Recently I spent a few days in the great city of Chicago. Chicago is a great city with a seemingly never ending supply of awesome restaurants, historic bars, entertaining night life and friendly people. I ventured out into the "windy city" during my time there and when I did, I decided to conduct an unscientific poll. Well, actually more like an opinion poll.
From the "House of Blues" to the "Redhead Piano Bar" to "Ditka's" to the "Billy Goat Tavern", I engaged Big Ten football fans in conversation regarding the Big Ten and asked how they felt their football compared to other conferences. Here is how that went.
Are you a Big Ten Football Fan?
With few exceptions, most stated emphatically that they were.
Are you looking forward to the coming season?
Again, an emphatic "yes"......and in some cases......"hell yeah, can't wait".
How do you see the season playing out?
Most said they thought Ohio State was again the clear early favorite and that they were concerned about what Michigan might come up with this year with a new coach. Most also said that they really felt that this was the year that Illinois would step up and perhaps challenge the "big boys" and win the conference championship outright. While at "Ditka's", this point about Illinois was heavily pressed by the patrons. I heard that "Iron Mike" happened to be just upstairs at that time. I asked one of the employees if I might be able to talk with him as I had a few questions? I got a look like I must be crazy and the answer of, "uh no". O.K., I thought, I'll continue my random questioning of patrons.
How would you rate the Big Ten Football Conference in comparison to the SEC and Big 12?
Here are some, but not nearly all of the answers. I am hitting the high points here.
1) Are you kidding me? The Big Ten is the conference where men play football, hard nosed football, rugged "mano a mano" football. The Big 12 has one or two good teams. The SEC also has a couple of good teams, but that conference, for the most part, is overrated.
2) The Big 12? They suck and so does the SEC. The Big Ten is a real football conference, not some flashy, trick play kind of conference.
3) The SEC and the Big 12 are good conferences and they turn out some great athletes. They basically have about 4-6 teams combined in any given year that play big time football and the rest are just "also rans". Neither of them have the parity that the Big Ten has week in and week out.
4) They are OK, but no conference plays football like the Big Ten.
5) The Big 12 is overrated. The SEC kicks everyone's butts. I see the Big Ten right behind the SEC in being competitive.
I thought these were interesting responses. Not surprising, but still, interesting. I decided to ask a few more questions.
Are you aware that since 1998 that an SEC team has won the BCS four times and the Big 12 has won it two times while the Big Ten has only won it one time?
Some of the responses I received I cannot write in this column, but the majority were not favorable and some even questioned my lineage. On the other hand, one said, "What? Are you sure?" Another said, "Yeah, but the Big Ten has been there three times". I am not certain what that was supposed to prove, but being in a hostile environment where alcoholic beverages were involved, I decided not to press for clarification and just nodded my agreement and moved on to another person. Another responded by asking me, "Are you from the south? You sound like you are from the south." I just said, "Who? Me?" I quickly moved on to another person and they responded by saying, "Well yeah, but we beat the SEC in 2002". I hated to answer this question but I felt compelled so I informed this guy that Ohio State had beaten Miami in the 2002-03 BCS Championship and that Miami was in the Big East conference. "Oh", was all he said.
I moved from one place to another to poll the Big Ten fans as I began to feel I was wearing my welcome out and in all fairness to the kind people of Chicago, they were extremely nice to me and tolerated my questions that I tried very hard to frame as being ordinary conversation. I just had to ask a couple of more questions.
Who do you think will win the National Championship this year?
Some said Ohio State. A few even said, Illinois would be the sleeper. I had to ask what they thought of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Alabama or Tennessee having a chance? They did finally admit that they thought that Florida had a chance, but didn't think they could stand up to a Big Ten team again. Why was I not surprised by this response?
Arkansas has a new coach in Bobby Petrino and Ole Miss has a new coach in Houston Nutt. How do you think they will effect the success of their programs in the SEC this year?
The basic overall response was, "WHO?"
Chicago is a great city and my thanks to the people of Chicago who treated me graciously. They are as biased in their opinions as I suppose any of them would find we might be if they visited Atlanta, Knoxville, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Gainesville, Fayetteville, Austin, Norman, Lawrence or Columbia. I'll be interested to see what responses I get to similar questions the next time I head out to the western states.
Until then, that is just my take.......from outside the boundaries.