Is this the least competitive version of the Big Ten since the advent of the BCS?
The Big Ten has two non-conference games remaining on the schedule: Marshall will visit Purdue this weekend, and Indiana will visit Navy on Oct. 20. Otherwise, Big Ten may breathe a sigh of relief with conference play beginning this weekend.
The non-conference performance by the great Midwestern football league has been nightmarish so far and the case could be made this is the worst edition of Big Ten football during the BCS era.
Big Ten vs. the big boys
The Big Ten went 0-3 against Notre Dame as the Irish steamrolled through conference and divisional contenders Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue by a combined score of 53-26. This includes nine total points allowed to the pair of Big Ten title hopefuls from the state of Michigan. To add insult to injury, the Irish opted out of its rivalry game with Michigan beginning in 2014. It is the end of an era as Notre Dame begins its football agreement with the ACC, with the series with Michigan as an apparent casualty.
Against other BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, the resume is just as bad. The league went 6-9 against AQ programs (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12, SEC and Notre Dame) with a 1-3 mark against Rose Bowl rival Pac-12. The best win of the bunch is Ohio State’s home victory over 1-3 Cal. And that one went down to the wire.
The Big Ten’s non-conference BCS wins include Temple, Boston College, Vanderbilt and Syracuse twice. Those six AQ wins for the Big Ten have come against teams with a combined record of 6-16.
Additionally, the league lost three home games to the MAC — Ohio over Penn State, Central Michigan over Iowa, Ball State over Indiana — and Illinois got crushed at home by Louisiana Tech.
Yes, the mighty SEC only has four AQ wins in 2012, however, those victories came over Michigan, Washington, Arizona State and NC State. The Big 12 is 5-1 against AQ leagues with wins over Iowa, Miami, Maryland, Virginia and Ole Miss. Even the Big East has marquee AQ wins over Arkansas (Rutgers), Virginia Tech (Pitt), Maryland (UConn), North Carolina and Kentucky (Louisville).
In short, the Big Ten has failed miserably against the nation’s top competition.
Big Ten in the Associated Press rankings
No. 14 Ohio State, No. 20 Michigan State and No. 22 Nebraska are the only ranked Big Ten teams after four weeks of play. If Boise State, which will join the Big East next year, counts as a Big East team, only the ACC’s two (Florida State and Clemson) are worse than the Big Ten’s trio. And the Seminoles are poised to make a run at a national championship with their No. 4 ranking. With Ohio State facing a postseason ban (and thus ineligible for the coaches' poll and BCS rankings), technically only two eligible top 25 teams reside in the Big Ten.
By comparison, the SEC has four of the top six, five of the top 11 and six overall in the AP top 25. The Big 12 claims five of the top 16 and six overall, which does not include defending conference champion Oklahoma State. The Pac-12 has three of the top 13 and four teams overall with UCLA and Arizona falling out of the poll last weekend.
Michigan State’s season-opening 17-13 home win over Boise State is the league’s best win to date — and its only win over an AP top 25 team.
Already eliminated from the national title hunt?
Only four weeks into the season, the Big Ten appears to be eliminated from the national championship race. Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern are the only teams left unbeaten as conference contenders Nebraska, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin have a combined five losses already.
The Buckeyes could finish 12-0 and it wouldn’t matter as far as the BCS is concerned. And with all due respect to great coaching jobs by Pat Fitzgerald and Jerry Kill thus far, the Gophers or Wildcats going undefeated appears to be a long shot. Northwestern at Minnesota on Oct. 13 for a trip to Miami Gardens? Not likely.
Could Nebraska or Michigan State work their ways back into national title contention with unblemished Big Ten conference records? Possibly. But to jump one-loss teams like USC, the loser of Alabama-LSU or any conference champ from the Big 12 appears virtually impossible. The winner of the Louisville-Rutgers season finale may be higher in the polls than a one-loss Big Ten champ. And Notre Dame already has proven it might be the best team in Big Ten country already.
On the Heisman front, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson have been unofficially eliminated from contention as well. Ball lost his first fumble of the season this weekend and has been a shell of his 2011 self. Robinson has two terrible performances in losses to national contenders, including a five-turnover loss to Notre Dame in what was his worst game as a starter last weekend.
The numbers rarely lie
Last year, the Big Ten’s potent rushing attacks featured three of the top-15 ground games nationally. This year, only one Big Ten team (Nebraska) is ranked in the top 23. In 2011, three of the top 19 individual rushers hailed from the Big Ten. In 2012, only one running back, Le’Veon Bell, is ranked in the top 25 in rushing.
Last year, Wisconsin led the league in scoring (No. 6 nationally) and Michigan State was No. 3. Both averaged more than 31 points per game, and the duo matched-up in the Big Ten title game. Both could show up in Indianapolis again this fall, but the game could be a considerably lower scoring game. Both are ranked outside of the top 100 in scoring. Additionally, Iowa and Penn State are ranked 97th or worse in scoring offense as well.
Nebraska and Indiana are the only two teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in total offense while only the Hoosiers claim a passing attack ranked in the top 45 nationally. Penn State wideout Allen Robinson is the only receiver in the Big Ten ranked in the top 60 nationally in receiving yards per game.
Defensively, six Big Ten teams finished in the top 20 nationally in total defense last season. This year, only three Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25 (Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota) with only the Spartans, at No. 6, residing in the top 15 nationally. Last fall, seven of the top 18 pass defenses played football in the Big Ten. This year, only two of the top 20 passing defenses are from the Big Ten.
History isn’t on the Big Ten’s side
The Big Ten won its first four BCS bowl appearances from 1998 to 1999 and then claimed the national championship in 2002. However, since that win, the big bowl games have been a blood bath for the Big Ten.
The league is 7-11 in BCS bowls since the league’s last national title in 2002 with a 1-7 mark in the Rose Bowl and 0-2 record in the BCS National Championship Game. Two of those seven wins have since been vacated — Penn State in 2006 and Ohio State in 2010 — and the Buckeyes are the only Big Ten team with a winning record in BCS bowl games all-time (6-3).
Can the Big Ten work its way back into national relevance with a stellar conference slate? Of course. But with two major powers ineligible to complete for bowl games or conference titles and traditionally strong programs like Wisconsin and Michigan State having major quarterback issues, the Big Ten could be facing its worst year of play since the advent of the BCS.
Bring on the playoff.
- by Braden Gall