in non-conference play or going 0-5 on New Year’s Day. They fed a narrative that persisted for about seven years, from 2007-14, that the conference was sinking farther and farther behind the SEC.

That story began changing when Ohio State won the 2014 national title. Last weekend, the league made it seem completely outdated.

On a triumphant third Saturday of the season, Ohio State and Michigan State scored impressive road wins over ranked foes Oklahoma and Notre Dame, respectively. Nebraska upended ranked Oregon. Throw in wins by Michigan against Colorado and Northwestern over Duke and the Big Ten went 5-0 against Power 5 foes, raising its record on the season to 8-3.

By comparison, the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 are 5-5, the Big 12 an ugly 3-6. The Big Ten also boasts a national-best 24-6 record (.800) vs. all FBS opponents. The SEC is next at 17-7 (.706).

Critics will counter that Iowa lost to FCS power North Dakota State, while the MAC’s Western Michigan completed a sweep of the Big Ten’s Illinois schools by drubbing the Illini. Big Ten fans should counter that neither result is more embarrassing than South Alabama beating Mississippi State or Southern Miss beating Kentucky.

The fact is every conference has its bottom-feeders, of which the Big Ten has plenty, but our perceptions of conferences are based primarily on the teams at the top. On that count, the Big Ten and SEC both boast four wins over ranked opponents, including Wisconsin’s over LSU in Week 1.

The SEC, of course, still claims the defending national champion and nation’s No. 1 team, Alabama, but as I wrote from Norman, Okla., late Saturday night, Urban Meyer has transformed Ohio State into Alabama of the North. The purportedly inexperienced Buckeyes’ 45-24 domination of the Sooners on their home field brought to mind similar non-conference pastings by the Tide (usually at neutral, not road, sites) that annually reinforce how Nick Saban’s NFL factory seamlessly reloads.

Ohio State now does the same.

Meyer, now 53-4 in four-plus seasons, is the undisputed face of the Big Ten’s uptick, and not just because he won a national title two seasons ago. While predecessor Jim Tressel’s program won a BCS title and a whole lot of Big Ten games, it often fell flat in these early season showcase games. Which reinforced the perception that the conference was a step or two behind the SEC.

Times have changed, so much so that the same Ohio State program once mocked for lacking “SEC speed” is now the fastest team in the country. Speedsters like running backs Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber and defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker made the Sooners, a reigning playoff team, look like turtles by comparison.

But you can’t fete Ohio State without also saluting the team that’s beaten the Buckeyes two of the past three seasons in claiming two of the past three Big Ten titles. People keep waiting for Michigan State to fall back to earth, and Mark Dantonio keeps disappointing them. The Spartans mostly hammered Notre Dame on Saturday, going up at one point 36-7 before a furious Irish rally, and did what Dantonio’s teams do best – run the ball and stuff the run.

“We played a good football team away from home in a great environment, and on a national TV stage, and you’ve got to be able to measure up in those times,” said Dantonio.

Elsewhere, second-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley got his first signature non-conference win by vanquishing an opponent that annually tormented him back at Oregon State. Following a nightmarish 3-6 start last season, the Huskers have won six of their last seven games, which includes victories over Michigan State, UCLA and now Oregon. Nebraska fans are getting a tantalizing tease of the possible national breakthrough that Bo Pelini never quite pulled off.

“We beat a good team that is well coached and has been for a while,” said Riley. “So that’s the bottom line for this Nebraska team. Really good win, showed a lot of good stuff.”

I won’t yet go so far as to proclaim the Big Ten has passed the mighty SEC for national supremacy. The latter still brings in far more elite recruits and exports far more NFL picks. Any shift of that nature is going to require several years of results like Saturday’s by the Big Ten to go with more strong bowl performances.

But I will point out that the SEC next week may feature two starting quarterbacks, LSU’s Danny Ettling and Florida’s Austin Appleby (if injured Luke Del Rio can’t play), that could not retain the starting job at Big Ten cellar-dweller Purdue.

If nothing else, the brewing race for Big Ten East and playoff contention between Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan should be far more entertaining than any outside of the ACC Atlantic’s Louisville/Clemson/Florida State triangle. Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa (which should not be ruled out) will have a say as well.

It’s the beginning of a new, much happier era up north.

And now, a few more observations as we put the wraps on Week 3 and reset the landscape for Week 4.

Bobby Petrino’s a heck of a coach

The man may be more than a little ethically challenged, but I’ve said back to his first Louisville tenure more than a decade ago that he’s one of the very best offensive minds in college football. In 2004, he produced the No. 1 offense in the country when Louisville played in Conference USA. In 2011, he produced the No. 1 offense in the SEC with Arkansas.

But what he’s doing so far in 2016 is off the charts even for him.

Petrino has groomed a lot of good quarterbacks, but none with the game-changing abilities of Lamar Jackson. By marrying his QB’s threat to run with Petrino’s pro-style passing concepts, he’s got defenses completely flummoxed. Florida State, brimming with future pros, had no more of an answer than Charlotte or Syracuse in the Cardinals’ stunning 63-20 demolition.

Louisville, now ranked third in the country — and averaging 65 points and 679.3 yards per game — turns around and visits No. 5 Clemson in two weeks in what could be an early playoff to the College Football Playoff. Petrino, who outwitted national championship coach Jimbo Fisher on Saturday, will now try to knock off 2015 championship-game participant Dabo Swinney.

The Big 12 is a trainwreck

You will not see me declare a conference’s playoff hopes extinguished in September – not after the Big Ten burned me for doing just that in 2014 – but America’s favorite dysfunctional conference is certainly on death’s doorstep. When Texas failed to recover Cal’s Vic Enwere’s fumble at the 1-yard line in an “immediate” enough fashion and fell 50-43, the league found itself with just two undefeated teams, Baylor and West Virginia.

A 9-10 record against FBS foes will do that.

Oklahoma suffering two losses before conference play likely doomed the Sooners’ chances. Baylor hasn’t been exposed yet, but its offense so far is not nearly as formidable as it was under Art Briles. Texas’ defense is still mostly non-existent.

The conference’s best hope may still be 2-1 TCU, which can at least claim it took respected SEC foe Arkansas to double overtime. But that would require Gary Patterson fixing a thus-far patchy defense. One tweak he made in Saturday’s 41-20 win over Iowa State was to bench struggling cornerback Ranthony Texada and move over a receiver, Deante Gray, but Patterson said afterward even that might not stick.

Is it too late to add Houston this season?

Georgia’s Jacob Eason era is here

After yo-yoing quarterbacks the first two weeks, Georgia coach Kirby Smart stuck with his freshman phenom the entire way Saturday at Missouri. Eason was far from perfect, but with his team trailing 27-21 in the final minutes, the freshman led a game-winning 80-yard drive culminating in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie on fourth and 10.

The 12th-ranked Bulldogs play another tough road game this week at Ole Miss before hosting Tennessee in an important intra-division clash. The 14th-ranked Vols, which continue to grind out ugly wins (the latest 28-19 over Ohio), play their own de facto Super Bowl this week against decade-plus tormentor Florida. The SEC East will become a lot clearer very soon.

Miami is trending up

I picked Appalachian State to upset the ‘Canes at home. I could not have been more wrong. No. 15 Miami routed the Mountaineers 45-10 behind QB Brad Kaaya’s 368 passing yards and a suffocating defense that racked up 12 tackles for loss.

Miami has not yet faced an offense capable of fully exploiting its youth on defense (it starts three freshman linebackers), but that will come soon enough. After a bye week, the ‘Canes face Georgia Tech’s triple option followed by Florida State and North Carolina. But it’s encouraging that the offense plays with much more poise and efficiency under Mark Richt than it did under Al Golden.

It’s getting ugly at Auburn

It’s not just that Gus Malzahn’s team lost an important divisional swing game at home against Texas A&M, 29-16. The Tigers were woeful again in the passing game, managing just 4.7 yards per attempt, which prompted Malzahn to pull starter Sean White yet again for transfer John Franklin III. Which means Auburn’s two-year quarterback carousel is no closer to a resolution.

This week, 1-2 Auburn hosts another talented but aerially challenged squad in LSU. A win would likely quiet the noise around Malzahn before it truly gets going (while setting the seat under Les Miles to 150 degrees). But falling to 1-3 and 0-2 in the SEC would set in motion a very unpleasant October and November.

It’s getting real at Army

Somewhere, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis are smiling. The long-dormant Black Knights are 3-0, their best start in 20 years, after throttling UTEP 66-14. It was the most points Army had scored in a game since 1958.

And somehow they did so just six days after a car accident claimed the life of sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson.

“We made Brandon proud," said senior linebacker Andrew King. "And we’re going to keep fighting for him.”

Just for fun …

Stanford star Christian McCaffrey turned in yet another big night in Saturday’s 27-10 win over USC, finishing with 260 all-purpose yards. Remarkably, that gives him nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards (970) in three meetings with the Trojans since last September.

Which begs the question: What would McCaffrey’s season look like if he played all 14 of his games (including a conference championship game and bowl) solely against USC?

First of all, here’s a breakdown of where all those yards came from (rushing/receiving/returns/total):

Sept. 19, 2015: 115 – 37 – 97 – 249

Dec. 5, 2015: 207 – 105 – 149 – 461

Sept. 17, 2016: 165 – 73 – 22 – 260

TOTALS: 487 – 215 – 268 – 970 

Extrapolated over 14 games, McCaffrey against USC-only would rush for 2,273 yards, add 1,003 through the air and amass 1,251 in return yardage for a total of 4,527 all-purpose yards.

That’s 663 more than he racked up in his record-breaking Heisman runner-up season.