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The Big Ten Comes Up Small

by Photo of Jake Langbecker

It’s been a rough start to the college football season for the Big Ten

The Big Ten Comes Up Small

New Year’s Day 2011 was a dark day for the Big Ten conference. After Iowa and Illinois set the tone with two wins early in bowl season, the conference saw five teams lose that day. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern were given the chance to prove the Big Ten’s worth, perhaps as the second best conference behind the dominant SEC. Instead, they proved the Big Ten still lacked depth and strength at the top- outside of Ohio State who won a few days later in the Sugar Bowl.

A lot changed in the ensuing off-season. With a new logo, new divisions, a first-time conference championship game and a new member in the University of Nebraska things were supposed to be different.

The Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delaney received a lot of criticism for the boring and uncreative division names, Legends and Leaders. Perhaps people should have spent less time worrying about names and more time focused on the on-field product.

After three weeks into the college football season it looks like Legends and Losers would have been more apropos names for the divisions. 8 of the 12 teams have already lost at least one game and it is not the result of tough scheduling.

The combined records of the teams that have wins over the Big Ten is 18-10, hardly impressive given the cupcake schedule most teams have early in the season. The list includes many unimpressive teams like Army, Rice, New Mexico State, Ball State, and Virginia. Although there are some signature loses, if there even is such a thing, against two ranked opponents in Alabama and USC.

So that is the bad part, what’s the good? The Big Ten is one of three conferences to have two teams in the top 10, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Illinois and Michigan are the other two remaining unbeatens. Illinois is coming off of a big win against Arizona State of the Pac-12.

Although Illinois is continuing to improve and Michigan has yet to lose, the only real national title contenders remaining are Wisconsin and Nebraska. On October 1st, these teams will square off and determine where the Big Ten’s national title hopes truly lie. CHARGED will be there for the big showdown between the Badgers and Cornhuskers and you can be there too. These are also the teams that will most likely do battle again in the inaugural conference championship game.

It will take an undefeated season from Nebraska or Wisconsin for the Big Ten to have any hope of winning their first national title since 2002. The conference has not even appeared in the BCS championship game since 2007. Both team's strength of schedule will take a hit because of how the conference has performed thus far and unlike the SEC, a one-loss team has no shot to play in the big game.  

Ohio State was the last team to appear and to win the National Championship for the Big Ten, but recent controversies have left that program on unfamiliar ground. After losing to the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Buckeyes are unranked for the first time in the last seven years.

The Big Ten has two legitimate Heisman contenders in Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson but team success will be the determining factor as they battle fellow QB's in Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Boise State's Kellen Moore. Having Heisman hopefuls is a positive for the Big Ten in terms of the national spotlight but weak out of conference scheduling could jeopardize that momentum.

It's been a lackluster start for the Big Ten so far and weak scheduling won't garner the league much attention this week. However, all eyes will be on Madison, Wisconsin on October 1st when the #6 Badgers take on the #9 Cornhuskers. It will be Nebraska's first ever Big Ten game as a member of the conference. The game will also reveal the Big Ten's one true title contender because the rest of the conference has come up small so far.

Will the Big Ten ever get back to where Maurice Clarett and Ohio State were on January 3rd, 2003?

 

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