Big Ten football misery index: Boiling up chaos for Michigan, Michigan State

·9 min read

This is why Big Ten football can’t have nice things.

We couldn't make it two weeks with five teams in the top 10 in the polls? Two weeks?

Oh, not to take anything away from Purdue for its upset of No 2 Iowa; after piling up 464 yards AND picking off QB Spencer Petras four times (giving Iowa a taste of its own black-and-gold-and-somehow-corn-flavored medicine), the Makers of Boilers get all the respect this week. Feel free to travel anywhere you want with your big damn drum, your tiny train and your normal-sized dude with a sledgehammer in tow, you sporting engineers!

But do so knowing you’ve spread a little bit of misery around the Big Ten, even beyond the heaping helping you dumped on the folks in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

Purdue offensive lineman Greg Long pours a can of Bud Light over his face after an Iowa fan tossed the beer onto the field in the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Purdue beat No. 2 Iowa, 24-7.
Purdue offensive lineman Greg Long pours a can of Bud Light over his face after an Iowa fan tossed the beer onto the field in the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Purdue beat No. 2 Iowa, 24-7.

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Take, for example, the Big Ten East champion (to be determined), which was counting on a win against an undefeated Iowa team in the conference title game in Indianapolis as its final argument for a College Football Playoff berth, potentially negating whatever lone loss Oregon! was dragging it down.

Or the lovers of November chaos, who were already setting their DVRs with an eye to a sneaky-OK Purdue bringing down a surprising East juggernaut coming off a victory over its prime rival. Say … Michigan State football on Nov. 6? But now? Yeah, we think the Spartans will be ready for your three-headed “Throw it to David Bell” attack. (There’s still plenty of chaos potential ahead, though: We’re now just a couple of P.J. Fleck’s rowed boats from the Gophers — who lost to Bowling Green — heading to Indy in December.)

Or the Big Ten believers, convinced this was the year for the conference to send two teams to the CFP, somehow, some way. A Hawkeyes team whose only loss was a close one in the title game, plus a one-loss Ohio State with a win in the title game? Those Buckeyes, and a Michigan football crew whose only loss was to a triumphant Ohio State? A healthy Penn State avenging its only loss in the title game against an Iowa team clearly established as one of the top four in the nation? We’ll (probably) never know.

But really, we should have seen it coming: Bad things happen to good football teams in Iowa City once Big Ten basketball draws near. Just ask Fleck, who took a No. 7 Golden Gophers squad drawing CFP whispers into Kinnick in November 2019 and left a 23-19 loser, headed to the Outback Bowl.

Or Urban Meyer, whose 2017 Buckeyes entered Iowa in November 2017 at No. 3. A 55-24 thumping later, OSU was essentially Cotton Bowl-bound.

Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a call in front of quarterback Wilton Speight during the second half against Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 in Iowa City. Iowa won 14-13.
Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a call in front of quarterback Wilton Speight during the second half against Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 in Iowa City. Iowa won 14-13.

Or Jim Harbaugh. His No. 2 Wolverines, with nine straight wins, were ready to take down Ohio State, once and for all, after getting through the Hawkeyes. A Keith Duncan field goal as time expired in Iowa City proved that was wishful thinking. (At least as much as “Was it a first down or wasn’t it a first down?” did a couple days after Thanksgiving that year.)

But at least those teams were unused to Kinnick’s suddenly cramped confines when the going got tough. What’s the Hawkeyes’ excuse? They live there.

While we try to figure that out — and toss another beer to Purdue offensive lineman Greg Long, the new icon of October chaos in the Big Ten — let’s run through the Misery Index, from least miserable to most:

14. Purdue: W, 24-7, over Iowa

Record: 4-2, 2-1 Big Ten. Last week's ranking: 8.

All that fuss about the drum last month, and it turns out it’s the Bell (11 catches for 240 yards Saturday) that’s indispensable for the Boilermakers.

13. Minnesota: W, 30-23, over Nebraska

Record: 4-2, 2-1. Last week: 9.

Nebraska fans spent Friday roasting Fleck — good-naturedly, for the most part — on Twitter. After Saturday’s win, he leapt into the arms of one of his security guards, which, well … “Scoreboard!” OK, but that might come up ahead of next year’s rematch.

12. Northwestern: W, 21-7, over Rutgers

Record: 3-3, 1-2. Last week: 7.

Like Michael Myers, just when we thought the Wildcats were dead, they pop up to terrorize Jamie Lee Curtis … er, the Scarlet Knights. On Saturday, it was quarterback Ryan Hilinski under the rubber mask, as he passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yard bomb to cap off a 98-yard drive in the first quarter. On that series, Hilinski passed for 86 yards — or nearly as many as he had all game against Ohio (88) last month.

Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski throws a pass against Rutgers during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski throws a pass against Rutgers during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

11. Ohio State: DNP

Record: 5-1, 3-0. Last week: 13.

The Buckeyes are installing new turf at Ohio Stadium for 2022, with an invite for the public to submit suggestions for the new look. We’re not sure what the final look will be, but we might suggest the thing the Buckeyes have run on at-will over the past few years: A Don Brown playbook.

10. Penn State: DNP

Record: 5-1, 2-1. Last week: 3

Coach James Franklin spent the week off denying his team was faking injuries in the Nittany Lions’ 23-20 loss last week, in which the crowd at Kinnick booed several injured players. “In our six years of playing them, six years straight — 4-2 with our record — has that ever shown up?” Franklin asked. “Has anyone seen that?” More to the point: Have any non-Hawkeyes in the Big Ten ever tried to spend more time in Iowa? Still, we suspect Franklin enjoyed the result in Iowa City this week.

Wisconsin Badgers running back Chez Mellusi (6) runs the ball in the second quarter against Army, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Wisconsin Badgers running back Chez Mellusi (6) runs the ball in the second quarter against Army, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

9. Wisconsin: W, 20-14, over Army

Record: 3-3, 1-2. Last week: 10.

The Badgers and Black Knights combined for just 11 pass attempts in the second half with seven completions. Six of those attempts — and five of those completions — belonged to Army. And Wisconsin’s winning TD came on a QB keeper one play after Army fumbled on its own 1. We’d say the half set football back 80 years, but that might do a disservice to the offenses of the 1940s.

8. Michigan: DNP

Record: 6-0, 3-0. Last week: 11.

Coach Harbaugh went from making just over $8 million — fourth-most among Division I coaches — while winning two games last season to making $4 million — 32nd in Division 1, one spot behind Bret Bielema — in 2021 for six wins. That might be the fastest anyone has gone from overrated to underrated since Brady Hoke landed back at San Diego State.

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7. Illinois: DNP

Record: 2-5, 1-3. Last week: 2.

The Illini travel to Penn State this week for the second straight season. Last year, they gave up the final 35 points in a 56-21 loss, but could at least take solace in hiring coach Bret Bielema, who made the trip to Happy Valley to watch the loss. Not sure what they’ll do to ease the pain this week.

BIG TEN MISERY INDEX RECAP

WEEK 0: Look out, Michigan and MSU — there's a new team atop the Big Ten

WEEK 1: Why Michigan football's worst loss ever is a little better

WEEK 2: Why Michigan State is still conference's king of Columbus

WEEK 3: Another team has beef with Notre Dame

WEEK 4: Michigan and Michigan State prove 'stats are for losers'

WEEK 5: Michigan made a jump, but can it dim Nebraska's lights?

WEEK 6: Wolverines, Spartans step onto CFP tightrope

6. Maryland: DNP

Record: 4-2, 1-2. Last week: 1.

On Oct. 30, the Terrapins are set to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their 2001 title in the ACC, a conference they haven’t been a part of since 2014.

The 2012 Big East champion Rutgers Scarlet Knights: “Wait, you can do that?”

(While they’re waiting for their first Big Ten title, the Terps do have nine ACC titles, more than all but two current members — but six of them came in a 12-season span from 1974-85.)

Payton Thorne of the Michigan State Spartans is tackled by Devon Matthew of the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half Oct. 16, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Payton Thorne of the Michigan State Spartans is tackled by Devon Matthew of the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half Oct. 16, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana.

5. Michigan State: W, 20-15, over Indiana

Record: 7-0, 4-0. Last week: 12.

The only way the Spartans could have made a game in Indiana more painful for their fans would be failing to box out on a free throw in the final seconds.

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4. Indiana: L, 20-15, to Michigan State

Record: 2-4, 0-3. Last week: 6.

The Hoosiers have won the Old Brass Spittoon in their rivalry with Michigan State eight times in the past 50 seasons, including last year. They’ve handed it back the following year all eight times, including this year.

Indiana Hoosiers running back Stephen Carr (5) is tackled by multiple Michigan State Spartans during the second quarter Oct. 16, 2021 at Memorial Stadium.
Indiana Hoosiers running back Stephen Carr (5) is tackled by multiple Michigan State Spartans during the second quarter Oct. 16, 2021 at Memorial Stadium.

3. Rutgers: L, 21-7, to Northwestern

Record: 3-4, 0-4. Last week: 5

“We certainly have to assess where we are and why we’re here, and see what we can do to fix it,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, sounding more like a coach trying to figure out why the Wildcats call themselves “Chicago’s Big Ten team” when they CLEARLY play in Evanston than one with a punter who already has three weekly awards and will probably win another after averaging 44.8 yards on nine punts Saturday.

2. Nebraska: L, 30-23, to Minnesota

Record: 3-5; 1-4. Last week: 4

That’s all five losses this season by a single possession (eight points or less in this two-point conversion era) and coach/dad Scott Frost isn’t angry with the Huskers of Corn, he wants you to know — just disappointed, because he knows they could do so much better: “Little details got us beat,” Frost said Saturday. “I know the guys are kind of tired of hearing that. I’m tired of saying that, but that’s what it is. We got to do little things a little bit better and get this much better.”

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost speaks with an official during the an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 30-23. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost speaks with an official during the an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 30-23. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

(While we’re here, the defeat locked in Frost’s fourth five-loss season — the most five-loss seasons for any Nebraska coach since William Jennings had five straight from 1957-61. Big Red boosters probably aren’t enjoying the missing “little details” right now.)

1. Iowa: L, 24-7, to Purdue

Record: 6-1, 3-1. Last week: 14.

Life comes at you fast, eh, Coach Ferentz? “It’s the first time we’ve had to deal with a loss in a while.” After 12 straight wins, yeah. Just keep an eye on Floyd of Rosedale before Nov. 13.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten football misery index: Boiling up chaos for Michigan, MSU