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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 10:57 PM

After a disappointing start to the 2012 college football season, we talked about how bleak things were looking for the storied Big Ten conference. Since then, it’s gotten worse!

Of note:

*Ohio State barely got by a mediocre California team, then struggled with poor UAB. Things are supposed to get better as a season progresses for a new head coach. Ohio State looks to be taking a step backward each week. Where did all that swagger go? This team is 4-0, but it’s been home games vs. inferior opposition.

*Michigan couldn’t score a touchdown in a nationally televised loss to Notre Dame, committing turnovers all over the field. Denard Robinson was supposed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate. There was a pollster who thought this was the best team in the country back in late August! Michigan was outclassed by Notre Dame, extremely outclassed by Alabama, and barely beat an Air Force team that just lost to UNLV.

*Michigan State was one of the few Big 10 teams with a promising start to the season. But, their win over Boise State doesn’t look all that meaningful now. Unless your goal is to be as good as BYU. They were outclassed by Notre Dame two weeks ago, then almost made their coach speechless with a lethargic win over poor Eastern Michigan. A really bad two weeks for Sparty.

*Wisconsin has managed a 3-1 record, but looked awful in wins over Utah State and UTEP. You get the feeling these teams would struggle to win the Mountain West or Conference USA this year. Big Ten teams are trying to pad their records with these weak opponents…but aren’t showing much clearance.  Most importantly for you, they’re missing Vegas expectations by a mile.

*Nebraska has recovered from its loss to UCLA. But, that loss seems worse now that UCLA lost at home to Oregon State. Yes, Oregon State grades out better than Nebraska (off a common opponent) and Wisconsin (heads-up win).

*Iowa…how could we have left out Iowa?! The Hawkeyes lost this past weekend to Central Michigan in a nailbiter. They opened the season by beating Northern Illinois at a neutral site in a nailbiter. A program that was a New Year’s Day staple very recently is suddenly looking like borderline bowl material in the MAC! Iowa also has a loss on their card to Iowa State. Where will Iowa State finish up in the Big 12? Do that with all of these teams. Where would they rate right now in the Big 12 or SEC?

That’s not a bad idea for an exercise. Stick these teams in CUSA and try to guess where they’d rate only playing in that conference. Use actual results from games against the conference as you evaluate. Do the same thing for the Mountain West and WAC. That’s pretty bleak. There’s not much crossover with superior leagues. There’s no good news to report from the handful of games for the teams we’ve mentioned already. All evidence suggests that nobody listed to this point is really Top 20 caliber (no matter what the polls say), and maybe not Top 30. There’s time to improve to get to that level.

Even the success stories are mostly mirages.

*Minnesota is 4-0 straight up. Nobody’s paid much attention to them since they had to go overtime to beat UNLV. The Gophers only beat Western Michigan by 5 points at home, and Syracuse by 7 points at home. Once again, we have a MAC team rather than a major conference team here. Overtime with UNLV is never something you can brag about either.  

*Northwestern is 4-0 straight up. And, they’ve shown a lot of effort and spirit getting there. If there’s a team you can ROOT for in terms of effort, it’s Northwestern. Still, their first win was a 42-41 thriller over Syracuse. If you’re playing thrillers with Syracuse, you’re nothing special. Wins over Boston College and Vandy were solid. We’ll need more context for those teams to properly evaluate what this 4-0 start means. We’re not sticking Northwestern into the elites or anything. It’s possible the Wildcats are better than most realize, and are actually a serious threat to win their Legends division. If Wake Forest can play in an ACC championship game, Northwestern can sneak into a Big Ten title tilt in a down year for others.

*Purdue is 2-1, and the loss looks now to be a good one because they hung closer with Notre Dame than either Michigan or Michigan State did (though the Irish were jet lagged off a trip to Ireland). Otherwise it’s a 102-22 win over Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan. That makes them look like a juggernaut by Big Ten standards right now. Purdue is in the Leaders Division. Are we looking at Northwestern-Purdue for the Big Ten title? Perish the thought!

This may be the best way to visualize things right now. Northwestern has held its level of recent years. Most of the Big Ten has sunk down to where Northwestern usually is. Purdue has lifted its game to join the mix too. Maybe Ohio State’s better than that. Maybe they’re not. It doesn’t matter for the league because Ohio State is ineligible. For handicappers, your immediate task is to figure out how to separate these teams in a way that really makes sense.

Obviously, something like “these guys are supposed to be better than this so I’ll bet them on the due theory” isn’t working very well. Michigan State didn’t show bounce back fire. Michigan doesn’t seem capable of feeling embarrassment, though they’re finally talking the talk to the media.

Here’s this week’s Big 10 schedule. Use these games to make a serious effort at ranking the new reality:

Indiana at Northwestern

Penn State at Illinois

Minnesota at Iowa

#14 Ohio State at #20 Michigan State

Wisconsin at #22 Nebraska

Purdue hosts Marshall in a non-conference game. Michigan is idle…which means they get to use their newfound anger about losing on NOBODY! For the record, we think the poll rankings are still too optimistic about those qualifying. Remember during our summer previews how we talked about the Big Ten’s tendency to be consistently overrated because of their media presence. ESPN desperately needs some life from this league or their Fall programming schedule is going to look awful (again!). This week, Minnesota/Iowa is a national TV game!

Maybe the perceived cream is about to rise to the top after a month of sluggishness. Maybe it’s just going to be one big mess this year, and you should always take the underdogs. JIM HURLEY has some very strong ideas about this league…and the rest of college football. He’s very much looking forward to this weekend’s schedule. We’ll talk more about that during our late week previews. Wednesday is the perfect time to check in on season rates because there aren’t any games to distract you!

If you have any questions about full season service and the rest of baseball, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We’re still early in football and the baseball postseason is shaping up as quite a thrill ride. Take this opportunity to talk to one of our representatives about the best options available for your individual needs.

Back with you Thursday to preview that night’s NFL game. It seems like football is bringing new surprises every day. One man who’s rarely surprised by what happens on a football field is JIM HURLEY! His NETWORK of statheads, computer programmers, and Wise Guy connections have mapped out the week ahead…so he can already state with absolute confidence that YOU’RE GOING TO GET THE MONEY!

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