Ohio State won the BCS National Championship in 2002 in dramatic fashion over heavily-favored Miami.
An unbeaten, Charles Woodson-led Michigan team split a national championship with Nebraska in 1997.
But, quickly, name the last time the Big Ten won a national title in football before the ’97 Wolverines? That would be the undefeated 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes coached by Woody Hayes.
Following two titles in six years, it's been 11 more years of nothing but national disappointment for the Big Ten. So Ohio State is playing for more than just a championship on Jan. 12 against Oregon. It’s playing for an entire conference. Clearly, the value of a victory for the Big Ten in the championship game cannot be overstated.
“It was a big day for the Big Ten,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said after the Buckeyes win over Alabama. “We’ve had some struggles over the years but our talent level is up and our coaching is up.”
The Big Ten was the least successful conference during the BCS Era. It had the fewest programs play in the title game (one) and had the fewest championships (one) of any of the Power 5 conferences. Even the defunct Big East had two different teams play in the BCS title game (Virginia Tech, Miami twice).
Michigan is on its fourth coach in nine years. Penn State is on its third coach in four years after the worst scandal in college football history. Wisconsin has lost two coaches in three years for supposedly “lesser” jobs in other power conferences. Nebraska is more known for a fake twitter account or their former coach’s sharp tongue than competing for championships.
A few bowl upset wins for the league were exciting and welcome but were merely a brief moment of respite. Big Ten fans should not be excited about the future of their league because Baylor had a field goal blocked or Auburn’s kicker missed by six inches.
The Big Ten wasn’t underrated this year. It was terrible. It lost every major non-conference matchup with the exception of Indiana’s win over Missouri. The ballyhooed bowl season still included embarrassing B1G showings against middle of the pack teams like Tennessee, Stanford and those same Mizzou Tigers.
But all of that — a decade of championship irrelevance, coaching turmoil and disrespect — was erased in a matter of days. The Big Ten should be ecstatic about its future because of what the Ohio State Buckeyes did in New Orleans and Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor.
Beating Alabama wasn’t just another postseason for Ohio State. It was knocking off the most dominant team in the sport deep in the heart of SEC country when no one believed it to be possible.
“You definitely represent your conference,” Buckeyes defensive end Adolphus Washington said. “You always hear about the competition down South in the SEC being so much better than up North. It gave us a chance to show what the Big Ten can do against the SEC.”
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Landing Harbaugh wasn’t just another hire. He immediately adds juice to a league in desperate need of headlines and credibility. He’s instantly one of the top two coaches in the league and one of the top dozen sideline generals in all of college football. With James Franklin settling in at Penn State and Mark Dantonio already clicking on all cylinders at Michigan State, the Big Ten East is set to become one of the power divisions in college football.
With Harbuagh, the Big Ten becomes must-see TV once again.
“It’s great to have him coaching in the Big Ten,” Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple said of Michigan’s new head coach. “It’s great for the rivalry and it’s great for the sport.
Scoring Harbaugh and beating Alabama can set two foundations for the Big Ten's future. Last week was the first step of many if the league wants to return to national prominence. The next step comes on Jan. 12 in the title game against Oregon, making a strong showing in Arlington that much more important.
“The Big Ten takes a lot of scrutiny from other leagues," Apple said. "They think we aren’t as talented. So this is a great platform to show the world that we can play with anybody."
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Joey Bosa sees the national title game as not only an opportunity for Ohio State to reestablish itself as a national power but also a statement on the league.
“So many people are talking about the Big Ten not being relevant," Bosa said. "It would be nice to silence some haters.”