Like the Big Ten itself, which isn't at the elite level of the SEC, Coach Brady Hoke’s Michigan Wolverines have a ways to go before they’re once again considered a national juggernaut.
However, that didn't stop Hoke from taking a shot at the SEC while defending the reputation of the Big Ten during a recent interview with Cleveland’s 92.3-AM (via MLive.com):
I think people get a little overly zealous when they think the SEC is (the only conference) where they play football. I think when you look at the track record of the Big Ten, (we) play awfully good football.
I really believe in this conference, and everyone has to recruit the way they need to recruit for their school. It’s all different. … (But) it’s an amazing conference of coaches that work awfully hard
Hoke isn’t completely out of bounds with his comments. The quality of the Big Ten is improving, and he's right that the SEC isn’t the only league “where they play football.” But the SEC does feature more A1-quality football on a regular basis than anyone else.
Hoke may have a selective memory.
In Week 1 of 2012 in a nationally televised game, his Michigan team was pummeled 41-14 by Alabama. Later that season in the Outback Bowl, the Wolverines lost 33-28 to a South Carolina team that was minus Marcus Lattimore.
Has he conveniently forgotten that?
Michigan has recently recruited successfully against SEC heavyweights such as Alabama. The Wolverines' 2013 class was ranked No. 4 by 247Sports.com, and its 2014 class could be No. 1 if Hoke signs Woodbridge High (Va.) defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, the country’s top prospect, according to 247Sports.
Big Ten programs such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska have fared well in recruiting. They’re helping push the league back to national relevance, one 5-star at a time.
Wisconsin has made trips to the BCS Rose Bowl, and in 2012, Ohio State went 12-0 in Urban Meyer's first season as coach of the Buckeyes. It’s not like the Big Ten is an inferior league—but it’s certainly not superior like the SEC.
Facts are facts—the Big Ten trails the SEC where it matters most.
Michigan’s 23-20 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in 2012 was the Big Ten’s most recent BCS victory. Ohio State’s 31-26 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas in 2011 was the league’s last BCS triumph over an SEC team.
In 2007, the Buckeyes represented their league in the national championship—and lost. A Big Ten team hasn’t been back since.
As two of the conference’s figureheads, the pressure to defeat the SEC is on Michigan and Ohio State.
Wait, There’s More to the Picture
In 2010, Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State Spartans gained national attention, finishing the regular season 11-1 and ranked No. 9. Heading into the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Alabama, which was 9-3 and ranked No. 16, the Spartans were expected to at least be competitive against Mark Ingram’s Tide.
Well, they were, for about a quarter. Alabama demolished one of the Big Ten’s best, 49-7, strengthening the status of the SEC.
In the 2011 Gator Bowl, Mississippi State cleaned Michigan’s clock, 52-14. The Bulldogs finished 4-4 in the SEC before handing the Wolverines their worst bowl loss.
The next season, Penn State hosted Alabama at Happy Valley, an incredibly intimidating venue. However, the Tide disposed of the Nittany Lions with ease, 27-11.
"We certainly deserved a whooping today," Former and late Penn State coach Joe Paterno told Sports Illustrated after the loss. "I think we've just got a lot of work ahead of us."
Paterno was right; Penn State had work to do, just like the rest of the Big Ten.
Hoke has the right to be proud of his conference. But to say that the Big Ten isn’t that far behind the SEC and negate its value is more than a stretch, it’s a joke.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81