The Big Ten has had a rough go of it in bowl games and non-conference play in general of late. The league’s problems started at the top, back in 2006. That was the year Ohio State and Michigan were 1-2 in the country going into their annual season-ending game, but each was destroyed in postseason play. Ohio State again lost the national championship game a year later in decisive fashion.
In those years, the conference’s problems were somewhat overblown, as the league remained competitive in the middle-rung games that are often better tests of league strength, but there’s no question that problems at the top have morphed into a full-blown crisis league-wide.
The Big Ten has gone 2-5 each of the last two seasons in bowl play. Their New Year’s Day feast—three games against the SEC, another against the Big 12, plus the Rose Bowl—has turned into a stomach ache for fans across the Midwest.
Given that the conference’s problems seemed to start with Urban Meyer’s Florida team putting the smackdown on Ohio State in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game, it’s oddly ironic that Meyer is now at the forefront of the solution. Any hopes for a Big Ten team making national noise start in Columbus, where Meyer begins his second year and first without NCAA probation, after a 12-0 run in 2012.
TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage has gone in-depth into both the Leaders and Legends Division, at the links below. The Leaders Division, in spite of having Ohio State, is clearly the weaker of the two. Only Wisconsin is a credible challenger to the Buckeyes and even that would require a lot to go right. The Legends, on the other hand, has four legitimate divisional contenders and all six of its teams could make a bowl game.
I picked Ohio State and Northwestern to reach the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on December 7. I’d like to take a bold stand, but I would also see the Buckeyes winning and advancing to Pasadena.
The question is this—is it Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, or Pasadena for the BCS National Championship Game? I’ll defer on that until the final national predictions are made shortly before the season begins on August 29, but for now, the real race in the Big Ten is for a possible at-large spot to one of the major bowls and to the New Year’s Day games that have proved such an embarrassment in recent season.