Commentary: Big Ten remains a power conference

BY MATT CABEL | JULY 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Kirk Ferentz was asked an interesting question on July 24 during the Big Ten media days.

What do you think about the perception that, if Ohio State and Michigan aren’t at the top of their game, then the [Big Ten] is down?

“I think it’s cyclical, although nobody is going to argue right now — the SEC has played outstanding football,” Ferentz responded. “… But that’s half of the mystery, too. USC looked like it was going to have a dynasty five years ago — things change, things move around. I’ve been in the league awhile. I think everyone that I’ve interacted with in this league, we’re all trying to win. We’re all doing our best to win. It’s been that way for a long time.”

Ferentz is right about the cyclical nature of sports, especially college football. And the Big Ten has been on the decline. It’s been 11 years since Ohio State brought the conference its last — and only — national title in the BCS era.

This cycle could begin its climb this year — that is, if the heralded Buckeye team under head coach Urban Meyer wins the national title. But even then, it’s arguable that, beyond wins and losses, the Big Ten should still be considered a powerhouse conference.

Look at the recent history of the conference. The Big Ten Network is going into its seventh season of broadcasting with the most recent containing its highest ratings ever, said network President Mark Silverman, who spoke in Chicago last week. The network will showcase games against teams from the SEC, Pac-12, and ACC this season.

The Big Ten and the SEC were the two conferences that basically sparked the conference realignment discussion — they took the lead in acting on it. The Big Ten added Nebraska, and the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri. The Big Ten also announced earlier this year that Rutgers and Maryland would join the conference next fall, which will help the conference get stronger from the additional pipeline states that Rutgers and Maryland bring to the conference.

It’s such a big addition for adding recruits to the conference that when Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien was asked about the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, he spoke about the recruiting advantages, not the added competition.

“Now in the Big Ten, you have Nebraska, which borders Colorado, so you [can recruit] all the way to the border of Colorado,” O’Brien said. “You go to the border of Canada with Michigan. You have the East Coast with Rutgers and Maryland. We have a pretty neat little corridor there that make the Big Ten a national conference now, more so than it was.”

The SEC has a lot of wins — that can’t be denied. It has its own television network, which is owned by ESPN. Its schools continually land the top recruits in the nation. It’s the conference to beat. Plain and simple.

But national titles, while a big determinant of success, aren’t all there is to it. The Big Ten is locked in with the Rose Bowl for the short-term future, so at least one team will represent the conference in a BCS bowl. Teams such as Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and even Iowa have represented the conference in BCS games in the last five years.

The Big Ten has work to do before it comes even close to the SEC — at least on the field. But with everything else, it’s keeping pace.

And for now, with everything else that the conference has done in the last few years, that’s OK.

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