Big Ten football has long mirrored the Rust Belt region it encompasses. That has normally manifested itself in methodical, prosaic offense, but, 2011, the conference has managed to channel poignantly the depression and economic decay occurring around it. This has been a miserable year to be a Big Ten fan. Nebraska and Michigan fans are in a decent place. Every other school has been mired in its own particular brand of malaise.
Illinois: For the rest of the country, Ron Zook is a punchline. For Illinois fans he is an ever-present reality. His teams have hot starts and flashes of brilliance, which only add heft to their inevitable and catastrophic declines. With three-straight losses and back to back engagements with Michigan and Wisconsin on the docket, the Illini are set to pull a full Ron Zook before the season’s end.
Indiana: The Hoosiers normally stink, but the first year under Kevin Wilson has been especially egregious. Indiana is 0-8 against FBS competition, performing so poorly they scared away hometown hero Gunner Kiel. Wilson is now starting 12 freshmen because has that little faith in his upperclassmen. This is happening at a program with one winning season since 1995.
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz is one of the highest-paid college football coaches in the country. He has road losses to Iowa State and Minnesota this season, similar to the losses at Northwestern and Minnesota last season, Northwestern in 2009, as well as Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan State in 2008. The program has also had a few other difficulties.
Michigan State: Another inexplicable egg laid on the road. Sparty’s 24-3 dismantling by Nebraska was eerily reminiscent of their 37-6 blowout at Iowa last season. Both losses may end up costing them the Big Ten title.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have dealt with Jerry Kill’s health problems. They also lost to both New Mexico State and North Dakota State at home. Their upset of Iowa improved their average B1G margin, to four touchdowns in the red.
Northwestern: Dan Persa’s Heisman campaign was aborted before it began. The dark-horse Legends division candidacy never materialized. The Wildcats lost to Army. They blew chances that could have won games against Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. Beating Indiana is little solace. In a defense-centric conference, the Wildcats have allowed at least 34 points to each B1G opponent.
Ohio State: Buckeye fans got their swagger back with the Wisconsin win. They have a stout defense. They have a formidable power running game. If they only had say a versatile senior quarterback, a playmaker at wideout and a more seasoned head coach, they would be undisputed favorites in this year’s Big Ten and probably in the BCS Title mix. There’s the facepalm.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are 8-1, though watching them get there has been a dour experience. Their offense is terrible. One quarterback has been below average but tolerable. The other one has been a heaping bucket a stink but has upside. With the latter a transfer risk, they must play both. Penn State is 88th in yards per play. Only UConn and UAB have a worse touchdown percentage in the red zone. Wins, they have had, but it has been ugly.
Purdue: Danny Hope’s first year was at least exciting to watch. The Boilermakers have lost 10/13 against FBS teams. Wins against Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State by a field goal weren’t too impressive either. Back to back dates with Wisconsin and Ohio State the next two weekends. Yikes.
Wisconsin: Consecutive sucker-punch losses on the road cast the Badgers from BCS title contention to the rear-view mirror in the B1G Leaders Division race. Four winnable games left to get to Indianapolis, but the missed opportunity will linger.
[Photo via Getty]