Rutgers, Maryland bucking Big Ten tradition

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

A few years ago, when the Big Ten added Nebraska and went to the task of dividing its 12 teams into two divisions, the idea of splitting the "traditional" powers was used.

Keeping Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska on separate sides was important, or so we were told. You couldn't have all the great teams in the same division, right?

So Ohio State and Penn State were placed in the Leaders division and Michigan and Nebraska were sent to the Legends division.

Competitive balance — that was the goal.

Of course, since then only Ohio State, and to a lesser extent Nebraska, have actually been competitive. Michigan State and Wisconsin have been the real powers in that era with the Badgers winning two Big Ten title games and the Spartans the third.

This week was the latest example that tradition continues to mean virtually nothing in the Big Ten. While Penn State was sent crashing back to earth by Northwestern and Michigan was again leaving its increasingly frustrated fan base with its head in its hands, the new guys were continuing to impress.

The new guys would be Maryland and Rutgers. Hardly traditional powers in any sense, really, but even more so considering this is the first season in the Big Ten for both.

But there they were — Rutgers remaining unbeaten in non-conference play and Maryland storming to a victory in its first Big Ten game. And that came on the road against Indiana, the same team that went on the road and beat Missouri last week.

"We did it in the first game," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "We didn't wait for two, three, four, five, six games to do it. We got it in the first one, on the road, against what I think is a very good football team."

The idea of either team pulling off the unthinkable and winning the East isn't as far-fetched as it once was, though overcoming the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State is still a longshot.

Things get tougher from here, to be sure. Rutgers plays at Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State and hosts Wisconsin. Maryland travels to Wisconsin and Penn State and hosts Ohio State and Michigan State.

The teams close the regular season by facing each other at Rutgers and there are many — mostly around New Jersey and Maryland or those outside of the conference that like to snicker at the Big Ten — that would revel in the fact it could determine a division champion.

Odds are it won't, but early on the non-traditional powers are already staking their claim.

"This history, you might not feel it right now," Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs said, "but along the line, 20 to 30 years from now, people can say that we won our first game."

And they might say it was start of a completely new tradition.

Big Ten in prime time

Most of the non-conference season is done, and the Big Ten has to be happy about that after a 5-11 mark against teams from the power five conferences.

The upcoming week might turn out to be one of the most critical of the season. As interesting as Ohio State's visit to Maryland might be, all eyes will be on East Lansing as Michigan State hosts Nebraska.

It features the favorite from each division and will be a rare showcase for the conference as a national TV audience will be watching in prime time.

The Spartans were already looking forward to it in the wake of their victory over Wyoming and coach Mark Dantonio was already encouraging Michigan State fans to show up in full-throttle support.

And after Nebraska dispatched of Illinois Saturday night, there thoughts were quickly turning to the showdown.

"I can't wait, and that's all that I have to say," Nebraska offensive lineman Alex Lewis said.

Neither can the Big Ten.

Penn State's bubble pops

It wouldn't be a weekly look at the Big Ten without taking a few shots. And this conference always seems to be willing to offer up a few candidates.

Even avoiding the debacle in Ann Arbor there are several to choose from. Iowa continues to impress virtually no one after rallying to beat Purdue and Wisconsin didn't exactly set the world on fire against South Florida.

But this week we're turning to Penn State. When the Nittany Lions were ruled eligible for postseason play a couple of weeks ago, the Penn State bandwagon filled up quickly. Suddenly, there was a new contender in the East, almost as if folks were clamoring for one of those "traditional" powers to find its rightful place on top of the heap.

Of course, that was ignoring some pretty sloppy play that had the Lions getting bailed out by some outstanding quarterback play, clutch kicking and even sloppier play by its opponents.

That all fell apart Saturday as Penn State fell at home to Northwestern, a team that had one once in nearly the past year.

"We could've played a lot better," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "We made a lot of mistakes. We're having the same issue. It keeps popping up all year long which is being able to consistently be able to run the ball and being able to protect the quarterback."

Penn State gets a week off before a tough stretch that includes three straight against Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland and closes the season with Michigan State.

"We will get this fixed," Franklin said. "I promise you and guarantee you that — we'll get it fixed."

Traditional folks are counting on it.

How Big Ten teams fared

East Division

Saturday's result; Next Saturday's game

Maryland (1-0, 4-1) d. Indiana, 37-15; vs. Ohio State, noon (ABC);

Penn State (1-1, 4-1) lost to Northwestern, 29-6; IDLE

Michigan State (0-0, 3-1) d. Wyoming, 56-14; vs. Nebraska, 8 (ABC)

Ohio State (0-0, 3-1) d. Cincinnati, 50-28; at Maryland, noon (ABC)

Rutgers (0-1, 4-1) d. Tulane, 31-6; vs. Michigan, 7 (BTN)

Indiana (0-1, 2-2) lost to Maryland, 37-15; vs. N. Texas, 2:30 (BTN)

Michigan (0-1, 2-3) lost to Minnesota, 30-14; at Rutgers, 7 (BTN)

West Division

Saturday's result; Next Saturday's game

Nebraska (1-0, 5-0) d. Illinois, 45-14; at Michigan State, 8 (ABC)

Iowa (1-0, 4-1) d Purdue, 24-10; IDLE

Minnesota (0-0, 4-1) d. Michigan, 30-14; IDLE

Northwestern (1-0, 2-2) d. Penn State, 29-6; vs. Wisconsin, 3:30 (ESPN2)

Wisconsin (0-0, 3-1) d. S. Florida, 27-10; at Northwestern, 3:30 (ESPN2)

Illinois (0-1, 3-2) lost to Nebraska, 45-14; vs. Purdue, noon (ESPN2)

Purdue (0-1, 2-3) lost to Iowa, 24-10; at Illinois, noon (ESPN2)