Backers of the Big Ten like to talk about tradition, stats, academics, and history.
Yes, the Big Ten has good academics. Yes, it's true that two of the seven programs that have more than 800 wins all-time come from the Big Ten. Yes, Michigan is the winningest program in all of football.
But recently, there has been a problem competing on the big stage for the Big Ten and this year is no different. And that is no more apparent than in bowl season.
While I am among the overwhelming majority that would love to see a playoff, the bowls do at least give us a chance to see what teams from a conference do when not lined up against cupcakes and/or conference brethren.
Every conference beats up on each other during conference play. Since most teams play cupcakes for non-conference games, most teams take their losses in conference.
So, while one conference might have the same number of one-loss teams and the same number of four-loss teams as another conference, there could still be quite a difference in competition that led to those records.
Thus, a four-loss team in conference A might be better than a two-loss team from conference B.
That bears itself out when intersectional games get scheduled during bowl season.
ESPN is conducting a bowl challenge among the conferences. To everyone's surprise, the Pac-10 went 5-0. This means the teams other than USC stepped it up for bowl season.
There are no other conferences that haven't taken a loss, so no one else will end perfectly like the Pac-10 did. But some others could come close when all is said and done.
At this point, the only remaining game for the Big Ten is the Fiesta Bowl, and Texas is a better team than Ohio State. The Buckeyes have trouble against the heavy hitters.
So, if one is a fan of the Big Ten, it can't give you much hope that they help the league. If they don't, the Big Ten will have won one game: Iowa over South Carolina.
At this point, depending on whether Ohio State wins or loses, the Big Ten will end with either a record of 1-6 or 2-5 in bowl games this season. That's uglier than last year's dismal 3-5 record.
What's wrong here?
Penn State got humiliated in the Rose Bowl. Yes, they came back to score some points after USC took their foot off the proverbial gas pedal but, let's face it, the entire second half after the missed secondary coverage pass that made it 38 for USC was pretty much "garbage time." Up until that point, Penn State was manhandled.
And this was the team out of the Big Ten that, had Iowa missed a field goal, everyone would have had in the national title game to take the Big Ten sacrificial lamb spot away from Ohio State. We are an Iowa missed field goal away from having to endure another boring rout of a Big Ten team in the national title game.
Fortunately, the football gods prevailed that day.
There are numerous reasons for the downfall of the Big Ten and I have had some comment section discussions with numerous Big Ten fans as to why these structural changes have occurred.
The problem for the Big Ten is that they are indeed structural changes that are deep and lasting and, in most cases, beyond anyone's control.
The Big Ten may have tradition and history, but they are no longer a conference of powers. Given the seismic nature of some of these population trends and other "structural" changes, this is most likely permanent.
I believe that the powers-that-be in the Big Ten know that the conference is in decline as well as they are the most vehement objectors of a playoff system. With a playoff system, the deck is stacked against the Big Ten because they don't fare well against other conferences in intersectional matchups.
But, with the current system, we could be one missed Iowa field goal away from another Big Ten representative in the national title game and it would have been the third straight time.
And this from a conference that went 3-5 last year and can do no better than 2-5 this year. Jim Delaney is no dummy. He doesn't want a playoff because the Big Ten would not do well in it.
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