It’s no secret– the Big Ten is just plain awful this year. Besides the poor non-conference performances and the four teams that dropped from the rankings since week one, the conference is experiencing it’s worst year in recent memory.
With that being said, is there reason to worry about the future of the Big Ten?
The answer isn’t quite as clear as many would hope and right now the direction that the conference is headed is not so healthy. However, the conference has not had a down year like this in an extremely long time and a lot of it has to do with the postseason bans on Ohio State and Penn State following turbulent offseasons for both schools.
Let’s look at it like this, if the bans were not in place, Ohio State would be a top-10 team, possibly even top five, looking to make a run at a national title. They have yet to lose a game, but really have yet to be tested by a struggling conference. They’ve had some close calls against Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue, but it was not enough as the Buckeyes have come out on top every time.
They hired Urban Meyer as the head coach towards the end of the season last year and he could bring this school back to national prominence once the bowl ban is lifted next season. He is one of the best coaches in the country and will surely have his team in place to make a run at a national title within the next three seasons.
Penn State’s Bill O’Brien was also hired in the offseason to replace Joe Paterno whose legacy had been tarnished because of the Jerry Sandusky situation. O’Brien started the season as an unpopular man in Happy Valley, losing their first two games and looking lethargic on both offense and defense. What did he do to earn his keep? Oh, just reel off five straight and start the conference season 3-0 before losing to Ohio State at home.
Those two teams have promising futures despite troubled pasts. How about the rest of the conference?
Nebraska is the conference’s only ranked team at No. 20 and look to be the best team outside of the Buckeyes. They got stomped in Columbus earlier in the season, losing 63-38 to the Buckeyes in a poor defensive effort for both teams. They have quite possibly the best offense in the conference and have Taylor Martinez back for one more year, along with sophomore stud running back Ameer Abdullah. They will be okay for a while behind the leadership of Bo Pelini and rich football tradition that will bring in top recruits every year.
Michigan State and Michigan, are seemingly headed in the same direction as programs. Although the Wolverines took over state bragging rights with a 12-10 win just two weeks ago, the two teams are on the same level and both are headed in the right direction behind their head coaches. Michigan State is suffering an off-year because of their lack of offense, which can be contributed with the loss of an entire unit last season.
They lost their starting quarterback and most of the receivers in 2011 and there is always an adjustment period when something like that happens. Michigan got shellacked by Alabama to start the season and never fully recovered. They are hoping Brady Hoke can lead them back to the success they had in the Lloyd Carr days, and that seems likely because he has been deemed a “Michigan man” by many.
Wisconsin is always going to be contending for conference titles under the direction of Bret Bielema. He’s always going to have his Badgers in the top-25 to start the season and has gotten them to the Rose Bowl in the past two seasons and a legitimate chance at a third, as they are seemingly the only eligible team to have a chance at winning the Leaders Division.
Northwestern has been in the right direction for a while behind Pat Fitzgerald and they are consistently an eight-win team.
Iowa has a great coach, although his seat has gotten significantly hotter recently, but Kirk Ferentz is one of the best at what he does and given the right recruits, he will have this team contending every year.
Jerry Kill has Minnesota playing their best football in recent memory. The Golden Gophers may earn their first bowl bid since 2009 and just their third in the past six seasons. They need one more win, and with Illinois still on their schedule, that seems a likely possibility.
Indiana’s offense has impressed a lot of people and many believe that this is a team out of the rise and they are finally out of the cellar of the conference after a long residence there.
Purdue was a popular pick to win the Leaders Division, but laid an egg this season, failing to register a conference win through week nine. They seem to be headed in the wrong direction along with a horrific Illinois squad that looks as beatable as any team in the country.
So you be the judge. A majority of the conference seems to be having just an off-year, while two seem to be permanently off. They just all seem to be doing it at the same time, which makes it so heavily documented. Don’t worry Big Ten fans, the conference will bounce back next season. No reason to panic.