Dave Thurman (7:42 am)

After reading Pete Fiutak's entertaining article comparing the schedules of Ohio State and Boise State (which Drew referenced in yesterday's post), I concede that he makes some good points.  But while games at Illinois and Minnesota may look like patsies to the average sports writer, until you've been on the road in the Big Ten you don't know how tough it can be. This Saturday, ready or not, everything changes, as the Buckeyes enter conference play. And no matter where Jeff Sagarin or any other computer geek ranks the lower echelon Big Ten teams, there is no such thing as an easy victory on the road in college football's most physical conference. 

Let's consider this week's tussle with the Illini in Champaign as an example. There is simply no comparison between playing Illinois and taking on New Mexico State, San Jose State or Idaho.  Why?

1.  Memorial Stadium will be packed with over 60,000 fans who will rock the house with some serious noise.  I'm guessing that's a little more intimidating than facing 15,000 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, or Moscow, Idaho!

2.  Illinois (like most every Big Ten team) actually has some tradition.  I'm not just talking about legends like Red Grange and Dick Butkas, but recent teams like the 2001 squad which went to the Sugar Bowl and the '07 team which played in the Rose Bowl.  There is some recent success to actually inspire hope and confidence. Of course Idaho did play in the Humanitarian Bwol in 2000, and New Mexico State was in the Sun Bowl back in '59 and '60!

3.  The Fighting Illini are stocked  with some highly ranked players.  Quarterback Natahan Scheelhaase was offered by Oklahoma, Iowa and Arkansas.  Running back Jason Ford turned down Wisconsin, Boston College and Iowa.  Justin Green had verballed to Ohio State before changing his mind on signing day.  Wideout Jarred Fayson originally signed with Florida, choosing the Gators over Miami (Fl), Alabama and Georgia,  Remember Martez Wilson? The Buckeyes coveted the athletic linebacker, but so did USC, Notre Dame and Michigan.  I could go on.  Needless to say, you won't find  that kind of talent on teams in the bottom half of the WAC. 

4.  Illinois has recent success to call upon.  Poor New Mexico State has lost to Boise by 35, 49 and 58 points the last three years, and has never defeated the Broncos.  Idaho has lost 11 straight to BSU, and most were blowouts.  San Jose State is 0-10 all-time against Boise with the average margin of loss at 28 points.  Compare that with how Big Ten teams have taxed the Buckeyes, even during the past decade of OSU dominance.  In 2006 the Illini (who wound up 2-10) hosted number one Ohio State, led by Troy Smith, and gave the Buckeyes all they wanted in a 17-10 lost.  Of course the folloiwng season a much improved Illinois squad came to Columbus at 7-3 and upset the #1 ranked Buckeyes in their own backyard. Teams like Northwestern and Purdue can get fired up over recent success stories as well. 

Now, I mention all of this not only to make a point, or to refute those who would favorably compare the conference schedules of Boise and OSU, but to remind fans that the season takes a gigantic turn this week.  It is Big Ten time, and that means hard-hitting action, packed venues, heated rivalries and coaching staffs who are familiar with what you've got.  We've all circled dates with Wisconsin and Iowa (which are a little tougher than Fresno State and Nevada) but don't overlook the other games. Every week brings a challenge, and a team that overlooks any opponent (especially on the road) will be licking their wounds come Saturday night. 

Personally, I can't wait.  Even the tailgating gets more serious come October.  The stakes are high and you won't find any $5 tickets a few minutes before kickoff.  So strap on your helmet and get ready for some vintage Big Ten football.  There's nothing else like it.


09/28/2010 06:25

You're right, it starts to get pretty serious from here on out..

09/28/2010 06:46

Fiutak makes some good points, though he conveniently leaves out Va. Tech's loss to James Madison. But where his argument really fails is in creating a sort of umbrella category for teams of "Sucks" and throwing Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and Minny in there with San Jose St., NM St., Utah St., and La. Tech. It IS true, those teams do all, pretty much, "suck." Your points re: recent history and stadium atmosphere are good ones, but the main problem with the umbrella "suck" label, is that it ignores the reality of the quality of the individual athletes on the field. To me, the difference becomes most stark when you start comparing the quality of each player. And what is the best indicator of quality? To me, it is the NFL. The 4 Big10 teams lumped into the "Suck" category account for 59 NFL players (Ill - 21, Indy - 6, Purdue - 23, Minny - 9). The 4 WAC teams cited account for 16 (SJ St. - 6, NM St. - 2, UT St. - 3, La. Tech - 5).

The point is, while all the teams cited suck, week in and week out, in the Big10, you are facing higher quality on average. As you face bigger, stronger, athletes on a consistent basis, the chance for something to go wrong increases, whether it be injuries or upsets or both.

We all know that the SEC supplies the most NFL players, but the drop off to the other big conferences is not that large. However, there is a stark drop off once you get to the WAC, and this argument is hard to ignore. When Boise State makes it to a bowl game, I always expect them to win, simply because they should be much fresher and less banged simply because they play in a less physical conference.

I WILL buy the argument that Boise St., as a team, can compete with any of the big boys. But you have to be smoking crack to say their SCHEDULE can compete. I just don't see it.

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