Much like an athletic director giving a vote of confidence to his beleaguered coach, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has given one to his beleaguered league.
"The narrative is still developing for each team and for each of the conferences," Delany told The Associated Press. "It will develop into a full narrative by Dec. 7, not Sept. 7."
In addition, two Big Ten teams fell to MAC opponents: Purdue to Central Michigan and Northwestern to Northern Illinois. And most of the league's wins were uninspiring, too: Penn State beat Akron 21-3, Minnesota held off Middle Tennessee 35-24, Iowa rallied to beat Ball State 17-13 in the final two minutes, Maryland beat USF 24-17, Nebraska scored with 20 seconds left on an incredible catch-and-run by Ameer Abdullah to subdue FCS opponent McNeese State 31-24 and Illinois fended off Western Kentucky 41-34. And on closer inspection, wins by Rutgers over FCS member Howard (38-25) and Wisconsin over Western Illinois (37-3 after leading just 9-3 at halftime) weren't that impressive, either.
Delany professes not to be worried.
"It's not a dispositive narrative; it's a developing narrative," he said. "So many good teams haven't played top competition."
That part is true: We're only two weeks into the season and the number of truly must-see games has numbered less than 10. The flipside? Three Big Ten teams faced top competition Saturday -- and lost by a combined 64 points. And what has to be almost as disheartening is that league teams struggled to put away less-than-stellar opponents Saturday, too.
Thus, much like an AD trying to prop up a coach facing criticism, Delany is trying to prop up a league that was criticized roundly for its performance Saturday. Thing is, the only way a coach saves his job is for his team to get it done on the field. That might not be possible for the Big Ten this season -- at least in a manner that is going to convince its critics.
Eight of the league's 14 teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers, Minnesota and Nebraska -- are unbeaten two weeks in. But does anyone think any of those teams can get through unscathed? Despite its 46-27 loss at Oregon, Michigan State still looks to be the league's best team. But would a 12-1 Michigan State team (in that scenario, we're assuming the Spartans win out from here, including a win in the Big Ten championship game) have that much cachet with the selection committee? Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State look to be the four best opponents on the Spartans' schedule. How much weight would beating that quartet carry this season?
Yes, the Spartans lost a non-conference game to Notre Dame last season and finished fourth in the final set of BCS standings at 12-1. But the Spartans received a huge bump in the standings by beating an unbeaten Ohio State team in the Big Ten title game. That kind of bump is unlikely to happen this season.
Granted, a 12-1 Michigan State team this season would be attractive if some other league champs have two losses. But only once in the past seven seasons did a team with two losses finish in the top four of the BCS, and that was in 2007, when three teams in the top four had two losses. There also were league champs who finished in the top four of the BCS with two losses in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and '06.
In short, it appears the best way for a Big Ten team to garner a playoff bid is to hope that there is a lot of cannibalization in the other power leagues. That's not a good place for a conference to be just two weeks into the season.