We living in the lowest "down period" in Big Ten history during my lifetime.
How far has the conference fallen from the 2006 UM/OSU game that pitted #1 against #2 and had the two teams BARELY miss a rematch in the National Championship game (over an SEC team no less)?
For a variety of reasons, both OSU and UM have been the best programs at recruiting talent. High quality talent is highly corelated with national titles. The two schools usually finished first and second in the B1G and around the top 10-15 nationally in recruiting. When the two teams were headed by Carr and Cooper/Tressel, they used that talent to each win national championships and keep in the top 5-10 in the rankings.
Of course, we know what happened to UM with the coaching changes and vastly different schemes. UM still pulled in talent, but the coaching may have been suspect and the transition was brutal. It now seems to be turning itself around, but it lasted long enough for UM to have some of its worst seasons ever.
As for OSU, they kept winning the B1G and even getting national respect to be placed in the NC game a couple mroe times. At least they got there and seemed like serious contenders prior to the final game. I don't think that is something you can say about any other B1G team. But now, we see the transition and struggles of sanctions and coach turnover at OSU. Their high level recruits still need to be focused and "coached up."
And in the wake of the two generally most-talented programs falling (UM four year ago and OSU this year), who has filled the power void?
How about Wisconsin, MSU and Iowa? Teams that have steady, quality coaching during the transition periods of OSU/UM. (Sorry JoePa, but you are not the PSU coach in reality.) While those teams may have won a game or two against the OSU/UM teams in the past, they have enjoyed a lot more success lately.
But, those teams are obviously limted by the talent level on their teams. None of them recruit like a national title contender. There are few to zero "differenc makers" whose athletic talent transcends the system run by the school and who are clearly better than the other players on the field. These teams seem to just bulk up the lines and plug in quality (but not dynamic in their own right) players in the skill positions. Solid football, but nothing to make any of them a threat to legitimately contend for the National Championship.
IMO, you need both top-level talent and high quality coaching to be a nationally elite team (legit top 5 at the end of the year) in any given year.
Either MSU, Wisco and Iowa have to start recruiting like national powerhouse teams or OSU and UM need to find (or matintain) steady, high-quality coaching. (I think the later is more likely than the former....and, of course, Nebraska could be a wild card in this equation).
Until that time though, a darkness has warshed over the B1G.