Big Ten team fans have this expression. I'm for (insert team name here) and whoever's playing (insert hated rival's name here).
Therefore, it's been a point of constant wonder among fans of teams in the Big Ten why the SEC is so much like a brethren. I can still remember after LSU beat Ohio State in the national title game a few years back, the LSU players were standing around the ESPN desk after the game with the trophy chanting S-E-C.
Other fans just don't get this phenomenon. I wrote an article on that last year and may revisit it this year. But why the SEC fans and players act that way is not the scope of this article.
Instead, the scope of this article is whether or not fans from teams in the Big Ten will be doing likewise and pulling for Big Ten teams to salvage a little conference pride this coming Saturday.
Reams of paper and hundreds of cyber-articles have been written on the fact that the Big Ten is down and has been for years. The knocks include the fact that teams are slow and not innovative, that it's boring football to watch, and that they don't fare well when matched up against other conferences. Their bowl game records of the last decade are atrocious.
When I say don't fare well when matched up against "other conferences" I'm not talking about the creampuffs that populate the September schedules of most schools across the country including the Big Ten. I'm talking about bowl games where conferences finally have to play each other rather than cupcakes or their own intra-conference foes.
This is the time to shine. And the Big Ten has had trouble shining recently. Last year, the Big Ten was 1-6 in bowl appearances. The Big Ten representative hasn't won the annual Big Ten-Pac 10 Rose Bowl clash since 2000. In fact, the last few years have been fairly lopsided.
I've heard a number of rationales as to why this is—no bowls in Big Ten territory, Big Ten teams acclimated to cold weather and then has to go play in more moderate weather (I say moderate because no place can really be considered "hot" in January), etc.
However, Bear Bryant said it best when he said to one of his players "Son, people don't have to make excuses when they succeed."
There are a couple of examples of non-conference matchups every year that are intriguing though. And this weekend is when most of them take place. Ohio State plays USC, Michigan plays Notre Dame, Penn State plays Syracuse, and Purdue plays Oregon.
On paper, these are winnable games, except maybe one. The Notre Dame win over hapless WAC conference Nevada last week does not mean that Weis now has Notre Dame on any pinnacles.
Oregon will be playing their first game since the debacle that was "the punch" and the aftermath. That can cause a team to bond or to fall apart. We'll see.
Penn State should easily handle Purdue. If Minnesota did, Penn State should. This is a Syracuse team playing with a QB that hadn't played a snap in four years before last weekend and won one game last year.
Those three are all winnable games. The Ohio State-USC game may be another story. Even though Ohio State has the home crowd, we didn't see said home crowd help them much with Navy.
And while USC is playing a freshman at QB, they have others they can go to that aren't freshman if he falters. Besides, with the competition at QB at USC, if this guy wasn't a phenom, do you really think he'd be starting as a freshman???
So, realistically, the Big Ten should split or even go 3-1. However, THE GAME is the Ohio State-USC game...the one most likely to end in a loss. That's because the knock on the Big Ten is that they can't beat the elite. No offense to any fan of Oregon, Notre Dame, or Syracuse, but none of those teams are elite.
Notre Dame is storied and is a financial powerhouse but glory teams of yesteryear (or yester-decade) and the bulging athletic department coffers don't make a team elite on the field. Domers don't like it but it's the truth.
Eventually, players and fan bases have to get tired of hearing that they aren't as good as the teams from other conferences. Eventually, if the teams in the conference don't do something on the field to put an end to these rumors, they start to affect recruiting.
From the looks of the recruiting services class rankings, it appears that may already be happening.
By far the schools that recruit the best recruiting classes are scattered through the SEC, Big 12, and Pac 10 (particularly the California schools). Part of this is because Florida, Texas, and California put more kids in college programs.
But many kids from the midwest are skipping the home-grown schools and opting for these schools as well. And when the best players don't come, it's then hard to compete with the teams that get them.
So it's time the Big Ten started reasserting itself as a proud conference. Here's my question that will hopefully get answered by and commented from actual fans of Big Ten schools. Can you find it within yourselves and, if so, will you be pulling for the other Big Ten schools this weekend?
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