I don't know a whole lot of people who don't think the Big Ten is down this year. They are hands down the most scrutinized conference in all of college football, and this comes from both national media AND Big Ten country!
The problem has been the conference's inability to win any big games, especially BCS bowls over the last few years.
Even when the Big Ten has a decent bowl record, they lose all credibility because Penn State, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa are getting throttled in the Rose, Orange, or National Championship Bowl games.
This year could be different. This year needs to be different. For the sake of the pride (and probably recruiting) of the conference, it HAS to be different.
The unfavorable bowl match ups are their lower tier selections, but the more prestigious and monetarily beneficial ones are extremely winnable.
Make no mistake, even IF the Big Ten has a good bowl showing, the conference is down, and it's not a quick ascension back to the top. But a good bowl showing on the big stage would go a long way in bringing back some respect.
Now is the time and the chance that it needs to earn some of its credibility back. No one cares about close losses (see Ohio State-Texas last year). Nor does anyone really care about what teams won their crap bowl games. The only thing anyone cares about (or really watches) are the big time bowls.
Ohio State matches up decently with Oregon (and while very good, Oregon ISN'T a great team, unlike the USC's of the past decade). Iowa matches up well with Georgia Tech. Penn State is better than LSU.
The Big Ten needs this year to be the year they moved forward.