Ohio State doesn’t play anyone. Kentucky would win the Big Ten most years*. The Big Ten is slightly above the MAC and well below the ACC.
These are the new mantras of the sports media outlets. Many writers and/or voters are dropping Ohio State from the title game not based upon losing (they haven’t) but simply upon the perception of weakness. “Anyone,” they argue, “would win those games because their conference is so bad and their non-conference schedule is a joke.” In fact, one AP voter that has OSU at 8th and Clemson at 6th, claimed that Clemson getting killed by Florida St. at home was more impressive than Ohio State beating a ranked Wisconsin. “A quality loss to a quality opponent,” he claimed.
While it is true that Ohio State’s non-conference games were against weak teams, is the BIG really that bad? Should a historically strong conference be punished because the conference happens to be down right now?
To answer the first part, yes, the Big Ten is bad. Personally, I would put the top three BIG teams (OSU, MSU and UW) up against any other leagues’ top three. After that, however, there is a disgusting drop-off. Minnesota is an average team looking good in a bad league, Nebraska is pulling a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde every week and Michigan…well, let’s be generous and say the team up north isn’t meeting historical standards. Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Penn St., Purdue and Indiana are just gawd awful.
But what about the part of it hurting Ohio State’s ability to play for a national title? After all, OSU has dominated the bad teams like they should and has beaten the ranked teams. For the past two seasons OSU has beaten every team they have faced, whether they be the good, the bad or the ugly. No other team can claim that distinction. Last season, Alabama was beaten at home by a team with three losses. Yet they still played for (and won) the national title. The year before that, the Tide’s best win was an ugly loss at home in which they couldn’t score a single touchdown. Not only did Alabama not win their conference, they didn’t even win their division! Yet they still played for (and won) the national title.
I guess perception trumps results.
Most OSU fans would tell you that the greatest time frame in their storied history was the years 1968-1975. During that period, OSU went 73-11-1, with two national titles (only one AP title), while Michigan went 74-11-1. It was at this time that the Big Ten was known as the Big Two and Little Eight. Michigan and OSU utterly dominated the rest of the BIG. How bad was their domination? Let me throw some numbers at you.
In that eight year span, Ohio State was ranked in the top ten 7 times, with an average ranking of 3.6. Michigan was ranked in the top ten during that same period 7 times as well, with an average of 7.3. The rest of the Big Ten? Not so good.
From ‘68-‘75, a total of 51 BIG teams finished below .500, for an average of 6.3 a season. 6.3! More than half of the BIG didn’t win half their games! During that span, a grand total of 3 other BIG teams finished ranked in the AP top 20. To put that into perspective, the MAC finished with 6 teams. That. Is. Bad.
And yet neither Michigan nor Ohio State suffered from such lousy competition. No one looked at their schedules and voted them down due to poor schedules. Instead, they looked at the results of the games. They saw how both OSU and Michigan blasted teams they should blast. They saw rosters filled with top-shelf talents. They saw a legendary coach and a legend in the making roaming the sidelines. And at no point did people vote against them because of who they played.
So what has changed? Why is the BIG now the new Mountain West?
Some of it is due to lousy performance with historically great programs. Michigan has tanked since 2008, along with The Horror loss in ‘07. Penn St. has had the most revolting scandal in football history and may not be back for some time. Nebraska seems to think that pre-Bob Devaney football is the way to go. And Ohio State…well, back-to-back flops in the title game doesn’t help with the perception.
Personally I think that a lot of it is due to a certain sports network having a financial stake in promoting a certain southern conference. The perception is that the SEC hasn’t lost to a team from the Big Ten part of the nation since a team lead by Sherman ran an option play throughout the Deep South. The reality is that the BIG is 19-19 in bowl games against the SEC during the BCS era. Yet ESPN puts down the BIG and promotes the SEC because there is a ton of money to be had for television rights to highly ranked (and thus perceived as great) football teams duking it out in balmy October weather. (November is when the SEC takes a break from their NFL-like schedule and plays the giants of the sport like Chattanooga and North Texas Tech.)
Even though I think that at least three times in the last seven years an SEC team shouldn’t have even been in the title game, the fact is they have won seven in a row. That is reality. To change that reality, someone needs to knock them off. As an Ohio State fan I am disheartened that simple perception will most likely eliminate the Bucks from having the chance to do it this year.
*This denotes a common theme from SEC fans, not actual educated people.