Big Ten conference opens with losses to Cal, Utah and Missouri

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


AP Sports Writer

This is no way to combat the critics.

The Big Ten had three games last week against teams of similar status -- and lost all three.

Michigan fell at home to Utah 25-23 in coach Rich Rodriguez's debut on the sideline. No. 20 Illinois put up 42 points against No. 6 Missouri but still lost 52-42 in neutral-site St. Louis. And a physical Cal team beat visiting Michigan State, 38-31.

"I don't really know what was going on," Michigan State safety Otis Wiley said. "They were just pounding us."

Seven other conference teams in action won (Purdue was idle), but the victories came against the likes of Maine, Western Kentucky, Northern Illinois, Youngstown State, Coastal Carolina, Akron and Syracuse. That's not exactly murderer's row in college football.

The Big Ten's signature nonconference win so far is probably Wisconsin's 38-17 win over Akron, which was uncomfortably close for a while. Northwestern owns the lone win over a BCS opponent, but the Wildcats' 30-10 win came at the expense of the Orange, who finished 2-10 last season.

The two teams may sort the issue out for themselves, as the Zips visit Syracuse on Saturday.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, whose team beat up on FCS member Youngstown State 43-0, looked for a ray of sunshine in the doom and gloom.

"We got three losses in all three of those games, but I don't think we have to apologize for how our teams played," he said. "We didn't do what we needed to do but we played like crazy."

LET'S GO TO THE TAPE: Minnesota coach Tim Brewster was upset about a call in last week's 31-27 win over Northern Illinois that ruled a pass in the from Adam Weber to Eric Decker incomplete in the end zone. He was even more upset that instant replay officials upheld the call, determining the ball came loose before Decker hit the turf.

"Instant replay's supposed to take away human error," he said. "Well, if there's a human error, let's use it to correct it."

DON'T USE YOUR HEAD: Illinois head coach Ron Zook said his team's poor tackling was one of its biggest problems in Saturday's 52-42 loss to No. 6 Missouri.

The problem? Too much thinking, he said.

"Tackling is about 99 percent emotion," he said. "You've got to get past that thinking stage. You're way better off having guys flying at the football than trying to make every adjustment possible."

Illinois middle linebacker Brit Miller, a senior picked by Zook to be a team leader, apologized to the squad for the defensive letdown.

"If your offense scores that many points, you should win," Miller said.

EXTRA YEAR: Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark learned Tuesday that he is academically eligible for a fifth year of eligibility, allowing him to play in 2009. Clark has said that he had hoped to play to gain the extra year after academic issues earlier in his career.

Last week's win over Coastal Carolina helped ease Clark into the high-profile job in Happy Valley.

"I'm a lot more relaxed, a lot more confident going into this week," Clark said. "Everything looks good right now."

BEDEVILED: Don't think Northwestern has forgotten its meeting with Duke last season.

Northwestern had a first down at the Blue Devils 7 with 38 seconds left only to throw four incompletions in a painful 20-14 loss that would haunt the Wildcats the remainder of the season. Duke ended a 22-game losing streak with the win.

Now the Wildcats, who had a 506-409 advantage in yardage, try for some revenge this Saturday in Durham, N.C.

"Duke came in here last year and beat us," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I believe the maturity of our team is better. Last year is out of our control."

HOT FEET: Players and coaches at Indiana's home game Saturday against Western Kentucky were feeling the heat on the recently installed turf.

The surface includes black rubber pellets mixed in with artificial grass that looks natural, and the renovation project in the north end zone closed off most of the air that used to blow through Memorial Stadium's open ends.

"It's so hot that your feet start to burn because of all that rubber on the field," receiver Andrew Means said.

BEAST OF BURDEN: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer figures to be one worn-out dude this season.

Ringer carried 27 times in the loss at California, the most of anyone in the Big Ten last week.

"As we enter into every game, we're going with Javon until he tires," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Throughout the game we checked with him, and he said he was ready to go. It was one of those situations where he didn't want to come out."

Ringer gained just 81 yards, an average of 3 yards per carry.

Ringer was spelled regularly by Jehuu Caulcrick last season, particularly in short yardage and goal line situations. But with Caulcrick gone, the Spartans don't have that luxury this year.

PAK ATTACK: Sophomore walk-on Paki O'Meara is listed as the backup to running back Shonn Greene at Iowa. He's making his presence felt nonetheless.

O'Meara rushed for 23 yards and a touchdown and was stellar on special teams in Iowa's 46-3 win over Maine.

"He was solid last spring, but I think he's feeling more comfortable now, he's more decisive, looks a little quicker to me," coach Kirk Ferentz said of O'Meara. "He's a guy who can do a couple of things for us, and that helps."

QUICK-HITTERS: Besides Northwestern at Duke, the rest of Saturday's games involving Big Ten teams include Eastern Illinois at Illinois, Murray State at Indiana, Florida International at Iowa, Miami (Ohio) at Michigan, Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, Minnesota at Bowling Green, Ohio at Ohio State, Oregon State at Penn State, Northern Colorado at Purdue and Marshall at Wisconsin. ... Big Ten players of the week: Illinois QB Juice Williams and Indiana QB Kellen Lewis, Michigan LB Obi Ezeh, and Northwestern P Stefan Demos. ... Illinois unveils its $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium on Saturday, with Dick Butkus among in attendance.

AP reporters Luke Meredith, Dave Campbell, Rick Gano, Michael Marot, Genaro C. Armas, Tim Martin and David Mercer contributed to this report.

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