A Blueprint for How the Big Ten Can Rise Up and Dominate College Football Again

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A Blueprint for How the Big Ten Can Rise Up and Dominate College Football Again
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Will we see a Big Ten team hoist the crystal ball again soon? Maybe even sooner than you think.

Enough of the gloom and doom, the terror and horror. Enough of the "woe is we." Enough, we say! The Big Ten will rise again, like a phoenix (not the one in Arizona, because nothing good for the Big Ten has happened in Arizona since the Ohio State national championship), and we will be here laughing maniacally as it happens.

"How? How?!" the other conferences will cry in anguish. They should know exactly how, though, because we're here to tell you.

 

Money, money, money, money, money

That evil cackling? Sure, that's Ted DiBiase; it might as well be Jim Delany. With the Big Ten outpacing its fellow conferences in television revenue per school for the time being (and in half-ownership of its network, which means profits can grow without rewriting television deals), the Big Ten can invest in its football programs more fully.

Further, the equal revenue sharing ensures that the have-nots like Indiana and...well, okay, just Indiana, won't be cut out of prosperity for the sake of further rewarding the Michigans and Ohio States of the conference.

Sure, the SEC is going to make bank from its acquisition of Missouri and Texas A&M. You didn't think Mike Slive added them because they were interesting or great at football, did you? No no, they allow the SEC to get back to making the same kind of money as the Big Ten and Pac-12. But the Big Ten's still not falling substantially behind, and with a genius like Delany at the controls, it likely never will.

 

Rise of the senior quarterbacks

Here's a chart of the senior quarterbacks in 2012 and the projected senior quarterbacks of 2013:

2012 2013
Denard Robinson Andrew Maxwell
James Vandenberg Caleb Terbush
MarQueis Gray Danny O'Brien
Matt McGloin Devin Gardner
  Kain Colter
  Nathan Scheelhaase
  Taylor Martinez

 

2012 has some nice names, and obviously Denard Robinson is the big draw. But look at what 2013 brings to the table—and that doesn't even include Braxton Miller in his third year of starting at Ohio State. Do we need to remind you what he's doing as a true sophomore right now?

Sure, O'Brien, Gardner, Colter and Scheelhaase all have challengers to their roles (and who knows if the coaches will even want Gardner at QB next year, even if he wants it), but seniors have a funny way of rising to the occasion.

For quarterbacks in college football—especially the ones in conferences where actual defense is played, like the Big Ten—experience matters. It is that simple. 

 

We've been through this before

Remember the last time the Big Ten had a wreck of a season compared to the rest of college football? That was 2001, when in Week 3, Northwestern was the top-ranked team in the Big Ten at No. 16 (Note: That same Northwestern team finished at 4-7, losing its last six games and giving up over 43 points per game in that stretch. Whoops!).

The season ended about as poorly as it started, with two teams ranked and Michigan being the top dog in the conference at No. 12.

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So what happened in 2002? Oh, the Big Ten only had three teams in the Top 10 at the end of the year, and Ohio State won the BCS National Championship with a 31-24 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. A bowl loss kept Penn State from remaining in the Top 10 and making it four such Big Ten teams.

Similarly, no Big Ten teams were ranked for three straight weeks in 1982. Clearly, the conference was in inexorable decline, right?

Not quite. The Big Ten had three teams finish in the Top 10 in 1983, and Iowa was close behind at No. 14. Like Penn State in 2002, Iowa had also been in the Top 10 before the bowl in 1983, but since the Big Ten's three members of the Top 10 were No. 8, No. 9 and No. 10 at the end of the year, an Iowa bowl win wouldn't have made it four for the Big Ten that year.

And wouldn't you know it, there's another framework in place for a resurgence in 2013.

Ohio State will not only be eligible for the postseason, it'll be a strong contender for the BCS National Championship. Michigan should begin reaping the rewards of Brady Hoke's outstanding recruiting over the past two seasons—especially as the linebackers and the rest of the defenders from the 2012 class continue to mature. If Michigan State's offensive line gels, that team could be loaded. And Nebraska's going to be awfully scary with Taylor Martinez as a senior, four-year starter at quarterback.

You really think there won't be anyone in the Top 10 from that group of four teams at this point next year—or at the end of the season? Please. Keep dreaming.

 

Speaking of which, the recruiting

For a while, Michigan and Ohio State's recruiting had tapered off in the last half of the decade—Michigan's moreso than Ohio State's, in fact. Rich Rodriguez and Jim Tressel just weren't that kind of coaches. They recruited system guys, and while it had its varying levels of success, the fact was that Michigan and Ohio State were only "destination" schools for guys who were committed to playing in the Big Ten for one reason or another.

Now? Now, things have changed. Here are the Rivals rankings for each team's recruiting class since 2006. Urban Meyer's first class was the 2012 class, and he was able to begin recruiting it during the season. 2011 was Hoke's first class, though he only came in with about a month to go before signing day. 


2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 (so far)
Ohio State #12 #15 #4 #3 #25 #11 #4 #7
Michigan #13 #12 #10 #8 #20 #21 #7 #2

 

Now, Michigan and Ohio State are jockeying for position in the Top 10 of recruiting rankings and figure to continue to do so for as long as Hoke and Urban Meyer are at the helm. And when the top teams in the conference are more athletic, it forces other teams to recruit better or fall by the wayside, catching up only when there's a confluence of experience and talent—and that's cyclical at best.

 

The coaches are here to stay

As documented earlier, there are six coaches in their first two years of employment in the Big Ten in 2012. In other words, fully half of the conference is in transition between coaching regimes, and that generally has a suppressive effect on team success (Brady Hoke's 11-2 season in 2011 notwithstanding).

So let's look ahead two years, when all six of those coaches will be in years three and four of their eras, and let's assume for the sake of argument that all six are still there—Kevin Wilson and Jerry Kill aren't locks on that front, but they should still be around...and let's be honest, Minnesota and Indiana aren't leading the conference's resurgence anyhow.

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Although let's be honest: it would be really cool if Jerry Kill stuck around for at least a decade.

So, will we be seeing six new coaches from the other schools?

That's extremely unlikely.

Bo Pelini's job is safe at Nebraska, and that team looks set as a powerhouse in the Big Ten for years to come. Kirk Ferentz is under (a truly terrible) contract until January of 2020; he's not going anywhere. Bret Bielema will probably be at Wisconsin for the next 15 years. Pat Fitzgerald will be at Northwestern even longer than that. And if Mark Dantonio can stay healthy, Michigan State's not saying goodbye to him any time soon.

But sure, maybe Danny Hope leaves Purdue in the next couple years. That's about it.

That's a new era of continuity, and this overall slate of Big Ten coaches is remarkably strong—and young. It'll probably be until the end of the decade before there's another significant wave of Big Ten coaching hires; until then, expect strong, stable programs to rule the day, from Michigan and Ohio State on down.

Add all that up, and you can see this is a conference that's down, but by no means down for good.

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