The Big Ten can do a lot to improve its image today.
Viewed as down this season, the conference has done little to change that impression even though it is ranked second to the Pacific 10 in the Sagarin Ratings. The Big Ten is 11-6 (.647) in non-conference games, 0-4 against ranked teams.
Today, Ohio State and Michigan State can change that.
The Buckeyes, ranked No. 21 by The Associated Press, play No. 14 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Unranked Michigan State travels to No. 23 Notre Dame.
The contests are two of the most intriguing matchups of the week and continue a trend of key Big Ten non-conference games. Miami, which was ranked No. 2 when it outclassed Penn State, and Fresno State, which beat Wisconsin Sept. 8, played in Big Ten country this season.
Not that playing on the road is necessarily a bad thing at this stage of the season.
"We have to play a number of outstanding football teams in our league on the road," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "We're going to have to be an excellent road team to achieve the goals that we have set in front of us."
So will Michigan State, which, starting next week, plays three of its first four conference games on the road. The Spartans were 0-4 on the road in the Big Ten last year.
Winning in South Bend, Ind., hasn't been a problem, though. Michigan State has won two straight there. A victory today would be the Spartans' fifth in a row over the Fighting Irish, their longest winning streak over Notre Dame since they won eight straight from 1955-'63.
"We're looking forward to it," Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us. We're up for the battle."
Though the Big Ten has no victories to show for it, its teams have performed well out west. On Sept. 1, Wisconsin nearly snapped what at the time was a 20-game Oregon home winning streak. Two weeks ago, Michigan, with a number of new starters on offense, finished with 372 yards of offense in a 23-18 loss at Washington.
Maybe Ohio State, playing at the site of the national championship game, is next.
"At the end of the year, there will be new marquee names in the Big Ten and I think you'll see that it won't be looked upon as a down year," Tressel said. "In fact, it will probably be discussed as being just what we (coaches) think of the Big Ten and that's very, very physical, good top to bottom and capable of beating anyone in the country when they have a chance to play them."
Two rules of thumb for anyone attending games today are arrive early and travel light.
In response to the terrorist attacks last week, most universities have increased security at football games this week. Many of the new guidelines include no backpacks, tote bags or carry-alls. Purses and diaper bags are being discouraged.
Notre Dame canceled its Friday stadium tours on football weekends. Bomb-squad experts and bomb-sniffing dogs will roam the parking lots at Clemson. At the Rose Bowl, fans can bring small bottles of water into the stadium, but only if they're sealed.
And don't expect to see those small planes pulling advertising banners. They along with blimps have been prohibited from flying over a number of stadiums, including Penn State, Michigan, Clemson, Alabama, North Carolina and Kentucky.
"We also would ask all persons in attendance Saturday to take some responsibility for their own security," said Rex Rankow, Notre Dame's director of security/police. "We would ask everybody to report anything they see out of the ordinary to an usher, police or other security personnel."
Foot in the mouth disease
Credit Virginia coach Al Groh for the first dumb comment to come out of the coaching ranks regarding the tragedies last week and their effect on airline safety.
When asked about the concern some of his players expressed about flying, Groh, whose team charters its flights, apparently put little thought into his response.
"As far as the hijacking issue is concerned, I'm not saying this to make light of it by any means but I'm not planning on having any Arabs in the traveling party," he said. "So therefore I think probably the threat of our being hijacked is fairly remote."
That was Wednesday morning. By the afternoon, he and the athletic department had issued apologies.
No tears will be shed for Florida State, but coach Bobby Bowden thinks he is going through his worst run of injuries. Among the injured Seminoles:
Defensive end Eric Powell was shot in the lower back during a robbery attempt Sunday and is probably lost for the season.
Receivers Anquan Boldin and Robert Morgan and running back Davy Ford, who are out for the season with knee injuries.
Bowden compares the situation to 1993, but that year couldn't have been too bad. The Seminoles won the national title.