What will one historically bad Saturday mean for Big Ten football?

September 21, 2018

The scores came trickling in last Saturday afternoon, each a little nick to the Big Tens football pride.

Troy 24, Nebraska 19. Temple 35, Maryland 14. Kansas 55, Rutgers 14.

And by early Saturday evening, the big one became final.

BYU 24, No. 5 Wisconsin 21.

In 13 games, Big Ten teams won six and lost seven. And all seven of those losses were to unranked teams, the first time thats happened to the Big Ten since the Associated Press began ranking teams in 1936, a fact Foxs Robert Smith, the one-time Ohio State Buckeye and Viking, tweeted in the last few minutes of a damaging Saturday for the conference.

A couple of the losses shouldnt be considered upsets South Florida over Illinois, Missouri over Purdue but the conference took at least a temporary hit.

You wont find Big Ten coaches panicking, however.

It just depends on what week you want to look at, said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team followed a Week 2 loss to Duke with a stunning, 39-34 loss to Akron. We had a tough week last week, and we were part of it. We go 7-1 in our bowl games [in 2017], and its a great year. The challenge you have with 17- to 22-year-olds is not riding the roller coaster.

That roller coaster for the Big Ten has trended downward the past couple of weeks. The conference began the season with a 10-1 mark in Week 1, went 8-4 in Week 2 and sits 24-12 through three weeks. There have been successes, such as Ohio States 40-28 win over then-No. 15 TCU, Marylands victory over Texas, and 3-0 starts by Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and the Gophers. But against other Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, the Big Ten is 6-6 this season.

So, is the Big Ten having a down year?

To me, its too early [to say that], Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. Each game has its own story. For all the narratives, youve got to play the season out and then the story is what has been earned.

Wisconsin suffered the costliest setback. The Badgers went 13-1 last season and were a trendy pick to contend for a College Football Playoff berth. Their nonconference schedule home games against Western Kentucky, New Mexico and BYU didnt exactly feature an Alabama or an LSU, as it has in previous years, so it would be difficult to get a boost from it.

Now that theyve lost to BYU, the Badgers most likely have only one route to make the playoff: Win out.

That begins Saturday at Iowa, where the Hawkeyes await with a defense thats allowing only eight points per game, second best in the nation. Its an opportunity, Chryst said.

At Nebraska, the feel-good story of Scott Frost returning to Lincoln has started horribly. The Cornhuskers opener against Akron was canceled because of thunderstorms, then they lost to Colorado and Troy.

Frost, though, is staying the course.

I know its going to work, he said. It hasnt happened as quickly as we wanted. Weve had some pretty tough breaks in the first few weeks, but thats the way the sport goes.

Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib. E-mail: rjohnson@startribune.com

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