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Big Ten has two big college football problems

Big Ten has two big college football problems
Michigan Coach Brady Hoke talks with his players during a loss to Utah on Sept. 20. The Wolverines' 2-3 record is only one of the problems threatening Hoke's tenure in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

The Big Ten, already four schools over the numbers cap, is a Big Mess.

The proud conference of Tom Harmon has become a bloated, 14-school confederation drowning in controversy with the hope current East Division leader Maryland — Maryland? — can carry it.

TMZ, we hear, is torn between opening a new office in Ann Arbor or Columbus.

Even the conference's best days are strange.

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Two weeks ago, the Big Ten went 12-1 on a Saturday without a victory from either Michigan or Ohio State.

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Huh?

Michigan lost to Utah and Ohio State had a bye.

The Big Ten is only as strong as its two marquee pillars. Think of Michigan as Ford and Ohio State as General Motors.

Things have declined since the apex in 2006, when No.1 Ohio State hosted No. 2 Michigan as the rest of college football tipped its cap.

The turn for the worse began when former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died the Friday before the game. Michigan then lost a thriller to Ohio State, which then got crushed in the BCS title game by Florida.

Then the lights switched off.

Michigan opened 2007 with an epic loss to Appalachian State in what was Coach Lloyd Carr's last season. That led to the disastrous misfit hiring of Rich Rodriguez, which led to this week's Wolverines coaching nightmare — Brady Hoke.

Earlier, Michigan had enjoyed the schadenfreude of Ohio State's moral decay, led by lies told by Jim Tressel, which led to his firing and NCAA probation.

Ohio State got some of its swagger back when it hired Urban Meyer, who won his first 24 games before last year's two-loss finish.

This summer, the school fired its band director for charges of creating a "sexualized culture," which led to a lawyers and lawsuits. In late August, just hours before opening kickoff, star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season after injuring his throwing shoulder.

Ohio State then lost at home to Virginia Tech, which then lost two straight home games for the first time since 1995.

Ohio State's biggest takedown so far was strength coach Anthony Schiegel's vicious tackle of an Ohio State student who ran onto the field during Saturday's game against Cincinnati.

Anthony Wunder, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major, faces criminal trespassing charges and has been stripped of his academic scholarship.

And Ohio State had a great weekend compared to Michigan's.

A second straight home loss, against Minnesota, was compounded by the decision to put quarterback Shane Morris back in the game after he was knocked wobbly.

Morris returned for only one play, but the debacle showcased a disastrous chain-of-command breakdown.

Students already angry with Athletic Director Dave Brandon and Hoke had gift-wrapped grounds for more outrage.

Fans already disliked Brandon, a former pizza company CEO, for messing with their ticket allotments.

The charge against Hoke is being the first Michigan coach in history to lose three games before October.

Fans might be acting differently if Michigan were 5-0 instead of 2-3, but the crisis, even if fueled by some righteous indignation, is real.

And Brandon and Hoke might not survive it.

Hoke said he did not know Morris might have suffered a head injury. He said Morris had injured his ankle.

Morris, the story goes, was cleared by the trainer before a neurologist had time to examine the quarterback.

Brandon responded like a turtle before finally releasing a statement at 1 a.m. Tuesday, admitting there had been a "serious lack of communication" on the sideline.

And that, oh yeah, Morris did suffer a concussion.

Hoke is not a great articulator on his best day and has fumbled words along with head-coaching protocol.

Momentum is now leaning, heavily, against him.

It took until Wednesday for Hoke to say, "When you're a leader you have to take responsibility."

Mark Schlissel, Michigan's new president, was late to the story, but he's there now.

He issued an apology to Morris stating, "We did not get this right," and also promised to "enforce the necessary accountability."

That doesn't bode well for Brandon or Hoke.

Nothing short of rescuing the Big Ten title from an 0-1 start might be able to save this undynamic duo.

Also in cataclysmic jeopardy is Michigan's attendance streak of 255 straight games of at least 100,000, which could end when the Wolverines host Penn State on Oct. 11.

It won't sit well if August's soccer exhibition featuring Manchester United and Real Madrid ends up the marquee draw at 109,318.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten season lurches on.

Defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State seems, by far, the class of the league. The No. 10 Spartans remain the only conference team ranked in the top 15. Michigan State's best performance, though, is considered a 19-point defeat at Oregon.

With five major conferences fighting for only four playoff spots, the Big Ten might be the odd conference out.

You know it's bad when Penn State, the punching bag for one of the worst scandals in sports history, is now the inspirational story. Players, fans and coaches have worked hard to successfully restore the program's good name. Penn State last month was relieved of most of the draconian sanctions handed down by NCAA President Mark Emmert in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Penn State started 4-0 on its way to …an inexplicable, 29-6 home loss to Northwestern.

Doormat Indiana followed an enormous upset at Missouri two weeks ago with a loss last weekend to Maryland.

Nebraska is 5-0 but has little traction as it sits one spot behind No. 18 Brigham Young in the AP poll. The Cornhuskers have played a weak schedule but can earn instant credibility with a Saturday win at Michigan State.

There was some good Big Ten news this week.

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, who somehow lost the ability to throw this summer after he lost his starting job to Tanner McEvoy, announced he has overcome a bad case of the "yips."

Stave shouldn't feel too bad — it has been a league-wide condition.

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