Big Ten football needs a hero, but first the conference needs a team willing to step up and take it upon itself to make the College Football Playoff.
This hero doesn’t need the traditional hype video to get it psyched, however. All Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Minnesota’s Jerry Kill need is to log onto Amazon and order a copy of Disney’s oft-overlooked, animated feature from the 1980s The Black Cauldron.
For those who either don’t remember or never saw The Black Cauldron, shame on you. But you are hardly alone. The film wasn’t especially popular, but makes for a conveniently applied (if not awkwardly) applied metaphor for the Big Ten Football landscape.
Quick overview: A kingdom (the Big Ten) is in peril when an evil, all-powerful entity called the Horned King (SEC) pursues a coveted, magical relic, the Black Cauldron (College Football Playoff). An unlikely hero (Iowa or Minnesota) becomes the Horned King’s challenger to save the Black Cauldron–all because this hero’s pig, Hen Wen, has soothsaying powers.
Hen Wen is what really drives this dated and obscure pop cultural reference home. Undefeated Iowa and Minnesota won’t play for their rivalry trophy until Nov. 8. But given how Big Ten football has fared to this point, the winner of the Floyd of Rosedale could hold the Big Ten’s key to the College Football Playoff.
Now, two long months separate Iowa and Minnesota from their annual rivalry tilt and plenty can happen in that time. Despite their losses Saturday, Michigan State and Ohio State remain the teams to beat in the Big Ten East, but also the conference at large.
However, the perception of Big Ten football being what it is at present, the Spartans’ loss at Oregon and the Buckeyes’ home defeat to Virginia Tech may actually eliminate both from the College Football Playoff. Of the Power 5 conferences, only the ACC may need an team to go undefeated as desperately as the Big Ten in order to gain access.
Given Wisconsin let a three-score lead evaporate against LSU and Penn State is ineligible, that leaves the Big Ten with a pool of highly unlikely candidates.
Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers all sport unblemished marks in the East–newcomer Rutgers even has a win in Pac-12 Country (albeit over a Washington State team in disarray).
In the West, Illinois is 2-0. However, the Illini needed fourth-quarter rallies against Youngstown State and Western Kentucky to reach that mark. Illinois may be improved in Tim Beckman’s third season, improvement in Champaign means shedding punching-bag status; not contending for a Playoff berth.
Nebraska seems the most obvious Playoff contender. It is Nebraska, after all. But the sentiment Nebraska is a national powerhouse relies on a sentiment almost as dated as my Black Cauldron analogy.
More recent history–including a Week 2 win over McNeese State that required ’80s reference heroics of its own–tells us Nebraska is destined for a pitfall.
Just last year, the Cornhuskers went 0-2 against? Iowa and Minnesota.
Now, there’s plenty of reason to doubt Iowa and Minnesota’s championship bona fides, as well. But hey, they wouldn’t be unlikely heroes if they were obvious contenders, right?
The Hawkeyes nor the Golden Gophers were anything but championship-inspiring in a 17-13 win over Ball State. They didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, when they needed two to rally against Pete Lembo (one of the best coaches in college football) and the Cardinals.
Minnesota was much more impressive against Middle Tennessee, though the score might not reflect it. The Golden Gophers deluged the Blue Raiders with 28 first-half points and through it on cruise control to win by 11.
Minnesota is an unlikely candidate to carry up the Playoff sword for Big Ten football not because of its play per se, but more because…well, it’s Minnesota.
But come November, these two could very well be jockeying for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, and with the right breaks, the Playoff. And a mythical pig, Floyd of Rosedale, is their key.