So This Going to Be a 2500+ Word Article? Awesome. I Needed Something to Read this Afternoon.
Last night I watched the first of what will be entirely way too many College Football Games this season. After being disappointed in SEC officiating and their apparent hatred of the Smart Kids from Vanderbilt, I took a step back and thought about what this season is all about. Obviously this is the last year of College Football because the Mayans said so and that one crazy guy said so and well, wouldn't that just be fitting? Think about the landscape that is College Football right now. If the SEC is the standard (gigantic if, but let's play up ESPN marketing cliches) then the end is surely near. We're also living in a world where Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue have a better chance at a Conference Title than do Ohio State and Penn State, so there is also that. Either way, football just seems to be on the precipice of apocalypse, right? If not football, maybe just the conference...
Of course, maybe I am just bitter. Maybe all I know and all I care about is seeing respect for my team, and for that respect to come to fruition, maybe I just need some validation that my new conference mates are going to also fight alongside Nebraska for respect. Heck, maybe I just want Nebraska to fight for respect for once. It really has been a long time since that has happened consistently. But that just seems to be my problem. The bigger picture is that 2012 B1G Football has slowly been forced into a crossroads of sorts -- win now or go away and let the big boys do the work. We will always be a conference that is relative to the traditions and industry that are College Football, but if we are not relevant and competitive, are we anything more than an entertainment outlet that moonlights as an amateur endeavor? Our place at the table will always be set, but the more time passes by, doesn't it seem like we've been downgraded to the end of the table? Either way, I know JDMill talked about what he wants to see in the non-con yesterday and will keep that up each week but before the season goes too much further I want to talk about why 2012 is so important.
To really understand where I am coming from here, I will quickly run through the history of where this 'Media Bias' towards everyone else and away from the Big Ten came from, look at the differences between the B1G from the inside and the B1G from the outside (as a fan at least), and finish up with some of the future ramifications of 2012 and what I think needs to happen. Hell, if the Mayans were wrong, maybe we'll even get to 2013 which looks very promising for the conference as a whole, and If we're not so lucky, maybe the meteors will only crush a few football programs *coughmichigancough* and with that let's take a look at how this all started.
The Big Ten is one of the oldest and most respected conferences in football. That really isn't a statement of opinion, but rather a statement of fact. From 1896 to today, the conference has been playing football in one form or another and with Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, and Ohio State the Big Ten boasts four teams over 700 wins with Michigan leading the all time wins category. Needless to say, this conference knows football. The problem, however, is that history is nice and all, but the reality is that wins and nice writeups are one thing, results have not been so kind for the last forty plus years.
The last Big Ten National Championship was Ohio State in 2002 with the previous championship being in 1997 when Michigan and Nebraska shared the title. Before that point, it had been 22 years since a Big Ten team had been awarded the title. The sad facts are that before we can even begin to ask what the conference needs to do moving forward, it needs to accept that it has been a relative non-factor nationally for much longer than ESPN has been forecasting SEC domination from dusk to dawn.
Still, a lot of people would disagree that there has really been all that big a gap in competitive national behavior across all the conferences in this timespan. They would say I am just another mouthpiece of mainstream media. Well, I guess another way to look at it is to judge how the other conferences fared in that timespan. From 1970, the numbers of titles for the Big Ten is abysmal, which really makes sense why the conference tends to dislike the national format. We established that to be true. Still, take a look at the National Championships won for everyone else in that timespan. The B1G really looks terrible in comparison to pretty much everyone not named the WAC.
SEC: 14 Titles
Big 8/XII: 10 Titles (2 Split)
Independent Schools (Basically Notre Dame, Miami pre Big East/ACC, and Penn State): 9 Titles
ACC: 4 Titles
Pac 10/12: 3 Titles (1 Split)
Big East: 2 Titles
Big Ten: 2 Titles (1 Split)
WAC: 1 Title
So yeah, those numbers are awful looking to say the least. For over four decades, the Big Ten has been an afterthought on the national scene. Not always in the discussions, but in the results. Now, I know what comes next from most longtime fans here in the conference. "We play football the right way." "We get disrespected by the national media." "We don't play for no national championships, we play for the Rose Bowl." I have heard all three of these lines over and over, but the raw numbers are ugly and those lines are nothing more than hollow excuses. Either you are a conference that is a national player, or you're a conference that has a devout following. Sometimes it's just what happens.
Of course, that does not mean I can't at least talk quickly about the Rose Bowl because I think that game, as much as anything, has had a mostly negative affect on the conference. Despite most every fan in the conference aspiring to win Rose Bowls, the fact of the matter is that it just has not happened consistently. Overall, the Big Ten is 30-37 in Rose Bowl games. In the same timespan I described above (the years after Ohio State won a National Championship in 1970), the Big Ten has won exactly 12 Rose Bowls while losing 29. This is astonishing to me. To make matters worst, the Big Ten has won exactly one Rose Bowl in the past decade, leading to even more national claims that this conference may not be up to the standards of even the Pac 10/12, which is infuriating to say the least.
The gold standard that the Big Ten and its member schools measures it by has failed it miserably, and despite knowing this, the conference has bent over backwards to protect tradition and revenue while ignoring the burden it places on schools. Again, the numbers hardly lie. This game has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Big Ten getting ahead nationally and instead of just dominating, or even being mostly competitive, it has managed to lose on the national stage over and over. This is another failing of the conference and a part of why there is very little respect towards this conference today.
One more thing to tie up my loose ends in history of why people think this conference is overrated, the BCS. Alas, this is the conference with the most BCS berths of any conference. With 25 appearances, the conference still has a losing record of 12-13 (non-vacated records in play... the games were played so let's not pretend they aren't there) and even so, only 3 of those 25 appearances happened in the Championship game. That means only three times were teams really, "playing up," in the other BCS game. If this were any other conference we were talking about, there would be cries from within for some reform. You think the ACC/Big East is bad? The reality is they are playing the same level nationally just with fewer fans. To be fair, that's the beauty of the Big Ten. There are fans who would sooner jump into a vat of tar than admit that they are an inferior conference in any way, shape or form. I can't knock this point, but it does make you stop and think, "wow, talk about delusion..." Then again, that leads me to my next thought.
This is the Part Where We Talk About My Views Before and After Nebraska in the B1G
Sometimes I wish I would have been a part of a different writing team before the move to the B1G so that you could refer me back to my thoughts on the Big Ten before Nebraska was here. While I am truly happy Nebraska made this decision, I have to admit that I have spent a decent portion of my Sports Fandom life harping on the deficiencies of the Big Ten. I hated the offenses, I thought the teams played weak non-conference schedules, I was bored by Ohio State, I thought Michigan got off too easy in the polls because they were Michigan (I'll save you time. Pot meet Kettle. Kettle meet Pot.). In fact, if we are being completely honest, I once spent two weeks compiling data to prove that the Big Ten was perhaps the weakest major conference outside of the Big East to prove to a friend who follows the Hawkeyes that the Big Ten was not all that special. I put way too much time into it, and feel a little ashamed to renege so fast on that. Still, even though a lot of the stats were probably cherry picking, the point was that I could make a fairly legitimate argument that the Big Ten was not the beacon of awesomeness that so many people liked to believe.
Then again, views can change based on frame of reference, right? After a year in the Big Ten, I can honestly say I am impressed at the depth of this conference and I would challenge any team to deal with the grind and fervor of the Big Ten Schedule. For a moment, let's just ignore the media stereotypes for any conference. That means, "3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust" are out and so are, "ESS-EEE-SEE SPEEEEED" and "The Big XII Hates Defense" (although the latter still rings truer than it should). In a vacuum, this is one of the toughest football conferences in America. My thought process now does not and cannot just rely on those media definitions because they are always in flux and depend on the teams who are playing on the national stage and usually ignore everything else.
So how do you compare things then? If the definitions we know are faulty, how do we make good of what looks bad for the Big Ten? Well, I think it always comes back down to winning, right? If I were to ask you the day the Big Ten Conference cut off its leg nationally, what would you say? One might argue that Ohio State getting waxed by Florida in the NCG was probably the beginning of that process (we'll call this the, "My arm is stuck in a rock and I'm going to starve to death if I don't start cutting" moment). I would say that process finished when the Big Ten decided it would be really fun to schedule all of their Bowl Games on one day and then suck in each and every one. January 1, 2011 had five matchups and despite the fact that they probably were underdogs in each one, the B1G still lost every one of them. As the major power conference, you could not do that, and honestly that was probably the last straw for many people.
Even I was a little turned off by the new conference Nebraska was about to join because this was the group we needed to boost our own resume. Obviously, the Nebraska credibility has worn off significantly, so maybe the tougher competition would be good. A year later, the bowl season was still brutal. However, there were some signs of hope with Michigan winning a BCS game (doesn't matter the circumstance to be honest) and Michigan State beating one of those evil SEC schools. The marquee games were not all complete flops, and my perspective after a full year was that this conference has talent to compete nationally.
Why Are You Still Rambling? Don't You Know Football Started? Get On With Your Point!!!
Sorry, I didn't know the imaginary voices in my head were so angry and impatient. Wow. Anyhow, here is what I am trying to get at. This season matters. For the first time in a while, I think the Big Ten has a chance to gain back credibility that has been lost for a long time. There are legitimate sleeper title contenders and there are teams that can be interesting on a national stage, and I think that each one will do something special at some point or another this season.
Look, I do not believe for a second that the Big Ten is sending someone to the NCG. This conference is one of the most difficult in the country because every week requires you to be on top of things (except Indiana Week... and maybe Minnesota Week after what I saw on highlights this morning.. yikes. A win is a win? Sure.). This conference is deeper than the Big XII ever was and might be deeper than every other conference including the SEC. While the SEC teams definitely kill it up top, it really seems to nosedive from there. Regardless, I don't think this year is about the National Championship run so much as it is about getting back respect and scoring some big wins.
2012 gives us that chance. Looking at the Non-Con schedule, the Big Ten has an opportunity to fight its way to a little bit of respectability. In 36 non-con games, I believe the Big Ten has a legitimate chance to go 32-4 if not better which would be fantastic. Unfortunately, that means this group has to not fall victim to some random upset-minded team and we cannot lose to a Div IAA team under any circumstances. Even more importantly, with national audiences for the Boise State-Michigan State and Michigan-Alabama tilts, the conference needs needs NEEDS to be competitive and probably requires a 1-1 if not 2-0 finish. I would also argue that sweeping Notre Dame would go a long way in my book because even though Notre Dame is probably overrated in their own right, they are still Notre Dame and the rest of the conference didn't exactly go out and get the most difficult games scheduled ever. With four to five teams legitimately positioned to make noise this season, and with even more good things on the horizon, I think these times, they are a changing.
Wrap it Up Jesse. This is Where Everyone Has Scrolled Down to Anyway.
So that is my charge Big Ten brethren. I really hope the world doesn't end in 2012 because I feel like 2013 and beyond will be good to us. I could not be more excited for another season of football, food, football, more food, and maybe a few tasty beverages. None of us can really know what will happen, but hoping is better than nothing.
This may not be the year for a National Title, and there is a good chance it will take a long time to catch up to the glory days of the Big Ten, but it will come back. Like I said, it's nice to be aware of where we all stand and to start fighting forward for more respect as a conference which results in more respect for each team in the conference. While I know it goes against your best judgement, root for the good guys this weekend or at least hope for a meteor.
As for me, here's hoping and despite my urge to not root for the Spartans or Wolverines... GO STATE OF MICHIGAN!!!