How far apart are the Big Ten and the SEC?
When Alabama and Michigan took to the field in Dallas on Saturday night, it was more than just a matchup between two teams; it was a matchup between two conferences.
And if Alabama’s 41-14 victory showed us anything, it’s how far apart the two conferences really are.
Big Ten teams have been embroiled in controversy in recent years—from Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel’s tattoo fiasco at Ohio State, to Joe Pa and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State—and they have struggled on the national stage against marquee teams.
The SEC on the other hand, has dominated, reloaded and dominated again for each of the last five years. It has had its own controversies, yes, but you can hardly say that they have affected any team’s on-the-field play. Since 2007, a Southeastern Conference team has won every National Championship, while also producing three different No. 1 overall draft picks in the NFL.
In a matchup between the highest-ranked teams in each conference, the talent gap on the field identified what many already knew: the Big Ten still isn’t ready to compete with the SEC.
It wasn’t a game as much as it was a beat down—a physical manhandling from start to finish. Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson, a Heisman contender with three years of starting experience, looked like a skittish freshman and had his worst rushing performance since 2009.
Alabama’s offensive line had its way with Michigan’s defense, its secondary didn’t give Wolverine receivers an inch of space and its front seven kept Robinson from ever catching a glimpse of daylight.
Put simply, Alabama made Michigan—the then-No. 8 team in the nation—look like a cupcake.
Not since Ohio State upset Miami for the title in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl has a Big Ten team finished the year holding a Waterford crystal football. The Big Ten has held its own in BCS games recently, winning at least one in each of the past three years (although Ohio State’s 2011 Sugar Bowl win has since been vacated), but it hasn’t been able to put together the top talent needed to win it all.
Reputation is everything in the NCAA, and marquee non-conference wins are what earn you respect. In a couple years, the fate of the National Championship will lie in the hands of a selection committee. If it doesn’t respect you, then have fun playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl because you won’t be making a trip to Pasadena or Miami.
If the Big Ten wants to add another national title to its collective mantle it’s going to have to be able to hold its own against the top teams in the country. If Saturday night was any indication, it is simply not ready yet.