Defending the Big Ten: Pollsters, Listen Up!

Kevin PaulSenior Analyst INovember 3, 2008

No one would buy an argument that the Big Ten is a juggernaut conference this season in college football—and it’s true, it isn’t.  Still, this conference isn’t the redheaded stepchild of college football either—contrary to popular belief, especially among the voters that count most.

Stop pinching your nose and open up your eyes—the Big Ten conference is not at the bottom of the barrel.  One should look no further than the Big East and ACC if looking for the power conferences that are at the bottom of college football’s totem pole in 2008.  

Give the Big Ten a break—and quit playing the guilty by association card.  There’s more to the Big Ten than Ohio State and Michigan.

It’s true, when the media thinks Big Ten, they think Buckeyes and Wolverines—and with the Wolverines not going bowling (but instead just throwing gutter balls) for the first time in over three decades, the Big Ten is taking a major hit.  Then there are the Buckeyes, who were waxed weeks ago by the Trojans.

Combine that with the fact that Ohio State was blown off the field in back-to-back title games, and you have yourself a media mass that is turning the other cheek when it comes to the Big Ten potentially representing half of this year’s championship match.  Plain and simple, the voting populace flat-out doesn’t want it.

Instead of consistently burying the Big Ten and basically referring it to a place where all other football players go to die, let’s instead point out some of the positives of the Big Ten in 2008.

Making A “Penn Statement”

The schedule may not be as strong as some other teams, but the Nittany Lions still steamrolled an Oregon State team that defeated USC and took care of business at Wisconsin and at Ohio State.  The Buckeyes are a better team since getting beaten by USC, and while Wisconsin has tumbled after a few tough losses, this was once a top 10 team.

Also, it simply isn’t fair to lump this Penn State team in with the past two Ohio State teams that made the title game.  The Nittany Lions are their own squad—and one that has more speed and a different spread-like scheme that can compete with some of the other greats in the country.

For the media to push Texas Tech past the Nittany Lions is simply an error in judgment.  Give the Red Raiders credit for a great win over previously top-ranked Texas, but it was a win at home, while Penn State traveled to Ohio State and knocked off a top 10 Buckeyes team in a hostile environment.

For those that argue about Penn State’s non-conference schedule, one should look no further than Texas Tech’s non-conference schedule of Eastern Washington, Nevada, Southern Methodist, and Massachusetts.

A Sparty Spotting

Don’t wash those glasses—Sparty is still in the Big Ten title hunt after years of folding like cheap laundry midway through the season.  Michigan State is 8-2, and despite an early season loss to Cal and a lopsided loss to Ohio State, the Spartans are eyeing a New Year’s Day bowl and remain in the top 20 in all polls, including the BCS.

With the nation’s top rusher and a defense ranked higher than Texas and Oklahoma State, the Spartans are no pushover.

Running With the Pack

For the critics out there that are high on guys like Knowshon Moreno and Glen Coffee from the SEC, Kendall Hunter from the Big 12, or even Trojan-killer Jacquizz Rodgers, take a look at the overall rushing stats in the country.  Two Big Ten running backs join UConn’s Donald Brown in the top three.

Javon Ringer, who has earned limited chatter with his 1,427 yards and 18 TDs for Michigan State, sits on top, and alongside Ringer is Iowa’s Shonn Greene, who almost everyone has never heard of—even after amassing 1,257 yards, 11 TDs, and nearly 140 yards a game.

In addition, Penn State’s Evan Royster and Purdue’s Kory Sheets also crack the nation’s top 20.

Defending the Defense

Offense may be sexy, but defense wins championships.  The Big Ten has two teams cracking the top 10 in total defense, with Penn State at No. 6 and Ohio State sitting in the eighth spot.  On top of this, both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are balanced, cracking the top 15 in both pass and rush defense.

Bowling You Over

Think that Big Ten leader Penn State would roll over and die in a major bowl game?  Think again.  Keeping focus throughout the season (and into the postseason) takes discipline and veteran leadership.  Penn State has both—ranked second in the nation in total penalty yards per game (26.4).

Combine that with a team packed with veteran leadership on both sides of the ball, and a hall of fame coach that has 23 bowl victories, including three straight against three different conferences (ACC, SEC, and Big 12). 

In Conclusion

While the Big Ten may not quite hold the talent load that the Big 12 or SEC has this season, there’s no reason the voters should punish one team or turn the other cheek on certain players just because a conference’s strongest programs are not producing the way we expect them to.

Don’t like the Nittany Lions?  Go watch that ferocious D on film.  Go catch what they did to an Oregon State team that beat USC.  Go watch how they shut down both Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor.

Don’t like Ohio State?  This is still a team with talent and a top 10 team by year’s end. 

Don’t like any of the Big Ten’s talented players?  Go watch Shonn Greene and Javon Ringer bowl over would-be tacklers.

Hey, that Big 12 and SEC Kool-Aid might taste sugary sweet, but the Big Ten has a unique flavor all of its own—and one that’s not as bad as people think.


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