These are bleak times for the Big Ten.
Just last November the conference had the top two teams in the nation (Ohio State, Michigan) and they played in a thrilling showdown before a huge television audience.
Since then, the Big Ten has had numerous highly visible failures.
The league went 2-5 in bowl games, with its two highest-profile teams getting creamed. The Buckeyes were humiliated 41-14 in the BCS national championship game a few days after the Wolverines took a 32-18 beatdown from Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
Asked if the Big Ten's strength has wilted, Penn State's Joe Paterno said to reporters, ``I don't know. You guys need to write something. ... You got to create some headlines. At one time last year we thought we (conference teams) were the greatest thing that ever happened in our lives and we got in a couple bowl games and Big Ten didn't do quite as well.''
Those were the salad days compared to last Saturday, when Big Ten favorite Michigan, ranked No. 5 in the nation, was upended 34-32 by Appalachian State - the first time a ranked team has ever lost to a team from the Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA).
The Wolverines subsequently spiraled out of the Top 25, the greatest fall ever.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel was asked if Michigan's loss was just another black eye for the conference.
``We don't spend any time looking in the mirror at those black eyes,'' he said. ``That was September 1st. What's most important, black eyes heal well before November. The Big Ten's going to be a good conference.''
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RECONSTITUTED JUICE: Illinois QB Juice Williams left Saturday's 40-34 loss to Missouri in the second quarter after taking a shot to the head. But coach Ron Zook says Williams, who had blurred vision after the hit, is expected to start on Saturday against Western Illinois.
Backup Eddie McGee threw for 257 yards and a touchdown while leading the Illini back from a 24-point deficit. But he also lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions.
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RUBBING IT IN: There's a popular bumper sticker in the Buckeye state that reads, ``I root for two teams: Ohio State and whoever is playing Michigan.''
So it was only a matter of time before Ohio State fans adopted Appalachian State.
Not long after the Wolverines' loss to the Mountaineers, at least one enterprising street vendor was doing brisk business selling Appalachian State T-shirts near the Ohio State campus. Columbus stores say they're overwhelmed with requests for similar items commemorating the upset.
``If I had a dollar for every time someone's asked, I could retire,'' said a manager of one store.
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SLIPPERY FINGERS: Iowa QB Jake Christensen, making his second career start, was just 12 of 29 for 133 yards in a 16-3 win over Northern Illinois.
But Christensen was victimized by a number of drops, including several by Andy Brodell.
Brodell is expected to be the Hawkeyes' top receiver following the suspension of Dominique Douglas.
``They're not trying to drop the ball,'' Christenson said in defense of his receivers. ``You can't get mad at them.''
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MAC ATTACK: Bowling Green travels to Michigan State, hoping to become only the second Mid-American Conference team to beat two Big Ten squads in the same season.
Bowling Green beat Minnesota 32-31 in overtime last week.
In the 2003 season, the Falcons beat Purdue 27-26 in the regular season, then handled Northwestern 28-24 in the Motor City Bowl.
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GETTING PHYSICAL: When James Hardy worked out this summer, he was already preparing for defenders who wanted to play press coverage.
So when Indiana's 6-foot-7 receiver got knocked around a couple of times against Indiana State, he simply got back up and beat the Sycamores secondary for three catches, 153 yards and two touchdowns while drawing two more pass interference penalties.
``I'd rather them play me like that rather than playing off me because that's what I've been working on the whole offseason,'' he said.
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RED MENACE: With a QB competition, a top-10 ranking and lofty conference expectations, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema had plenty to dwell on before the opener against Washington State.
His last thoughts kept drifting back to a fashion statement.
Shunning the traditional red jerseys and white pants, Wisconsin came out wearing all red and went on to beat the Cougars 42-21.
``For like three weeks, that was my last thought every night before I went to bed,'' he said. ``I threw it out to my staff and they unanimously pretty much said, 'No, don't do it.'''
Bielema said he got the idea from his players and decided to go with the fashion-forward look without the knowledge of former coach and AD Barry Alvarez, who wasn't sold on the change and said so on national television.
Bielema said he got a mixed reaction overall, but felt it helped establish a team identity.
``The recruits that were there all there loved it, our players liked it, and we played fairly well,'' he said. ``We'll see where it takes us.''
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QUICK-HITTERS: Illinois LB J Leman is tied for the top spot nationally in tackles with 20 against Missouri in a 40-34 loss. ... Players of the week: Michigan State TB Jehuu Caulcrick (10 carries, 93 yards, 4 TDs); Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan (19 of 29, 284 yards, 3TDs); Penn State LB Sean Lee (7 solos, one fumble force, two tackles for loss, one sack); and Purdue WR Dorien Bryant (2 KOR for 151 yards, including 91-yard TD).
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AP writers Colin Fly in Milwaukee, Genaro Armas in State College, Pa., Mike Marot in Indianapolis, David Mercer in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., Luke Meredith in Des Moines, Iowa, Tim Martin in Lansing, Mich., and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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