It’s that time of year again in the Big Ten.
We’re only five weeks into the conference’s football schedule — though it might feel like longer if you made it through that entire Michigan/Rutgers game — and basketball tips off conference-wide on Wednesday.
Which means its time for every fanbase to do its annual gut check and ask, “Are we a football school or a basketball school?”
Of course, certain fanbases figured this one out a few months ago — hey, Spartans! —but others have some tough decisions to make over the next few days.
Turns out, we here at the Misery Index had some spare time Saturday while snoozing through watching Wisconsin and Northwestern trade punts and Michigan and Rutgers trade missed field goals, so we thought we’d run through the conference, see if we can help out some of the schools still on the fence.
Michigan: Basketball! — Seriously, did you watch the final hour of the Wolverines’ win Saturday night?
Indiana: Football! — We’re riding the hot hand, at least until a good start gets Archie Miller’s squad back into the Top 25 and a cold streak bursts their NCAA tourney bubble.
Illinois: Basketball! — The football team went 96 years without winning at Nebraska until Saturday; the hoops team does it every four or so at least.
Penn State: Hockey! — Football is 0-5 and basketball has an interim coach who went 60-97 in five seasons at Duquesne — but hockey is the defending Big Ten champs! (Don’t worry about that 0-2 start this year, though.)
Nebraska: Uhhhh … Lawsuits?
Anyway, while we work on that, let’s run through the misery index, from least to most miserable:
Record: 4-0. Last week: 10.
On one hand, the Buckeyes led, 35-7, early in the third quarter, got 169 rushing yards from running back Master Teague and star cornerback Shaun Wade had a pick-six for the game-deciding score. On the other hand, quarterback Justin Fields had 12 incompletions against the Hoosiers (including three picks) after just 11 combined in his first three starts of 2020. There are worse problems, we’re saying.
Record: 2-3. Last week: 3.
A win’s a win, even if you disagree with that Big Ten ref’s interpretation of offensive pass interference, which is notoriously one of the most difficult judgment calls to enforce in real time. And besides, Minnesota would have had a whole minute to score, anyway. And really, if you look at the video … OK, Gophers fans have moved on … ARE YOU KIDDING ME WHAT A HORRIBLE CALL JUST GIVE PURDUE THE TOUCHDOWN AND THE WIN THIS IS A JOKE. Also, that looming gopher video on the end zone screens is cool and maybe-but-probably-not-but-still-maybe? led to two missed Purdue field goals.
MISERY INDEX FLASHBACKS
Record: 5-0. Last week: 13.
Is this too low for the only 5-0 team in the Big Ten? Perhaps, especially considering defensive back Greg Newsome II’s fiery postgame quote: “We woke up the country now and we need our damn respect.” We asked some Wildcats fans about it, but they were still asleep after watching the Wildcats and Badgers go 5-for-31 on third-down conversion attempts. Bonus points to coach Pat Fitzgerald for embracing the sleeper hype and calling his squad, “The Fighin’ Rece Davises.” (For what it’s worth, Davis went to Alabama. Yeah, we were surprised, too.)
Record: 4-1. Last week: 14.
A win in Columbus was right there for the taking, minus a fumble at OSU’s 7 or a third-quarter pick-six. But hey, Indiana’s a football school this year, so we’ll focus on the positive: Ty Fryfogle had seven catches for 218 yards, his second straight 200-yard game. He’s the first Big Ten receiver with back-to-back 200-yard games, which tells you a lot about the Big Ten over the past century.
Record: 3-2. Last week: 11.
Coach Kirk Ferentz got the game ball for picking up his 100th Big Ten win. We’d point out that Ryan Day is already at 14 wins in the conference, but Ferentz doesn’t get to face Maryland, Rutgers and Michigan every year, either.
9. Michigan State: DNP
Record: 1-3. Last week: 4.
Sure, the Spartans lost to Rutgers earlier this season, but they didn’t force everyone to watch them mostly sputter for 4½ hours while doing it.
8. Maryland: DNP
Record: 2-1. Last week: 8.
Maryland has now gone four weeks without a loss (thanks to two COVID-19 cancellations). It’s their longest unbeaten stretch within a season since opening the 2016 season with four straight wins. Indiana’s on the schedule for Saturday, FYI.
Record: 1-4. Last week: 5.
Rutgers went 2,240 days between leads against U-M (a 26-24 win on Oct. 4, 2014, and a touchdown 10:27 into Saturday night’s game); it only felt like that long between that first lead and the game-ending interception in overtime No. 3 on Saturday. There was a time on Saturday night when Rutgers led the Wolverines by 17, which is kinda like saying, “There was a time when Rutgers was one of the two best college football teams in the nation” — 150 years ago.
6. Illinois: W, 41-23, over Nebraska
Record: 2-3. Last week: 9.
It has not been an easy season for the Illini. Four different starting quarterbacks — and none of the changes, somehow, were the result of outright ineptitude. A drive that featured a first-and-goal from the 10 and a punt — within four plays of each other. Whatever that mask that Lovie Smith wore against Minnesota was. But it was all worth it, for this tweet from the official Illinois Athletics account that resonated across the football world: “Good game Nebraska. Thanks for bringing back B1G football.”
And then they deleted it.
Record: 2-1. Last week: 12.
Shoutout to Badgers punter Andy Vujnovich, who entered Saturday with seven punts combined over two games and matched that against the Wildcats, including five punts in the second half. (Northwestern kicker Derek Adams likewise got a workout, with 10 punts — six in the second half — but he entered the game with 20 punts this season.)
Record: 2-3. Last week: 1.
They say “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one,” but needing OT to beat Rutgers — much less three of them — might make us a bit reticent about going up in the air at all if that’s how the landings are gonna go, even with Cade McNamara piloting the plane.
Record: 2-2. Last week: 7.
Full credit to Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm for reacting to that blown OPI call like it was hotdish from an aunt who had a little too much wine in the afternoon: “You know what I think” … “I can’t really comment on it.” … “Yes, I didn’t like it at all.”
2. Nebraska: L, 41-23, to Illinois
Record: 1-3. Last week: 6.
It’s bad enough that the ’Huskers gave up 41 points (while paying homage to your legendary “Blackshirts” defense, no less) to a team that had scored 71 in four previous games combined. Bad enough that third-year coach Scott Frost seemingly heckled his own team after the game: “It was almost like our team thought, ‘We won one game, we’re good.'” But, again, we cede our time to the mid-afternoon operator of Illinois’ Twitter account: “Thanks for bringing back B1G football.”
Record: 0-5. Last week: 2.
Yes, it’s the Nittany Lions’ first-ever 0-5 start, dating back to the program’s beginnings in 1887. But hey, the Phillies, Flyers, 76ers and Penguins haven’t won a game since the start of October either, and no one’s complaining about them…
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten football misery index: Michigan, Michigan State must be glad for basketball season