The Terrible Yoke of Lowered Expectations

By Johnny Ginter on December 31, 2012 at 5:00p

Michigan State beat TCU Saturday night, giving the Big Ten its first bowl win. It was a game won in typical Big Ten fashion, with a mediocre (but consistently mediocre) rushing game that just barely made up for a horror show at QB, plus a stifling defense that allowed the kicker to ice the game.

"That's so good for a school from the Big Ten," thought every single college football fan. "Maybe one day they'll compete in the Alamo Bowl!"

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Welcome to your nightmare, fans of Midwestern football! You are officially the dopey three-legged puppy of the NCAA; not because of any dramatic shift in the landscape of college football, but because of your own general incompetence and, more specifically, almost unbearable stagnation in the coaching ranks of the Big Ten.

What being the dopey three-legged puppy of college football means is that victories against out of conference opponents are no longer used as proof of your superiority — it's now the exception to the rule. "The Big Ten sucks" is pretty accurate right now, but even if it wasn't, it has become increasingly difficult to shed that label.

Which is the real shift in college football. Media outlets like ESPN are giving fans what they want: a narrative.

We start thinking about "the teams to beat" for the next season almost immediately after the current one finishes, and preseason polls are out so far in advance of any actual football games that they are all but useless. And that means that the narrative that establishes who is good and who isn't for 2013 started about five months ago.

So, B1G. How do you think you can shake that perception of being the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked? By winning? Ha!

It's way, way harder than that.

See, this is bigger than the immediate problem of the 2012-13 college football bowl season. Attitudes and perceptions are shaped over time, and the Big Ten's bowl record, both recent and historic, has not been good.

But let's start simple. The BCS, for all its inherent stupidity and arbitrary ridiculousness, has been the gold standard for determining the value of both a program and a conference since its inception. Even if you count the two vacated wins from Ohio State (in the 2011 Sugar Bowl) and Penn State (in the 2006 Orange Bowl, one of the most irritating games of football I have ever seen in my life), the conference as a whole stands at 12-13 overall in BCS play, although that changes slightly depending on whether you want to include Nebraska in the equation.

It's not a horrible winning percentage, but three things make it stand out more than, say, the record of the ACC, which has appeared in 16 BCS bowl games and won only twice.

The first is the number of BCS appearances the conference has made: the Big Ten has played in more games than any other conference, and thus a string of losses becomes more readily apparent, and a narrative can begin to form. The Big Ten has had two teams in the BCS for almost every year of the system's existence, and only four times have both Big Ten teams won in the same year.

The second issue is that the only Big Ten team that has even come remotely close to competing for a national championship during the BCS era has been Ohio State. Part of this is a function of the way the BCS is formulated, but part of it is also a function of the Big Ten simply being not good enough to field another contender.

Michigan has of course been down, but even occasional contenders like Iowa and Wisconsin (Wisconsin under Bret Bielema probably came the closest to establishing some kind of national threat other than OSU in the B1G, but consecutive Rose Bowl losses, with another one likely coming, have all but doomed that idea) have only made brief forays off life support to make noise on the national scene.

If the Big Ten wants to be taken seriously, it has to be more than Ohio State and a bunch of nerds who got kicked out of basketball practice.

...and sadly, more of this

Lastly, and this will really make you guys mad, is that the Big Ten stands in stark contrast to the SEC. The SEC has appeared in only slightly fewer BCS bowl games than the Big Ten, yet has a winning percentage of nearly 70%. That alone would establish their bona fides as the best conference in college football for most people, but the fact that they've also won like a bajillion national championships in a row helps, too.

In a simplified narrative, you've got the big bad guys to beat on one side of the fence, and the incompetent, aging boobs on the other. Accurate? Not totally, but for sports media trying to sell a story, it makes for easy copy that works.

So, the question is: how does the Big Ten change this?

And the answer is that it will take more than just winning. The Big Ten can't, for instance, merely win half of its bowl games this year and somehow pull off a Rose Bowl victory, although that would be a terrific accomplishment for a conference that is punching well above its weight in bowls due to sanctions on both Ohio State and Penn State.

No, the Big Ten needs to significantly alter its overall winning percentage in bowls (and out of conference games early in the season, for that matter), particularly against the SEC, over a period of at least three years for there to be any real change in how people perceive the conference as a whole.

That's how long it will take for both the media and fans to stop being surprised at the idea of a Big Ten team winning a big game, and how long it will take for Big Ten teams not to automatically assume the inferior position when stacked up against other conferences for seeding purposes.

It isn't impossible. Winning once, or twice, or even three or four times can be seen as a fluke. But five, six, seven wins against legit competition begins to change attitudes, and will help the Big Ten out in the long run. That doesn't mean that the Big Ten needs to become world beaters overnight; it just means that on the biggest stage, the conference shows up.

But that will require that the conference get better. And it starts tomorrow.


Comments Show All Comments

TheHannimal's picture

Just want to say, let's rally B1G brethren.
And most especially - GO BUCKS!
2013 is going to be a B1G year!
Happy New Year!

popeurban's picture

"It was a game won in typical Big Ten fashion, with a mediocre (but consistently mediocre) rushing game that just barely made up for a horror show at QB"
 Haha way to go Johnny!  Horror show at qb pretty much sums up sparty football.  One hell of a defense though.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Where does the B1G stand next year?
Ohio State (Top 3)
Nebraska (#15-20)
M!chigan (#15-20)
That's it. Am I missing anyone?

The South will NOT rise again!

Matthew's picture

MSU could sneak in, especially with their actual bowl win.
NW could also be near the bottom I feel if they win theirs.

Class of 2010

ellspar's picture

Northwestern should be around 15-20 if they win their bowl game. Id put Mich St or Wisconsin fringe top 25, especially Wisconsin if they win the Rose

USMC11917's picture

I think with the implementation of the playoffs that the perception change can begin much quicker. I don't think it will take the B1G as a whole either. We just need three teams to start pulling their weight and the others can go 500. Thats how the SEC does it. I has only been Florida Alabama and LSU whom have held the mantle for them. Georgia has been good but they are always the most likely of the SEC "powerhouses" to get tripped up in a BCS game. SC and ARK and even Auburn  have done little to enhance the SEC' reputation. (Minus the Cam Newton year) That isn't saying that the last three teams are not quality teams.

Toilrt Paper's picture

Nothing is going to change in the B1G until schools other than Michigan and Ohio State can recruit like those schools.  What 4 or 5 star recruits from the mid-west let alone California,Texas or Florida want to go to the now Little 12? Who thinks Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers will ever out recruit USC, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, other Texas programs, Florida State and other Florida colleges and the vast majority of SEC schools? U of M hasn't convinced me they will be a Top Ten program again any time soon. Penn State won't be Penn State for at least 10 years. The way recruiting is going these days you will never see more than 2 B1G iteams in the top 20.
Because of this Ohio State must go undefeted and beat teams by 50 points to make the Four School Playoff.

Phillips.449's picture

Having the actual best teams in the conference participate in championship/bowl games couldn't hurt the B1G reputation either.  Just sayin'. :)

BoFuquel's picture

The B1G has thrown in the towel.The coaching hires by Whisky and PU show that.How they ever gonna hire assistants to compete with TOSU with Heads like that.what has Hoke done in two years he hasn't made The B1G Championship Game and won't make it next year.A victory over TSUN ain't worth a bucket of spit.I for one will be happy when Delany moves The Game to the start of the season and he will.GO BUCKS! 

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Johnny Ginter's picture

darrell hazell isnt a good hire??

Matthew's picture

We can only judge this hire on paper for now. On paper, it's a good hire.
In 3 years, we can throw the on paper part ouf of the equation.

Class of 2010

brglr14's picture

just because he was an osu asst? he came cheap for purdue and still needs to prove himself

I dont know karate but i do know crazy and i'm not afraid to use it.


onetwentyeight's picture

Everyone thought Tim Beckman was a good hire for Illinois last yr around this time, for the same reason. Up and comer in the MAC, OSU ties, = automatic rush to judgment as "Good Hire" around these parts. 
Face it, while B1G teams are plucking dudes from the MAC in hopes of striking a competant young coach, SEC teams are plucking B1G Coaches. Until this changes we will always be behind as a conference. 
Thank God for Urban F Meyer.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

So who should they have hired? Be realistic.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Deshaun's picture

Think bigger. The term "realistic" implies a self-imposed ceiling which acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity. These are schools in the Big Ten, a conference who has gained members from the Big XII, ACC, and Big East in the last 2 years. They have enormous campuses, diehard fans, and fantastic traditions. Yet its members behave as middle-tier FBS institutions who feel lucky to pluck non-AQ coaches with a single stand-out season from the Mountain West, Conference USA, or MAC. As long as these schools keep trying to make inexpensive hires (both head AND assistant coaches) based on "realistic" expectations, we will never see the Big Ten as the dominant athletic conference in the country. Please, Big Ten athletic directors and presidents/chancellors, think bigger!

AndyVance's picture

The "realistic" part of the hiring equation is that non-"destination" schools don't typically go from employing the Danny Hopes of the world to bagging the Urban Meyers of the world in a single step. Arkansas bagged Bielema, but Bert wasn't the best coach in the country, he was just the best disgruntled coach in the country looking for more money.
Purdue's hire may or may not be a good thing - time will tell. The point is that Purdue probably couldn't go out and hire a "marquee" coach without making some serious commitments to getting better at football, and Hazell's hire - and the additional monies allocated to staffing - should be viewed as a solid first step.

steensn's picture

At least ill give the thought credit. Belimi was an ok coach in the right spot and the SEC convinced him to go to a lesser school within their division when he was having national level success at one of the better Big Ten schools.
That to me means something when a coach can take a seemingly step back in relation to conference rank yet consider it a better opportunity.

Poison nuts's picture

I'll be at one of the games tomorrow watching our rivals play Spurriers Cocks. As odd as it seems & as much I won't do any 'rooting' - I am hoping for the B1G to get as many wins tomorrow as possible. It's been a long year of hearing everyone shit on the B1G (With good reason I guess). A winning bowl record would be nice to start the new year, as well as help OSU's cause with what will undoubtedly be called a soft schedule over & over in 2013...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

jestertcf's picture

When asked if Clowny could be blocked one on one, Hoke replied I believe anyone can be blocked one on one.
not, not good.

~Because we couldn't go for three~

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

I'm sorry, but I never want to see Hoke holding another trophy. Rep be damned, its just not in me.

Also, BOB was a good hire for PSU. Not that it matters.

Poison nuts's picture

Do they give trophys for the Outback Bowl or just gift cards to Outback? I'd rather not see him with the trophy either & he probably doesn't really need the gift card...But the Mrs was a student at that school - sooo, as I'll be with her & would rather the B1G not become a bigger joke than it is I'll be fine if they win...
I am however being an asshole as far as what I'm wearing to the game...not that it's a good excuse for attending this game, but it's something.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

nickma71's picture

If the Big Ten had won a bunch in a row, including OSU over Florida and LSU, ESPN would not be talking about how dominate the Big Ten is. Liberal media bias isn't just a political thing. Most of you probably don't know why the Big Ten and its standard bearer Jim Tressel were bad mouthed so much despite all the winning. You think anybody is talking about how a bad Mich State team beat the darlings of "we deserve to be there crowd" in TCU and Boise State? I wouldn't talk about it either beause it is a non-event.

onetwentyeight's picture

It's hard for people on here to admit that Back to back losses in the NCG, to 2 SEC teams, with one coming in utterly Soul-crushing fashion, are primarily responsible for the B1G's s*it reputation. IIRC PSU actually beat LSU in one bowl a few years back and UM beat Florida during Urban's down year there as well. If you take out the high-profile (NCG) losses our bowl record is just Meh. Average. So is the SECs if you take out the NCs too. So why the massive disparity in terms of perception then? No, its not some vast MEDIA CONSPIRACY bc theyre out to SINK the Midwest portion of the country. Geez. It's not even some sort of East Coast sports media bias thing with NY and Boston that you see in like baseball. The capital of American sports media isn't based in the Deep South. The reason for the perception disparity is b/c we've lost the big games in embarassing fashion. That sticks with people more so than having a so-so bowl record overall. It this accurate or fair? No. But it's reality. 

CC's picture

Really? So if you take out the national championships they are roughly equal? Did you think about at before you wrote it?

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

Clemson = ACC Speed.

onetwentyeight's picture

Also, your "liberal media bias" theory makes ZERO LOGICAL SENSE. The SEC is the most CONSERVATIVE red state portion of the country. If the media is LIBERAL and BIASED, it should be biased AGAINST the SEC despite all their success. The Midwest is relatively Blue and liberal (Many states went for obama this election) and a so-called "liberal" media would have no reason to trash their own bases of support. If you think about how badly both sides wanted to win ohio (and thus, the election) this year, why would Disney-owned, "liberally biased" ESPN try to ALIENATE the region and flagship school where OHIO is located?! 
C'mon, not everything is "proof" of some vast conspiracy against whatever views you happen to hold. The B1G gets trashed because our teams are declining in competitiveness. OSU got trashed bc we lost 41-14 to UFM and then to a Grass-Eater. JTressel got trashed because he put up a squeaky clean image and then got caught acting like every other CFB coach in america. That's the facts, move on, stop blaming the "liberal media" for all your troubles. 

Defiance J's picture

Way to get political. This is note the place. 

faux_maestro's picture

He was just replying to what that other idiot said.

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

MediBuck's picture

Good article, Johnny, but I'd like to pose several additional points to the conference's image:
1) The B1G's history hurts us:
You bring up a valid point that the ACC has defined futility in the BCS era (2-14 vs. 12-13 B1G), but the fact that the Big Ten has actually been somewhat relevant in the same timeframe (even *gasp* won national championships and appeared in two more!) directs more derision towards us and our failures. The "Big Ten sucks" meme only works because "the ACC sucks" is not contentious and rather just an accepted reality by all fans.

2) Our own profitability and fandom has led to our downfall:
Look at the annual bowl matchups--there's always a handful of bowls pitting Big Ten #5 vs. Big XII #4, Big Ten #8 vs. MAC #2, or Big Ten #6 vs. SEC #4. The fact that the B1G's fans travel well and command a good media audience always ensure that we'll be in unfavorable matchups solely due to our profitability.

3) Every B1G bowl is an away game:

  • Meineke Car Care Bowl: Houston, TX (this year, vs. Texas Tech)
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Phoenix, AZ (this year, vs. TCU)
  • Heart of Dallas Bowl: Dallas, TX (this year, vs. Oklahoma State)
  • Gator Bowl: Jacksonville, FL (this year, vs. Mississippi State)
  • Outback Bowl: Tampa, FL (this year, vs. South Carolina)
  • Capital One Bowl: Orlando, FL (this year, vs. Georgia)
  • Rose Bowl: Pasadena, CA (this year, vs. Stanford)

Let's see how the Gamecocks or Cowboys do playing in a January Soldier Field game and we'll talk home-field advantage.
4) It IS actually about the Natty:
At the end of the day, the B1G will not recover its reputation with a 4-3 or even 5-2 bowl record. Hell, even winning the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl in 2009 did not recover the tarnished image of the conference. Until the Big Ten brings home the crystal trophy (hopefully next year) we won't shake the yellow journalism determined to paint us as a gang of slow, weak, out-of-shape losers.

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

Matthew's picture

3) Every B1G bowl is an away game:

I feel like this is usually acknowleded, but almost universally ignored as a significant advantage for the non midwestern/east coast teams in the bowl games.
If the Super Bowl has been in Detroit, Indy, and now will be in NY I wonder if that could do anything with moving some bowl games out of the south and west coasts home fields.

Class of 2010

Idaho Helga's picture

My points exactly.  We have crappy stats because we (Big 10) are constantly in BOWL GAMES that are clearly at HOME SITES for the opposition or dang near.  
And yet they say we suck.
Delaney should  get this fixed. Indy & (yes!) Detroit have nice domes.  VIVA LA AMERICA!   More games in northern Domes!!!!!!

unknownmusketeer's picture

Except for the national championship game (and future playoff games), the bowl schedule is intended as a "nice" vacation to a warm spot. No way Delaney changes this.

Catch 5's picture

So, playing in comfortable weather is a disadvantage, how? Sorry, but this part of your argument really doesn't make sense. None of the bowl games you listed for SEC teams are even in their home states - but the Rose Bowl (a location I have never heard a B10 fan complain about) is played in the home stadium of one of the P12 teams, meaning there is a good chance that the P12 participant has already played in that stadium at least once that year.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Deshaun's picture

It's not just about the weather. There is a reason FBS teams playing at home win 63.2% of the time. Let's ignore the weather for a moment (even though it is a significant factor in NFL playoff games). Playing in front of one's home crowd is a significant advantage. Every bowl game played between a Big Ten team and a SEC team in the state of Florida is a home game for the SEC team. Here's how: the host city is visited by numerous fans of the Big Ten team, but that city is populated with SEC fans who cheer for SEC teams. Let's say a stadium holds 70,000 fans. Teams typically take on around 15,000 tickets to sell to their fans. Fans traveling from Athens, GA to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando had to drive 452 miles. Nebraska fans driving from Lincoln had to cover 1,432 miles...or buy an airline ticket. Big Ten fans are known to travel as well or better than anyone in the country, so let's say they sell their entire 15,000 allotment. The remaining 40,000 are generally sold in blocks to local corporations and/or to local college football fans whose alleiance will slant toward the local conference. Yeah, the Big Ten school's fans might get a few thousand tickets on the secondary market, but not half. Sure, the travel takes a toll. Staying for a week+ in a different area of the country while training in unfamiliar facilities is a distraction. But playing in a friendly city in front of a partial crowd is a significant advantage.

Catch 5's picture

Yeah, I get that. So if that is a major detriment, why the disdain for bowls in SEC country, but only love for the Rose Bowl, which is much further from B10 country and even closer to most of the P12?

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Deshaun's picture

Well, the Pac 12 has the exact same advantage in the Rose Bowl, especially with USC & UCLA combining for 44 appearances and Stanford & California combining for 21 more. I don't know that anybody has "disdain" for bowl games in SEC country. The Capital One Bowl (formerly Citrus Bowl) is a solid game with a lengthy tradition of high caliber games. But don't make the mistake of buying ESPN's narrative of "neutral site" games. The Rose Bowl is one of the most valuable properties in all of college football, played in a scenic stadium as the sun sets between two of the most historic conferences in the NCAA. Great game. Just not a "neutral" game. To do it right, Indianapolis should host one of the "host bowl" games in the semifinal and major bowl rotation.

Idaho Helga's picture

woot!   Just saw a mighty SEC team lose their bowl game to to ACC.  This works for me.
All hate to the SEC this bowl season.

Poison nuts's picture

Works for me as well...Happy New Year everyone I like the way it's starting.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

cajunbuckeye's picture

Do I smell corndogs burning???

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

Trig Lazer's picture

First of all fellow Buckeye fans stop already with the whining about bowl games being 'away' games for us. It's always been that way with bowl games, I think we should be able to adapt to a reality that is decades old.
Secondly, the perception of The Big Ten can only be altered by winning the national title multiple times and winning a large percentage of our bowl games. The conference was stymied this year if you think about it like this...everybody played 2 bowls up. Our top 2 conference teams..Penn St and Ohio St are on sanctions, everybody now had to play up in the bowl selections.
This conference will not change until fellow conference members hire better head coaches and open up the wallets for top assistants. This conference is a money making cow, fellow member schools have been sucking on the teats of successful teams like Ohio State and Michigan for years. If I were in charge of this conference I would force these schools to spend the split revenue from the bowls and Big Ten network money on hiring better coaches instead of allowing that money to be funneled into other sports programs at the respective schools. This is football have to spend it there.

Jdole83's picture

Depsite two of B1G's teams, an undefeated Ohio State and a worthy Penn State schools sitting the bowl seasons out, and I know that Georgia and SC already pulled wins.... but I ask this: have people noticed that all of these bowl games (with the absolute exception of Purdue??) were VERY good games played by the B1G?  I did not notice a single blow out win between these "mediocre" ten teams that played the highly ranked SEC teams.  I mean, after the LSU/ALABAMA blow out, the playoff season was put in place to keep the games interesting, and haven't the B1G teams done this?  I mean, unranked Wisconsin giving Stanford a run?  Why did a nationally contending Georgia team struggle so hard against Nebraska (who was blown away by unranked Wis)?  I mean, I watched the SEC champtionship game, and I watched the B1G game... if the SEC is undoubtedly the BEST conference, then they should have blown away these teams, easy.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have a respect for those teams, but I think balance between conferences is faster approaching than most SEC fans (and reporters) like to think.

"Canceling your evening plans to prepare for your Fantasy Football Draft is completely normal." -via @espn