The Big Ten conference is one of the most marquee college football conferences of all-time. Its history is storied, rich with success and has featured some of the biggest names the sport has ever seen. But as of late, the conference's overall football prestige is suspect at best. It's well-noted that the SEC is the top football league in the land; evidenced by its seven national championships in the last eight seasons. But Big Ten football fans like to consider themselves supporters of the second best conference in the country. That claim has never been more questionable than it is right now.
The ACC, Pac-12 and the Big 12 all have arguments of their own as to why they're currently a better football conference than the Big Ten. While I'm not making any claims here in that regard, for the sake of realistic debate, there are certain facts that Big Ten football fans must accept.
7. 3 Of Its 4 Traditional Powers Aren't Currently Elite:
Ohio State is an elite-level program and has been for quite some time. But the Big Ten's other traditional powers of Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska are not elite at the moment. For a conference that aims to be one of the top in all of college football, there needs to be more than one consistent program at the top. In recent years, Wisconsin and Michigan State have joined Ohio State as top dogs in the league. But Wisconsin and Michigan State are definitely not traditionally elite programs -- at least not yet. If the Big Ten's powers return to such a status, then so will Big Ten football return to its former glory. Time will tell if this will happen, but it's time to admit that, right now, the Big Ten lacks elite teams.
6. In Recruiting, It's Second-Tier, Not Second-Best:
According to Scout.com's top 100 prospects of the 2014 recruiting class, 37 of the nation's top players committed to SEC schools. The Big Ten and the ACC secured 17 prospects each, the Pac-12 snagged 16 and the Big 12 landed only seven. The SEC brought in 21 five-star athletes. The Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 combined to bring in 21 five-star athletes. Big Ten football fans need to admit that, in the eyes of recruits, they're not the second best conference in the nation. But rather they're in the second tier of college football conferences along with the other three in the 'power 5' conversation.
5. The NFL Does Not View Its Talent As Elite:
In the last six NFL drafts, dating back to 2009, the Big Ten has not had a single player selected in the top ten. That is simply hard to fathom, isn't it? And it goes to show where Big Ten football currently sits. The statistics do not lie; the NFL teams choosing high in the first round are shying away from selecting Big Ten players.
To be clear, the Big Ten still sends a number of players to the league every year. And the "top ten" statistic is a bit misleading, considering Taylor Lewan (Michigan) was taken at No. 11 this year. But it's inarguable that the league, as a whole, is not producing the same top-level talent that it was a decade ago.
4. Only 2 Programs Carried It Through The BCS Era:
Ohio State and Wisconsin have been the only two consistently successful programs since the inception of the BCS in 1998. Other Big Ten teams have seen success in recent years, including Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State and Iowa, but none of those programs have been anywhere near consistent.
Ohio State has seven conference championships since 1998 and Wisconsin has five; no other school has more than three. The Buckeyes played in ten BCS bowl games (6-4 record), even winning the national title (more on that later) in 2002. Wisconsin reached five Rose Bowl games, going 2-3 in those contests. The rest of the conference went just 5-8 in BCS bowl games.
3. To Be A Top Conference, You Have To Win National Championships:
The Big Ten hasn't won a national championship since Ohio State took home the title in 2002. Obviously, no conference stacks up to the SEC, which has won seven of the past eight. But the B1G has the longest drought of the other major conferences. The ACC's last title was this past season, when Florida State knocked off Auburn. The Pac-12's last championship was in 2004 (USC), while the Big 12's last championships came in 2005 (Texas).
2. The Additions Of Rutgers And Maryland Will Dilute Football Even Further:
The league's decision to bring both Rutgers and Maryland on was made for financial reasons. Neither program has ever been a football power and quite frankly, it doesn't look like either is even on the rise. Capturing a share of the television markets in New York City and Washington DC will certainly help the Big Ten expand its brand, but it surely won't help the actual product.
Rutgers has played in just nine bowl games in its history - and eight of them are since 2005. Maryland's resume is a bit better, but the Terps only played in one BCS game during the entire 16-year era - and they were blown out by Florida (2002). Maryland's relationship with Under Armour is certainly attractive, but unless the program can start putting together actual on-field results, they aren't going to help the league win any arguments.
1. Big Ten vs SEC Matchups Are Getting More Lopsided:
From the 1930s until the end of the 1970s, games between schools in the two conferences were toss-ups. The 1980s were dominated by the SEC (17-5 record), but the 1990s (16-11) and 2000s (18-15) were generally competitive. In the 2010s, the trend has to be alarming for B1G fans. The Big Ten has won just six of 19 contests between the two. With college football's popularity skyrocketing, it's going to be imperative that other conferences, namely the Big Ten, start winning big games and showing that the sport still has parity.
The 2014 season kicks off with Wisconsin facing LSU in Houston, Texas. We'll all be watching.