There's a lot of talk going on right now about how the Big Ten as a conference needs an Ohio State win over USC this weekend. It's simply not true. Sure, a win by the Buckeyes can't hurt, but a loss isn't the death knell for the Big Ten either.
But... the Big Ten needs to gain more respectability on a national level
Without a doubt, the Big Ten has been down the past few years. But it is a major conference along with the SEC, Pac-10, Big 12, ACC and (arguably) the Big East.
Any school from these conferences would be placed into a BCS game if the records are right. If, for example, your only three undefeated schools were Florida at 12-0, Northwestern at 12-0 and Boise State at 12-0, it's more likely that Florida and Northwestern would play for a national title because the Big Ten as a whole is considered a tougher conference to play in than the WAC.
My point is this, when bowl season comes, teams are judged individually based on their own record and schedule with conference affiliation only used to enhance support for a team. No bowl selection committee (or computer ranking) is going to care that Ohio State lost to USC in the second week of the season. How do you think Ohio State has been getting into those National Championship games in the first place?
But... the Buckeyes are notorious chokers in big games
This is extremely true, but it's more of a reflection of that school and not the conference as a whole.
Trust me, the rest of the Big Ten does not like the fact that a referendum on the conference lives and dies by the outcome of every big Ohio State game.
Hell, it's Ohio State's fault that we're under this scrutiny in the first place. It all went downhill after Florida's win over the Buckeyes in the 2006-'07 National Championship Game. Then a loss to LSU in their second straight National Championship Game and a loss to Texas in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.
Throw in a few regular season losses to Texas and USC the past few seasons and you've got a trend that is naturally extended to the rest of the conference since our "best" team keeps losing when thrust into the spotlight.
Sure, the rest of the Big Ten could all do themselves a favor by winning a few big ones of their own, but an OSU win over USC isn't going to change the perception of the conference as a whole.
"USC had a freshman quarterback," they're gonna say. "Had to win one sooner or later," they're gonna say. Nothing is going to change until the trend changes conference wide.
But... the Big Ten doesn't have the talent to compete on a national scale
While a lot of talent can be mined from the Midwest and, in particular the state of Ohio, there is so much more raw talent in the South and Southwest where football can be played almost year round.
It's tough to convince a kid to come north for the fall and winter to play in the Big Ten when he could stay close to home in sunny SEC territory. That won't change until Big Ten schools hire coaches that can successfully recruit the South.
An attempt was made with Illinois' hire of Ron Zook but the future model of southern recruiting may lie with Michigan's Rich Rodriguez who is beginning to successfully recruit in SEC territory. Besides, you could argue that the OSU bowl fail is less because of the talent on the field and more because Tressel couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper bag.
Bottom line is that the success and failure of a conference doesn't hinge on the exploits of just one of its teams.
If the Big Ten wants to return to elite status, it's going to take multiple big wins from most of its teams. Whether or not Ohio State wins on Saturday, it doesn't matter if Purdue loses to Oregon and Michigan loses to Notre Dame. Once the Big Ten starts winning non-conference games against marquee teams again, then the conversation will shift to more pressing matters.
Like maybe how the SEC struggles to win outside of the South?