As expected, Sunday’s media sources immediately opened with proclamations on the impressive strength of Ohio State, in particular in how they had dismantled Michigan State, and one wouldn’t be surprised if the media forgot all about their ugly loss at home to hapless Virginia Tech back in September. Forgetting that defeat, and overemphasizing their victory over a largely unimpressive Michigan State would be an overreach at best and lunacy by anyone’s measure who rationally interprets Big-10 football, and yet that is exactly what the media is doing. Whether you watched The Sports Reporters on Sunday, or listened to The Herd on monday you were being fed the exact same line of nonsense.
The Big-10 has been in severe decline for more than a decade, and only Ohio State, and a recent run by Michigan State has managed to camouflage just how badly things have gone in the former powerhouse conference of college football. A region once celebrated for producing many of the best college football sides, ever, along with local Notre Dame began falling off in the 1990’s with the decline of Ohio State under John Cooper, then accelerated as Michigan began to fall into decline nearly a decade ago. Iowa had long since become irrelevant, and Penn State had begun to fall apart seemingly the second they joined. Ohio State fell apart during the Cooper era at the tail end of the 20th century, losing 8 of 11 bowls while Michigan enjoyed a mild renaissance, but the tale turned when Jim Tressell arrived and lead Ohio State on a decade long run of dominance of the conference, while Michigan began to slowly slip into irrelevance by the end of the aughts. All is well and good with regards to this performance in conference, but what we’re concerned with is the performance of the Big 5 of the Big 10, when they have to leave the conference, which in the end, is the whole point of the Playoff.
Ohio State, the acknowledged king of the Conference since the aughts, has compiled a record of 5-7 in New Years Day bowls since the 2000 season, 4-7 if you consider the vacated Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas several years ago (in which the NCAA rigged things so that Ohio State’s stars would be available for Arkansas and ticket sales would not be hampered-2 of the key players who should have been suspended played an essential role in securing the victory). The record gets even uglier if you dig in and notice that Ohio State has secured only 2 bowl victories in the past decade, one of which was that aforementioned tainted victory (for the record I don’t mind teams winning with tainted players, what I mind is when the NCAA arbitrarily measures punishments seemingly based upon a players means (read: lawyers of the Manziel family), or ticket sales (read: 2011 Ohio State Sugar Bowl $$$ interests) or lack thereof (USC and Reggie Bush, Oklahoma State’s Dez Byrant, Georgia’s AJ Green, and Todd Gerley). Ohio State was annihilated of course in its previous two trips to the National Title Game, and has essentially been beaten or even worse clowned repeatedly in bowl games while its victories have almost uniformally been against largely unimpressive sides (only their 2010 victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and their controversial 2003 title game victory over Miami stand out over the past fifteen years of their history.
Michigan, a side that was once a consistent power in NCAA football has fallen on bad times over the past decade, losing seven of its past 9 bowl games. Even worse, Michigan hasn’t won a consequential bowl game of note since Tom Brady was at the helm, guiding Michigan to a thrilling Orange Bowl victory over Alabama in 2000 in his last hurrah as a Wolverine.
Wisconsin has won only 3 of its past 11 bowls, and 6 of their past 7, including three consecutive Rose Bowls from 2011-2013. About the only positive thing one can say about Wisconsin during the Big-10’s decline is that unlike Ohio State, when defeated in major bowl games, Wisconsin actually shows up. All three of their most recent Rose Bowl defeats were one score games, where Wisconsin had a chance to win if they could have scored a TD late, that didn’t happen, however, in any of the three games.
The only two colleges in the Big-10 with anything remotely resembling a decent record in bowl games since the conference began its now decade long decline are Michigan State and Penn State. What’s telling, in particular, about their relative success, is that it has come largely because both colleges have failed to face off against the nations best in their bowl games, and were instead able to beat lesser sides in lesser bowls. Penn State has been awful of late , losing 3 of its past four bowl gamest, but they are .500 during this era of decline. The problem? Penn State has only one quality bowl victory during this era. a triple overtime Orange Bowl win over Florida State nine years ago (admittedly, not a great FSU team).
What of Michigan State? Well, on the positive side, Michigan State is in the only college football team in the Big-10 with a recent winning record, having rolled to victories over Stanford and Georgia in the past three seasons, very impressive wins. However, even with Michigan State, take a look at the long term trend, and before that recent three year run, you see Michigan State lost five straight bowl games from 2002-2010, an overall trend that points to a 4-5 bowl record in the aughts. Much like the best of the rest of the Big-10, Michigan State hasn’t even managed to put together a .500 record in bowl games since the aughts.
Consider, the SEC has absolutely dominated the Big-10 during this era, and the Pac-12, Big-12, and even mid-major conferences have registered superior bowl records. Across every single means of analysis the Big-10 falls short, whether in measuring performance in BCS bowl games, or non-BCS bowl games, or combined total bowl game performances. Taken as a whole, the Big-10 has fallen sharply behind a rising Pac-12, and Big-12, while the SEC has lapped it. Only the ACC can claim to be as bad during this era, and unlike the Big-10, the ACC has owned its baggage, with few if any among the fan base willing to argue that any side other than Florida State circa 2013-Present, worthy of discussion since Michael Vick, and the late great Sean Taylor moved on to the pro game.
So again, tell me why Ohio State deserves a shot? Apparently the media thinks scoring 49+ over and over again while playing Big-10 colleges should recommend such prestige. My question is why? I have just cited more than a decade of evidence that suggests that the best of the Big-10, not even the worst of the conference (which is horrifically bad, needless to say), are routinely curb stomped the second they match wits with quality sides out of the Big-12, Pac-12, SEC, or even Mid-Majors when bowl season comes around. Who have they beaten exactly? A Michigan State team that hasn’t beaten anyone beyond fellow weaklings in the Big-10? A Penn State team they needed OT, and some ref help to beat (the league has admitted the refs screwed up on multiple decisive plays that helped gift Ohio State the win)? Anyone else? They beat Powerhouse 1-8 Kent State, fellow conference Titan 4-5 Illinois (1-4 in the Big-10), Hell they even lost at home to Va Tech by 14, yeah, that Va Tech that’s 4-5, and 1-4 in the awful ACC.
So again, their meaningful wins this year are against an utterly irrelevant Maryland side that joined the Big-10 this year (6-3, now that they get to play in the awful Big-10 instead of against the ACC where they finished in a tie with the 10th worst conference record in 2013), a ref-assisted win against a bad Penn State side whose signature wins this year are against UMASS, and Indiana, and a victory over Michigan State whose signature performance this year was losing by 19 in Oregon.
So, you say Ohio State deserves to be in the conversation? Well, give me a moment to stop laughing. We’re talking about the Ohio State that hasn’t impressed in a bowl game since 2009? The Ohio State that has registered one quality bowl win the past decade? The Ohio State that has gotten clowned any time it’s faced off with a top 4 ranked NCAA side since the fall of 2002? That Ohio State? Oh, no, you’re saying this one. The one that lost at home to a sub .500, ACC cellar dweller, and hasn’t beaten ANYONE all year.
We should put them in above who exactly? An SEC side like Ole Miss, or MSU, sides that have played toe to toe with the best of the ACC, or Auburn, which can’t play defense, but can play with anybody, Alabama, with one blemish to its record, and a history of dominating in bowl games, unlike, say, I don’t know, Ohio State?
You say, no, you respect the SEC, it’s those Pac-12, no defense bums they should be in ahead of? Really? Ahead of an ASU side that has beaten the piss out of Notre Dame (a Notre Dame people were claiming should be in the top 4 of the bowls because the quality of their loss to #1 FSU at the time), beaten up Stanford, beaten USC in LA, beaten Utah? They should be ahead of Oregon, a side whose only loss was to 7-2 Arizona, and a loss that was registered while they were missing multiple key starters along their OL.
Should they be ahead of TCU or Baylor? Well, Baylor beat 8-1 TCU with some luck, and beat the hell out of preseason national title game candidate 6-3 Oklahoma in Oklahoma. TCU? Well they’ve beaten West Virginia on the road, and beat 7th ranked K-State, #4 ranked Oklahoma, and #15 ranked Oklahoma State (rankings were at the time).
So who do we lift Ohio State above exactly? TCU or Baylor? I have no idea how or why one should. Should they be ranked ahead of Arizona State, or Oregon? I have no idea how or why. Should they be ranked ahead of Mississippi State or Alabama? To be frank, I seriously doubt Ohio State could defeat ANY of the SEC West teams on the road, and probably would struggle to beat all save Texas A&M on a neutral site field.
So when it comes down to it, when you hear Big-10 whiners, and Ohio State apologists make claims about what Ohio State has earned in the coming weeks, do remember, just how awful the Big-10 really is, and just how few quality wins they actually have (zero, unless you consider Michigan State quality because they only lost 46-27 at Oregon). In order to have respect, a team and conference needs to earn it, and the ugly truth about the Big-10 is that it hasn’t been a dominant conference in decades, and it has been lapped by SEC, and overtaken by not only the Pac-12, but even the evicerated Big-12, which lost multiple teams to the SEC, and has seen Texas go into sharp decline in recent years. Heck even Mid-Majors like the Mountain West/WAC have performed better in recent years with UNR, Boise State, and TCU all registering impressive wins against supposedly superior conference foes that would be the envy of the Big-10, and in one case, was the Big-10 (when TCU defeated Big-10 Champ Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl in 2011).
If Ohio State fans want to know why they’ll be left out come the NCAA playoff, I have a simple answer for their fans. The Buckeyes and their conference simply isn’t good enough. Period. If you want answers, perhaps you can find them in the decline of the Rust Belt, with much of the region having been depopulated due the decline of heavy industry in this country in the seventies, and eighties and nineties, much of the population moving South, or West, or even to Texas for better opportunities. If there’s any good news, it’s that Ohio still continues to be a wellspring of NFL caliber talent, and as long as that’s so, and Ohio State has a recruiter like Urban Meyer, perhaps things might change, at least a little bit. But it’s going to take more than one coach, and one year to turn around what has been a decades long process culminating in an era of absolute futility from 2000-Present.