Pickin' On the Big Ten: Week 11, 2018 Season

By Mark Hasty on November 8, 2018 at 10:01 am
down into the weirdness
© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I may have had my one crowning moment of funny on Wednesday, so I'll just leave it here:

Last week in review!

Minnesota at Illinois: I said Minnesota 41, Illinois 30; actual score Illinois 55, Minnesota 31. Can anyone confirm Lyle Lanley P.J. Fleck's employment status?

Michigan State at Maryland: I said Sparty 34, Maryland 18; actual score Sparty 24, Maryland 3. Why is Sparty the team I've been the least wrong about this season?

Penn State at Michigan: I said Michigan 30, Penn State 20; actual score Michigan 42, Penn State 7. Close enough.

Notre Dame at jNWU: I said ND 34, jNWU 24; actual score ND 31, jNWU 21. Something something blind pigs and acorns.

Nebraska at Ohio State: I said aOSU 44, Nebraska 20; actual score aOSU 36, Nebraska 31. PROTIP: You will never be wrong predicting aOSU will start slow in any game that seems easily winnable. Never.

Rutgers at Wisconsin: I said Wisconsin 56, Rutgers 13; actual score Wisconsin 31, Rutgers 17. It figures: The week I stop predicting Rutgers to score 17 points is the week they actually do.

Iowa at Purdue: I said Purdue 34, Iowa 23; actual score Purdue 38, Iowa 36. Yes, I'm the one person for whom the Hawks outperformed expectations last week. Iowa is not and, under Ferentz, never has been optimized to deal with an offense like Purdue's. I wish we'd won, but the fact that we got that close in a shootout took some of the sting out of an Iowa loss ON MY BIRTHDAY, YOU GUYS.

Anyway. You don't get marquee games every week, and this late in the season you get more than a few play-out-the-string cow flops. In the olden days when I started writing this column I could dismiss all such games with one simple line: "Only $19.95 on pay-per-view." Doesn't apply any more. So as we look at this week's games, I want you to come with me on a little thought experiment.

Imagine a major metro area somewhere warm and thus somewhere comfortably outside of Big Ten country. You are near the airport at the kind of sports bar populated by business travelers and middle-aged men who have top-five lists of the most they ever threw up at a party. But there's something unusual about this sports bar: the architecture. As you wander in, you note the place has a strange, concentric structure.

Immediately past the host station all the televisions are tuned to Maryland at Indiana. You note a great number of dudes-only tables populated by guys in their mid-thirties. They are overdressed for this place, in clothes that they could have worn to the office on casual Friday. The game carries on, seemingly unnoticed by them as they check the phones and intermittently talk to each other. Bottles of Sam Adams and rapidly congealing nachos -- hold the jalapenos -- cover the table. They talk to each other. They are obviously alumni of one or both of these universities. They do not discuss the game as it plays out near them. It's Saturday, the weekend, and they're talking about work. Based on the quality of the game, this is probably the right decision. Indiana 28, Maryland 24.

You move closer to the center of building, to a place where the TVs are showing Purdue at Minnesota. It's strangely cold here, compared to the outside, and the air conditioning is blowing so hard it's riffling all the napkins. Here the fans have a desperate look in their eyes, knowing that one of them must lose this game, and that loss will pretty much end their dreams of a decent season. Why must it always be like this? Why must pleasure and pride either remain forever just out of their grasp, or flee town the moment they lay hands upon it? The walk of shame awaits one of them, and you can easily tell the fans on both sides have walked it before. Why do they keep doing this to themselves? Purdue 48, Minnesota 20.

Your thirst grows. You want to make your way to the bar and watch the game. You enter a ring of TVs tuned to Ohio State at Michigan State. The fans here are, to be blunt, disgusting ... but the tables they sit at are far worse, stained as they are with ranch dressing, chicken bones, pizza crusts, and soiled napkins. You step in a puddle of spilled Bloody Mary. Something happens in the game, leading to loud shouts of profanity, some gleeful, some anguished. You look more closely. Everyone has dripped food onto his or her shirt. You note that all the plates at every table are picked clean and the victorious fans are now eating the losers alive. The best part of winning is not that they won; it's that the other team lost, and this is the just desserts of supporting a loser. Michigan State 31, Ohio State 30.

You move on before they start eating you. The bar is in sight. So are TVs showing Illinois at Nebraska. There are no Illinois fans here. There are no Illinois fans anywhere. The Husker faithful cheer as their rapidly improving team dispatches a soft-bellied bobo. Every time there's a break in the action, there is not a commercial but a strange cutaway to a replay of the 1996 Orange Bowl. For some reason, all the waitresses are wearing Baltimore Ravens jerseys. Nebraska 40, Illinois 27.

As you move closer to the bar the TVs are showing Wisconsin at Penn State. Despite the obvious quality of the game none of the fans seem to be enjoying themselves. On the wall are several NFL jerseys, each belonging to one of the many Badger running backs who shone like diamonds in college and vanished without a trace in the NFL. The lone exception is a Joe Thomas Browns jersey, a symbol of an excellent individual performer awash in a sea of mediocrity. How can it be that a system can produce so much excellence at this level and virtually none at the next? What fundamental untruths about football have been taught and left unchallenged because they were not needed to compete in this division? And why did their only decent quarterback have to be imported from another school? Who blasphemed the football gods? And why are the Penn State fans wiping sand out of their eyes? Penn State 21, Wisconsin 20.

You can hear the clinking of glasses. The bar is near. For some reason, the TVs are now tuned to Michigan at Rutgers. At every break in the action the screens jump to various YouTube conspiracy-theory videos featuring poorly dressed middle-aged men. The game returns. Michigan scores another touchdown on a pick six. No one cheers. You notice all the fans at every table are mannequins. So are the players on the home team. Michigan 52, Rutgers 3.

You have found the game for which you were searching: Northwestern at Iowa. But only one small screen shows it. The other screens show a progression of anonymous, faceless Northwestern quarterbacks having fantastic games against Iowa but absolutely no other team. Drew Tate flings his body over the offensive line into the end zone, but the hand of God shoves him back out. One screen shows an Iowa-Northwestern game from the 1990s. Pat Fitzgerald is on the sideline. He does not look happy. Or healthy. A fire burns in his eyes. Iowa 37, Northwestern 34.

You finally reach the bar after this long, strange journey. You can't even imagine alcohol at this point because your head is spinning so wildly. But your thirst is so great. "Gimme a Coke," you say to the bartender.

"Is Pepsi okay?" she replies.

You turn to look for the exit, but there isn't one.

SEASON: 55-28

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