It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Yeah, I know.  I'm a walking allusional cliche. 

But when it comes down to it, what better way is there to preface a regular season Big 10 postmortem?  This year college's most esteemed conference simultaneously broke the mold and lived up to its reputation.  How's that?

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Will both Paterno and Tressel spread the conference wealth by bringing home BCS bacon?

It starts with the national pulse.  Coming into the season, we were the Water Buffaloes -- slow, brute, herbivores stuck in the mud; prone to dissection by smaller, faster foes.

Thirteen weeks of play later, our reputation proceeds us.  Sure, the Big 10 ranks third in 2008 out of conference win/loss records, finishing a hefty 31 and 9:

2008 Out of Conference Scorecard
1. SEC (28-5-0)--0.84848
2. Big 12 (38-10-0)--0.79167
3. Big Ten (31-9-0)--0.77500
4. ACC (28-10-0)--0.73684
5. MWC (23-11-0)--0.67647
6. Big East (21-12-0)--0.63636
7. Independent (11-11-0)--0.50000
8. WAC (16-17-0)--0.48485
9. Pac-10 (13-15-0)--0.46429
10. CUSA (16-23-0)--0.41026
11. MAC (17-27-0)--0.38636
12. Sun Belt (8-21-0)--0.27586
  (250-171-0)--0.59382

Source: Sportsline.com

But, the quality of the out of conference wins is subject to scrutiny.  When re-factored to consider our non-conference opponent's win/loss records, the Big 10 falls well into the bottom half of FBS contenders. 

1.    Pac-10    (82-38-0)--0.683
2.    ACC    (107-60-0)--0.641
3.    Big East    (88-56-0)--0.611
4.    CUSA    (96-64-0)--0.600
5.    Indep.         (55-41-0)--0.573
6.    MAC    (104-82-0)--0.559
7.    Sun Belt    (71-58-0)--0.550
8.    Big Ten    (93-76-0)--0.550
9.    Big 12    (109-91-0)--0.545
10.    WAC    (77-68-0)--0.531
11.    MWC    (74-68-0)--0.521
12.    SEC    (70-67-0)--0.511

And, numbers can only be used to say so much.  Humor me for a second and think of the best Big 10 out of conference win you can recall from this season....Got it?

If you said Penn State's 45-14 shellacking of suddenly-slipperless Oregon State, we're on the same wavelength.  Everything else that comes to mind on the national front -- Ohio State's humiliation in the Colosseum, Michigan State's debut drop at California, Michigan's foreshadowing fall against Utah -- is well, embarassing.

Granted, it could be much worse: we could be the Pac 10.  But, coupled with the North's struggles against our newest acronymic adversary -- the MAC -- it's hard to argue the Big 10 made any gains in reputation this regular season.  Especially, when you take into account my less than optimistic outlook on our upcoming bowl demise.

But why did this year feel so different?

It could have been the shakeup of the pecking order.  After, all big brutes like Michigan and Wisconsin fell far from grace -- tumbling from their routine perches near the top of the conference standings to damn near rock bottom.  Fresher faces, like Prodigal Son MSU, and brainy Northwestern swooped into to take their place.

Oh yeah, and Ohio State didn't win.  At least not outright.  In fact -- much to Graham's chagrin -- someone finally punched them in the mouth.  It just goes to show you why you don't cut in front of Joe Pa in the MCL Cafeteria line. 

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Any given Saturday...

But ultimately, this year's "change" in pulse comes from a newly minted top to bottom competitiveness.  Or -- to borrow a page from our friends down South -- the birth of the "Any Given Saturday" mentality in the Big 10.

How many times this season did you find yourself 1. Actually watching 12:00 noon games, and 2. Actively scrolling between ESPN 2 and the Big Ten Network to keep up with the latest conference overachiever?

Don't buy it?  Check out any of the following: Michigan v. Wisconsin, Minnesota v. illinois, Northwestern v. Minnesota, Illinois v. Michigan, Iowa v. Penn State, Illinois v. Iowa, Indiana v. Northwestern, Purdue v. Michigan, Wisconsin v. Minnesota.

Considering the snake-like coil of the Race to the Top, it shouldn't be any surprise that the Big 10's pocketbook is the big winner in the wake of No. 23 Oregon's 65-38 drubbing of No. 17 Oregon State, as the conference now stands poised to put both Penn State and Ohio State in the BCS.

Now, if we could just bring home a little more than petty cash from bowl season.  How about a little confidence?

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