The Big Ten’s National Narrative & Conference Pride

The Big Ten sucks. It’s weak and simply can’t compete with the SEC and other top teams around the country. They always choke in the biggest of games. As a fan of the Buckeyes or any other Big Ten team, this is what you’ve been hearing from the national media ever since the Buckeyes got shellacked by the Florida Gators in the 2006 National Championship game. Things have progressively gotten worse since then for the entire conference. ESPN and all of the other major outlets continue to hype conference pride year in and year out. Well that’s a bunch of crap. It’s simply a narrative.

Let me explain. When you tell a story to a small child or even a grown adult, you must have a “train wreck” in the story that will excite them, or as your English teacher would say, the climax. In journalism 2014 it’s a hot take. Calling the Big Ten weak is a popular hot take. But wait the Big Ten is weak you say. You’re absolutely right it’s a weak conference right now. So where am I going with this? My point reminds me of a quote from George Costanza on Seinfeld. He told Jerry right before he took a lie detector test, “Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie….if you believe it.” The B1G narrative is a lie, in the fact that the B1G hasn’t been as bad as everyone has made it out to be over the past few years. The conference certainly hasn’t been good, but the national media has blown the story completely out of proportion all for the sake of their yearly narrative of “B1G is weak. SEC is great.” You think it’s hard to listen to as a fan? Just think about the players and coaches hearing this year in and year out. I guarantee it affects their psyche. Being told you’re weak all of the time makes you start to think subconsciously you are weak. As a result the national media has gotten in your head. See where I was going with that Seinfeld quote now?

Now I’m not saying it’s the national media’s fault the conference is in the state it’s in. I’m not a crazy conspiracy theorists. But this is something that does play an effect on the conference. The Big Ten has been accepting this “fact” that they’re a weak conference for years. But really when it comes down to it conference pride is a lie. You know what conference pride is based on? The best teams in the conference. You’re only as good as your best teams. That’s why the SEC is anointed the king of college football every single season. When people look at the SEC, they don’t look at Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. They’re looking at Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia. If the majority of these teams have a good season, then the SEC is having a good season. So why are national writers and experts pointing out Purdue, Illinois and Indiana being bad programs when looking at the Big Ten? Those programs have never been world beaters. They’re happy with 7-9 wins. They aren’t expected to compete for national titles.

When it comes to the Big Ten, there are six teams I view as the faces of the conference right now. Those teams are Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. These six teams have to get it done or the Big Ten is looked down upon. These are the teams I expect to see competing for the Big Ten Championship year in and year out, while also being top 25 teams. This is based on their winning tradition and/or recent successes. In my opinion it all starts with the head coach. Only three of those six coaches I can envision winning a national title. Those three coaches are Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and James Franklin. Meyer is a proven winner of course and Dantonio has brought success to Michigan State that they haven’t experienced in years (only one Notre Dame loss away last season from the National Title game). Franklin brought back-to-back nine win seasons to the Northwestern of the SEC in Vanderbilt and is already luring top recruits to Penn State. He’s competed with the best and had solid success. He could turn out to be a bust, but I see the same fire in his eyes that Meyer and Dantonio have in their eyes.

I would bet a large amount of money that the other three coaches will never win a national title. Gary Andersen could develop into a national championship caliber coach, but I lost faith in him after his poor coaching against LSU in week one. He’s a big question mark. I know Badger fans would love to be competing for a national title though. Brady Hoke is nothing but an eight to ten wins per season coach. He’s solid, but never spectacular in a power five conference and that’s being generous. This is great for a program like Purdue, but he’s coaching at one of the winningest programs in the country. Michigan has all of the tools and resources to be just as good as Ohio State every single season. Forget the Michigan man baloney and just hire a top coach. Lloyd Carr was never fully beloved by Wolverine fans, but eight years ago he had the team in a position to go to the national title game. Rich Rodriguez never did this and neither has Hoke. There’s absolutely no excuse for Michigan to be blown out on national television by one of their biggest rivals in Notre Dame.

Bo Pelini is in the same boat as Hoke. Again he’s a coach that can bring around nine wins a season and nothing more. The administration seems to be just fine with these kind of seasons, but apparently they forget they’re one of the winningest programs ever. I know the Husker fans don’t forget the glory years of Nebraska and they want more than nine wins a season. Nebraska may not be quite as big as Michigan and Ohio State, but look at Michigan State. They’re proving you don’t have to be a traditional power to be a national contender. I see no excuses for the Huskers. They simply need a better coach than Pelini if they ever want to be a national championship contender.

If the Big Ten wants to be taken seriously again and wants to be considered a national power, it starts at the top of the conference and at the top of the top programs. The bottom half of the Big Ten is what it is, with some teams having up seasons and some having down seasons. The top six teams I mentioned should be contending every single season. No excuses. The conference has truly hit rock bottom at this moment and I think it’s something that needed to happen if it ever wants to be taken seriously again. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all have great chances to finish with 11-1 seasons (of course only two can finish at 11-1 because the Buckeyes and Spartans play each other). They can save some face for the conference. It’s a good starting point. Penn State is still dealing with sanctions, but that isn’t going to stop them from being competitive and I expect them to be back in a few seasons. So they get a pass for now. For Michigan and Nebraska, this is a make or break season with their current coaches. Changes will need to be made if they don’t have great seasons.

Forget the national narrative of the Big Ten. Forget the conference pride. The Big Ten just needs to buckle down, don’t listen to the media and just win games. Winning is all that matters in college football. I think another Seinfeld quote sums it up best. George once asked, “Jerry, what gives you pleasure?” Jerry responded, “Listening to you. I come in here, I listen to you, I feel better. Your misery is my pleasure.” Until the Big Ten’s top teams start to win more, the Big Ten’s misery is the national media’s pleasure.


  1. Josh, I loved this. I only would like to say that both Ohio State and Michigan State can’t finish 11-1 because they play each other on 11/8.

    • Thanks Chris! Yes I aware of this as I wrote it and the wording didn’t come out right. I think I’ll add something to the end of the sentence to make this clearer. Again appreciate the kind words.


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