Can Wisconsin move on?
That's the big question heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener between the Badgers and Purdue. What was supposed to be a meeting of two new coaches in the first game of the conference season — the only Big Ten matchup of Week 4 — is now simply the follow-up to one of the stranger games in recent memory.
Last week, Wisconsin suffered a loss at Arizona State thanks to a ridiculous final play that has been the talk of the college football world. To sum it up quickly, with no timeouts and 18 seconds remaining, Badger quarterback Joel Stave tried to take a knee in the center of the field to give his team prime position for a game-winning field goal attempt. The Badgers then would have spiked the ball and attempted the kick. But craziness ensued, as Stave set the ball on the ground and the Sun Devils jumped on top of it. The clock continued to run, the officials did nothing, the game ended and the officials ran off the field. Here's some video if you'd like to see it yourself.
Obviously, days later, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is still less than pleased with the way things ended in the desert, particularly that the play wasn't looked at again by officials who instead simply left the field.
"I thought for sure, when it did go down to zero with what had taken place and the knowledge I have of the rules that it would for sure be looked at and re-evaluated at that point through the officials," Andersen said during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. "I never felt until the officials basically jogged off the field without communicating that the game would be over.
"It's happened in other games. It's not like that would've been the first time that's ever happened, where they would have said, 'Hey let's take a deep breath and look at this thing and see what's going on.' I sure wish they would have done that, then the kids could have settled it. Do we make the kick? I have no idea. But I like our chances."
Though Andersen said he and his team "put the issue to bed," it's more than clear he still has strong feelings about the game at Arizona State. And he should. The Badgers were in position to grab an important road victory to remain undefeated. But that didn't happen, and like every loss in college football, it significantly impacts their season moving forward.
"It is hard when the kids didn't get to decide the game on the field, and they never will be able to," Andersen said. "So for me, it's the game that never ended, and I don't care what anybody says about that. That's how I feel."
While it might be "the game that never ended," Andersen and the Badgers will have to move on. This weekend brings the season's first conference game, when Wisconsin (2-1) welcomes Purdue (1-2) to Camp Randall Stadium. And though Wisconsin figures to have a huge edge, thanks to an impressive running game being led this season by the Big Ten's top rusher, Melvin Gordon, the Boilermakers are fresh off their most impressive game of the year.
Sure, Purdue lost, 31-24, to Notre Dame last week, but the Boilermakers put up their highest point total of the season and even had a lead in the fourth quarter against a top-25 team.
"I think we've made strides, but let's not forget that we're in this business to try to win football games and we won't be satisfied until we get there," said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell on Tuesday. "But I think you build on the positives, and our guys have definitely — the mindset on the sideline on Saturday night was significantly different than it was Week 1 and Week 2. And we need to continue to grow along those lines."
If the Badgers can't put their upsetting loss behind them, could Purdue give another ranked team all it can handle?
The Badgers and Boilermakers begin the Big Ten season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC.
All Big Ten games on Saturday, Sept. 21. (Bye weeks: Illinois)
San Jose State at Minnesota (3-0), 11 a.m., ESPN2. Only one more game stands between Minnesota and its quest for an undefeated non-conference schedule. But the Gophers are facing big-time question marks at the quarterback position following Philip Nelson's injury in last week's game against Western Illinois. Coach Jerry Kill said Nelson is still questionable for Saturday, putting the quarterbacking duties in the hands of Mitch Leidner. The good news for Minnesota is that Leidner played very well in relief of Nelson last week, completing 7-of-8 passes for 105 yards and rushing for 64 yards. The key for the Gophers is to keep their impressive running game going, and they get Donnell Kirkwood back from injury this week to add more strength to that group.
Western Michigan at Iowa (2-1), 11 a.m., Big Ten Network. Iowa is coming off a big win over in-state rival Iowa State and looks to keep its momentum going. Western Michigan comes into Iowa City after already going up against a pair of Big Ten opponents, losing each of those games to Michigan State and Northwestern. The Hawkeyes should be happy after a huge game a week ago from running back Mark Weisman. He leads the Big Ten with 85 carries through three games and ranks second with 425 yards, trailing only Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
Florida A&M at No. 4 Ohio State (3-0), 11 a.m., Big Ten Network. It's unknown exactly how much quarterback Braxton Miller will play for the Buckeyes, but Ohio State does get back another offensive weapon in running back Carlos Hyde, who returns after a three-game suspension. Hyde, though, now has to fight for carries with Jordan Hall, the replacement who has been one of the conference's biggest stand-out offensive players so far this season. Similarly, while the quarterback position won't see a battle once Miller returns, any sign of trouble for the preseason Heisman favorite and Urban Meyer can go to Kenny Guiton, the backup who is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
[MORE: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 3]
South Dakota State at Nebraska (2-1), 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network. Last week it was Michigan State sorely in need of an FCS opponent to get its offense right. This week, it's Nebraska sorely in need of an FCS opponent to get its defense — and some other things — right. After a miserable week in Lincoln featuring an embarrassing fall-from-ahead loss to UCLA and plenty of controversy surrounding coach Bo Pelini, the Huskers are in desperate need of a big win. But, always be on the lookout, as FCS opponents have made plenty of noise already this season and the visiting Jackrabbits are 3-0.
Kent State at Penn State (2-1), 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network. Though Central Florida is a good offensive team, the Nittany Lions' loss last week was hardly a good one. While Christian Hackenberg continues to impress on the offensive side of the ball, it's Bill O'Brien's defense that now needs fixing after surrendering 507 total yards to the Knights last week. Kent State is a much different opponent, though, as the Golden Flashes rank 110th in the FBS in scoring and 93rd in the country in scoring defense. So, Penn State should be able to take care of business.
Michigan State (3-0) at No. 22 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m., NBC. This is certainly one of the most intriguing games on the Big Ten slate this week. Before Notre Dame's loss to Michigan, this looked like a slam-dunk win for the Irish, and it really still looked like that before ND sneaked out of West Lafayette with a seven-point win over Purdue last week. Add in Michigan State's inability to do much of anything on offense, and it figured to be a rout. But then Notre Dame tripped up against a pair of Big Ten opponents, and Connor Cook led the Spartans in an offensive explosion last week. Now, ND is still a Top 25 team and Michigan State's lone moment of impressiveness came against Youngstown State, so the Irish should still be favored. But, things have certainly gotten more interesting.
Maine at No. 18 Northwestern (3-0), 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network. The Wildcats are steamrolling through their non-conference schedule, looking like contenders along the way, and that figures to continue against FCS opponent Maine. Even while Venric Mark, the team's top running back, has sat sidelined with injury, backup Treyvon Green has looked great. Green ranks fourth in the conference with 353 rushing yards, and only Ohio State's Jordan Hall has more rushing touchdowns than Green's five. But perhaps it's the defense that has Pat Fitzgerald more pleased. Northwestern leads the country with eight interceptions so far this year, including three by safety Ibraheim Campbell, who has one pick in five straight games.
Missouri at Indiana (2-1), 7 p.m., Big Ten Network. This is the only game on the 2013 schedule that pits a Big Ten team against one from the SEC. And though the Indiana-Missouri matchup is not a good one to determine conference supremacy, it'll have to do. Missouri has looked OK in its only two games of the year, winning both and putting up big point totals. Though it'll be hard for Indiana to glean anything from the Tigers' tilts with Murray State and Toledo. Similarly, the Hoosiers are hard to read, with their performance all over the place. The Indiana defense has not looked too strong, and that shouldn't bode well against an always offensively capable Mizzou team. But, Kevin Wilson might have found his quarterback in Nate Sudfeld, who continues to put up big numbers, making this an interesting bout at the very least.
No. 15 Michigan (3-0) at Connecticut, 7 p.m., ABC. A week after the near-shocker at the Big House against Akron, the Wolverines go up against another lackluster opponent, though this time they'll have to go on the road. UConn, a Division-I member for only 11 years, is off to a very rough start, losing its first two games of the season by a combined score of 65-39. That includes a Week 1 loss to Towson, one of the eight FCS-over-FBS games. After what happened last week, it's unlikely the Wolverines will be caught unprepared against the Huskies. Expect Devin Gardner to cut down on the interceptions. And it'd be good for Michigan to get better production out of the backfield. Take away Gardner's 103 rush yards as a QB, and the Wolverines only accounted for 74 yards on the ground last week.