Big Ten Teams Aim to Improve in Non-Conference Play

By Mike Young on June 15, 2015 at 10:10 am

September of 2014 appeared to be a referendum on not only Ohio State's chances to qualify for the inaugural College Football Playoff, but on the Big Ten in general.

With another challenging slate in the early season, it may not be much better for the B1G this year. 

The second week of the Buckeyes' 2014 season was a nightmare for fans. Virginia Tech won by two touchdowns in Ohio Stadium and it came on the heels of a disastrous day for the conference. 

Oregon rallied with a huge fourth quarter to beat Michigan State in Eugene. Michigan also lost to Notre Dame, shut out no less. Even the dregs of the Big Ten couldn't put it together for one week and save some shred of credibility for the conference – Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois and Purdue dropped a home game to Central Michigan.

September 6 was a brutal day for the perception of the conference, as well. Although Ohio State and a strong overall performance in bowl season created some renewed faith in the B1G, that day may have been the low point in the Big Ten's recent history. It's ridiculous in hindsight, but writing off the conference's playoff chances became the trendy thing to do. That night, many major media personalities criticized the Big Ten for its performance on the field.

Only the conference commissioner, a paid representative, kept believing. 

"I would just say with 50 percent of the non-conference games and 100 percent of conference games remaining, it's premature to make any judgments," Jim Delany told the following day. "It's September 7, not December 7. I would hate to think after two weeks we'd pick any teams for anything." 

Obviously, the Buckeyes' run to a national title saved the Big Ten a lot of grief this offseason. The proverbial "monkey" is off the B1G's back. Still, the second week of the season might prove to be another tough day for the conference. 

Ohio State will play Hawaii, so that won't be the Big Ten's downfall. Otherwise, Sept. 12 features a slew of difficult matchups. Oregon State, now led by former Wisconsin coach 
Gary Andersen, will take on Michigan in Ann Arbor to begin the day. Minnesota will travel to Colorado State and Rutgers-Washington State should be a repeat of last season's shootout. The nightcap is the Oregon-Michigan State rematch, this time in East Lansing.

So, OSU notwithstanding, it's imperative for rest of the conference to avoid last year's dreadful week two. With Wisconsin and Alabama squaring off the week before, the Big Ten will either boost its reputation or flounder under the weight of newfound expectations. 

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