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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Big 10 2008 Preview

The Big 10 lost another championship game last year. If it weren’t for the refereeing disaster that allowed Ohio State to beat Miami, the Big 10 would be 0-3 in BCS title games. More disturbing, Ohio State would be 0-3 in BCS title games with the rest of the conference yet to be seen. The Big 10, and Ohio State, needs the rest of the conference to step up, but the future is not bright.

Can anyone else win the Big 10 year?

What can the Big 10 do to redeem itself this season?

What are the long term prospects for the Big 10?

1) The coaches of college football have voted on their favorite teams, and it doesn’t look good for the Big 10. Ohio State is again a top 5 team with a legitimate shot at a national championship, but the rest of the Big 10 is falling down on the job. In the top 15, the SEC has four teams, the Big 12 has five, but the Big 10 has only two. Only the Pac 10 is more top heavy (which is why the winner of USC and Ohio State will be in the championship game this year).

(Click here for an explanation of the performance and reputation measures.)

So, can anyone compete with the Buckeyes this season? Illinois has brought in a number of nationally competitive recruiting classes, and has shown flashes of brilliance, but a Mendenhal-less offense could be ugly. I don’t think Illinois will knock off Ohio State (which involves more than beating Ohio State once) until they find their own Urban Meyer to really take advantage of a huge potential.

Wisconsin has a sweet schedule with Penn St., Ohio St., and Illinois at home. They play Michigan in Ann Arbor, but early in the season before RichRod has really been able to plant his roots in the program. Their non-conference schedule is pathetic except for a game at Fresno State that I think they might lose. By the end of October, Wisconsin could be 8-0 with a Big 10 title almost rapped up and looking at a serious bid for a trip to the national championship game—or they could be 3-5 having lost five of their last 6. Regardless, their mascot will still be an over-sized badger that is inexplicably wearing a sweater but no shorts. If Wisconsin wants to win the Big 10, they must make their own luck and beat Ohio State when the Buckeyes come to town.

2) What can the Big 10 do to redeem itself this year? Very little. Ranked teams in the Big 10 have a total of four non-conference games of note: Ohio State @ USC, Illinois @ Missouri, Wisconsin @ Fresno State, Michigan vs. Utah. The first of these is important, but everyone knows Ohio State is good—just not national championship game good. Ohio State needs some support from the rest of the conference to gain some respect itself.

Illinois could beat Missouri, but I doubt it will. Even if it does, it won’t matter much. Because these two programs don’t have much historic legitimacy, the loser will fall more than the winner will climb.

The last two (Fresno State and Utah) are dangerous matchups. Utah will be a better team this year than Michigan and would have to be the favorite at a neutral site. Fresno State loves to beat BCS conference teams. Because Utah and Fresno State are better than people give them credit for, Wisconsin and Michigan will gain nothing if they win and drop more than they should if they lose.

Note to the Big 10—if you have respect issues, don’t schedule tough teams from lowly conferences. Schedule crappy teams from the BCS conferences. This is what the WAC and MWC figured out a decade ago and are now reaping the rewards.

3) The long term prospects of the Big 10 are dim-a simple product of demography. There is enough talent in the area to feed three programs—Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. Illinois and Wisconsin can be competitive, but the rest of the conference is doomed to mediocrity or worse. Soon, the Big 10 will have to accept the new reality that it is no longer an elite conference.

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