Lucas at Large: How strong is the Big Ten?

2010-09-13T04:09:00Z 2010-09-16T16:18:45Z Lucas at Large: How strong is the Big Ten?Mike Lucas |
September 13, 2010 4:09 am  • 

While quarterback Steven Threet was sitting out the 2007 season at the University of Michigan (after transferring from Georgia Tech), quarterback Nick Foles was spending a lot of time sitting and waiting at Michigan State (as a freshman afterthought to Brian Hoyer).

Both likely envisioned playing against each other in one of those historic installments of the Michigan/Michigan State series.

As it turned out, Threet played in 11 games and started eight times for the Wolverines during the 2008 season, while Foles was inactive after transferring to the University of Arizona; a move predicated in part on Oklahoma quarterback Keith Nichol transferring to MSU (though Nichol has since been converted into a wide receiver).

Despite at least one memorable highlight in '08 -- Threet rallied Michigan to a shocking come-from-behind stunner of the Wisconsin Badgers in Ann Arbor -- there wasn't anything special about his numbers. Nor did Threet find anything special about coach Rich Rodriguez' spread offense, so he opted to transfer to Arizona State.

How strong is the Big Ten in 2010? The recycled, alumni quarterbacks -- Foles and Threet -- could have a say on Saturday when they lead their respective offenses against two of the top three ranked teams in the conference, Iowa and Wisconsin. It will be a significant challenge for the Hawkeyes who must play in Tucson, whereas the Sun Devils will travel to Madison and Camp Randall.

Iowa is coming off a convincing 35-7 rout of Iowa State during which the Hawks outrushed the Cyclones, 275-78. Adam Robinson had 14 carries for a career-high 156 yards. Jewel Hampton, playing in his first game since his freshman year, added 84 yards on the ground.

How dominating were the Hawkeyes? Early in the second quarter, Iowa, which scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, had 222 yards of total offense, while Iowa State had a minus-2. It's tough to move the ball when you don't have the ball. In the first quarter, Iowa State had the ball for all of 86 seconds.

That should have been the script for the San Jose State-Wisconsin game. And it started out that way when the Badgers received the opening kickoff and drove 77 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. After forcing a three-and-out, the UW offense was on the move again on its second series driving to the San Jose State 16. But freshman James White fumbled out of the end zone; foreshadowing some problems that would once again emerge in the red zone.

A UW win over Arizona State will not help the Big Ten's stature as much as an upset loss to the Devils would tarnish it. This is one of those matchups that the Badgers have to win if they're serious about competing with the better teams in the conference. That list may be growing, too, with the addition of the Michigan Wolverines.

Armed with wins over UConn and Notre Dame, the Wolverines can make the early-season claim that they're the most improved team in the league, especially at quarterback with Dynamic Denard, the ebullient, electrifying Denard Robinson, who's the leading rusher in college football with 455 yards (7.9) and three touchdowns.

Michigan plays UMass, Bowling Green and Indiana (read: 5-0) before getting back-to-back home games against Michigan State and Iowa.

Rich Rod might not only save his job, but he might put his team in a position to contend for the Big Ten championship in November.

At the league's kickoff meetings in early August, everybody was speculating on who had the "hottest'' seat. Rich Rod was the preseason choice based on how poorly things have been going. There was also speculation on whether ageless Joe Paterno was finally started to show his age. After all, he is 83.

Against this backdrop, there was even more discussion on how many new head coaches might be joining the league in 2011 based on the assumption that Rich Rod wouldn't cut it, and JoePa would retire. The endangered species list included Illinois' Ron Zook, Indiana's Bill Lynch, and Minnesota's Tim Brewster.

Guess who's the leader in the clubhouse, er, doghouse?

Coach Brew.

"What we cannot do is let this one game define us and define our season,'' Brewster said after South Dakota shocked the Gophers, 41-38, last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Don't sleep on those Coyotes, they're on the UW's schedule in 2011.) The Gophers are looking to "bounce back'' this week against USC. That would be the University of Southern California. Oh, that USC.

Is it time for a coaching change? That was the question posed in a Minneapolis Star poll which drew, on first blush, 15,468. To the option ''Yes, right now'' the tally was 67.9 percent. To the option ''Yes, but wait til the end of the season'' it was 19.5 percent. That does not bode well for Brew though he's right about not letting one game define a season (in most cases, maybe not his).

Nonetheless, some will be measuring the Big Ten's relative strength at the top based on how Iowa plays on the road against Arizona and how Wisconsin plays at home against Arizona State. If nothing else, it might serve as a sneak preview of things to come in the Big Ten (which can be grateful it's not the ACC, whose losers list last weekend included Va Tech, Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State.)

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