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Ashway: Not too early to write off Big Ten football
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Forsyth County News

Sorry, Jim Delaney, you’re full of malarkey.

It only took two weekends of putrid football for the commissioner of the Big Ten conference to display so much of what could be wrong with college football’s new playoff system.

It’s politics as usual.

Only worse.

Instead of a handful of schools and conferences lobbying for the two spots in the BCS championship game—and the lucrative payouts garnered thereby—we will now have twice as many schools and conferences advancing their interests for four playoff spots.

Commissioner Delaney felt compelled to take to the stump Sunday evening after a desultory weekend for his conference. Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State lost by an aggregate score of 112-46. That’s an average score of 37-15. All in prime time. All on national television.

"Big games matter on big stages with big ratings and a lot of attention," Delaney correctly observed for ESPN.com. "And in the three primetime games, we didn’t win any. That’s disappointing."

You betcha. For a conference that considers itself second to none, this proved a painful and unexpected comeuppance. The manner in which the losses unfolded proved even more gruesome.

Michigan State, the defending conference and Rose Bowl champions, had the toughest test. Visiting mighty Oregon, the Spartans led, 27-18, early in the third quarter. But from there, the Spartans were outscored, 28-0.

The finest defense in the Midwest proceeded to allow Oregon to gain 130 yards outside the tackles. Meanwhile, the Spartans gained but 37 yards on 15 carries, with ballcarriers hit behind the line on nine of those carries. By an Oregon defense not noted for its prowess.

Michigan, visiting Notre Dame for the final time in the scheduled future, laid a 31-0 egg – their first shutout since 1984, a span of 365 games. Their first shutout suffered at the hands of the Irish, ever. Their worst loss to the Irish. Ever.

"We will bounce back from this," coach Brady Hoke bravely told the Associated Press. "This is a very resilient, hard-working group of young men who know what it takes to win."

They also know what it takes to lose. Like committing four turnovers and forcing none. They’re 7-12 under Hoke away from the Big House. They’re also 16-12 since the start of the 2012 season. That’s not Michigan football.

Last up was Ohio State, which got shut down by a Virginia Tech team suddenly turning the calendar back to 2011. The Buckeyes managed just 42 yards on 14 rushes between the tackles, with a mere four yards coming before contact.

"There are some weaknesses right now on our team, and it was rather obvious what they are," coach Urban Meyer told the AP. "I’m a little surprised." One breath later, Meyer continued, "Coaches don’t get surprised. We get disappointed."

Is it me, or does Meyer sound a little confused?

"No doubt, some games matter more than others," Delaney acknowledged, grudgingly. "We still have more work to do."

You betcha. That’s because, as bad as the Big Three played in losing on the same day for the first time since Sept. 17, 1988, most of the conference wasn’t any better in struggling against lesser foes.

Nebraska needed a 58-yard pass-and-run by Ameer Abdullah with 20 seconds left to edge McNeese State, 31-24. McNeese State, an FCS school, lost to Northern Iowa, 41-6, and Southeastern Louisiana, 41-7, last season.

"We got outcoached, we got outplayed, and we were lucky to win the football game," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini moaned to the AP.

Illinois needed fourth quarter touchdowns – a 62-yard pass and a 77-yard interception return – to beat Western Kentucky, 42-34. The Illini surrendered 400 yards of offense.

"We’re not where we want to be, by any means," Illinois coach Tim Beckman moaned to the AP.

And they were the lucky ones. Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois, 23-15, and Purdue got rocked by Central Michigan, 38-17. Ball State almost completed a Mid-American Conference trifecta, but surrendered two touchdowns in the final three minutes and lost to Iowa, 17-13.

By contrast, here’s what the SEC teams did against MAC teams on Saturday: Missouri 49, Toledo 24; Florida 65, Eastern Michigan 0; and Kentucky 20, Ohio 3. Yes, Kentucky, the SEC’s worst team over the past three, five and 10 years, beat Ohio by the same margin that haughty Penn State beat Akron (21-3.)

Let’s let Commissioner Delaney continue: "I would just say that with 50 percent of the non-conference games and 100 percent of the conference games remaining, it’s premature to make any judgments."

You wanna betcha? Here’s a sampling of the Big Ten’s remaining non-conference slate: Ohio State plays Kent State and Cincinnati. Michigan State plays Eastern Michigan and Wyoming. Michigan plays Miami (Ohio) and Utah. Penn State plays Massachusetts and Temple. Wisconsin plays Bowling Green and South Florida. Nebraska plays Fresno State and Miami (Florida).

See any ratings rattlers there? Me neither.

Let’s let the commissioner finish: "Anyone who writes the story of the 2014 football season after two weeks, that’s premature."

You betcha. But it isn’t too early to write the Big Ten out of the story.