"The Big Ten is Down."
That phrase has been uttered millions of times by sports commentators and fans alike for the past three years and will likely be said millions more times. While the SEC can't get enough of it, that phrase has been the nemesis of the Big Ten for the past few seasons.
The conference hit arguably its lowest point in history in 2008, posting a miserable 1-6 showing in bowl games.
The insults keep on coming, with every other word out of the SEC documenting the Big Ten's struggles, rather than highlighting their own conference.
And it's all Ohio State's fault.
You can't help but feel bad for the Buckeyes. They are the main reason behind the Big Ten's poor image after losing the national championship to SEC teams two years in a row.
Only in the Big Ten can two straight national championship game appearances be considered a failure.
But those losses meant much more to the college football world. It was the beginning of a glorious era for the SEC and an era of disappointment for the Big Ten.
Now, is the Big Ten's "down" streak really all Ohio State's fault? Of course not.
The Buckeyes have had tremendous football teams during the "down years," with three top 10 finishes.
But that doesn't matter. It's the image that's holding the conference down.
While it may be in a slump, the Big Ten really isn't all that bad.
It's probably the fourth best conference in college football, behind the SEC, Big 12, and Pac-10, although it could move ahead of the latter with some key wins this year (i.e. Arizona, California, Oregon, and USC).
The conference's poor bowl record can be explained by the fact that the conference consistently receives two BCS bowl slots. This means the Big Ten's fifth best team has to face another conference's third best team in many situations. Some teams, such as Iowa, have had success, going 3-1 against the SEC this decade.
It wasn't that long ago that the Big Ten was a premier conference, and even the best in the country.
Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State were consistent top 10 finishers in the first half of this decade, and Ohio State won a National Championship.
But those facts mean nothing to Big Ten haters throughout college football. The only way the Big Ten can shed its negative image is for the team that caused it to end it.
Sept. 12, 2009.
It's a date that every Big Ten fan should have circled on their calendar. It's the date that can finally end the Big Ten's role as college football's laughingstock.
It's the date that USC visits Columbus.
Needless to say, USC is a powerhouse in college football, and anyone who beats them will be given major props by the college football world. This game may be the one chance that Ohio State has at redeeming its image, along with the image of the rest of the conference.
USC has owned the Big Ten, most recently demolishing Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
While an Ohio State win over the Trojans would certainly buy the Buckeyes and the Big Ten major respect, many see a scarlet and gray victory as outside the realm of possibility.
While most people aren't giving Ohio State a chance in this game, I certainly think they have a shot. They won't be favored and need to perform flawlessly, but there is no better time for a win to come than right now.
This is USC's rebuilding year, and while they certainly won't be weak, they will be at their weakest point in the last few years. The defense will be good, but outside of Taylor Mays, they don't have a star-filled unit like last year, as only three starters return.
Quarterback Aaron Corp looks like a budding star but has little experience. In such a big, early season game, Corp could lose his composure if he makes a mistake, allowing a solid Buckeye defense to take advantage and make some big plays. USC's veteran offensive line will certainly cause some problems for Ohio State, but OSU's defensive line is no pushover either.
Both of these teams are very good football teams.
While USC still may have the upper hand, this is the best chance that Ohio State may have for a while at redeeming themselves. It will be a hard-fought battle and will be one of the best games of the year, no matter which way the final score ends up.
As a Hawkeye fan, I never thought I would be cheering for Ohio State, but I will be cheering my heart out with Buckeye Nation on Sept. 12. From State College to Iowa City to Champaign to Ann Arbor, colors will turn from blue and white and black and gold to scarlet and gray.
On one night in September, a conference will band together to watch one team try to save it.