Over the last five years, the Big Ten’s national reputation has taken some notable hits.
The rough start to the 2012 season has not done the conference any favors. After three weeks of unexpected losses and poor play, Saturday was a chance for the Big Ten to gain back a little respect with the storied match-up of Michigan and Notre Dame.
But again, the result didn’t end up in the Big Ten’s favor, with Michigan falling to Notre Dame, 13-6. With the victory, the Irish successfully completed a three game sweep of the Big Ten after also getting victories against Purdue and Michigan State.
The Wolverines are not the only team that has disappointed in the early going. Wisconsin, supposedly the favorite in the Leaders Division, was upset in week two by Oregon State. After the game, Wisconsin fired its offensive line coach Mike Markuson and cited the sluggish start on offense as the reason. The Big Ten’s problems with the PAC- 12 during week two did not stop there either, as Nebraska also suffered a loss at the hands of UCLA, 36-30.
With all of the preseason favorites in the Big Ten losing tough games early, it seems as though the conference has taken another step back in the eyes of the country.
With so many teams already having a loss or two, which squad is going to emerge as the Big Ten favorite? Right now, there are only three undefeated teams remaining: Minnesota, Northwestern, and Ohio State – and as we all know, Ohio State cannot represent the conference in the Big Ten Championship or in a bowl game.
Ohio State has played pretty well in the early going, boasting a record of 4-0, but the Bucks faced some adversity along the way. They put away a California team which everyone knew could score some points late in the fourth quarter. Then there was the UAB game, where the offense got going early and then disappeared in the second half. At this point the Buckeyes look like the Leaders Division favorite, but they face a tough schedule with road games against Michigan State and Wisconsin.
At the end of the season, it’s likely that it’ll come down to Purdue or Wisconsin. The game between those two teams on October 13th will go a long way in determining the final standings.
There are currently two surprise teams in Minnesota and Northwestern atop the Legends Division. Both are 4-0 after each secured a few close victories. Either one of these teams could end up being the Cinderella story of the year in college football if they can continue to rattle off the wins. Northwestern has played especially well in wins against Vanderbilt and Boston College.
Minnesota and Northwestern will have to hold off Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska if they want to have any hope of capturing the division crown. It has shaped up to be one very competitive Big Ten season, one that will be almost unpredictable, if the non-conference games have been any indication. Maybe by the end of the year the Big Ten can earn back some of it’s reputation that has been diminishing for years – there is still plenty of football to be played.
With no clear leader emerging in the conference, expect to see plenty of surprises and storylines develop as the Big Ten conference play kicks off this Saturday.