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The State of Penn State and Big Ten Football

Four weeks of Division I Football have now passed. Most of the cupcake matchups are finished and conference play will start this weekend. While this is great news for some, those first four games are actually detrimental in measuring the strength of other teams and conferences as a whole.

Look at Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks are supposed to be just another warm-up game like Arkansas State, Akron, or  Savannah State. Instead, they’ve been channeling their inner Appalachian State and have showed everybody that they are a force — upsetting the then #8 Razorbacks, and coming just short of beating Auburn and Baylor. These games always have a ton of pressure as teams try to showcase themselves. One bad bounce or missed opportunity can ruin dreams of a national championship.

This brings us to the Big Ten. The twelve teams that make up the predominately mid-west conference normally thrive during these few short weeks, making many teams look like their bitch, and making themselves look like national contenders. This year, however, that was not the case. The league was 33-13 in non-conference games which may not seem bad, but when broken down it looks like this:

  • Losses to three MAC teams (Ohio, Central Michigan, Ball State)
  • A 1-3 mark against the Pac-12 (Losses were to unranked Oregon State, UCLA, and Arizona State)
  • A loss to Louisiana Tech
  • An 0-3 record against Notre Dame (who for once is not overrated)
  • Several very close calls to non-power-league teams

For a conference that has marked itself in tradition, success, and excellence, it’s disheartening to see how weak the conference has become. The only key win in those four weeks was Michigan State beating Boise State by four points. It’s even worse when 8th ranked Michigan gets torn apart by Alabama (understandably), barely dodges an average Air Force team, tries to look heroic against a weak UMass squad, but ends up as the fourth team to get trounced by The Fighting Irish.

Or how about Wisconsin? The Badgers started as 12th in the nation. They beat Northern Iowa 26-21 in the first week. Things went downhill from there as they lost 10-7 to an unranked (although soon to be) Oregon State, squeaked by Utah State 16-14, and won by only 11 points against UTEP. While that results in a 3-1 record, it can certainly be considered misleading.

So where does this leave Penn State? As everyone knows, we started off the season in an emotional and (unfortunately) disappointing fashion. Penn State’s mistakes were deemed as understandable while fans claimed that they were unacceptable. But with all these follies, there is a huge realization for Penn State fans: we can still win the Leaders Division trophy.

Coming in to the season, Penn State was told that it can’t play in a bowl game, for a conference title, and cannot be ranked in the coaches poll, but it can still win our division’s trophy outright. The only obstacles — aside from the transfers and other obvious blockades — were the other teams in Penn State’s division.

  • Illinois, our opponent next week, is 2-2. They only showed life against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern, otherwise getting trounced by Arizona State and run over by Louisiana Tech…let me repeat that. Louisiana Tech beat the Illini 52-24. Nuff said.
  • Indiana. On to the next one.
  • Wisconsin was seen as a league contender for the Rose Bowl this year. However, their inconsistencies have already been addressed.
  • Purdue might be a little bit of a problem. They have talent and gave the seemingly unstoppable Irish a run for their money but ultimately fell short. They put up very good numbers against Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, which is what they are supposed to do, but they have only played three games so far this year and have a lot to work on offensively.
  • While they may not be able to indulge in post-season play, Ohio State was proclaimed as the contender just because of Urban Meyer earlier this year. This is the same OSU that a year ago was 6-6 going into a mediocre bowl game and finished the season under .500 for the first time since 1988. They may be 4-0 this year, but it is in no way impressive. They have had average scoring margins and almost lost to a visiting Cal football team (Cal has one win against Southern Utah, in which they let up 31 points). Ohio State is a team that is trying to just get their full composure together, and they are not quite there yet.

Any team can play their best on any day. If the Nittany Lions and Matt McGloin can give the same outstanding effort as they did against Temple and Navy, they have a shot. In a very weak conference, the Leaders Division is up for the taking.

And if there’s any team that deserves it after the year they’ve had, it’s Penn State.

About the Author

Matt Westlake

Toona '12. Main '14. Creamery for life.

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