For many years in old system of college football, the Big Ten Champion would travel westward to play the Pac-8, then 10 and now 12 in the Rose Bowl. For many decades there was dominance by the Big Ten and then in the 1970’s and 1980’s the pendulum swung drastically in favor of the kids from the West Coast.
In the 1990’s, the Big Ten won six of the 10 games leading up to the birth of the BCS and with that slight edge, some thought the Big Ten had turned a corner and was ready to return as the best or second best conference in America.
The Big Ten, which is now actually made up of 14 teams, is no longer compared to the Pac-12 the way it once was. The standard today is the SEC who had won seven straight national titles until last season. This isn’t to say the Big Ten isn’t still compared to the Pac-12 because it is any time they face each other but the SEC is the cream of the crop right now.
Of the five major conferences in college football right now, one could argue that the Big Ten has slipped not to number two but perhaps as far as fourth or fifth. The ACC has the reigning champion in college football and was better overall last season in terms of depth. The Big 12, which has ten teams, had two BCS bowl bids last season.
If we look at the breakdown of Big Ten teams vs the ‘Power Five’ conferences (this doesn’t include Rutgers or Maryland), only Northwestern (8-2) and Ohio State (5-3) have winning records against schools from those conferences since 2010. Overall, the Big Ten is 35-48 over that time span.
Before we anoint Northwestern the kings of the block, consider that they are 0-0 against ranked Power Five conferences. That means they are thriving on the bottom-dwellers of those conferences. Only the Buckeyes have a winning record against ranked Power Five conferences and that’s a rather meager 2-1 record.
The overall Big Ten record against ranked Power Five conference teams is just 8-25.
Lastly is the record of Big Ten teams against SEC teams dating back to 2010. Not surprisingly it is well below .500 at 7-15 with Northwestern once again “leading” the way with a 3-1 record. The three wins were against Vanderbilt (2) and Mississippi State and the loss was to Texas A&M when they were still in the Big 12.
The Wildcats are the only team with a winning record against the SEC. Ohio State and Michigan State are 1-1 while Michigan and Penn State are both 0-3.
So what does the Big Ten do to regain a place among the top two conferences in college football? Unfortunately not much in the short-term because the bottom of the conference is just horrendous and yes I’m looking at you Purdue and Illinois.
South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier said this week his team gets more out of a game against East Carolina then they would against the bottom half of the Big Ten. Here’s the thing; Spurrier is absolutely right. Top Big Ten teams usually have starters and first line depth to compete with anyone but once you get into the middle and bottom of the Big Ten the starters of those teams aren’t much better if at all then a school like East Carolina.
The Big Ten for many years has ‘sampled’ the talent in places like Texas and Florida but still can’t compete with Nick Saban and Les Miles coming into a kid’s living room. With Rutgers and Maryland coming in, the hope is that the Big Ten’s recruiting base will now open up places like New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. That will help but until the Big Ten can consistently go into the deep south they will continue to struggle.
Lowering their academic standards might help too.