Big Ten: Analyzing and Fixing the Problems

Tim Bielik@bielik_timSenior Analyst IAugust 27, 2009

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 1:  Stephfon Green #21 of the Penn State Nittany Lions carries the ball against the USC Trojans on January 1, 2009 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  USC won 38-24.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

The year 2006 ended with an epic clash between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan in Columbus.

But in a year's time, OSU was defeated after being a heavy favorite in the National Championship Game, UM lost to Appalachian State, and the conference continued its losing streak to USC.

A once proud conference suddenly became crestfallen, lowered by some ESPN analysts to the level of Conference USA.

Growing up in Big Ten country, it pains me because the conference has a rich history and tradition. So many great coaches including Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and Hayden Fry hail from the Midwest.

But there is no doubt that in the eyes of many observers, especially those in the SEC and Los Angeles, the conference as a whole is down.

The Big Ten took another hit in 2008 after a 1-6 bowl record.

How did all of this happen so fast?

Here's a look at some of the main storylines that have been issues for teams in the Big Ten, and what has been done to reverse these trends in recent years as well.

Recruiting Issues

The best programs in the country have a need for restocking the cupboards year after year with new talent.

Programs like USC have been revitalized because they have recruited amazingly this decade. Conversely, programs like Nebraska, for example, have not done so well recently.

For a period from 2005-2007, according to Rivals.com, only twice has a Big Ten team drawn a recruiting ranking within the top 10. By comparison, the last two years saw Ohio State in the top five of Rivals' recruiting rankings for both years.

And in 2009, the Big Ten only had 28 players drafted, nine less than the SEC, and the fewest players (six) drafted in the first two rounds among BCS conferences.

The aforementioned period has relevance because players from those years have been upperclassmen in the recent seasons.

Since then, coaches like Ron Zook and Rich Rodriguez, good recruiters themselves, have brought much more talent up north.

Ohio State and Penn State have also made great strides in the recruiting fields, and even Michigan State is catching on.

Overall, there seems to be a small improvement on the talent coming up to the Midwest, and time will tell if that translates to improved play.

Inconsistent Quarterback Play

In the most recent NFL draft, only one Big Ten QB was drafted, Curtis Painter of Purdue.

Even though most of the top QBs in the conference are dual-threats, the conference lacks a true great passer with elite ability, at least right now. That could easily change, of course.

Going back to recruiting, three of the ESPN Elite 11 quarterbacks from the class of 2010 have committed to Big Ten schools: Chandler Whitmer to Illinois, Devin Gardner to Michigan, and Robert Bolden to Penn State.

The most important position in all of sports is so crucial to team success, and a team like Wisconsin who had inconsistent QB play last season suffered.

No doubt play at the position should be solid this season, with Daryll Clark, Juice Williams, Ricky Stanzi, and Terrelle Pryor all returning to start. And it will take the spectacular to raise eyebrows about the quarterback position in the Big Ten.

Weak Scheduling and the Bowl System

As mentioned before, the conference finished 1-6 in bowl games in 2008, with their only win coming from Iowa in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina.

The Big Ten is the only conference whose season finished typically before Thanksgiving. This means huge layoffs before bowl games begin.

In fact, Ohio State had a record 51-day layoff before their loss to Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, which had some impact on the game itself.

Many experts feel the conference would be best suited to institute a bye week to keep the schedules on par with the other conferences.

Another potential option in conjunction to this would be adding a 12th team and having a conference championship game to start the month of December.

But whatever course of action the conference decides to take, they need to find ways to better deal with these layoffs if they want to improve bowl records.

Another scheduling problem has been weak out-of-conference scheduling in past seasons. In 2008, teams in the Big Ten played games against Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Illinois, Northern Colorado, and Murray State.

The issue has been controversial with the addition of a 12th game to the schedule, but reputations are best served by playing tough opponents out of the gate.

Credit teams like Ohio State and Minnesota for scheduling USC and Cal respectively for 2009, and Purdue continuing a home-and-home with Oregon.

Wins in games like these will help improve the image of the conference by going out and beating good teams from other conferences.

The Fall of the Michigan Wolverines

The first thing people think of when they normally think of the Big Ten is the biggest rivalry in college football, Ohio State and the Michigan Wolverines.

The winningest program in all of college football has fallen on very unfortunate times, winning only three games last season.

In 2006, they were a contender to play in the national championship game in a rematch with Ohio State. Two years later, they had a season that all Michigan fans want to forget.

But there is hope in Ann Arbor, as Rich Rodriguez's roster seems more ready for his style of play, and new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson promises his 3-4 defense will hark back to the old days of an intimidating Michigan defense.

They have to first prove it on the field, but should be back in the bowls in 2009, with their year possibly being 2010 to get back into the BCS.

No doubt the reputation of the conference hinges on its strongest teams being strong. When Michigan comes back to prominence, many feel the conference will be on its way as well.

All things considered, Michigan is important to the conference and a good 2009 performance would do wonders for themselves and for teams in the Big Ten as well.

The conference needs their biggest rivalry to be reignited.

In addition, Penn State appears to be throwing their hat into the elite part of the conference along with the Buckeyes. A great 2008 and a promising future could mean great things for the Nittany Lions and the conference.

By 2010, we could see a three-team clash for the title year after year similar to the Mountain West and SEC. That would no doubt generate a lot of excitement and hype, both much needed in the Big Ten.

Based on the events of the past, the rebuilding of the Big Ten's reputation will be an extensive construction project.

The potential is there for it to get done, and it very well can. Pride and tradition is what attracts people to the conference, and they will have to play off of their pride to get back to elite status.

College football is all about cycles, and maybe, just maybe, the cycle of the Big Ten is near.

They will have to start performing on the field soon, however, but the ability is there no doubt.


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