Why Big Ten Football Isn’t Back…Yet


If you were like me this January, I’m sure you walked around everywhere you went with a little more bounce in your step after witnessing a few of the Big Ten’s New Years Day bowl games. Viewers were treated to an upset for the ages with Ohio State taking down the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, the Spartans of Michigan State overcoming a three-score deficit to knock out (sorry, Chris Callahan, no pun intended) the Baylor Bears, and the Wisconsin Badgers roll over the Auburn Tigers less-than-stellar defense. The icing on the cake came eleven days later, when Ohio State ransacked the Oregon Ducks to capture the conference’s first national championship since 2002, also by the Buckeyes. Now as the ground begins to thaw and spring practice opens up for everyone’s favorite collection of Midwest/East Coast football teams, the rallying cries can be heard once more. “The Big Ten is back!” they are saying. “Michigan signed Jim Harbaugh, and Penn State has Franklin!” they are screaming. Surely, the B1G is on it’s way back to the top of the college football world.

But is it really?

Now, I want to be realistic. The Big Ten did have a decent showing this bowl season, posting wins by its top 3 schools, and a couple of narrow losses from the conference’s upper echelon, looking at you Minnesota and Nebraska. A few surprises along the way, namely Penn State and Rutgers, gave the folks in the Midwest something to feel good about as the temperature dropped and the snow began to rise. But is it a safe bet to say that three weeks worth of bowl games is enough to make up for a decade or sub-par play at best? Can a conference really ride the reputation and success of three programs? Last time I checked, the folks at Purdue weren’t partying into the night as Urban Meyer held up his third championship trophy. I don’t recall those fans in Ann Arbor going crazy after Michigan State rallied in the Jerry Dome. Needless to say, a conference isn’t as good as ONE member, or two, or three. If this wasn’t true why wasn’t the ACC crowned last year along with the coronation of Florida State?

In order for a conference to rise from the cellar, it must hang it’s hat on three things; recruiting, coaching, and out of conference wins. And let me tell you why the Big Ten is not quite there yet, but on the move.


A team is only as good as it’s leader, right? Someone to take a program to the next step. As an Ohio State fan too many years I saw a team loaded with NFL talent fall flat on its face, and hit well short of the title expectations thrust on it. Here proves what we call the “Urban Meyer effect:” Three seasons, 38-3 record, two undefeated regular seasons, a B1G title, a Sugar Bowl Victory, and the winner of the first ever College Football Playoff. Not bad for a coach and a program many never thought would escape the shadow of the vaunted SEC. But more is needed. One coach isn’t going to save the conference, Urban has gone on board saying this, he recognizes the need for other quality coaches to head to the Midwest, and leave their marks on more of these flagship programs.
Some have taken notice, and raised their level of play. What Mark Dantonio has been able to do in East Lansing is nothing short of incredible, posting a 74-31 record at Michigan State since his arrival in 2007, including 4 10-win or more seasons, a B1G championship, and wins in the Rose and Cotton Bowls. Besides these two names however, the rest of the coaching ranks in the Big Ten are a bit murky. Sure, Michigan landed Jim Harbaugh. His record and ability to turn programs around speak for themselves, but until he has made his mark on the maize and blue, the jury is still out. Penn State has James Franklin, but that means something in name recognition only. The recruiting has seen a bump, but Franklin never could get Vandy over the hump I felt like, they were a perpetual bottom-dweller in the weaker SEC East. Maybe things will be different in Happy Valley. At programs like Wisconsin and Nebraska out are names like Chris Anderson and Bo Pelini, in are Paul Chryst and Mike Riley, respectively. The remainder of the Big Ten is a cut well below the rest, and it shows on the field. To win with the best, you must be led by the best, and that is what seemingly may be holding the Big Ten back. Time will tell how some of these newer acquisitions will adjust and adapt in the Big Ten, and if the other schools will follow the leads set by their peers.


What’s another drawback of not being led by the best, and not producing on the field? Oh, that’s right: the lack of talent being brought in year after year. Now, some universities seem to get away with it, maybe it’s just me but schools like Wisconsin and Iowa just seem to find top talent out of seemingly nowhere every year. But if the Big Ten wants to find itself in the playoff picture year in and year out, the first step is consistently great recruiting efforts. Not to beat a dead horse, but Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State have been holding up their ends of the deals for a few seasons now, a testament to their coaching staffs, tradition, and on field results. The rest of the conference has a long way to go if they want to catch up to these other three, and the rest of college football. At a glance, recruiting season and national signing day were once again dominated by the SEC, which landed twelve of its fourteen teams in the recruiting top 25 (from 247 sports.) How many did the B1G land in the same space? Only three. Winning brings in high schoolers, near and far. If the Big Ten wants to rise up in these rankings, and place more hats on the tables of these youngsters, it needs to start winning more games. That leads us to our final point…

Win Non-Conference Games

The narrative is the same EVERY YEAR for the Big Ten at the beginning of the year: If you are going to schedule these games with other members of Power-5 conferences, you best win them. The only way to earn respect around the country is to show up when the lights are on you. Early in the year, we don’t know what each team really has yet, and we set the narrative within the first few weeks of who is going to rise as the year progresses, and who is going to fall. The best example of this may have came week 2 of this season, when the Big Ten laid a massive egg on national networks, with our flagship programs Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State all being dominated by other power teams, and the Big Ten was “eliminated” from the playoff discussion. (Looks like the joke is still on you, ESPN.) But the fact remains. The Big Ten MUST win these games to earn respect and credibility early in the year. The 2015-2016 season will bring in another slate of tests right off the bat with Wisconsin playing Alabama in Arlington, Ohio State traveling to Blacksburg to take on the Hokies on Labor Day Night, Michigan State welcoming the Ducks into East Lansing and Harbaugh traveling back out west with Michigan to take on Utah. Win these, sets the tone for the season that we could be a force to be reckoned with. Lose, and we know how the story goes.

The stage was set in January that the Big Ten could be well on their way back to the top, but a few factors remain before the talks can REALLY begin. What separates the B1G from other leagues is lack of elite coaching, consistent recruiting, and out of conference wins. Their work has been cut out for them, I will be watching anxiously to see if anyone besides Meyer, and Dantonio, step up to the plate to take a swing for football in the Big Ten Conference. Time to tee it off, boys.

Final 2015 Recruiting Rankings


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