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COLUMN

Forget the spin, Big Ten is struggling

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For more on Big Ten athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Conference not a national football factor

Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 5:24 am

The sky is not falling, Big Ten football coaches say while dodging big blue pieces of it.

The conference is fine, they insist. The season is early. All is well.

Hogwash.

This is spin. It is not reality.

Reality is watching Alabama crush Michigan, or UCLA humble Nebraska or Wisconsin and Iowa show the offensive firepower of a match. That's not all of it. Lousy offense is every where you look in Big Ten circles these days. Four conference teams average less than 20 points a game. Six teams average 345 total yards or less.

What in the name of Woody Hayes is going on?

“I don't make much of it,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says. “There's a lot of football left to be played.”

Perhaps, but if you're a Big Ten fan, you don't want it played like this.

The Big Ten has traditionally dominated college football, but dominance has shrunk against SEC onslaught -- six straight national titles and counting -- and its own ineptitude.

The Big Ten stunk up college football fields across America last weekend, which continues a recent trend against power conference teams. It went 6-6 overall, 1-6 against major conference teams.

The Big Ten is 2-7 against teams from major conferences this season, with both wins (Syracuse and Vanderbilt) by Northwestern.

“Obviously, (the Big Ten) is not winning, it's not losing, it's right in the middle,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “That's not where the Big Ten wants to be.”

You've got that right.

The Big Ten has won just one Rose Bowl since 2000 -- Ohio State beat Oregon in 2010. On New Year's Day in 2011 the league went 0-5 in bowl games. It's won less than half its BCS bowl appearances even though it's participated in more BCS bowls than any other conference. It's been 10 years since Ohio State won the Big Ten's last national championship.

All signs point to the Big Ten heading toward another postseason hammering.

Then there are the public relations debacles. Earlier this week Bielema fired his new offensive line coach just two games into the season after some really bad offense. Then Notre Dame, long coveted by the Big Ten, gets out of the Big East to join the ACC. The Irish will remain football independent, but will play five ACC games a year in a compromise that leaves you wondering why the usually foresighted Big Ten didn't think of that.

That doesn't include the mess at Penn State and sanctions against Ohio State. Both programs are ineligible for postseason play.

It's not all negative. Michigan State is ranked No. 10. Ohio State, with high-profile new coach Urban Meyer, is No.12. Northwestern isn't ranked, but it is 2-0 with a flare for the dramatic.

The Big Ten has some of the nation's best players, including Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball and Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short.

Still, the conference is struggling, and an over-riding issue is an overall lack of team speed, especially on the defensive line. Spread offenses forced defenses to recruit faster, more athletic players. Nobody has done that better than SEC coaches, although Pac-12 coaches are gaining ground fast.

Figure Meyer, with his SEC background and pair of national titles, will make an impact in that area. Dantonio has elevated Michigan State's play by boosting overall speed and athleticism. That will continue.

Purdue coach Danny Hope is doing his part by recruiting SEC states hard, particularly Florida, for speed. He's made that an emphasis since taking over Boiler recruiting five years ago. Fourteen starters are from SEC states or Texas. Of his 11 committed players for the Class of 2013, six come from SEC states or Texas. The result is his fastest-ever team and a group expected to challenge for a berth in the Big Ten championship game.

IU coach Kevin Wilson, in his second season and thus in catch-up mode, has one recruit from Texas and another from Florida among his 10 commitments for the Class of 2013.

Through it all, Big Ten coaches remain optimistic. As Dantonio says:

“People will respond.”

If they want to compete, they have no choice.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com