It seems to me that the Big Ten Conference has not only lost its place among the nation's elite athletic bodies, but that there is no indication that the conference will get back on top any time soon. Barring a miracle Buckeye win over Texas, the conference will go 1-5 in bowl games this year. In fact, of the 4 losses in the books, all have been by double digits, ranging from Wisky's 30+ point debacle to Sparty's 12 point defeat.
This is not a new phenomenon. Since the creation of the Bowl Challenge Cup in 2002 (by ESPN--the worldwide leader in Penn State hating), the Big Ten has come out on top only once (in 2002). The bowl games that the conference teams have won in recent years are the "minor" bowls...no Big Ten team has won a BCS Bowl Game since Penn State won the 2005 Orange Bowl and Ohio State won the 2005 Fiesta. The Conference is 8-10 in BCS games, Michigan alone is 1-3...this is a true indication of the conference's lack of competitiveness on the national stage.
So, what is the issue? It could be the layoff. Penn State's last game this year was on Nov 21...40 days prior to today's Rose Bowl. That is entirely too much time. Incorporation of an open date or some other measure that ensures the conference plays its final games on the Saturday after Thanksgiving would mitigate the "rust" factor.
It could be the non-conference schedules. Aside from some isolated exceptions (Ohio State's one-and-one with Texas and USC, Michigan's date with Notre Dame and Utah), the conference's non-conference schedules are jokes. What does playing a Coastal Carolina, Eastern Illinois, Youngstown State, etc, do for the Big Ten? Nothing. While USC, Oklahoma, and Florida play their fair share of cupcakes, they also aren't afraid to play upper tier opponents. I am convinced that they benefit more from those games (even with the greater potential for a loss) than Penn State does from playing Temple and Kent State. Playing an A-list team every other year doesn't cut it.
It could be the schemes/atheletes. In Ohio State's demolition at the hands of Florida two years ago, the marked difference in speed between the two teams was painfully evident...as it was last year. In Illinois' Rose Bowl debacle last year, the gap in ability level between USC and the Illini was clear. So, is the conference not getting the athletes? I don't think so...I just think that the conference does a poor job of putting those atheletes to make plays. This may sound like blasphemy, but if Rich Rodriguez succeeds at Michigan, it could be very good for the conference since the style of play will have to adjust to his scheme. Michigan will get the caliber of athletes that Zook can't at Illinois, so you can't compare their schemes. Big Ten teams will be forced to recruit speed and athleticism, not size and strength.
Tough year for the conference, and the future doesn't look any brighter...well, maybe in Volleyball it does.
For the Glory...