Asmussen: In the grand scheme of things ...
College football writer and AP voter Bob Asmussen’s musings after the seventh week of the season:
— The lists change week to week. No real consistency. But lots of fun.
Go to your favorite college football website on Monday and type in “bowl projections.” Prepare to be amazed. The folks compiling the lists have way too much time on their hands.
They diligently pick the teams for all 35 bowls. That’s 70 teams.
After a 3-2 start, Illinois was off many of the bowl projections this week. No surprise there. The pickers have copies of the Illinois schedule. They know that Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern are coming.
But Illinois doesn’t need to win all seven remaining games, only three of them.
There are other factors to consider, too, like what happens to the rest of the bowl bubble teams. By the time the season ends, there will be just a couple of bowl-eligible teams who don’t get an invite. If that many.
After Saturday, a handful of teams will fall off the bowl projection lists. And make room for teams like Illinois, which didn’t have a chance to enhance its resume.
Of the remaining games for Illinois, the three most likely to go in the W column are Purdue, Penn State and Indiana. But don’t be surprised if Tim Beckman’s team pulls an upset. Maybe against offensively-challenged Michigan State. Or against Northwestern, which might overlook its downstate neighbors. Even Wisconsin has shown an ability to lose games it should win.
— One misconception about the Illinois bowl scenario: which game it goes to with six wins.
Many will tell you the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Many will be wrong.
Because of its name and, more important, the number of TV sets in the state, Illinois is unlikely to fall to the Big Ten’s last bowl partner. With six wins, Illinois lands a better destination.
The Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delany will take care of Illinois. They want to see the team in a bowl, as long as it has the required six wins.
Two years ago, the Big Ten found a bowl for the Illini. And the game in San Francisco provided a milestone for the Illini. They won a second consecutive postseason game for the first time in program history. And the players got to see Alcatraz. At night. About as much fun as bowl projections.
— Where was Tommy Armstrong’s wayward arm against Illinois? After a steady effort in Lincoln, Armstrong threw three picks against Purdue on Saturday. Those would have been a help for Illinois last week. Oh, well.
On the Big Ten
— Quarterback U. tried another starter Saturday. It didn’t work.
Danny Etling made the first start of his career against Nebraska and did not look like Drew Brees, Len Dawson or Kyle Orton. Not even close.
Etling was Rick Ankiel wild, missing on 21 of 35 passes in a blowout loss.
He will get better. He has to if he wants to avoid the bench. And the new Purdue coaches will continue looking for answers. On Saturday, they threw the blame at the defense, changing the formation. Nebraska still ran wild.
Ameer Abdullah went over 100 yards for the fifth time in six games. He didn’t hit 200 like he did against Illinois. Didn’t need to.
— Games against Illinois and Purdue have done wonders for Nebraska. Shell-shocked after blowing a lead against UCLA, Bo Pelini’s team looked more like the one we expected at the start of the season.
There were still a couple rough patches, including a player kicked out of the game for targeting. That sent Pelini into a temporary tizzy. Nebraska has done enough in the last two weeks to move back into the N-G’s Top 25.
— The eager folks at Indiana got a bit ahead of themselves. Yes, it was great to beat Penn State. But that notch in the belt doesn’t mean what it used to.
Michigan State reminded Indiana of its place in the Big Ten, pounding the Hoosiers in East Lansing. Indiana’s return to respectability will take another hit in the next game against Michigan.
Kevin Wilson might turn the program into a winner. Or he might be an offensive coordinator at some BCS school. Hopefully, the leaders in Bloomington show some patience. That hasn’t been a strong suit for a place that dumped Gerry DiNardo after three seasons. Indiana’s loss was the BTN’s gain.
— Turns out Ohio State beat Northwestern twice. First on the field. Barely. And second in the hangover the Wildcats experienced in Saturday’s clunker against Wisconsin.
Badgers coach Gary Andersen is going to get the wrong idea about his new league. It isn’t that easy.
Former Ohio State star Chris Spielman, working for ABC, picked up on Northwestern’s indifference early Saturday. The good news is that the Wildcats will someday become the leaders of the world. And probably ban trips to Madison.
On the rest
— Better delay the eulogies for Mack Brown. Lambasted for weeks after a slow start, Brown changed a lot of minds in Dallas with a convincing win against Oklahoma.
It was the first Texas win against the Sooners since Colt McCoy ran the offense. McCoy’s younger brother, Case, took the heat off Brown with his leadership against the hated Sooners. Even when he made mistakes, like a pick Oklahoma turned into a touchdown, McCoy didn’t panic.
The game did plenty of damage to the other coach, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He better win next year’s game against the Longhorns or the “For Sale” signs are going to start popping up on his lawn. Fans are mean in the Big 12.
Oklahoma had been challenging for a spot in the N-G Top 10. Not anymore.
— Marcus Mariota moved to No. 1 on the N-G Heisman ballot with his beatdown of Washington. Playing in one of the nastiest buildings for a visitor, Mariota ignored the boos. With Mariota in the game, the Ducks can beat anyone. Even Alabama.
— Old friend Bill Snyder (he’s got his own stadium) scared Baylor on Saturday. But still fell short. That’s four close losses for the Wildcats, including one against FCS power North Dakota State.
Baylor, by the way, is a BCS bowl threat. Wonder if Art Briles is still mad at Nathan Scheelhaase about that late touchdown in the Texas Bowl. Hopefully, he got over it.
— There will be at least one new team in the N-G Top 10. Out goes Georgia, which lost to Missouri. The Tigers are a shocking 6-0, a year after they put Gary Pinkel on the hot seat. Instead, the grizzled veteran becomes a hot commodity again. Maybe Southern Cal will look his way. Doubt it.
Missouri has Florida and South Carolina in the next two weeks. And Texas A&M later. But no Alabama. Good choice by the school to move to the SEC. Can the Big Ten take a mulligan?
— Smart move by former Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin to appear on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” He said the word “mistake” a lot. He was almost apologetic for the decisions he made at the school.
Of course, he did mention the troubles caused by NCAA probation. Hey, Mr. Mope, ask Penn State about that.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler wasn’t gentle. Fowler pointed out how the Trojans rallied around new coach Ed Orgeron. And he pointed out that the Trojans hadn’t rallied around Kiffin. Thanks for the uncomfortable moments, Mr. Fowler. Now, go broadcast the X Games.
With his mind clearly on future jobs, Kiffin praised the work done by Pat Haden. Little late for that.
Did we need to hear Kiffin talk about friend Steve Sarkisian and the game between Washington and Oregon? Probably not. But if Kiffin wants to go into broadcasting next, he’ll have an audition tape courtesy of ESPN.
Very, very young for all of his experience, Kiffin should take a year away from the field, rebuild his brand and return at a level just below the BCS in 2015. He should not return to the NFL. No chance to be reborn there.
— Texas A&M has “Johnny Football.” Louisville has “Teddy Ballgame.” Sure would be nice to see them meet on the field. Preferably in a BCS bowl.
Teddy Bridgewater kept up his end Thursday night, leading the Cardinals to a workmanlike 24-10 win against Rutgers at Papa John’s Stadium. Which school is going to name its building Pizza Hut Park? Or the Dominoes Dome? Corporate sponsorship makes I.T.G.S.O.T.’s skin crawl.
Back to the point, Bridgewater was his usual Heisman candidate self against the Scarlet Knights, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Rock solid.
The problem for Bridgewater and Louisville is that they play in something called the American Athletic Conference. A better name: Leftovers From the Big East Who Are Waiting to Move Elsewhere.
Rutgers is on the way to the Big Ten. Not soon enough for quarterback Gary Nova, who threw four picks in Thursday’s loss.
Bridgewater gets all of the attention at Louisville, but the defense deserves credit, too. Not Charlie Strong’s fault that the competition is below par.
— Kudos to Southern Cal, which opened the Orgeron era with a 38-31 win against Arizona late Thursday night. Orgeron, who failed fantastically as the coach at Ole Miss, sounded downright giddy after the win.
The interim replacement for Kiffin gave Haden something to think about as he looks for Troy’s next coach. And the players are on Orgeron’s side, proclaiming their support. Kiffin never got the same treatment. If the players really want Orgeron to stick around, they should finish off the season with seven more wins, starting next week at Notre Dame. An 11-2 finish will keep Orgeron employed. Easily.
— Cincinnati got back on track Friday night with a win against Temple. Before you start patting the Bearcats on the back, remember the Owls are winless.
Still, it helps Illinois’ power rating. Just a bit. Cincinnati isn’t what we thought it was when it came to C-U. But it isn’t a complete disaster. Now 4-2 with winnable games left against UConn, SMU and Memphis, the Bearcats will be back in a bowl this season. A minor bowl, but they won’t complain.