With Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State Struggling, B1G Has New Power Structure

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With Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State Struggling, B1G Has New Power Structure
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If there is one thing college football is, it's slow to recognize and accept change—and that's exactly what has been going on in the Big Ten over the last five years. 

For the better part of the last half-decade a lot of people have wondered what is wrong with the Big Ten. Why isn't it at the top of the college football heap anymore? 

Well, the answer may simply be that the times are a changing in the Big Ten and the rest of college football has been very slow to realize what the new Big Ten looks like. 

Gone are the days of Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State being national powers and elite teams on an annual basis. 

Those three have been brand names in the world of college football for the better part of forty years or longer. So, it's understandable that a shift in the power structure may take some time to be fully accepted by college football.  

Replacing those schools as powers in the Big Ten are relative newcomers to the national elite: Wisconsin and Michigan State.

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Michigan is the greatest case of not being a part of the Big Ten's higher-ups, yet a lot of people keep clinging to them as an elite team.

The Wolverines, a team with more conference titles than any other Big Ten school in history, have not won a conference title going on nine years now.

Michigan's last Big Ten title was in 2004. Since that title, Michigan has had just two 10-plus-win seasons and has an overall record of 68-44 to date. 

That record puts them sixth in the Big Ten from 2005 to today. That's hardly an elite record.

Penn State has had a stellar record on the field, but sanctions off of it have put this program back in the pack in the Big Ten recently.

The Nittany Lions won't be eligible for postseason play for another two seasons following this year and they haven't won a Big Ten title since 2008 themselves. 

Finally, Nebraska is an interesting case. It has won nearly 80 games since 2005, but it hasn't won a conference crown since 1999.

It has lost four games each of the last five years and could do it again this year. The Huskers also haven't been to a BCS bowl game since the 2002 edition of the game. 

It all adds up to the college football world needing to catch up to the fact that there are a few new names that are at the top of the Big Ten these days. 

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Michigan State and Wisconsin have joined Ohio State as the three most dominant teams over the last decade and that's a major shift in the power structure of the conference. 

The new guard of the Big Ten, Michigan State and Wisconsin, have been at or near the top of the conference for the better part of the last half-decade.

Michigan State has a record of 70-43. They have also shared a Big Ten Championship (2011), won a division title and have had three 10-plus win seasons over that time.

Wisconsin has won more games in that time frame than anyone but Ohio State, and has an overall record of 87-30 since 2005.

They've won three Big Ten championships and have won 10-plus games five times (could be six with a win over Penn State on Saturday).

For those slow to the take around college football, at least the Big Ten still has an old-school name like Ohio State to carry the long-term flag. 

It brings up an interesting question, is a conference really "down" just because its historic names aren't at the top? Or is it just different and college football has trouble adjusting to new teams running conferences?

The national narrative seems to suggest that if Michigan, Nebraska or Penn State aren't near the top of the conference the league is no good.

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If that's the case, the Big Ten hasn't been good since 2005, but Michigan State and Wisconsin would take severe umbrage to that thought process. 

Wisconsin has been to three straight BCS bowl games, a feat topped only by Miami (FL) and USC, who each appeared in four straight. The Badgers have a chance to tie that this season with a win and Ohio State winning the Big Ten title. 

That scenario would likely put the Badgers into a BCS bowl game for the fourth straight year. If that's not elite, then college football has a serious bias against anything Big Ten.

It's time the college football world realized that the days of Michigan and Penn State being in the upper echelon of the Big Ten are over for the time being.

Just because things are changing and different doesn't make it bad. Wisconsin has been one of the best performing and most consistent teams in the nation over the last five years, so too has Michigan State.

Until the rest of the college football world accepts the new power structure, the Big Ten will always be seen as inferior—and that's just wrong.

 

*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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