6/25 Roundtable - Why Does The Big 10 Stink?

Posted Jun 24, 2009

6/25 Roundtable - What's wrong with the Big Ten? It's the Wednesday topic in the CFN Daily Roundtable Discussion.

CFN Daily Roundtables

June 25

What is wrong with the Big Ten?

Over the next several weeks, as part of the CFN 2009 Preview, we'll examine some of the key questions going into the year with a daily discussion of the big topics.

Past Roundtables
June 24 The 3 big non-conference games

June 23 The Coach On The Biggest Hot Seat Is ... ?
June 22 The No. 5 team will be ... ?

June 19
The most underrated team will be ... ?

June 18 The most overrated team will be ... ?
June 17 The sleeper national title teams
June 16 Do 40 Times Really Matter?
June 15 Does college football need a Rooney Rule?
June 12 Should Alabama vacate wins?
June 11 Should college football players be paid?
June 10 Is the recruiting hype too much?
June 9 If you were starting an NFL team ...
June 8 Where would you take over as head coach?
June 5 Who does the least with the most?
June 4 Who does the most with the least?
June 3 The star players of September
June 2 The star teams of September
June 1 The coach you'd want for one game
May 28 Should the Big Ten expand, and if so, then what team should be added?
May 27 Should the Pac 10 expand? If so, then what two teams should be added?
May 26 Chizik, Kiffin or Mullen?
May 25 Heisman race sleepers 
May 22 2009's most interesting teams

May 21 Is Tebow the best QB ever?
May 20 When should preseason polls come out?
May 19 Does 2008 Utah have a beef?
May 18
No BCS, No Weis?

Pete Fiutak, CFN

Yes, I'm part of the problem. You can check me out at twitter.com/CFN_Fiu and find out future roundtable topics and other random musings.

Q: What is wrong with the Big Ten?

You mean besides billing itself as a collection of eleven of the world's elite institutes of higher learning while being named the Big Ten?

Is the Big Ten as good as the SEC? No. No one is. But the conference, outside of Ohio State, has had its moments against the big bad boy on the block with Michigan and Penn State winning New Year's Day games over the SEC a few years ago and Iowa beating up South Carolina last year. Wisconsin has always played the SEC tough and Michigan State wasn't horrible in last year's Capital One Bowl loss to a superior Georgia team.

The problem is that the league hasn't come through on the biggest stages, with issue one being the constant waterboarding provided by a USC program that, when fully focused, is the best in America and would beat 110 other teams in the Rose Bowl by three touchdowns, would beat six of the top teams by double digits, and would be in a battle to the final gun against the other three, whichever they might be, and would probably win two of those games. You can't dog an entire conference because it has problems with USC.

The Big 12 was a better league than the Big Ten last year, but that's relatively new and that's mostly because Texas and Oklahoma have been killers. So, at worst, the Big Ten is probably the third best league in college football. However, because of all the attention, and because of the TV time slots, helped by being in the middle of the country and by getting the first games on ESPN on a weekly basis, many believe the Big Ten should be better.

While USC is the big problem, the other issue in the conference's national perception is Ohio State, who gets obliterated by fans and media because it can't beat the best of the best teams in America over the last few years. But again, you can't rip on a team or a conference because they can't beat USC, and there shouldn't be too much ripping on a team or a league because of losses to the elite.

I've used this fun stat before, and I'm going to throw it out there again because it's so interesting when it comes to these debates. Look who Ohio State has lost to over the last four years.

- 2008: USC (Rose Bowl champion), Penn State (Big Ten champion, Rose Bowl bound), Texas (arguably the best team in America, lost in the Fiesta Bowl).
- 2007: Illinois (Rose Bowl bound), LSU (the national championship).
- 2006: Florida (the national championship).
- 2005: Texas (the eventual national champion), Penn State (Big Ten champion, Orange Bowl champion).

The Buckeyes have lost eight games in four years, all to BCS teams including three national champions. This is what I'm talking about in my ongoing fight with USC fans about why they should be angrier that their Trojans don't play fully focused for a full season. It would be one thing if USC were to slip up against a big-time, BCS-bound team, but you don't see Ohio State losing to Oregon State or Stanford. (Or to Kentucky and Arkansas, like LSU did two years ago on its way to a national title, or even to Ole Miss at home.) But I digress.

And then there's the talent-level argument. Eventually, when it comes to the Big Ten, someone will look up from their Transformers coloring book and blow some noise about how the Big Ten is slower and less athletic than the rest of the top conferences. Again, it's all relative. Almost no one can run with last year's Florida or the 2007 LSU Tigers; that's why they were national champions.

Yes, last year the SEC, ACC, and Pac 10 each had more players drafted, but the Big Ten has held its own over time with 41 players taken in 2005, 31 in 2006, 27 in 2007 and 28 in 2008. No, Northwestern and Indiana haven't exactly held up their end of the bargain, but Wisconsin has stunningly be fantastic at sending players to the pros, Ohio State almost always owns the Combine with its top players, and even Purdue has cranked out some amazing prospects.

As far as this year, Ohio State and Penn State will be the top teams, and they're rebuilding, so the lazy and disinterested will chirp about the Big Ten being lousy. But Illinois is loaded, Iowa is strong again, and Michigan State is as good as it's been in several years. Northwestern and Minnesota are better, while Wisconsin should be fine, even if it won't be the power it was a few years ago. The midsection of the conference is solid, but it all comes down to the wins in the key games. And there's your problem.

Outside of the Ohio State - USC game, there are few good Big Ten non-conference games as the league, for the most part, has wussed its way out of playing teams with a pulse. The Trojans will probably beat Ohio State, and Cal will likely wipe up Minnesota, so it'll be easy to assume the Big Ten can't handle the Pac 10, even though the Left Coast teams will be the favorites, but that means the Big Ten has to win the other key battles like Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, Illinois vs. Missouri, and Illinois at Cincinnati.

Is all right with the Big Ten world? No, but it did get its network into more homes with a big-time cable deal. That makes up for not being able to play with USC, right?

(One final footnote. PLEASE, Big Ten fans, save your time and work energy and don't e-mail me that USC catches a break by playing a home game in the Rose Bowl or that the SEC gets a home field advantage in the bowl games. I usually get at least 15 of these arguments every time I write something about the Big Ten, and I always respond the same way. The Rose Bowls could've been played in Champaign, Happy Valley, Ann Arbor, or Timbuktu and USC would've won in a walk. No, Ohio State wouldn't have beaten Florida or LSU in Columbus.)

Richard Cirminiello, CFN

Q: What is wrong with the Big Ten?

Although this topic has gotten a ton of mileage over the last few years, I think it tends to be way overdone, mostly by folks looking to pile on. Maybe this sounds like a cop out, but, like most things in sports, the Big Ten’s recent problems in big games and bowl games are more of a cyclical phenomenon.

Is speed an issue? Maybe against the elite programs, but who isn’t going to struggle to keep up with the likes of USC, LSU, and Florida? The Big Ten has enough speed to go stride-for-stride with about 95% of the schools in the country.  The overall talent is fine as well, save for maybe behind center, where the league hasn’t birthed a first-round quarterback in over a decade.

The Big Ten is not the SEC. It’s not going to be the SEC anytime soon. Those are the rules when your recruiting base doesn’t include Florida, Georgia, and the rest of the talent-rich South. However, the Big Ten will be in the same discussion as the rest of the major conversations as soon as Michigan starts being Michigan and programs, like Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, regain the annual consistency they had earlier in the decade.

Matthew Zemek, CFN

Q: What is wrong with the Big Ten?

Simply, the league’s stubborn refusal to play games after Thanksgiving. Aside from robbing the Big Ten of considerable exposure on weekends when the SEC and Big 12 play their title games (and the Pac-10, even with its horrible TV contracts, still pulls in an extra measure of visibility as well), the lack of early-December football creates extremely long layoffs between the end of the regular season and the playing of a (BCS) bowl game. What’s the impact of this difference between the Big Ten and the (out-of-conference) teams it plays in early January? Well, let’s just put it this way: USC is always playing an early December game, Jim Delany.

Hunter Ansley, Publisher, DraftZoo.com

Q: What is wrong with the Big Ten?

A: As far as I can tell, there are two things wrong with the former granddaddy conference: USC and the SEC.

When you look at the last few years, the Big Ten has been just as successful during the regular season as any conference, but the bowl gods haven’t been nearly as kind. How many conferences have a champion that has been forced to look forward to a meeting with either a top–ranked SEC squad or perhaps the most consistently brilliant team of the 2000s?

Penn State managed to book a trip to Pasadena last season, but USC was waiting for them, as they had for Illinois in the previous Rose Bowl and Ohio State in September. Then, the Buckeyes climb the heap for two consecutive seasons only to come face-to-face with two of the most talented teams in recent history in 2006 Florida and 2007 LSU.

Heck, even last year wasn’t kind to the Buckeyes who played a whale of a game against a team that should have been playing for it all. They came up short, and furthered their bowl ineptitude, but it’s not like they looked outmatched against a Texas squad that had legitimate beef about being left out of the title tilt.

But it wouldn’t be prudent to leave out that whole scheduling mess. The best statistical offense college football has ever seen only managed 14 points after a lengthy layoff, and the Big Ten is forcing it’s teams to take the same break every season. Something has to be done about that. Whether it’s tweaking the current slates or adding a twelfth team and splitting the conference, someone has to throw them a bone. But until the Pac 10 can find an alternate champion, or the SEC finds all 12 of its schools in scholarship purgatory, the Big Ten will continue to face the toughest postseason matchups in the nation. And the nation will continue to frown on them.

Jon Miller, Publisher, HawkeyeNation.com

Q: What is wrong with the Big Ten?

Not a thing. In 8 of the 11 years the BCS has been in existence, the Big Ten has sent multiple teams to its games. That’s more BCS appearances than any other league. Now, you can debate the worthiness of the BCS all you want, but it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future, and BCS bowl game committees, which also means chambers of commerce boards in the cities those games are played in, love the Big Ten schools…they travel better than any other conference, collectively. Ohio State has rocked the Phoenix area for so many years…Iowa sent nearly 50,000 fans to the Orange Bowl, and never less than 20,000 to its three Outback Bowl appearances since January of 2004. Penn State and Michigan boast two of the largest alumni bases in this country. Wisconsin will send 40,000+ when it plays in a BCS bowl game, Illinois close to that when it played USC in the Rose Bowl a few years ago.

Now, if you are talking about the Big Ten’s record in bowl games, I sure would love to see teams from other leagues play road games during the bowl season like the Big Ten has done for the most part. USC in the Rose Bowl? Same city. Most Rose Bowl games are going to favor the Pac 10 logistically, just like most Capital One and Outback Bowls are going to give the SEC the home field advantage. Florida had more than a week’s head start on ticket sales for the 2006 Outback Bowl against Iowa, and they sold over 40,000 tickets in that amount of time before Iowa was named as their opponent.

The Big Ten plays a different brand of football, and I enjoy it. I like a good old-fashioned 13-6 game like we had when Ohio State and Penn State matched up last year. Sometimes, it just matters on what given day you play the games. For instance…

Penn State beat Oregon State 45-14 in week two last season, Oregon Stat beat USC 27-21 in week four and then USC torched Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State lost handily at USC, without Beanie Wells and with their quarterback situation in a state of flux, and the Ohio State-Texas game was one of the most entertaining bowl games of the year. Iowa lost to Northwestern, the Hawkeyes would later beat Penn State, denying them the chance to play Florida for the national title and Northwestern gave Missouri all it wanted in the Alamo Bowl.

Are other leagues more aesthetically pleasing right now? Sure. But I don’t think there is anything ‘wrong’ with the Big Ten.