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Money talks in college football

With the announcement that Maryland and Rutgers will be joining the Big Ten, we have yet another example of how tradition and the needs of student athletes no longer matter at all in big time college sports. It’s all about money. In this case, it was all about the Big Ten Network and gaining exposure to large TV markets on the East Coast.

On one level the entire situation is pathetic. Does a weakened Big Ten football conference really need to add a weak Maryland program or a Rutgers program that will struggle to stay competitive in the Big Ten? Adding Nebraska made sense from a football standpoint. But this is all about money and markets. I guess once we all acknowledge that it’s a little easier to accept. There’s an arms race going on and the Big Ten sees these dollars as adding to their muscle for the long term.

Meanwhile we have more stories of academic fraud at North Carolina. Read this article and it will make you sick, especially when you consider that UNC hoops is the darling of the NCAA and the national media. Will the NCAA be just as hard on this basketball program? Will it dare vacate a National Championship for the NCAA Tournament that the NCAA controls? How much has money corrupted the holier-than-thou NCAA? With a whistle blower coming forward at North Carolina the NCAA may be forced to address one of its sacred cows.

If Ohio State, Penn State and USC can get crushed by the NCAA for football violations, then North Carolina should get punished for basketball violations and academic fraud.

But frankly the whole system of punishment sucks. Ohio State had a minor scandal over players getting tattoos, and now they might be shut out of a national championship game against Notre Dame. Maybe the NCAA doesn’t care as the BCS controls football championships, but a matchup between Ohio State and Notre Dame in the National Championship could have been the most watched college football game ever give the huge followings from both schools.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is strong-arming former Miami football players in their investigation of a rogue booster there. What’s worse – some Miami kids getting free steaks and yacht trips or “student-athletes” at North Carolina taking no-show classes where a student adviser wrote their papers?

Finally, ESPN has won the rights to televise the new college football playoff for 12 years for a reported fee of $470 million per year. Does anyone expect things to get better? At least the BCS will get better as we can have four teams fighting it out instead of only two. Hopefully it will expand to eight teams at some point. But the dollars keep getting bigger for what’s supposed to be amateur sports.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Iowa’s win against Michigan was just so … Iowa

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz (L) speaks with an assistant coach on the sidelines during his team’s play against Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl BCS NCAA football game in Miami, January 5, 2010. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Coming off a loss at lowly Minnesota, Iowa looked to be lost. But really, it was just Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are consistent this year. That’s not necessarily a good thing. They’re awful on the road (0-3) and good at home (6-0). Teams playing better at home than on the road is not at all out of the ordinary. But when you lose at Minnesota then win at home against Michigan, there’s something major going on. Does the team bus have a carbon monoxide leak?

Iowa picked up a 24-16 win against the Wolverines by shutting down Denard Robinson and playing better defense than it probably has all year. The Wolverines had four plays from inside the 5-yard line as time was running out, but couldn’t punch it in (cue Michigan fans claiming Junior Hemingway did actually score on one of the plays — he pushed off, folks).

So just so we’re straight, Iowa held Michigan to less points than it did Minnesota. To be fair, I guess, Michigan State did the same thing, eking out a win against the Gophers today.

So now Iowa, which has lost to a team that is 2-7 and another that is 5-4, controls its own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division. It has Michigan State at home next week, then plays at Purdue and at Nebraska to close out the year.

If things go as they have so far this season, that means a 1-2 finish for Iowa and a middling bowl. But with a well-balanced offense and a defense that can apparently stop people every once in a while, there’s a decent chance Iowa will be playing in Indianapolis. Yes, Iowa, the team that lost to Minnesota.

After all the good, Michigan State’s bad puts it in a tough spot

Michigan State Spartans center John Stipek (R) is consoled by a teammate while sitting on the bench during the second half of the Capital One Bowl college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Orlando, Florida, January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Phelan M. Ebenhack (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Before the month of October started, Michigan State was staring at a brutal conference gauntlet of four straight games against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Somehow, the Spartans found a way to win those first three, pushing themselves near the top 10 of the BCS rankings and taking control of the Big Ten Legends Division.

But with today’s loss to Nebraska, the Spartans and their very respectable 3-1 record during the month, need help to get to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.

It’s a cruel fate for a team that found different ways to win against three of the Big Ten’s top six teams, and somehow was able to get emotionally ready to play all three of them. Apparently four is too much to ask for, however, as the Spartans — especially offensively — looked listless in the loss.

Kirk Cousins was terrible, the run game was non-existent and the defense was tired from spending most of the game on the field after the offense yet again failed to do anything.

So now Nebraska is in the Legends driver’s seat, holding the head-to-head tie-breaker against MSU and having the luxury of its one conference loss (at Wisconsin) coming outside of the division. The road is not easy, however, as Nebraska finishes the season at home against Northwestern, at Michigan, at Penn State and at home against Iowa. With as erratic as the Nebraska offense is, any one of those games is losable.

Michigan State’s road wasn’t a guarantee, but it was much easier than Nebraska’s, they substitute Michigan and Penn State for Indiana and Minnesota, the conference’s two worst teams.

It’s amazing how quickly the euphoria from a miracle last-second win against an unbeaten, top 10 opponent can wear off in college football. But I suppose that’s part of the reason we all love it so much.

Michigan grounded in loss at Michigan State

These might have been hideous, and the game might have been, too, but Michigan State will take it.

The Spartans ended Michigan’s run at a perfect season today with a 28-14 win against “Big Brother.” That’s four straight, which pretty much makes big brother your older, fatter, kind of alcoholic brother that you can beat at sports.

Michigan’s offense was rendered impotent as the Spartans corralled Denard Robinson’s run game and forced him to pass, which, um, isn’t what Michigan wants to be doing. Robinson was 9-of-24 for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The interception was returned for a touchdown by Isaiah Lewis, effectively ending the game.

Perhaps more impressive, however, was Michigan State holding Robinson to under 50 yards rushing. The Spartans also hit him well after the whistle a couple of times, you know, just because. It worked, though, as Robinson was out of the game at the end of Michigan’s final drive, causing backup Devin Gardner — who Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges inexplicably used with relative frequency during the game — to come up with a fourth-and-22 play that is sure to reside at the top of ESPN’s Worst of the Worst for years to come. Seriously, Gardner ran for about 130 yards on the play, 125 of which were in the wrong direction or sideways.

It’s only loss No. 1 for Michigan, but it brings back memories of the Rich Rodriguez era. Michigan State out-schemed Michigan in the second half, destroying the “Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison won’t be out-coached” meme that Michigan fans were spreading. The Wolverines couldn’t tackle, which surely gave Michigan fans the shakes after watching that on repeat for the last three years.

I’m not saying Brady Hoke = Rich Rodriguez, but this should put the brakes on the Brady Hoke for Pope campaigns. Michigan is just now entering the tough part of its schedule, and should expect more of this as it goes on this season.

As for Michigan State, it’s not out of the woods yet. The Spartans have to play Wisconsin and Nebraska in the next two weeks, so the euphoria from this win could wear off quickly. But the Spartans are unbeaten in Big Ten play after games against Ohio State and Michigan, and control their own destiny when it comes to playing for the Big Ten championship.

But that’s all irrelevant right now, as “Little Brother” has officially grown up and is in control of the state of Michigan, which might be the most important thing to the residents of East Lansing.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson dilemma

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Michigan’s new head coach, Brady Hoke, is facing a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, he needs to bring Michigan back to playing Michigan football after the disastrous RichRod experiment. That means moving back to a pro style offense and moving from the absurd 3-3-5 defense that stopped nobody in the Big Ten back to a traditional 4-3. Michigan needs to get bigger, and Hoke has started that process with his 2011 recruiting class.

Yet with respect to the offense, Hoke also has Denard Robinson, one of the most explosive college football players we’ve seen in years. He was perfect for RichRod’s offense, even though that offense and Robinson sputtered against better defenses. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, and naturally Hoke is anxious to move on.

So how does he use Denard Robinson going forward? Hoke says “We’re smart enough to have elements he does well from what he did in the past in our offense.” But he plans on using Robinson as the quarterback in his pro style offense, which will have Robinson taking snaps under center instead of the shotgun and relying on play action.

I’m skeptical this can work. Sure, he’ll still unleash Robinson at times, and I suspect they might use the option play, but Robinson’s effectiveness will likely suffer dramatically under this system.

Robinson made big plays in the passing game last year, but that was because he found wide-open receivers when defenses tried in vain to slow down his running game. This year he won’t have that luxury. I don’t see Robinson consistently making the tough throws demanded in a pro style offense. He’s also very short and that will limit him as well.

We’ll see how this experiment plays out, but I suspect that Hoke will regret taking Robinson out of his element.

A better option might be to have a traditional quarterback run Hoke’s new offense, and keep a version of RichRod’s system around for Robinson to run as a Wildcat formation. He could also use Robinson as a Slash-type weapon in the traditional offense.

Right now their odds of winning the Big Ten are set at 15/1, so few are expecting a breakout year.

With this transition and the drama surrounding the Big Ten this year with the addition of Nebraska and the troubles at Ohio State, Michigan should be one of the more intriguing stories of 2011.

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