How To Fix The Big Ten
How To Fix ...
... LSU, by Russ Mitchell
... the ACC, by Terry Johnson
... California, by Rich Cirminiello
... Michigan, by Bart Doan
... Virginia Tech, by Matt Zemek
... the Big Ten, by Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
How to Fix the Big Ten
We've all seen it. The middle-aged man telling stories of his glory days in high school when he was the kid that had it all. The girlfriend, the parties, and the entire community wanting to rub elbows with the prep-star of the town. And then it happened...he graduated, got a job, got older, got a little balder, gained a little weight and lost his feats of athletic-endeavors to scrapbooks and grainy video.
In some ways, the Big Ten is a lot like the guy still holding on to that letterman jacket, telling stories and pining for the good ‘ole days that seemed to have been lost in a collection of boxes that are covered in dust and spiderwebs in the basement storage. It's nothing more than a memory, only to be conjured up when comparing rotten-apples to oranges.
It's not a secret. The Big Ten has struggled in large part since Ohio State got T-boned out in the desert via the BCS Championship game in January of 2007. That night, the Buckeyes ran into a hungrier and more prepared Florida team that gave it a super-surprise toilet-swirlie in front of millions of viewers. That alone would be hard to come back from.
But it didn't end there.
Since then, the conference has taken it on the chin more often than not. There have been some big wins sure. There was even a very good showing in the bowls in 2010. But a flash in the pan here or there does not equate to the steady and elite success of the six-straight BCS Championships of the SEC. The black eye of perception also doesn't come close to the perception enjoyed by the offenses being thrown out by the Big Twelve and Pac-12 on a weekly basis.
And then there is the well-chronicled disaster of a year so far in this season. The Big Ten has parlayed the recent run of mediocrity to an even less than an average showing in the non-conference slate--losing arguably every single game in which it has had an opportunity to make a statement.
And that's the ever-so-rough timeline of where things stands today.
So how does the Big Ten get its mojo back? How does it stop from being the punchline of many national jokes?
Easy. Well, kinda.
The single most important thing for the Big Ten to be among the upper crust of college football again, is to have its big-boys grow up to be grown-men again. That means we're looking at you Michigan. We're staring down our noses at you Ohio State. Nebraska, you'll also be on the clock as the new cool kid who hasn't quite fit in yet. But that might be more later than now as you settle in. Penn State? Well, that ship is sailing into the sunset for now.
Sure, having a solid league top to bottom might help to some extent, but it's the blue-bloods of the sport that need to dominate and be a level above everyone else. Wisconsin, Michigan State and others still need to hold their own against tough out-of-conference competition, but the colors that will paint an improved image of the league are scarlet and gray, and maize and blue. There are other colors of the Big Ten rainbow, but those need to be the ones to pop with the brightest hue. As they once did.
After all, the SEC is tough, but it has two teams that are far superior to everyone else right now. It's Alabama and LSU, then everyone else. The same needs to happen in the Midwest, and what two better teams to be entrusted with a renaissance than the two most responsible for bringing the program notoriety in the first place.
All indications point to Ohio State and Michigan getting back on the radar with top-flight recruiting classes, but both are clearly not there yet. Both simply have to produce on the field when it counts. Ohio State has a bowl ban so there won't be an opportunity to take down a big-time opponent this year no matter how many games it wins. And Michigan has already tapped out with losses to Alabama and Notre Dame this season.
Better luck next year?
There's no other way to slice it. The time is nigh for both widely-successful programs to ratchet things up in Ann Arbor and Columbus.
As they do, the national jokes, snickers, and sideways stares will stop. Until then, the reputation of the Big Ten will still be collecting dust, sitting in the corner as a memory of what once was.