From Afterthought To Rising Power: The Case For The B1G
Ask any college football fan his or her opinion on the nation’s predominate powerhouse football conference, and the general consensus will sound the same: The SEC reigns supreme. Ask about his or her thoughts on the Big Ten, and you’re likely to get answers such as “afterthought” or “weak”.
Of course, there is plausible reasoning behind these beliefs. Crippling sanctions levied by the NCAA rendered Penn State bowl-ineligible for three seasons, while the infamous tattoo scandal kept Ohio State from competing for a National Championship in 2012. Add the recent struggles of Michigan’s football program, and you’re left with a once mighty conference now seemingly in decline, while the all-powerful SEC dominates every aspect of the college football landscape.
But after a remarkable postseason run, times are changing. Don’t count out the Big Ten just yet.
First, let’s examine how the conference fared in postseason play. Faced with daunting match-ups against teams like Auburn, Alabama, and Baylor, it was easy to write off the Big Ten. Most believed that the conference’s weaknesses would be exposed against top-level competition, and that Ohio State’s selection to the College Football Playoff over TCU would be seen as a mistake. What ensued was nothing short of remarkable.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon silenced critics by running rampant over Auburn’s stout defense in Wisconsin’s overtime victory in the Outback Bowl, proving that his record-setting season was no fluke. Michigan State erased a 20-point deficit to defeat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, thanks to an incredible second half defensive showing, paired with some late game heroics from Connor Cook. Ohio State took down Alabama with the team’s third string quarterback at the helm, and now own the National Championship.
And it was Penn State’s victory over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl that may have carried the most significance, however, as it signified the resurgence of one of the conference’s traditional powers, and the first postseason victory since the sanctions. The Nittany Lions made a statement to the nation with its dramatic overtime victory, signaling that a new era of Penn State football has emerged and that it may not be long until the Lions are back on top.
Next, look at the names of the coaches representing the Big Ten. Household names like Meyer, Dantonio, and Franklin have helped bolster the conference’s reputation, but it’s the most recent addition that could set it apart. New Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh gives the Big Ten one of the most recognizable names in all of football, while adding an exciting new dynamic to the conference’s outlook. Harbaugh’s arrival makes recruiting much more interesting, and gives the Big Ten another big time personality, a characteristic found in every power conference — think Nick Saban and Les Miles. The dynamic that Harbaugh brings is special and is the shot in the arm that the Big Ten needed. Top players want to play for high profile coaches, and the Big Ten’s reputable array will surely attract the country’s top talent in coming years.
College football is experiencing a changing of the guard, and the Big Ten is right at the forefront. It’s only a matter of time before the B1G returns to prominence.