You've read the big story. You've maybe listened to Kirk Herbstreit hope for an Urban Meyer sighting, or perhaps read Mike Freeman's Jon Gruden ruminations. You've definitely read about what one might expect following a coaching change, as well as reflections on the Jim Tressel Era. But what does this mess mean for the conference, and what might be its lasting implications?
How does Tressel leaving affect the Big Ten this season? How does this affect the conference’s newly established divisions?
Ted: Other than the fact that Tressel is gone, which is huge in and of itself, it will be significant. Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite in the Leaders division for 2011, and they still have a loaded team. I don't think Luke Fickell would be named the interim head coach if he was an idiot, but if what came out in Sports Illustrated is true, I can't see Pryor, Posey, and the other Tattoo 5 playing for OSU again. Terrelle Pryor is persona non grata in Columbus, and will be viewed (wrongly) by many as the reason Tressel is gone. That means the QB will be freshman Braxton Miller or the noodle-armed Joe Bauserman. Ohio State will still be in the mix for the Leaders Division, simply for the fact that every team in that division has more questions than answers, but none more than OSU.
If we look at the divisions, this definitely opens the door for Illinois and Wisconsin. 2011 and possibly 2012 looked like it was all OSU in the Leaders division, and that's not the case anymore. If you look at the punishment USC got from the NCAA as a guideline, OSU will lose scholarships for a few years, and probably get a bowl ban. That will affect recruiting, and it will be awhile before OSU will be considered and odds-on favorite for anything. As to the Legends division, I think whoever emerges from that dogfight will be the Conference Championship game favorite. Suddenly, the Leaders division just took on the flavor of the Big XII North.
Ricardo: I foresee a very bad year for the conference. With Michigan rebuilding and Ohio State now down for the count (this year, at least), I do not see voters having a positive disposition towards Big Ten teams. Had Michigan State or Wisconsin gone undefeated last year, do you believe voters would have put them in the BCS Title Game over an undefeated Auburn or Oregon? Probably not. Should that scenario actually play out this year, the B1G winner will definitely find itself on the outside looking in. Do not be surprised if the conference gets only one BCS berth.
Per conference play, everything just opened up. Many might rush to anoint Wisconsin the pre-season favorite in the Leaders Division, but they need to replace four all-Americans and a competent quarterback. Would anyone be shocked if the division champ sports a 5-3 or even 4-4 conference record? If that is the case, Penn State, Illinois, or even Purdue (barring another 6000 torn ACLs) might make it to the conference title game. Make no mistake: the balance of conference power has tipped to the Legends. (*seriously, Big Ten- Leaders and Legends?)
For both The Ohio State and the conference as a whole, what are the medium- and long-term implications of Tressel leaving and the program likely being hammered by the NCAA?
Ted: Long term implications? Tough to say right now, because it's still dependent on what the NCAA penalties will be. If there's a five year bowl ban and a loss of a bunch of scholarships, it will be a lot worse than a two year ban and loss of schollies. The Ohio State brand is such that they can sustain through the coming hard times, and come out as strong on the other side, but they must hire the right coach. It's going to be a rough few years in Columbus.
With respect to recruiting, I'm a firm believer that it will be determined by whoever the coach is, and as damaged as the OSU brand is right now, it's still OSU and will draw recruits, and once this scandal is in the rear view mirror they will be consistently back in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings. A good recruiter will keep the pipeline open, but it will take a hit; it's impossible not to. If you're a top recruit that has it narrowed down to an Ohio State team that isn't going to a bowl for a couple years and can't compete for a championship, or a Michigan team that can...where are you going to go? If OSU gets a guy that has a hard time recruiting on a good day, it could be devastating.
That being said, I see Michigan as the big beneficiary here. Brady Hoke is starting to get back into Ohio for recruiting, and this will definitely be to their benefit. He's chucked the RichRod spread and is going back to a more traditional Big Ten offense and defense, and those are the same players that OSU targets. Less scholarships for OSU means more guys don't go to OSU and go elsewhere, and traditionally that means Michigan is the winner in that.
Ricardo: The following is predicated on the assumption Ohio State receives a penalty as harsh as what USC received: two-year post-season ban (conference title and bowl games) and scholarship numbers almost halved over a three-year period. Given that Tressel seems to have been into this far deeper than Pete Carroll was with the Trojans, I do not feel this is far-fetched.
The conference is now wide-open over the medium-term, especially if OSU receives a post-season ban. Who grabs the bull by the horns? Theoretically Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, Illinois should be better positioned to make a few runs at BCS berths with an easier road in division play (because, even if they finish behind Ohio State, they will still go to the conference title game). And, as mentioned above, the winner of the other division (Michigan State? Nebraska? Iowa?) may very well be a favorite in a conference title game where OSU is absent.
Turning to the longer-term implications as they relate to program-building, I see five teams poised to reap fairly significant benefits- ones that may actually hurt Ohio State over the long haul (especially if they fail to find another Tressel). They are, in alphabetical order:
llinois. Ron Zook, always known as a good recruiter, has done the inconceivable: convinced highly-touted kids to move to Urbana-Champaign. He will always field talented teams. If that talent can translate into on-field success in a now diluted Leaders Division, might the Illini be positioning themselves for regular January 1 games?
Michigan. The kids who set-up camp in front of Hatcher to defend the Diag (as an unwilling Michigan Man I am unfortunately all too aware of such traditions) probably find themselves unable to stop smiling today. That aside, the Michigan program finds itself far, far better off than it was this day one year ago. Not only is RichRod gone (and his violations look like child’s play when compared to Ole Sweater Vest), but new coach Brady Hoke gets the rivalry. Hoke also plays a brand of football with a proven track record in Big Ten play. Will he have the program turned around in a few years? I fully expect so. And at a time when Ohio State is down? Yes. Ohio State and Michigan share a similar recruiting ground (one that RichRod more or less ceded to the Buckeyes); UM will reestablish its inroads in Ohio, especially with a number of scholarships likely being forfeited by OSU. And if a resurgent UM is able to reach a conference title game within the next three years, will they have to face-off in a rematch with Ohio State? Probably not. This whole fiasco will only help Michigan get back to being Michigan. I predict being punched in the mouth by hubris when I move back to Ann Arbor (causing me to mumble something under my breath about calling 5,000 straight running plays in the second half against a Greg Robinson defense).
Nebraska. Unlike three of the other teams on this list, Nebraska does not really fight for any recruiting turf with Ohio State. Nor are they in the same division. So why are they here? Assume for the moment Nebraska wins the Legends Division (this year, next year, or both). Their likely opponent in a conference title game will be coached by either Bret Bielema (2-3 post-season record, 0-1 BCS) or Ron Zook (1-3 post-season, 0-1 BCS) and not Jim Tressel (5-3 BCS). Nebraska just took one step closer to a Rose Bowl berth.
Penn State. Take a quick glance at Ohio State’s roster. Notice the number of Pennsylvania natives. As is the case with Michigan, Ohio State’s loss of luster (and, more importantly, scholarships) gives Penn State the chance to reestablish some recruiting turf. Considering that they share a division with Wisconsin (which needs to win big this year to prove they can do it in back-to-back seasons) and Illinois (Zook!), a talent infusion combined with a beaten down Ohio State program might just help propel Penn State back onto the national stage.
Wisconsin. As mentioned in this piece and likely other places, the Badgers may very well be pre-season favorites for the division. If we manage to ignore Wisconsin’s tradition of stinking when tabbed a pre-season favorite (2000, 2007, 2008, etc.), the case is clear. Bucky returns a strong secondary, has depth along the defensive line (even after J.J. Watt’s early departure), gets Chris Borland back from injury, and brings back the two-headed monster that is James White and Montee Ball. On paper, the Badgers are poised to win the division this year and next (if I’m being a homer, feel free to hammer me in the comments section). Beyond that, Wisconsin has quietly begun recruiting at the national level, moving beyond its traditional pastures in the Dairy State and the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Glace over the rosters of some of the better Wisconsin teams from the last fifteen years (1998, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010), and if you look closely you will see something: players from Ohio. Those players (as far as I am aware) were not offered scholarships to Ohio State (meaning little competition), and I do not believe for one second Wisconsin (or, for that matter, Michigan or Penn State) will simply waltz into Ohio and start cleaning house. In fact, I think Ohio State will prove quite resilient in this regard. But will Wisconsin, with a larger number of scholarships and the promise of post-season competition, be able to entice one or two four-star recruits to head to Madison? Yes. And those recruits might just provide the Badgers that extra playmaker they always seem to lack.