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Big Ten can't cover the spread

September 13, 2007|Chris Dufresne

Five things we know after two weeks of ticks on the Lloyd Carr watch:

1 The Big Ten is stinking fast.

The conference of Red Grange needs a nonleague pick-me-upper so bad it will happily settle for Ohio State over Washington on Saturday in caffeine-addled Seattle.

Problem: Washington is 2-0, features a budding star in quarterback Jake Locker and runs a version of the spread offense, which has been cutting through Big Ten defenses like Wisconsin Limburger since Florida beat Ohio State in the national title game.

The word is out when you play Big Ten schools:

"Spread the field," one coach recently said, as if it were a secret.

Ohio State couldn't handle Florida's speed in last year's Bowl Championship Series title game. Appalachian State put opening-day screws to Michigan and some people weren't even that surprised. "I think they could have done that to an awful lot of Big Ten schools," one coach said.

Oregon, bigger and faster than Appalachian State, followed with a more impressive tear-down at Michigan in episode II of Flip That (Big) House.

"It's all about matchups and that was a good matchup for us," Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said of Michigan.

So suddenly at Michigan is a good matchup for Oregon?

Yes.

Bellotti switched to the spread offense a few years ago and now it is Oregon's bread and butter.

"I went to the spread because I watched Utah, Bowling Green and Northwestern beat people that had better personnel because of their speed," Bellotti said.

That's right, this Big Ten infection started as an in-house germ when Northwestern used the open-up offense to make its glorious Rose Bowl run in 1995.

That year, Northwestern beat . . . Michigan.

Bellotti took note and said "that's the future of college football."

It is amazing how fast you can fall. Big Ten pride was at its chest-pumping peak last November when No. 1 Ohio State faced No. 2 Michigan in Columbus.

But it all unraveled when both teams in that "game of the century" were largely discredited after getting rocked in bowl games by teams from other conferences.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz says while the Big Ten may be down now, this too shall pass.

He recalls the conference being written off, too, in 2001, when Illinois (11th) and Michigan (20th) were the only Big Ten schools ranked in the final Associated Press poll.

"There was panic in Chicago," Ferentz said of the mood at Big Ten headquarters. "What's wrong with the conference?"

The next year, Ohio State won the national title and three Big Ten schools finished in the top 10.

"That's not ancient history," Ferentz said. ". . . Ohio State had some guys that could run. Michigan had some guys that could run. And I promise you they both still do."

Ferentz said these things go in cycles.

Right now the Big Ten could use "rinse."

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2 Notre Dame third-year Coach Charlie Weis is not Notre Dame third-year coach Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine or Lou Holtz, even though Weis's photo is superimposed at the forefront with those luminaries on the inside back cover of this year's media guide.

Those other guys went a combined 50-2-1 and all won national titles in their third year.

Weis is 0-2 so far in Year Three, with his defense outscoring his offense, 7-6.

Notre Dame has given up 44, 41, 33 and 31 points in four straight losses dating to the end of last season. Notre Dame ranks last, nationally, in total offense. Maybe Weis needs Bill Belichick's spy kit.

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3 Rankings this early are a load of Arkansas hog wash -- but you already knew that. Five preseason top-25 schools -- Michigan, Florida State, Auburn, Texas Christian and Boise State -- have already dropped out of the poll. Michigan started at No. 5 and didn't make it past Sept. 2.

South Florida upset Auburn at Auburn last week but apparently the USA Today coaches didn't see it because they still have Auburn ranked 26th this week and South Florida ranked 27th.

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4 Ohio State and Penn State may be ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country on defense, but we're going to step out on a strong limb and say the best gang-tackle unit going is No. 3 Louisiana State, which might be able to win the national title this year kicking nothing but field goals.

Tigers stats through two games: seven sacks, eight forced turnovers and seven points given up. If LSU had Hawaii's offense, well, you could almost cancel the season.

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5 urprise, surprise. Dennis Erickson is back in the Pacific 10 Conference and his team leads the league in penalties. Arizona State is 2-0 but already has been flagged for 18 infractions. The Sun Devils were hit for 12 penalties in last Saturday's 33-14 win over Colorado, including eight personal fouls, including one on punter Jonathan Johnson.

Strangely, yellow flags don't keep Erickson teams from winning. In the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, Erickson's Oregon State Beavers established a team record with 18 penalties for 174 yards.

Somehow, Oregon State squeaked by Notre Dame, 41-9.

Erickson was visibly upset Saturday night and vowed he was going to sit players for repeated violations.

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