Top-ranked local teams struggling

By Kevin Olsen

Lloyd Carr put it best after Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State when he said his team had to “start from scratch” the next week. That seems to be the case for the Big Ten following a season in which it was a dominant conference featuring two of the best teams in the country. Now, all it has to show for it are disappointing performances from its supposed top teams.

Ohio State is clearly not the team it was last year, losing Heisman winner Troy Smith along with a slew of offensive firepower. Michigan, still loaded on offense, has fallen off the face of the earth after managing a measly seven points at home against unranked Oregon to fall to 0-2 at home for the first time since 1959. The Wolverines have lost four straight dating back to last season’s loss at Ohio State and will be without quarterback Chad Henne against Notre Dame this week.

Like everyone in Illini Nation, I am definitely on the Illinois bandwagon, but even if it comes up with some big victories this year, I can’t help but feel cheated that our Illini may finally be on the rise while everything around them is crumbling. The only victory I could truly take to heart would be against Penn State, and who knows what the Nittany Lions will do in the next few weeks to change my mind before they meet at Memorial Stadium.

Ohio State is somehow ranked in the top 10, but as anyone who has watched this team knows, it is strictly by reputation; and that reputation is soon going downhill along with the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes had five turnovers against lowly Akron in a pathetic 20-2 victory last week. And then, if Ohio State and Michigan’s performances weren’t enough to make you stop watching the Big Ten, Wisconsin needed a 29-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes to knock off UNLV.

Our proud conference started off with four top-20 teams with huge aspirations, but outside of Penn State, I don’t see any of these teams being able to beat any of the top five or seven teams in the SEC. While lower teams like Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa seem to be turning things around, the top teams are lowering themselves to the middle of the pack. There will be no shortage of tight games within the conference this year, and none of these teams will be competing for any significant bowl game unless Wisconsin can find a new gear and start to mesh under new quarterback Tyler Donovan.

The effect of the fall of the great Midwest teams, and don’t think for a second I have forgotten about the great collapse of football guru Charlie Weis’ Notre Dame, may lead to national attention out west – until of course Illinois rises to a national title contender. But seriously, the way the first two weeks of the season have gone, I foresee the Pac-10 passing the Big Ten in talent, coverage and everything else, regardless of the later west coast starting times.

And it’s not even USC. Oregon’s dismantling of Michigan at the Big House was just further proof those teams out west just may be better than our beloved Big Ten. A lot better. They have two legitimate top-10 teams in USC and California and UCLA is no slouch either. It used to be just USC and then everybody else on the West Coast. Even Washington ended Boise State’s 14-game winning streak last week. And Stanford is on the rebound under new coach Jim Harbaugh.

It has just become very sad that our Big Ten Conference that was so good last year may be in the midst of collapsing into mediocrity. The one, and probably only, advantage this brings is the quicker ascent of our Fighting Illini. But until the Illini are marching toward the Rose Bowl, don’t count on me getting too excited about any Big Ten football anytime soon.

Kevin Olsen is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]