Oct. 14—Searching for the epicenter of college football this season?
You don't have to look far.
Actually, just look at the top 10 of the AP poll, which for the first time features five Big Ten teams — including No. 6 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan — not to mention Cincinnati.
The top of the sport is more Midwestern than a walleye battered in Busch Light, and, deliciously, we're right in the middle of it all.
Well, not exactly.
Given that everyone knows the best college football is played in the Southeastern Conference, I'm not going to stand up here and pretend Toledo is the center of the pigskin universe.
That would be presumptuous.
No, the football equator is ... Antwerp.
Yes, Antwerp. The northwest Ohio village about 70 miles down the Maumee River is at the geographic center of what everyone (read: no one) is calling the sport's Bermuda Trapezoid. Visitors beware, it bounds across from No. 7 Penn State to No. 2 Iowa and down from No. 10 Michigan State to No. 3 Cincinnati, with Ann Arbor and Columbus in between.
As the crow flies, Antwerp is exactly halfway (358 miles) between State College, Pa. — located in suburban Middle of Nowhere and an honorary member of the Midwest — and Iowa City, Iowa, and almost equidistant from East Lansing, Mich., and Cincinnati.
See, the epicenter of college football!
Regardless, the moral of the story holds: The Big Ten is king, the Queen City rules, and the SEC — with only two teams in the top 10 — drools.
OK, maybe not quite.
It may well be that the SEC has the two best teams in the nation, Georgia and Alabama, the Crimson Tide's 41-38 loss at Texas A&M notwithstanding.
On my latest AP ballot, I dropped previously top-ranked Alabama all the way to ... third, which, if I can digress, made a few sleuthing Buckeyes fans on Twitter very, very angry. As they noted, Ohio State fell nine spots on my ballot — from third to 12th — after a loss to the No. 11 team in the country (Oregon) while 'Bama fell two slots after a loss to an unranked team. What gives?
First, how dare you question my authority! Second, it's a fair question, though I would counter that we are comparing apples and footballs. Ohio State's loss came in its second game while Alabama's came in its sixth, after it had built equity with three wins over then-top-15 teams. The body of work — to say nothing of 'Bama having earned the benefit of the doubt with six championships in the past 12 years — matters.
Now, sorry, I was saying ...
That's right, the SEC isn't half bad, either.
Yet, for our money, it has nothing on the football up yonder in the heartland, most notably in the Big Ten.
While maybe we should wait to pass judgment — I mean, can Iowa really keep this up with an offense that averages 4.65 yards per play (121st nationally)? — what fun would that be? So here goes: The Big Ten is the best, deepest league in the nation.
If we're to judge a conference by its bounty of very good teams, who's to argue?
Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State have awakened, and Iowa has put one opponent after another to sleep, lulling teams, then crushing them. The Hawkeyes' 23-20 win over Penn State on Saturday was the story of their season, marked by five punts inside the 15-yard line and four forced turnovers, of which they have 20 on the year.
Then there's Ohio State, which has more blue-chip talent than the rest of the league combined and — don't look now — is rounding into form, led by perhaps the most explosive offense in the nation. The Buckeyes' 23 plays of 30-plus yards ranks second nationally (Florida International has 24).
They remain the clear team to beat in their pursuit of a fifth straight Big Ten title.
But, fortunately for everyone else, the games aren't played on paper.
They're played on TV, and, man, the stretch run of the Big Ten season will be fun to watch.
Check out this round-robin Big Ten East lineup:
Oct. 30: No. 7 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State
Oct. 30: No. 8 Michigan at No. 10 Michigan State
Nov. 13: No. 8 Michigan at No. 7 Penn State
Nov. 20: No. 10 Michigan State at No. 6 Ohio State
Nov. 27: No. 7 Penn State at No. 10 Michigan State
Nov. 27: No. 6 Ohio State at No. 8 Michigan
Slip on your Saturday best, everyone. The eyes of the nation are heading our way.
First Published October 13, 2021, 4:00pm