Published Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm / Updated at 12:01 am
football
Barfknecht: Stumbling out of the gate is far from B1G time

We're still awaiting word on whether the Big Ten will be forced to give up its automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.

OK, not really. But that's hardly an outrageous response to a first week of football so lackluster that the nation will again wonder if this league can compete nationally.

After a down year for the Big Ten in 2012, this was the alleged first season toward a revival of improved performance. What league members rolled out Thursday through Saturday wasn't a good first impression.

Yes, opening games are shakedown cruises. You expect mistakes, and sometimes as a coach, you want them in order to gauge the live-action response.

But the following wasn't what the Big Ten was after:

Ľ Nebraska: The 30-point favorites went to the last play before subduing Wyoming 37-34. The Huskers gave up 602 yards to the team picked fourth in the six-team Mountain West Conference Mountain Division.

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Bo Pelini-coached teams now are in the school record book for the Nos. 2, 3, 8 and 9 highest yardage totals allowed in Nebraska's 124 years of football. But the scheme works, we've been told over and over. So does that leave coaching as the issue?

Last week, I detailed why I thought NU was in for a great season. One was the team motto R.A.C., which stands for “relentless, accountable and competitive.”

Think about the “accountable” part upon reading that four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who committed two fourth-quarter turnovers, declined to do postgame interviews.

That's a senior captain failing to report for duty, folks. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only veteran to duck out. That's nowhere close to championship leadership. The sad part is we've seen this drill before.

Ľ Ohio State: The 35-point favorites had to scramble to hold off Buffalo 40-20. OSU jumped to a 23-0 lead — with coach Urban “Dr. Slick” Meyer winning more friends with two-point conversions after the first two touchdowns — then saw the lead shrink to 10 points twice. A late third-quarter penalty in Ohio State's favor helped avoid a bigger mess.

Meyer spiked his headset after a failed fourth-and-1. Star quarterback Braxton Miller, who threw an interception returned for a touchdown, struggled with cramps in the heat, as did All-America linebacker Ryan Shazier.

“In a tight game,” Meyer said, “you're going to lose that game. We've got to learn to fight through momentum shifts.”

Ľ Northwestern: The Wildcats were a Big Ten bright spot, claiming a 44-30 road win against underrated California. But it might have come at a high price.

Starting quarterback Kain Colter suffered a shoulder injury on his first play, then left with what is being reported as a concussion after the second play. Starting cornerback Daniel Jones also was hauled away with a potentially serious knee injury.

Northwestern then got accused of faking injuries in the second half to try to slow down Cal's “Bear Raid” offense. Coach Pat Fitzgerald took offense, saying: “If anyone were to question the integrity of myself, our program or our players, I question theirs.”

Ľ Michigan State: Someone please share the definition of insanity with MSU coach Mark Dantonio.

The offensively challenged Spartans, using the same quarterback with the same plays that didn't work last year, found out they didn't work again in squeezing out a 26-13 win against Western Michigan.

One offensive touchdown, 11 punts, 46 percent passing and six dropped passes against a low-level Mid-American Conference team makes you wonder what Michigan State spent 29 fall practices on.

League-wide, you add in Iowa's seventh consecutive loss, Purdue's offensive ineptitude in a 42-7 loss to Cincinnati and Illinois struggling to the end against FCS weakling Southern Illinois, it's a good thing the Big Ten nonconference schedule is as soft as it is.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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