Column: Tough Times in the Big 10

Nick Knudsen

By Michael Barera (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Normally, I can find a way to defend at least a part of the Big Ten, but the fact is, the Big Ten is indefensible this year. Iowa and Wisconsin have been an embarrassment, Penn State and Ohio State are invisible this year, and Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State are regional powerhouses with limited national relevance, similar to Notre Dame.

If something isn’t working, then fix it. The conference needs to find a way to keep pace with the SEC.

Check out SEC non-conference scheduling. SEC teams played non-conference schedules loaded with FCS schools that rarely stay within 50 points, while the Big Ten tends to play against the MAC and Conference USA. Non-FCS schools can also give the SEC trouble: Bowling Green came to the Swamp in Week 1 and made me feel like I was watching Ohio State play a non-conference game, Akron hung with Tennessee into the second half a couple of weekends ago, and the Sun Belt’s own, UL Monroe, did some work in Little Rock and Auburn this month. Purdue did play Eastern Kentucky, but for the most part, Big Ten schools stay away from FCS teams.

SEC teams rarely travel outside of the region for non-conference games which means that there is never an opportunity for a moment of national embarrassment like the Big Ten’s Week 2 Pac-12 debacle. The Big Ten should have to own up for Nebraska at UCLA and Wisconsin at Oregon State, but the national media clearly wants to hammer the conference a little more. By scheduling so conservatively in the non-conference, the SEC only has to answer the bell come bowl season, a season that is played, for the most part, in their territory.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I consider the SEC’s non-conference scheduling to be a joke and a rip off to fans who buy full priced tickets to these FCS exhibitions. But, what the Big Ten (and the rest of the nation) should have learned from the SEC is that teams can get away with a weak non-conference schedule as long they take care of business within their conference and come away victorious on a semi-regular basis when tested against the rest of the nation.

To the credit of the SEC, they have stepped up over the last several years, but bowl season does not provide a great sample. Therefore, extreme opinions are formed like the SEC is unbeatable, the Big Ten chokes and Boise State deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as national title contenders. I’ve watched Florida go nearly .500 against Big Ten teams in bowl games over the last decade, but Verne and Gary never bring that up during the 3:30 CBS games.

Regardless of how bowl season turns out this year, 2012 is a lost campaign for the Big Ten. Only time and a string of big time wins on a national stage can begin to sway perception about the struggling conference. Until they can find a way to compete on a national level, the Big Ten needs to find a way limit the damage to its reputation to bowl season.