Column: The Bizarre Big Ten

By Dan Berrigan

In the bizarre Big Ten, nothing is as it seemed in August.

Back at the beginning of the football season, analysts picked how the conference standings would shake out. Apparently, they have all the foresight of a blind donkey because they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The parody in the Big Ten this season mirrors March Madness and winners should have been picked based on team name and jersey color.

At the top of the championship race are Penn State and Wisconsin – anything but the usual suspects.

Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno, who turns 79 in December, has showed his critics that he’s not ready for the weekly games of Bridge and Canasta quite yet.

After only three conference wins in two years, the Lions have been resurrected behind senior quarterback Michael Robinson and a stifling defense that’s allowed just 16.1 points per game, tops in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin was thought to be on the decline after last season’s overachieving 9-2 record. The Badgers had to replace 13 senior starters from that squad, but haven’t missed a beat.

The Badger’s offense has more than made up for a mediocre defense scoring almost 40 points a game. Not to mention running back Brian Calhoun pulling an Al Bundy and scoring five touchdowns in a single game against the ailing Illini.

Who would have thought this weekend could decide the outright Big Ten title when the Lions and Badgers play at Beaver Stadium?

Meanwhile, preseason favorites Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa have been left to fight for the table scraps in a six-way hunt for the Big Ten championship.

The biggest disappointments in Big Ten country are the Boilermakers. Many believed the Boilers to be a dark horse that would benefit from an easy schedule and at least get a bowl bid, if not make a title run.

Boy were they wrong. Do these guys even know what a football is?

The Boilers have lost six straight and share last place with Illinois. The way things are going for both teams, the Battle for the Basement begins Nov. 12 when these two play.

But no wild season would be complete without Northwestern, the perennial whipping boy, playing the spoiler.

The Wildcats lit up Michigan State and Wisconsin for a combined 90 points and at 3-2 are right up there with Michigan and Ohio State as contenders.

All Bizarro World needs now is for Indiana to miraculously earn a bowl trip.

Winners and Weasels

Each week there are people who make you proud to be a sports fan and get lost in the shuffle. However, there are cockroaches in the sports world that ruin it for everyone and must be exposed and subsequently squashed.

Winners

Cha-Ching Charlie. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, who after just seven games scored a 10-year extension worth between $30 and $40 million dollars making him the highest paid college coach. Talk about cashing in your chips while the dice are hot. He may be the mastermind of a monster ND turnaround, but paying him like he’s the second coming is crazy.

Weasels

The Illini football “booster” who shelled out more than $2,300 to a former player. First of all, obviously this booster was not a good judge of talent. Second, there are plenty of ways to help out the University that doesn’t involve NCAA probation.

Dan Berrigan is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]