Last updated: September 04. 2014 11:37AM - 600 Views
By - dlevarse@timesleader.com

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Oh, Bucky.

Bucky, Bucky, Bucky.

It was all going so well — for Wisconsin and the Increasingly Inaccurately Named Big Ten as a whole, all things considered. What looked to be a surefire 13-1 start for the conference including a win in Saturday’s marquee game has led to a bizarre few days in Madison.

Instead a 24-7 second-half lead over LSU evaporated into a 28-24 loss and turned into something else entirely.

This observer, as a reporter on Penn State for the better part of the last decade, has seen some of the strangest stuff imaginable around a college football team. (About the latest bit — no more cruddy James/Joe vs. the Volcano jokes. Promise).

This is a new one, though. Wisconsin was unable to replace quarterback Tanner McEvoy during a miserable performance Saturday because, as it turns out, presumptive starter Joel Stave isn’t current able to throw a football from here to the other end of the room you’re currently sitting in.

He’s not injured. Badgers coach Gary Andersen said he was on Tuesday. Badgers coach Gary Andersen lied.

Hours later he came clean with reporters in the land of cheese and Stave impressively addressed the issue head on.

In fairness, Andersen was likely just trying to protect his QB from the embarrassment of admitting he was suffering from what golfers and baseball/softball players might call the Yips.

Stave can throw a deep ball just fine. But his motor skills inexplicably break down when trying to throw the simplest of short passes, skipping them into the ground. Think Chuck Knoblauch. Maybe Rick Ankiel. Or for older fans of the Pirates, perhaps Steve Blass.

It’s odd because it’s not something we commonly see with quarterbacks. But that seems to be what’s happening to Mr. Stave.

So it’s been another week of jokes at the expense of the Big Ten. But this Saturday in primetime, the league has three huge opportunities to change the discussion.




Noon, Saturday

Memorial Stadium

Champaign, Ill.

1-0, 0-0 C-USAMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: UIUC by 6. OK, so maybe the Illini needed to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter just to beat Youngstown State. At home. Maybe they actually trailed that game in the second half. But at least… Uh… Hmm. Can’t actually think of a positive way to end that string. That probably explains why Beckman’s Boys are only a one-score favorite at home to beat WKU, whom you probably know of mainly because their mascot is the demented half-brother of Grimace. Or maybe it’s because Toppers QB Brandon Doughty threw for a best-in-the-nation 569 yards (!) last week. (Hackenberg’s 454 yards placed fourth in the country, in case you were wondering). This one might just turn into a shootout with new Illini starter Wes Lunt having accounted for all of the team’s scoring last week, throwing four touchdowns on 38 attempts. No one would be surprised to see WKU pull this one out, but the C-USA squad’s defense will probably let the team down in the end.



Noon, Saturday

Memorial Stadium

Lincoln, Neb.


0-0, 0-0 SouthlandMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

We covered the shenanigans of the Brothers Pelini last week. Think maybe ol’ Bo was a little displeased with the way FAU embarrassed Carl with illegal narcotics accusations last fall when he resigned? Well, 55 points and 784 total yards of offense (!!) against the Owls suggests that, yeah, there might have been some payback involved. Ameer Abdullah reminded everyone why he’s the best reason to pick the Huskers to come out of the wide-open West Division, rushing for 232 yards while hardly breaking a sweat. The bad news around the corn field is that stud defensive end Randy Gregory will be sidelined while he gets his knee scoped, something that UNL hopes only keeps him out for one game. McNeese is actually one of the better FCS teams in the country and conceivably could put up a better fight than FAU did last week. But not by too much.



Noon, Saturday

High Point Solutions Stadium

Piscataway, N.J.

0-1, 0-0 MEACMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

Yeah, this same joke appeared last week in this space. But it can’t be ignored. Interested to see what ticket sales might look like on the secondary market for next week’s sold-out Big Ten debut against Penn State, this game against Howard first popped up on StubHub. And yes, just two days before the home opener, these four end zone seats can be yours for just $11,701.08 apiece! StubHub helpfully suggests using the “Go together! Split with friends” option when purchasing these. Thank you, StubHub. It’s times like these when it’s best just not to ask any questions, smile and nod. And no, this is not the result of delirium brought on by the Knights’ unexpected win out at Washington State last week — that price has been there since last month. As for Howard? The Bison got pasted 41-0 last week by Akron. So Rutgers will be 2-0 headed into the PSU game.



Akron Zips (2002 - Pres)

Noon, Saturday

Beaver Stadium

State College, Pa.


1-0, 0-0 MACMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: PSU by 14.5. Full prediction coming Friday. Speaking of the Zips! It’s not out of the question that Terry Bowden’s crew could spoil the first of what James Franklin dubs “family reunions” this fall. (You might refer to them as “home games.” James Franklin pities your lack of child-like wonder). Akron isn’t Ohio circa 2012, or even Toledo circa 2000, but it’s also not Akron circa any year you might remember them in recent history. Certainly the Zips look better than the four overmatched squads that have collected their paychecks and meekly left Beaver Stadium since 1999. We’ll take a look at the actual chances of an upset on Friday. But one prediction that likely won’t come through was Franklin’s pledge to sell out the stadium each time, especially given that storms could be in the forecast for Saturday. Hey, gotta start somewhere.



Noon Saturday

Ross-Ade Stadium

West Lafayette, Ind.

1-0, 0-0 MACMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: PU by 3.5. Congratulations to the Boilermakers, who have already matched their win total from last season with that harrowing win over equally miserable Western Michigan. Can Darrell Hazell pull off a Directional Michigan sweep (minus Eastern Michigan)? Eastern, by the way, won its opener last Saturday by playing two quarterbacks. Neither of them were named Rob Bolden. That about says it all, unfortunately. To be fair, the guy hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass since Jan. 2, 2012, in that excruciating TicketCity Bowl loss. On the other hand… man. The guy was once voted “Best Arm” and “Quickest Release” at the renowned Elite 11 Camp. If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Purdue or Central Michigan other than stalling for lack of anything relevant to say, you’re a jerk and you’re absolutely correct.



Western Illinois Leathernecks (1997 - Pres)

Noon Saturday

Camp Randall Stadium

Madison, Wis.

1-0, 0-0 MVFCMATCHUP0-1, 0-0 Big Ten

Woe unto the Fightin’ Leathernecks, the FCS sacrifice about to be devoured by the angry mob in Madtown like so many fried cheese curds. Seems the Badgers are very ornery indeed after utterly collapsing on the national stage late Saturday night, blowing a 17-point lead to LSU in a disheartening loss. Instead of a marquee win for Wisconsin and the Big Ten, the national view of the conference dropped down another peg as Gary Andersen’s crew still hasn’t won since that shocking upset by Penn State last Thanksgiving. That’s going to change this week, of course, but UW has some uncomfortable questions to answer after the quarterback fiasco. It won’t matter this week as Melvin Gordon should grind up whoever happens to be in front of him this Saturday. Assuming, that is, the coaches actually give him the ball. Mystifyingly he only had a couple touches after halftime after chewing up the Tigers early. An injury that the team was trying to keep quiet? We’ll see.



3:30 p.m., Saturday

Kinnick Stadium

Iowa City, Iowa


1-0, 0-0 MACMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: UI by 17. Geez, haven’t we seen this before? Another rusty September start (August, whatever) for Iowa against an outmanned opponent. This time it was FCS Northern Iowa who put a scare into the crowd at Kinnick. Even by the Hawkeyes lofty standards of unpredictable happenings with running backs, this box score was a gem. Iowa gained a respectable 151 yards on 36 carries. The leading rusher had 35 yards. And that was wideout Tevaun Smith, who picked up all 35 on a gadget play. All seven players who touched the ball had at least 10 yards. Not sure you could pull off those exact numbers again if you tried. Ball State is a tougher opponent this week, but it’s hard to glean anything from the Cardinals’ balanced 30-10 drubbing of Colgate this week. No clue which version of Iowa will show up this season, but it should be enough to win this one.



3:30 p.m., Saturday

Raymond James Stadium

Tampa, Fla.

1-0, 0-0 Big TenMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 AAC

LINE: UMD by 12.5. We could easily brush off the Terps’ curbstomping of hapless James Madison last week. But given how some of Maryland’s new conference rivals handled their own FCS opponents, we can give Randy Edsall’s crew some polite applause for taking care of business. This would figure to be a sterner test, but the fact that Maryland is a double-digit road favorite against what used to be a decent program suggests otherwise. What to make of USF and the aimless Stumbling of the Bulls since canning Jim Leavitt? Second-year coach Willie Taggart arrived in Tampa with some pomp, but last season was a disaster. Week 1 looked to be more of the same, trailing to something called Western Carolina at halftime before winning by five. One (very) bright spot? Freshman tailback Marlon Mack, who actually leads the country with 275 rushing yards after just one week. There was even a Steven Bench sighting last week, completing his only pass for 10 yards. Bulls starter Mike White finished 9-26 for 181 yards and a pick against an FCS team. Woof. Shouldn’t matter who lines up under center in this one. Maryland will continue a nice little start to its new era.



3:30 p.m., Saturday

Ryan Field

Evanston, Ill.

1-0, 0-0 MACMATCHUP0-1, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: NU by 7. Northwestern has entered full-on Eeyore territory at this point. The Cats have now lost eight of nine after an embarrassing first half against a rebuilding Cal team. Pat Fitzgerald was a stellar linebacker at NU but his defenses have consistently been sub-par and his staff was caught completely off guard by the Bears use of a second quarterback to mix in a previously unseen package and the resulting 31-7 hole was one score too deep to climb out of. After the game, Fitzgerald grumbled that newspapers and websites covering Cal didn’t report the new wrinkle ahead of time so he might have been able to plan for it. Remember when many people would have loved to see Fitz take over for Paterno at one point? Maybe that’s a little harsh — the Wildcats are bound to bounce back at some point after 11 nightmarish months. And it’ll probably come right here against the Huskies. But please, Fitz — dial back the passive-aggressiveness just a tad. Thanks.



3:30 p.m., Saturday

TCF Bank Stadium

Minneapolis, Minn.

1-0, 0-0 C-USAMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: UMN by 16. This is a game that a few of Jerry Kill’s predecessors might well lose. If the Gophers have turned a corner, that can’t happen here. MTSU is one of those squads that always seems to dig up a few decent athletes but lacks the discipline and consistency needed to be a threat. Can’t learn much from the Raiders’ 61-7 annihilation of FCS Savannah State. Then again, it’s hard to know much about Goldy, which rebounded from a rusty start against a much better FCS team in Eastern Illinois before pulling away. Playing without breakout receiver Drew Wolitarsky, QB Mitch Leidner threw for just 144 yards, though he did run for two scores. The Gophers were actually outgained 409-338 by EIU and could be vulnerable here.



Michigan State Spartans (1977 - 1982)

6:30 p.m., Saturday

Autzen Stadium

Eugene, Ore.

1-0, 0-0 Big TenMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Pac-12

LINE: UO by 11.5. Now we’re talking. The Big Ten’s most heavily anticipated non-conference game kicks off three great primetime matchups for the league. As outstanding as Sparty’s defense has been under Pat Narduzzi, the group hasn’t seen anything quite like this. MSU was able to handle Braxton Miller last year, but Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota runs the Ducks’ version of the spread at warp speed. No snark here — the chess match between the Spartans’ defense and the Ducks’ offense is one of the most intriguing you’ll see in any game this season anywhere in the country. Can Mark Dantonio actually pull this out and steal a victory in one of the very loudest venues on the planet? In his favor is the continued emergence of Connor Cook under center. There was a sigh of relief in Lansing after Cook took what he called a cheap shot at the end of his time in last week’s yawner against Jacksonville State. But no lasting damage. Receiver Tony Lippett ended up with four catches for 167 yards in the win and ranks right in between Eugene Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton in the national rankings at Nos. 6, 7, and 8. Oregon hardly needs an introduction after a farily effortless 62 points and 673 yards against South Dakota. The Ducks’ big stumble last year was against the hard-hitting defense of Stanford, a style that compares favorably to MSU’s. The call here is still a win for Oregon, but Michigan State should carve out some respect in a close game, which could ultimately give MSU a shot at a playoff berth.



7:30 p.m., Saturday

Notre Dame Stadium

South Bend, Ind.

1-0, 0-0 Big TenMATCHUP1-0 Independent

LINE: UND by 3.5. Just miserable that this series is coming to an end for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame cast its lot with the ACC, housing many of its athletic teams there in exchange for playing a series of football games against the league each year. That comes at the expense of traditional Big Ten foes, with Michigan right at the top of the list, sadly. So let’s savor this one while we can. Everett Golson is back in command of the Irish offense after a forced one-season hiatus and he can still get the job done. Michigan, meanwhile, has finally found a worthy successor to the hallowed No. 1 jersey worn by the likes of Anthony Carter and Braylon Edwards. The Wolverines are no longer pretending Devin Funchess is a tight end and he looks indeed the part of another great UM wideout, punctuating his first game in the jersey with three touchdowns against Appalachian State. Notre Dame, meanwhile, pounded Rice and has recovered rather nicely from an ill-timed academic fraud scandal at the end of camp that cost the Irish a few key players. Whoever wins this one is going to have bragging rights for a good long while. Look for turnovers to end up costing Michigan the win.



8 p.m. Saturday

Ohio Stadium

Columbus, Ohio


1-0, 0-0 ACCMATCHUP1-0, 0-0 Big Ten

LINE: OSU by 11. So just how vulnerable are the Buckeyes without Braxton? Apparently not enough for oddsmakers to give the Hokies much of a chance in this one. That seems to speak of how far VaTech has fallen in stature recently more than the Buckeyes’ own odd situation. Yeah, OSU trailed Navy at a couple junctures last week while breaking in very green QB J.T. Barrett in the wake of Miller’s season-ending surgery. But the talent in Columbus remains as impressive as ever, and soon the experience will catch up with that. Scheduling Navy isn’t the most productive of matchups, as the Mids’ triple-option attack is rarely seen again on a team’s schedule and the planning that goes into defending it doesn’t carry over much to the rest of the season. That still probably won’t be enough for VT to steal this one unless Frank Beamer’s penchant for excellent special teams play can lead directly to a touchdown or two. Ohio State’s secondary remains fairly untested and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer may not be able to take full advantage of it in his second start under center for the Hokies as the Bucks pull away for the win in the second half.

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