I’m not here to pile on the Big Ten every week, but the conference really is leaving me little choice in the matter.
Penn State is almost humorously bad, with kicker Sam Ficken missing four field goals and having an extra point blocked in the Nittany Lions’ 17-16 loss at Virginia (Cavs were -10). Ficken was the first NCAA player to miss at least four field goals in a game since UAB’s Josh Zahn went 2-for-7 in a double-overtime loss at Tennessee on Sept. 25, 2010.
Iowa, meanwhile, managed all of six points at home in losing to Iowa State as the Cyclones (+3.5) won in Iowa City for the first time in a decade. The Hawkeyes had been 33-0 under Kirk Ferentz when holding an opponent to 10 points or less.
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But the real embarrassment for the Big Ten came in three head-to-head matchups with the Pac-12, albeit to be fair all three were out west. Was it a surprise that Illinois (+14) lost at Arizona State? Not really, but getting beat by 31 sure was even with starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase sitting because of an ankle injury. Illinois wasn’t supposed to be a contender for the Big Ten title, so big deal. But both Nebraska and Wisconsin were and they both lost Saturday as well.
Wisconsin apparently dearly misses former offensive coordinator and current Pitt head coach Paul Chryst as the Badgers (-6) were held to just seven points in losing at Oregon State (UW averaged 44 points per game in 2011). Montee Ball’s Heisman hopes were eliminated after he was held to 61 yards on 15 carries and saw his 21-game streak of scoring at least one touchdown ended. Wisconsin is obviously overrated as it barely survived Northern Iowa in Week 1. Coach Brett Bielema already has made a change, firing the team’s offensive line coach.
Nebraska played without starting tailback Rex Burkhead on Saturday, but coach Bo Pelini said that was no excuse for the Cornhuskers’ 36-30 loss as a 3.5-point favorite. Burkhead’s replacement, Ameer Abdullah, had 119 yards and two touchdowns but also a fumble on the first play of the second half, which led to a field goal that gave the Bruins a 27-24 lead. It’s not yet clear if Burkhead will be back this week vs. Arkansas State, with Nebraska opening as a 24-point home favorite.
An early front-runner for National Coach of the Year has to be UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr., who wasn’t the Bruins’ first choice to replace Rick Neuheisel. Mora is known as a defensive guy, but the UCLA offense is night-and-day different this year. That group ranked No. 100 in total offense under Neuheisel (a supposed offensive guru) but is No. 2 through two games this year at 649.5 yards a game. Young QB Brett Hundley looks like a future Heisman candidate. The redshirt freshman was 21-of-33 for 305 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for 53 yards against Nebraska. And running back Johnathan Franklin is a Heisman candidate right now. He rushed for 217 yards vs. the Huskers and leads the nation in rushing. UCLA is a 17.5-point favorite this week vs. Houston in what looks every bit like a letdown/trap game even as bad as the Cougars have been this year.
One of my three NCAA previews for Doc’s Sports last week was on Oklahoma State and Arizona, and while I didn’t have the stones to flat-out pick a Wildcats upset I certainly liked them to cover (+10) at worst. Rich Rodriguez’s offense was humming big time as Arizona beat the Cowboys, 59-38. The Wildcats scored 29 points after the three-minute mark of the third quarter to pull away. Matt Scott is a flat-out stud as he completed 28-of-41 for 320 yards and two scores and ran for 55 yards and another TD. Is Arizona going to compete for the Pac-12 title this year? No, as the defense remains terrible (OSU had 636 yards). But that matchup in two weeks at Oregon will be must-see TV as the total might be somewhere around 80. This week the Cats get a pseudo-exhibition against South Carolina State.
The big injury to watch this week is at Arkansas and quarterback Tyler Wilson. His Heisman hopes are over after he was knocked out of Saturday’s stunning 34-31 home loss to Louisiana-Monroe. The Hogs, who were 30-point favorites and led 28-7 midway through the third quarter, took the second-biggest fall in the history of the AP poll, dropping from No. 8 to outside the Top 25. It was the first time ever that a team from the Sun Belt beat a Top-10 team. It capped a pretty rough week for interim head coach John L. Smith (he just lost any chance at the full-time gig) as the loss came just two days after he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Arkansas is calling Wilson day-to-day after taking a blow to the head. The Razorbacks’ national title hopes are finished but they can still win the SEC. However, they have no chance at home vs. Alabama this Saturday if Wilson doesn’t play (no line yet because of Wilson’s status). Starting defensive back Tevin Mitchell was also hurt in the loss and almost certainly sits vs. the Tide. The Hogs defense can ill afford any losses as it has allowed an average of 436 yards vs. non-BCS opponents the first two weeks.
Last week I was 2-1 in my NCAA previews, hitting on Cincinnati (-4.5) over Pittsburgh and Arizona over Oklahoma State. I missed on Washington +24 at LSU. This week, look for previews of Rutgers-South Florida (Thursday ESPN game; Bulls opened at -9.5), those Bruins vs. Houston (one of final kickoffs of Saturday) and one of USC-Stanford, Arkansas-Alabama or Notre Dame-Michigan State.
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