From Rejection to Redemption: How The Big Ten National Narrative Flipped In Four Months

Bucks Win Sugar Bowl

Four long months ago I wrote this about the Big Ten:

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.

It’s amazing how quickly things change. And it was one huge day on January 1, 2015 that punctuated the Big Ten’s rise from the dead. Before we get to that though let’s backtrack to what I said back in September 2014. I talked about the national narrative concerning the Big Ten, SEC dominance and how it was a bunch of baloney. I could sit there and cry foul all I wanted, but as I said in the article all that mattered in college football was winning. It’s what earns everyone’s respect. You can talk all you want, but you have to walk the walk on the field if you want respect. Regarding my point about conference pride, here’s what I said it came down to:

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.

Four months later let’s take a look at the faces of these conferences. Three of the six teams I declared the faces of the SEC lost their bowl games. Florida fired their coach. Georgia lost to Florida. Both Mississippi schools lost in spectacular fashion in their marquee matchups. For the first time since 2005 an SEC team will not play for the national championship. The last marquee win in the postseason for the SEC was 2013 against Notre Dame in the national title game. Two years in a row the conference has lost their biggest games. I think it’s safe to say that the SEC is no longer head and shoulders above everyone else.

Of course it’s just not about what the SEC has done lately. Let’s look at the Big Ten’s top six teams. I specifically called out Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska in September for not having good enough head coaching. Where are those head coaches now? Gary Andersen fled Wisconsin after suffering a humiliating loss in the Big Ten Championship game to Ohio State. Nebraska fired Bo Pelini after delivering another just solid season. I said they wouldn’t have the guts to do this and they proved me wrong. We’ll see if Mike Riley can take them to the next level. And then there’s Michigan who fired Brady Hoke after another disappointing season. This is where the Big Ten’s redemption story begins.

Last week after many weeks of speculation, the Wolverines went out and got themselves a national championship caliber coach in Jim Harbaugh. As a Buckeye fans my reaction to this: It’s about damn time. What took so long to get a great coach? Now that Michigan has a great coach their rebuilding process can begin. The Big Ten now how has four coaches I truly believe are capable of winning a national championship, along with Meyer, Dantonio and Franklin (Chryst and Riley could become capable). The Big Ten East could become one of the best divisions in college football with the amount of star power at the coaching positions. Speaking of that Penn State silently defeated Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, leading to head coach James Franklin delivering a fiery speech in the post game proclaiming how great a victory it was for the program in their return to the postseason.

This leads us to the huge day for the Big Ten. It started when Wisconsin, led by Badger legend Barry Alvarez, shocked Auburn in overtime to win the Outback Bowl. The Badgers, coming off a 59-0 loss in the Big Ten Championship game, beat a Tiger team that many believed to be one of the best teams in the country for a majority of the season. After losing so much in the postseason the last five years and after having to hire yet another new head coach, it was a sweet victory for the program. Next year they start the Paul Chryst era in Madison and I think he’s a perfect fit for them. Chryst understands Wisconsin football perfectly and don’t be surprised if they return to Indianapolis next season.

Michigan State followed the Badgers by pulling out a thrilling come-from-behind victory against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. The Spartans were down three touchdowns late in the game and stormed back on a thrilling blocked field goal and a touchdown with mere seconds left in the game. Dantonio and the Spartans finish the season with 11 wins once again. Their only two losses were to the two teams that are going to play for the national championship on January 12. Needless to say there’s a pretty fantastic football program residing in East Lansing.

The biggest win for the Big Ten then came in the Sugar Bowl National Semifinals when the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 42-35 to advance to national championship game for the first time in seven years. As everyone saw New Year’s night, it wasn’t a fluke or miracle. The Buckeyes were simply a better team in all phases of the game. There was no question that the Buckeyes had “SEC speed.” Ezekiel Elliott rushed for over 200 yards, something no running back had ever done to a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team. Cardale Jones, who was a third-string quarterback in August, threw long third down passes against the Tide defense with ease. The Buckeye’s defensive line harassed Blake Sims all night long. It was the victory Buckeye fans have been salivating to get for years.

In the span of four months the Big Ten went from rock bottom to the top, something none of us expected. As I said months ago I was just hoping the conference could do something to salvage its reputation. Now it has done more than that. It’s changed the national narrative completely. Yesterday the SEC was king. Today the Big Ten is the re-born hero. It’s amazing how a story can go from a nightmare to a dream come true.

The Big Ten’s teams went out and did what they had to do. Hollywood itself couldn’t have scripted a better comeback for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten. In the words of Drake: “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”

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