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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Big Ten needs wins for conference to get respect

Each year, Wisconsin football fans are forced to hear and read about how weak Big Ten football is. Unfortunately, as the Big Ten schedule begins this weekend, we'll be hearing more of the same.

The bulk of the Big Ten's non-conference schedule is done, and once again the conference produced unimpressive outcomes.

The headlining non-conference clash involving the Big Ten was Ohio State's matchup with USC in the second week of the season.

After a resounding Ohio State loss in 2008 in Los Angeles, the Buckeyes had an opportunity to showcase the Big Ten on a national stage. The ingredients for an Ohio State win were there: a home game, a more experienced Terrelle Pryor and a freshman quarterback for the Trojans.

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The Buckeyes played a competitive game, but didn't get the win, showing the top tier of the Pac-10 is superior to that of the Big Ten.

The result of the Ohio State-USC bout was disappointing, but it wasn't the conference's only prospect of potentially proving its ability.

The Big Ten as an entity entered the season with relatively low expectations, compared to conferences such as the Big 12 or the SEC. But one team that did come into 2009 with heightened expectations was Michigan State, after winning nine games in 2008 and finishing third in the conference.

Despite the hype, the Spartans had perhaps the worst non-conference run of any Big Ten school, suffering a home defeat to a mid-major team in Central Michigan, followed by another loss at the hands of Notre Dame. Not much is expected of most Big Ten schools, but no one could have predicted the Spartans would enter their Big Ten schedule 1-2.

If one takes a current look at the Big Ten standings, most teams have a winning record, but only because the conference feasted on mid-major and FCS schools. When the Big Ten did butt heads with BCS competition, the results weren't pretty.

The Big Ten's record against the other five BCS conferences and Notre Dame was 5-6, which denotes a slightly above-average performance. But closer assessment of those 11 contests shows the Big Ten's performance against BCS schools wasn't even that.

The Big Ten had five victories, but three of them came against Syracuse and Iowa State, two teams who combined for a 5-19 record in 2008. Calling those three victories quality wins doesn't do them justice.

The other two BCS-level wins are higher quality, but still not incredibly impressive. Iowa played and beat Arizona in Iowa City, pitting a top-tier Big Ten team against a mid-level Pac-10 squad. It was a nice win for the Hawkeyes, but nothing to hang their hat on.

The other win was a Michigan victory over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor, which was probably the conference's best non-conference performance. It was a significant victory for the struggling Wolverines, but it was still a win over a squad who lost six games in 2008 including one to the Big Ten's favorite punching bag, Syracuse.

Notre Dame was anointed a 2009 contender, but those were only based on the pre-season polls, which are, in turn, based on pretty much nothing.

Some of the Big Ten's losses to BCS teams were also troubling.

It started opening day with Illinois, a mid-level Big Ten squad, getting blown out of the water in a neutral-site game against a mid-level Big 12 team in Missouri, 37-9. Illinois isn't expected to be as good in 2009 as they were in recent years, but a close game would have been nice.

Then last weekend a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten squad fell to a lower-level Big East squad (probably the worst BCS conference in the nation), when Northwestern fell to Syracuse, actually giving the Orange a victory in their Big Ten tour.

To add fuel to the fire, the Big Ten also suffered some hiccups against mid-major and FCS teams.

Over last weekend, Purdue lost to Northern Illinois, who entered the game ranked No. 79 in cbssportsline.com's rankings of all FBS teams. The Boilermakers are a lower-level Big Ten team, but a home loss to a poor mid-major school is disturbing.

Back during opening weekend, the Big Ten's crown jewel, Ohio State, needed to stop a 2-point conversion at home to stave off Navy. Iowa needed not one, but two last-second blocked field goals to hold off Northern Iowa. Indiana's 3-0, but they were within a score from losing to Western Kentucky.

It's a pretty simple formula for the Big Ten: win, and it'll regain respect. Until then, let the Big Ten bashing continue.

How do you think the Big Ten will do in 2009? Let Scott know by e-mailing him at kellogg2@wisc.edu.

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