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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Big Ten gets an ESPN 'GameDay' close-up, deserved or not

The show's spotlight will turn to Ohio State vs. Michigan State, whose conference is off to a lackluster start this football season.

September 27, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Michigan State players celebrate after defeating Eastern Michigan, 23-7, last weekend.
Michigan State players celebrate after defeating Eastern Michigan, 23-7,… (Jarrad Henderson / McClatchy-Tribune )

It must be a slow week if ESPN's "GameDay" is headed to the Big Ten Conference, which doesn't have a title-eligible school ranked among the top 19 of the Associated Press media poll.

Close-as-it-gets No. 20 Michigan State is locking down for its "GameDay" home game against not-eligible Ohio State by shutting off all media access to players.

"There will be plenty of opportunities to talk to our players after the game," Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said.

My first after-game question to players: "Was going to run this by you Wednesday … what do you expect from Ohio State on Saturday?"

Students taking out federal loans for textbooks are encouraged to attend "GameDay" set ceremonies. Parking is $15 in the Grand River Avenue ramp (Ramp 6).

Get a nickel discount if you mention Lee Corso.

Traveling to the Big Ten right now is like pulling into Woodstock three days after it ended. Illinois just lost to Louisiana Tech, Iowa to Central Michigan and Michigan State struggled to get past Eastern Michigan.

Alabama Birmingham scared the U-know-what out of Ohio State.

Todd Jones of the Columbus Dispatch wrote: "The first month of the college football season has left the Big Ten with more bullet holes than Bonnie and Clyde's last car."

Even Notre Dame is dumping shares of Big Ten stock, announcing this week it was opting out of its contract to play Michigan.

The Irish are looking for new challenges after recently defeating the Wolverines for the first time in a row. To some, the rivalry hasn't been the same since Fielding Yost, the former Michigan coach and Notre Dame-agitator, died … in 1946.

"I can't discount the facts," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com. "I can't discount the critics."

Three, two, one: ESPN, you're on the air!

USC is off this week, UCLA is basically off (to Colorado) and awful Ole Miss is off to No. 1 Alabama.

Alabama leads the series 48-9-2, and Mississippi hasn't won since 2003. Think of it as USC versus Cal of the Southeastern Conference. Mississippi's new coach's name is Mr. (Hugh) Freeze, which is what he'll do when he sees Alabama's defense.

Ole Miss is 0-8 all time versus teams ranked No. 1. Who wants to make it nine?

The Heisman Trophy race has hit a lull with the hasty retreat of several preseason candidates — USC's Matt Barkley, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Michigan's Denard Robinson and South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore.

Not one of the aforementioned guns of August received a single vote in this week's Heisman Pundit poll.

USC's Barkley ranks No. 51 in NCAA pass efficiency; Jones of Oklahoma is No. 58 after the home-groan loss to Kansas State.

Robinson is rated Old No. 71, which doesn't put him in the class of Michigan's Old 98, Tom Harmon.

Ball of Wisconsin checks in at No. 40 among national rushers, although there is a "Bell" in the top five.

The Heisman front-runner now is West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, but the most intriguing national story line involves a 72-year-old, silver-haired coach from Nowhere, USA.

Bill Snyder already rescued Kansas State once, turning upside down the worst program of the 20th century before retiring in 2005.

After three years of Ron Prince, the school begged Snyder to return.

After seasons of 6-6 and 7-6, Snyder led Kansas State to a 10-3 record last season. Not everyone bought in, as Phil Steele's respected magazine had Kansas State ranked No. 35 entering the season.

Yet, here the Wildcats sit, in late September, at No. 7 in the AP poll after last weekend's upset of Oklahoma.

The problem with trying to promote Kansas State is that Snyder approaches publicity as if it's the flu.

Snyder goes out of his way to be boring. He is Clint Eastwood in the way you picture him chasing kids off his lawn. If Snyder spoke to a chair, though, the chair might get up and leave.

Kansas State player sound bites are as colorful as ransom notes. "I-am-very-proud-of-our-team," senior linebacker Arthur Brown said this week.

Senior punter Ryan Doerr had a nice game against Oklahoma. "I-just-wanted-to-get-out-there-and-help-the-team," he said.

The Wildcats are led by brown-bagger quarterback, Collin Klein, who does not throw particularly well or run fast — unless you need him to do either to win a game.

"A very focused young man," Snyder said.

In 1998, Snyder hurt quarterback Michael Bishop's Heisman chances by refusing to let him speak with the media.

Klein does speak — but never without a Snyder prompter.

Klein: "Coach wants us to be the best we can possibly be individually, the best we can possibly be collectively as a team, and I think we all want that too."

Being the highest-ranked Big 12 Conference team in the AP poll does not play well into Snyder's CIA-operative approach.

"I'm going to have to get back on the coaches' poll,'' he quipped during a teleconference this week, "so I can get us down in the rankings."

None of his obfuscation can undercut the brilliant job he is doing. The coach of last century is already putting in a bid with century 21.

Snyder's mantra continues to be "keep sawing wood."

Until "GameDay" gets out of the Rust Belt, we'll stick with sawing logs.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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