Inside the Pocket: Big Ten's playoff hope remains Michigan State

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By the time the sun rose on Sunday morning, the Big Ten looked like a prize fighter, way past his prime, who just got out of the ring with a young heavyweight champ.

Battered and bruised, the league's reputation after just two weeks of the 2014 season seems as low as it ever has been. Michigan State looked competitive against Oregon, but ultimately lost by 19. Virginia Tech pulled off a massive upset in front of a huge crowd at Ohio State. There are plenty of words you can use to describe Michigan's effort at Notre Dame, but none of them are good.

Whether it was a marquee non-conference game or one you wrote off as a laugher, the Big Ten has simply failed to come up with the wins it needed when given the opportunity this year.

The most concerning thing for the conference is this is becoming an annual refrain. The lackluster performance in bowl games on New Year's Day in 2011 led to the date being dubbed "Bloody Saturday" at the time. There were major non-conference losses in 2012 by large margins. 2013 was a bit better, but it was nowhere near stellar enough to reverse its fortunes.

Once could be an aberration, but now there is clearly a narrative. The Big Ten has had chances to prove it has quality teams but hasn't done anything with them. While the other Power Five leagues race to shape their reputation in a world with a College Football Playoff, the eldest of the conferences seems to have already set its persona in stone by Week 2.

"The narrative is still developing for each team and for each of the conferences," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "It will develop into a full narrative by Dec. 7, not Sept. 7."

In an ideal world that would be the case, but it's not reality. Sure, Ohio State's young offense can grow over the next few months, but the film of the Virginia Tech game is not going away. Sure, Nebraska could run the table, but who wouldn't think a one-loss Pac-12 or SEC team would have done the same with that schedule, without a close call against an FCS team, too.

That is what puts Michigan State in such a tough spot with the College Football Playoff selection committee. Michigan State played Oregon much closer than the score indicated and still fields a playoff contender if you look at what the team is capable of. Quarterback Connor Cook, wide receiver Tony Lippett and the offense look to be the class of the Midwest already, and Pat Narduzzi's defense should again be a top unit in the country.

"I said after the game we need to gain something from this experience, and I think we will. I think we'll get stronger inevitably," Mark Dantonio said Sunday. "What this program has been able to do consistently I would say, when there have been difficulties or what I call storms, we have been able to push through those storms and come out the back end successfully. That's what we'll try to accomplish."

The problem is the rest of his schedule won't do him any favors. Already the shine on that Ohio State game is less than it was a week ago. For the Spartans to climb back into the national consciousness, they will not only have to play perfect down the stretch, but do so impressively in big wins. Anything short of that will cause people to remember the second half of their game against the Ducks and not the first half.

With the BCS, the old adage was to lose early and claw your way back into the national title hunt. Perhaps the same thinking will ring true even in this day and age of a College Football Playoff selection committee. Either way for Michigan State, thanks mostly to their Big Ten brethren's struggles, the margin for error is razor thin.

Check out the top images from the second weekend of college football play.

Stat of the week

In getting shut out at Notre Dame, Michigan's FBS-record streak of scoring in 365 games ended. The longest active scoring streak now belongs to Florida at 323 games, dating back to 1988. TCU (269 games), Air Force (260) and Tennessee (248) are next.

Stats to chew on

» Speaking of 1988, that's the last time Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all lost on the same day.

» Sun Belt member Georgia Southern might have turned in the most impressive box score of the year in a 83-9 win over Savannah State. The Eagles had 599 yards rushing, the fourth-highest by a FBS team (technically they're a transitioning FBS team) since 2000. Their 10 rushing touchdowns was the most by any team in a game since at least 2000.

» The arrival of Lane Kiffin has certainly been good for Alabama's Amari Cooper; he leads the country in receiving yards per game, receptions per game and receiving yards.

» Rutgers' much-maligned quarterback, Gary Nova, is third in the country in passing efficiency, slightly ahead of Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

» Andre Heidari's game-winning field goal to beat Stanford was tied for the third-longest in USC's history at 53 yards. The Trojans also had just 52 scholarship players suited for the game on the Farm.

» Heading into Saturday's game against UTSA, Oklahoma State is 21-1 at home against non-conference opponents under Mike Gundy. The one loss was to a Houston team in 2009 coached by Kevin Sumlin, Dana Holgorsen and Tony Levine. The game also matches Gundy against his offensive coordinator when the two were in Stillwater together in late 80's.

» The ACC went a perfect 11-0 in non-conference games in Week 2, the first time in league history it has done that with more than seven games on the schedule.

» Iowa had 55 pass attempts against Ball State, tying the high-water mark under Kirk Ferentz.

» Baylor freshman wideout KD Cannon tied a school record with three touchdowns in one game -- in the first quarter. His 223 yards receiving against Northwestern State were second most in school history, and all of them came before halftime.

» Seven teams have topped the 700 yards of offense mark so far in 2014. That's a third of the number that accomplished that feat last season -- and we've only played two weeks.

» The longest winning streak in the country is 18 games (Florida State), while the longest losing streak in the country is 18 games (Miami of Ohio).

Quote of the week

"It's an embarrassment to this university, and I knew it, and I didn't do anything about it. And I take responsibility and all the blame for this loss. I knew during warmups we weren't ready to play." -- Charlie Strong after Texas lost to BYU.

Sound from Saturday

Here's Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen's call of Royce Freeman's 38-yard scamper that put the game away for the Ducks against Michigan State.

Tweet of the week

Sideline standouts

Gold medal: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, for proving the world wrong and getting the Hokies a massive victory at Ohio State.
Silver medal: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, for embarrassing Michigan in a way few thought possible after several ND starters were suspended to start the season.
Bronze medal: Memphis' Justin Fuente, who put up points on UCLA's defense and nearly pulled off a mammoth cross-country upset.

Pre-snap read

Georgia at South Carolina: The Gamecocks bounced back with a win against a tough ECU squad, but the defense didn't look all that much better than it did in the opening Thursday-night game. Georgia looks primed to take control of the SEC East with a big win in Columbia after taking last week off. While Todd Gurley should power the Bulldogs to a victory, this could be the coming-out show for Hutson Mason.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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