The Big Ten is back.
Oh, you haven't heard? Its return wasn't exactly front-page news this offseason. The Conference That Rules The World (and acts like it) was last seen trying to claim a national championship in basketball (with Illinois).
|Drew Tate is part of a powerhouse crew of Big Ten QBs. (Getty Images)|
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, that's all the league has taken in the BCS title game. Seven years, one BCS championship berth for the Large Eleven. That's tied with the Pac-10 for fewest championship berths (out of 14) in the BCS era. And essentially USC broke the tie in favor of the Left Coast by winning two consecutive titles, one of them by beating Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten wasn't Conference USA bad over the past few years, it just wasn't itself. The best recruits were looking elsewhere. The league's current five-year Heisman drought is its longest since 1991, when Michigan's Desmond Howard broke a 15-year streak of the Big Ten not winning a Stiff Arm.
From 1998 through 2003, Ohio State and Wisconsin had a combined 12 consensus All-Americans. That's as many as the rest of the league had combined. Michigan had only two.
It can be argued the two franchise programs did not pull their weight. Take away Ohio State's 2002 championship, and the Buckeyes and Wolverines have averaged an astonishing 3½ losses since the 1999 season started.
And while 2004 marked the sixth consecutive season with at least six Big Ten bowl teams, postseason success has been spotty. Since 2000, the league is a 15-18 in bowls. It hasn't won the Rose Bowl since 1999. (OK, OK, so the BCS system didn't allow the Pac-10-Big Ten matchup in 2001 and 2002).
Don't even get us started on the decline of Penn State and the messy Maurice Clarett situation.
Enough bad news. As we said, an offseason headline you might have missed (or never read) was the Big Ten's return to prominence.
- Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan all should start in the preseason top 10. Iowa just completed the best three-year run in its history (31-7). Ohio State has its best team since the 2002 championship. Last year's co-champ (with Iowa) Michigan might have the final say when it plays host to Ohio State on Nov. 19.