Growing up in Big Ten country, I was constantly immersed in some of the best football the college ranks had to offer.
The Big Ten represented all that was good about college football, combining the best athletic teams with the top of the class academics, and they did it all without getting in serious trouble with the NCAA.
In the last three-to-four years though, the Big Ten has been on a steady decline that has been most notably seen from sanctions to some of the most storied programs in the conference, Ohio State University and Penn State University, which left both with tarnished names that will last years.
Not only have teams with squeaky-clean records become dirty, but also the rest of the college football world has surpassed the overall style of play of the Big Ten.
Now the name of the game is speed, and the likes of the Southeastern Conference, the University of Oregon and numerous spread offenses are what’s hot in college football, not the traditional “pro” style that the Big Ten is accustomed to. This style of play in the Big Ten is now being mocked around the league as “old man football.”
In the last decade, this sweeping change of faster styles of play has now come to haunt the Big Ten’s elite. Since 2000, the Big Ten has won the Rose Bowl, the bowl game that the Big Ten champion goes to every year, just twice. As for the rest of the conference, according to college football pundit Phil Steele, the Big Ten was 35-52 in bowl games from 2000-11.
Even with all of the recent change in the landscape of the conference, including the addition of the University of Nebraska and the split of the conference into two divisions, the conference remains in turmoil despite the addition of the conference championship game.
That brings us to this year, where just four weeks into the season, the Big Ten is already struggling.
Only three teams are undefeated, including the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University and Ohio State. OSU is ineligible, though, for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, and the remaining two are not ranked in either of the USA Today Coaches or Associated Press top 25 polls.
Speaking of the polls, the highest ranked team is Ohio State at No. 14 in the AP poll, yet because of sanctions, they are ineligible to be ranked in the Coaches poll. Also ranked in the AP poll is Michigan State at No. 20 and Nebraska at No. 22. In the Coaches poll, MSU is the highest ranked team at No. 18, while Nebraska is No. 20 and Wisconsin is No. 23.
Anyone who follows college football on a weekly basis can clearly see that this season, the Big Ten is not what it used to be. Overall, teams are struggling, and the overall quality of play is lacking that classic grandeur that it always used to have. Thus far, the Big Ten has been the laughing stock of college football, and for me, that puts a damper on this season.
Watching all the Big Ten games and knowing that all of the teams are not nearly as good as the rest of college football is a somber experience. It’s weird thinking that even though the winner of the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season will be the best team in the conference, they probably won’t even be ranked in the top-20 in the country when it’s all said and done.
So I will continue to watch college football every weekend like it’s my job, yet deep down I will continue to have this feeling of despair that this once great power conference is now just a shell of its former self. To me, college football is not the same without the Big Ten at its best. College football without the Big Ten at the forefront just doesn’t seem like the same game I grew up watching and loving.
With all of the struggles, the future generations of college football fans will know only of the rich tradition and history of the conference, and the future generations will look at the conference for what it is today, an embarrassment.
My hope is that this once proud conference looks at the way it is now viewed throughout the country, and the teams within it realize that they are hurting the legacy of something great. Until the day the Big Ten realizes its faults, and has once again risen to the top ranks of the college football world, my excitement for each future college football season, will just end in B1G disappointment.