Big Ten Football 2011: 5 Reasons Big Ten Will Be More Competitive This Year
Fair or not, the Big Ten has earned a reputation for producing teams that have great regular seasons, but who simply cannot hack it when it comes time to hand out the hardware.
Part of this reputation stems from the fact that the Big Ten has captured just one BCS National Championship (Ohio State in 2002).
After going just 3-5 in last year's bowl games, the Big Ten has done nothing to improve the perception of its teams. However, there is reason for hope if you're a fan of the Big Ten.
In fact, as you will see, there are five reasons for Big Ten fans to be optimistic that the conference will be more competitive as a whole.
5. Wisconsin Is More Athletic on Offense
The most common reason given for why the Big Ten struggles when paired up against teams from outside their conference is that they lack an overall athleticism that teams from the SEC or other conferences seem to posses.
Most people imagine slow, plodding, "three yards and a cloud of dust" type football when they think of the Big Ten, and perhaps the team that has embodied that the most in the last decade or so is Wisconsin.
The Badgers always seem to have massive offensive lines and bruising running backs that aren't exactly known for their stellar 40-yard dash times.
However, this year the team from Madison that could possibly be the best in the Big Ten has an athletic trio on offense that could help them change the common perception of Wisconsin football.
Transfer quarterback Russell Wilson is a true dual-threat while running backs James White and Montee Ball are both known for their speed and elusiveness.
If the Badgers are any indication, the Big Ten should not have to worry about any athleticism gap between themselves and other conferences.
4. Michigan Shouldn't Be Allergic to Playing Defense
Part of the Big Ten's problem with being competitive is that one of its marquee programs, Michigan, has been down for the last few years. In 2010, the issue for the Wolverines was mostly that they were so terrible on defense it appeared as though they may have been allergic to playing it at all.
With new head coach Brady Hoke leading the team, I do not expect that to be an issue again. The fact of the matter is that it is still Michigan, so you know they should have the athletes to play quality defense.
As Brady Hoke takes over the program, you have to believe he will mold those athletes into at least a decent unit.
Look for Michigan to struggle early as they make the transition to Hoke's systems, but to make some noise by the end of the year and possibly even pull a couple upsets.
3. The Middle of the Conference Should Be Stronger
One of the ways a conference's overall strength is measured is by how deep they are. In the past, the Big Ten has been top heavy with teams like, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin at the top and not very much in terms of quality teams behind them.
In 2010, this trend started to change with Illinois and Northwestern both securing winning records (7-6) to help raise the level of the Big Ten's middle class.
This year, these two teams should be stronger and therefore help the conference's overall competitiveness.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is poised for a breakout season after nearly achieving the vaunted 2,000/1,000-season for dual-threat quarterback (2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing).
For Northwestern, as long as their dual-threat signal-caller Dan Persa can get healthy, they should be poised to take a step forward this year as well.
2. Nebraska Is Added to the Mix
Before you die-hard Big Ten fans get all over me for being arrogant and presumptuous about how Nebraska is going to run through the conference, just hold on and hear me out.
I am not saying that the Huskers will breeze through the Big Ten like it is some JV league. I am not even saying that they will win the conference. I do think they have a more than decent chance to do so, but it is obviously by no means a sure thing.
What I am saying is that by adding a quality football program to the conference (and Nebraska is certainly a quality program) the Big Ten has simply raised itself up a level. I would have said the same thing when Penn State joined the conference.
By adding a school with a good team and even better tradition, the conference is now better than it was without them.
1. The Conference Now Has a Championship Game
With the addition of a 12th conference member, the Big Ten can now hold a conference title game which I believe is going to play a major role in the Big Ten being more competitive, especially in the bowl season.
In previous years, the Big Ten has wrapped up in schedule in about the last week of November. If they had a team playing in a BCS bowl game, the break between the team's final regular season game and their bowl game could be pushing as long as six weeks.
This incredibly long gap between the regular season and bowl season I believe has been the key contributing factor to the Big Ten's perceived lack of competitiveness against other conferences. I think Big Ten teams have been rusty and therefore less sharp and more likely to lose their bowl games.
It will be interesting to see if my hypothesis proves to be right this season, but shortening the amount of time between the regular season and the bowl game should do nothing but help the teams of the Big Ten.