B1G Struggles

By on October 15, 2012

If you know me, you know I’m from the South. OK, so I was born in Tampa, Fla., moved to San Ramon, Calif., when I was two, then to Cincinnati, Ohio, until I was four, off to Boston, Mass., until I was seven, Magnolia, New Jersey, (right outside of Philadelphia) for a year and finally back to Tampa in time for my eighth birthday in 2000 until I graduated and went to Ohio State (deep inhale). Right, so I could technically claim just about every geographic region in the U.S. as my own (toss in my dad being from Columbus, Ohio, and mom from Camden, New Jersey).

Urban Meyer takes over the Buckeyes (US PRESSWIRE/Greg Bartram)

But, of course, the most influential to me was the South, especially when it comes to sports. I played baseball year-round and the concept of only playing twice a year is foreign to me. I’m used to having 300-pound guys on the football team almost as fast as me. So it’s not a surprise that I grew up watching more Southern football. I can tell you more about “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (Florida-Georgia), “Wide Right” (FSU-Miami) and the SEC than I can about “The Backyard Brawl” (Pitt-West Virginia), Michigan-Michigan State and my beloved Big Ten. I’ve only been concerned with the team I follow around the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

My point in all this backstory: since coming to Big Ten country I’ve found out I haven’t missed a whole lot. Although Ohio State and Michigan have dominated the Big Ten and many other teams across the country, I’ve seen that as a conference the B1G (as it’s now appropriate to write in media) is average. Like I said, the top has been great. In 2006 Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin finished the regular season with just 2 combined losses. The problem is the bowl games and the rest of the conference has struggled in recent history.

Let’s start with bowl season. Since Ohio State won the National Championship in 2002-2003 no Big Ten team outside of Ohio State has even been to the Championship game (mostly because the SEC was busy winning seven of the next nine, with USC and Texas with one each—unless you include USC’s split title in 2003-2004). Now, Ohio State has officially been to six BCS games since 2002, including two National Championship games, and has won three (that would be seven and four if you include the 2010 Sugar Bowl that apparently never happened– thanks, Terrelle and company.) For the rest of the Big Ten we’ve got nine BCS games and just three wins (Penn State in 2005-2006 Orange Bowl, Iowa in 2009-2010 Orange Bowl and Michigan in last year’s Orange Bowl). So outside of Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin the B1G has been less productive in big BCS games than the Big East (which has four BCS wins). Overall, in the past decade the B1G has a losing record in all bowl games. Granted, many of those games were against SEC teams, but to be the best you have to beat the best and my B1G has not.

Imagine where the B1G would be without Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. There are some other good teams in the conference. Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska have shown potential to be solid programs. I’m honestly rooting for all of those programs. I want to see Penn State do well as everyone who was directly involved in the Jerry Sandusky scandal is no longer with the University. I hope the players and fans thrive, but the sanctions from the NCAA have handcuffed PSU and put them on one knee. Loss of scholarships and two years with no postseason play: not only do you lose scholarships, but overall interest, as well. For Michigan State former Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark D’Antonio is at the reigns. He has a tall task because, along with being in Michigan and Ohio State’s shadow for recruits, the program was set back by his predecessor John L. Smith. If you asked a Spartan fan you would think the man sent MSU football back to the stone ages. Nebraska is another program that has what it takes. Despite their head coach, a former Ohio State safety and LSU defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini’s defensive pedigree, the Blackshirt Defense ain’t what it used to be. Nebraska does have a solid running attack. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and running backs Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead can each go off for a long run at any given moment and that high-powered offense just hung 38 points on Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. They can fly.

Now, for the rest of the B1G. While each conference game has to be taken seriously the individual components of the remaining six teams aren’t overly impressive. Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa have been the “little brothers” of the league for years. Since 2003 only Iowa and Illinois have played in BCS games (Iowa won 2009-2010 Orange Bowl and Illinois lost 2007-2008 Rose Bowl). Minnesota has been in a rebuilding stage for the past 20 seasons. Minnesota hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2004 Music City Bowl (they did beat Alabama). Indiana is one of those teams I feel bad for. They can’t recruit in-state against Notre Dame. The closest state to the east is Ohio, dominated

by Ohio State and then Michigan and Michigan State. There’s a reason that team has been to one bowl game since 1993 (2007 Insight Bowl). Illinois is a team I don’t feel bad for. Ron Zook, the previous coach of the Fighting Illini, recruited some serious talent and has plenty of guys in the NFL. Still, just one BCS bowl game when the team was destroyed by USC in the 2007-2008 Rose Bowl. Northwestern has one of the best sports writing curriculums in the country. Ironically, many of the sports there have been subpar. Nine straight bowl losses for the Northwestern Wildcats are tied for the longest winless streak in bowl games. Pat Fitzgerald has tried, but the Wildcats haven’t won a bowl since the 1947-1948 Rose Bowl. The Purdue Boilermakers have the same problem as Indiana; they can’t recruit the really talented guys. The Boilermakers have had some recent success making it to the 2000-2001 Rose Bowl after winning the B1G led by Drew Brees. But that’s about it. Kirk Ferentz has done a good job making the Hawkeyes a tolerable team. In 2008 Iowa had a shot to go to the Rose Bowl if they beat Ohio State, but just came up short in overtime with true freshman backup quarterback James Vandenberg at the helm. This season the Hawkeyes aren’t expected to compete for a BCS game berth.

Point is the B1G Conference isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe it is exactly what it used to be and the rest of the country has caught up or passed it. All I know is this conference will not be winning a national title this year. Two of the better teams, Penn State and Ohio State, came into the season with a postseason ban and will not participate in the B1G Championship. That means the potential breadwinner for a struggling conference will be at home all December and all January even if the team goes undefeated. This could also leave the door open for a team like Purdue to play in the championship game representing the Leaders division. Couple that with the fact that Northwestern is your first bowl eligible B1G team (remember No. 8 and 7-0 Ohio State can’t play anything except the regular season) and you’re looking at a possible Purdue-Northwestern B1G Championship game. Thrilling.

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