NCAA Football

Can the Big Ten Ever Get Back in National Title Hunt?

There’s little doubt that the SEC has ruled college football over the past decade. The conference has won the past six national championships.  They’ve also won seven of the last 10 titles including LSU’s split national championship with USC following the 2003 season.

During that same stretch, the Pac-10 picked up two titles thanks to USC while Ohio State and Texas claimed one apiece for the Big Ten and Big 12.

If you want to broaden the spectrum and go back another 10 years, it evens out some, but the SEC still had more titles than any other league – three – followed by the old Big Eight and new Big 12 with two apiece from 1992 to 2001.  The Big Ten also claimed at title after Michigan split the 1997 national title with Nebraska.

Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1968 to find a national title winner from the Big Ten, but let’s keep it to the recent past which I’m calling the last 20 years.  SEC 10, Big Ten 2.

Can the Big Ten ever get back in the title hunt, or is simply making it to the Rose Bowl going to be enough to keep everyone happy?

It shouldn’t come as any huge surprise, but count Ohio State’s Urban Meyer as one who thinks things will change.

Meyer told ESPN’s Big Ten blogger, Adam Rittenberg, this week, “It’s better than people give it credit for (in reference to the Big Ten). “Next year, we have road games at Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin. That’s major league football. The SEC is a little bit above everyone else right now, but I think the Big Ten is going to start heading in that direction.”

What do you think?  I’d say he could be onto something, but then again, what else he is going to say?

While these things tend to be cyclical to a point, getting to or reaching the level of the SEC isn’t going to be an easy chore.  It’s no secret the bulk of the best high school players are in the south and since recruiting is often times nothing more than a numbers game, it stands to reason the SEC isn’t going to take a step back anytime soon.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Big Ten can’t get better.  If nothing else, Meyer’s arrival should do wonders for the overall perception of the league in the long term  (assuming he sticks around for a while) which is half the battle right there.  The Big Ten’s reputation as a strong football league hasn’t exactly been at an all-time high lately. Whether that improved perception results in any national titles, however, is the million dollar question.

The Big Ten should also benefit from the improving depth of the entire conference which is something that has been lacking more than some people would like to admit.

Michigan is coming off a BCS bowl win and they continue to recruit like mad men under Brady Hoke.  The Buckeyes won’t be easy to beat under Meyer, especially once they move beyond their one season postseason ban.  Michigan State and Wisconsin have been on the cusp the last several years.  Nebraska can’t ever be counted out of the picture, either.  Who knows what to make of Penn State after everything they’ve been through.

It will still be an uphill battle to catch the country’s best football conference and it isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight.  Let’s face it, if you win the SEC title game, there’s a strong chance you’re going to be playing for it all which is another point Meyer hinted at during his interview.

“If you start throwing that term around (national titles) and you lose Game 2 or Game 4, then you lose your sting,” he said. “Our job is to compete for a Big Ten championship every year. In the SEC, it was, ‘We have to get to Atlanta.’ That was our slogan. And if we get to Atlanta and win that game, there’s a great chance you’re playing for the whole thing.

“We’re talking about winning the Big Ten championship.”

Right now, what does winning a Big Ten title mean?  It means you get in line and wait to see how everyone else in the country did.  What’s the record of the top two teams in the SEC?  What’s the record of the Big 12 champion?  How did USC and Oregon fare?  If all the pieces fall into place, then maybe the Big Ten gets its chance.

One way or another, that has to change.  Winning the Big Ten needs to mean you’re likely going to be one of the top two teams in the BCS when the regular season is complete.

Can it happen?  Of course it can.  Will it happen?  Probably, maybe, OK, I don’t know.

Meyer being at Ohio State obviously helps.  It will keep the Big Ten in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds which is a start.  But recruiting and winning football games is the only thing that will keep the conference there in the long run.

It can happen, but everyone needs to do their part.  It starts at the top with the conference and school administrators and needs to trickle all the way down to the players sitting on the end of the bench.  A mindset needs to change or nothing else will.

Finishing second, third, or fourth place simply shouldn’t be good enough anymore.