Justify Your Existence, Big Ten Comment Count

Brian January 15th, 2009 at 11:49 AM

It's January, which mean's it's time for the Big Ten's annual attempt to justify its existence after a dismal bowl season. In retrospect, everyone rooting for Oregon to beat Oregon State was asking for it, no? The Big Ten's image this offseason would be much, much better if these were the matchups:

  1. Penn State-Oregon State
  2. Ohio State-Georgia
  3. Michigan State-South Carolina
  4. Iowa-Missouri

and so forth and so on. That looks like 3-1 at least.

Anyway, Dan Pompei has an article in the Sun Times describing the attractiveness of the Big Ten to NFL scouts:

In the last five drafts, 166 Big Ten players were chosen, third highest among conferences. The SEC led the way with 192 players, followed by the ACC with 176. The Pac-10 had 157 while the Big 12 had 143.

If you break it down to first-rounders, the Big Ten also fared pretty well. The conference has had 28 such players in the last five drafts, including one chosen first overall— Jake Long of Michigan by Miami last year. Only the ACC (39) and the SEC (37) have had more first-rounders. The Big 12 and Pac-10 each had 17.

It drives me crazy that the Sun-Times didn't take the simple step of dividing, but I guess that's what I'm here for. Setting aside the silly "most Super Bowl starters" metric, your numbers per team for each conference listed:

Conference Drafted 1st Rd NFL
Big Ten 15.1 1.9 56.6
SEC 16.0 2.3 58.4
ACC 14.7 2.7 42.5
Pac-10 15.7 1.1 61.9
Big 12 11.9 1.4 49.1

The Pac-10 looks much better once you adjust for the fact that there are, you know, ten teams in it, not twelve.

Despite Pompei's angle here, There is some evidence of a talent drought. The NFL starters metric is a lagging indicator that no doubt picks up on the fact the ACC was utterly horrible for the duration of the 90s, and in the other metrics the Big Ten is third or fourth of five conferences. The gap isn't large, but when you combine it with the other problems the Big Ten is up against you get a deck stacked against Big Ten bowl success.


  • The games are all on the road. This is just true. Except for the who-cares Motor City Bowl, every Big Ten bowl game is either sort of a road game or absolutely a road game.
  • USC manages to blow it once a year. Playing USC every year of late in the Rose Bowl has not been good for the league's reputation.
  • The Big Ten gets the most attention and has the "best" matchups. The Big Ten's #3 team this year played Georgia. The Pac-10's #3 team goes to the Sun Bowl, where they take on Pittsburgh or South Florida or something.

    The Big Ten plays one game against the nation's most top-heavy conference, the Pac-10, and gets its champion. They play two games against the nation's deepest conference, the SEC, and get that #3/#4 place where the SEC has an advantage over others.

  • Michigan and Penn State were (are) not run with high energy. (Ohio State's BCS record under Tressel is not bad overall.) Two of the flagship programs in the league aren't performing on a regular basis. In Michigan's case, Lloyd Carr's energy flagged as he neared retirement and the Rich Rodriguez transition went less than smoothly. Joe Paterno, meanwhile, is a powerless figurehead occupying one of Penn State's precious slots for a coach that actually talks to his team and allowing the continued employment of his obviously-incompetent son. Both teams have been wildly variable of late and poor in bowls.

All that's quite a hurdle to overcome, though it's not enough to excuse the Big Ten's recently dismal record. In the near future, when Michigan is not a disaster zone and Joe Paterno finally shuffles off to eat brains in peace and quiet, things should improve. The Big Ten can't have two of its high-ceiling programs perform erratically and keep up with the rest of the country.


The Nicker

January 15th, 2009 at 12:20 PM ^

"All that's quite a hurdle to overcome, though it's not enough to excuse the Big Ten's recently dismal record."

This is all that need be read to understand the status of Big 10 football currently. These things are cyclical, but by any metric the Big 10 is DOWN right now.

I mean, think of how many Big 10 teams lost to MAC teams this year, and the MAC looked like worst conference in the country during bowl season.


January 15th, 2009 at 12:28 PM ^

penn state is 3 for 4 in their last set of bowls. I can't really agree with the notion that they don't bring it during the holidays. Joe Pa has the most bowl wins of any coach in history...yadda yadda yadda, age, all that


January 15th, 2009 at 12:52 PM ^

The Big Ten needs to have their season end in early December. Sprinkle some bye weeks in there if need be. The teams will be better rested, probably not as beat up, nor as rusty for their bowl games. Lloyd seemed almost moved to tears by the fact that the kids are done by Thankgiving so they could go home and eat turkey with their family. Whatevs, but FINE! Make Thanksgiving week a bye week for every team every year. Come back rested and better prepared to kick ass the last 1 or 2 games of the season against, in many cases, your archrival (M/OSU, Pur/Ind, NW/ILL, Iowa/Minn, etc.)

Other Andrew

January 15th, 2009 at 1:09 PM ^

One can argue that even though the team has to travel, half the stadium is Big Ten fans, so it shouldn't matter anyway. However, it matters a lot because of the types of fans that can afford to actually be in the stadium (particularly in this era of economic uncertainty yadda). When LSU plays the Sugar Bowl, any insanely hollerin' fan who can get his hands on tickets can easily attend, let the bourbon wear off during the game, drive home and sleep in their bed. The Penn State fans at the Rose Bowl all required the necessary necessary means to get their asses out to LA. The more wealthy people just aren't going to compete with the average fans in terms of noise and support.

The FedEx Championship game was a prime example. In the 3rd quarter when both teams had momentum swings, you could barely hear any Oklahoma cheering over the TV, but whenever Florida did something good, it was like Fox had invited a dozen mullet-headed yokels into your living room. So it does matter.

When Missouri plays Northwestern in San Antonio, it's a wash.

The Big Ten used to win more bowl games. That the conference has been down the last two years is plainly obvious. The bigger question is, what does it need to do to bounce back? Uhhhh, Michigan is the most crucial player in this debate, actually.


January 15th, 2009 at 1:22 PM ^

I don't know if this is as big of a deal for the bowl games. Certainly, the Big Ten team will always have fewer fans at the game when, for example, playing USC in the Rose Bowl. But for the most part, Big Ten teams manage to bring enough fans so that this disadvantage is not significant. Yes, if it's 1/4 Big Ten fans, 3/4 other team, it'll be louder for the other team, but not enough to make it a worthwhile excuse for a loss. However, I think this is a big issue when proposing playoffs played at bowl sites. I really doubt a significant number of fans would be able to make road trips to the Citrus Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Rose Bowl three weeks in a row. Especially if fans of the opposing team can wake up at home and drive to the game.

Other Andrew

January 16th, 2009 at 6:38 AM ^

I wasn't saying it was my argument, but there are certainly many who make it.

My point was that even if you take that argument at face value, the types of fans that can afford to travel are different. So, let's assume it's 75/25 (definitely NOT the case for the only Rose Bowl I've been to, but Washington State had far to travel, too). On top of having a #s advantage, they also have a, I dunno what to call it - passion advantage? Because the drunken yokels (yes, they have them at USC, too, though in fewer numbers) can actually go to the game.


January 15th, 2009 at 1:27 PM ^

Don't a substantial percentage of the top-shelf players at Oregon, Washington, ASU, etc. come from California? Or Samoa?

All the excuses of venue, distance, time off, etc are lame. Once upon a time, the B10 regularly whipped the P-10/P-8's ass in Rose Bowls. Plate tectonics notwithstanding, I think the distance between the Midwest and Pasadena hasn't changed much.

It's talent pure and simple, as a byproduct of population changes. California is the source for a large share of the P10's top talent, and CA's population mushroomed from the 50s through the 90s. By contrast, many of the Midwest's largest cities have been losing population during that time. Large swaths of the rural Midwest are becoming literally empty of people.


January 15th, 2009 at 2:02 PM ^

I also thought this was a pretty good point. Not only has California seen its population skyrocket over the last couple decades, but more recently the populations of its nearest neighbors, AZ and NV have risen quickly as well, and although they aren't hotbeds, they have given SC (among other Pac 10 schools) some big recruits in the past.


January 15th, 2009 at 3:35 PM ^

It pretty much defines the nation's eastern half of the sunbelt. The sunbelt has experienced the largest amount of population growth in the country, from CA in the west to TX in the middle to Florida in the east.

If one region has more people than another region, and the more populous region loves football, then it's going to produce a greater number of talented football players than the other. It's not rocket science.

Does population explain or determine everything in football? Of course not; Michigan did beat Florida not too long ago. However, pretending that
demographics doesn't matter is like pretending that gravity doesn't exist.

Tim Waymen

January 15th, 2009 at 1:47 PM ^

The Big 10 is a basketball conference right now, and a really good one at that. In fact, I think that it will be one of the better conferences in D-I. Better than the Big East and ACC? That will take a while, but for now it will be a very tough conference.

Football needs some work. At least Michigan should be better in coming years, OSU's recruiting is as good as ever, and Penn St has had two great seasons recently. The rest? All of the other schools have recently had successful seasons that were improvements over prior ones (Wisco 12-1 in 06, Indiana reaching a bowl game, Purdue going to the Rose Bowl, Illinois 9-4, etc.), but it's hard to tell if they can consistently maintain the success that they've had and continue to be decent. Northwestern and Iowa had really good seasons this year, but will they go the way of Illinois and Wisconsin from this past season? Iowa has already shown that it can be quite inconsistent. Plus, the Big 10's performance in bowl games and especially BCS games has been pretty awful lately.

Durham Blue

January 15th, 2009 at 2:10 PM ^

Michigan's and PSU's losses to USC in the Rose Bowl recent years has little to do with location IMO. It has everything to do with the fact that USC is simply more talented right now. And Pete Carroll has a knack of amp'ing his guys up to 'balls out' levels in their bowl game. It's why he is considered by many to be the best coach in college football.

Tha Stunna

January 15th, 2009 at 4:38 PM ^

I get most of the points, but only Michigan has been poor in bowls over the last 5 years (one tossup loss, two upset losses, one upset win, one aargh where's my bowl). Penn State has a BCS win, two regular wins (one of them a notable upset over Tennessee), and one 14 point loss, which matches what Michigan has done and is equal to or better than Ohio State's record over the two championship games.

It's a mistake to say that Penn State has been down, when calling it one of the three powers in the Big Ten would have been stupid in 2004 and an exaggeration in 2005-2007. JoePa has made a fair amount of coaching mistakes, but over the past 4 years he's done well.

Hell, even from 2004 on Penn State has been about equal to Michigan. 2003 on back is the part where Michigan pulls ahead.

Enjoy Life

January 15th, 2009 at 5:06 PM ^

Let's see, you are a 17-18 year old. You could go play football in a location that is sunny, warm, with co-eds in bikinis OR cloudy, cold, and co-eds in 3 layers of coats!!

Plus, it is a lot easier to use wide open passing offenses when you don't have to deal with snow, cold rain, etc.


January 15th, 2009 at 9:00 PM ^

The population argument is overblown. Pennsylvania (12.5 million), Illinois (12.5M), Ohio (11.5M) and Michigan (10M) are the nation's fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-most populous states, respectively. Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin each have over five million residents themselves. Only Iowa is really a small state. Yes, the rate of population growth in the region is lower than elsewhere, but that doesn't change the fact that it is still pretty densely-populated. I think the conference's problems have a lot more to do with outdated mentalities, notably (as Brian points out) among the conference powers.


January 15th, 2009 at 9:35 PM ^

This topic has come up before, and I think Brian encapsulated the arguments pretty succinctly. The Big 10 is down, at least in part, because the top teams have been down, or at the very least there has not been as much depth across the board. It used to be that even when OSU and UM were dominating the conference, teams like Wisconsin, Purdue, and Iowa were always nipping at their heels, top-25 teams with decent talent who could go 10-2 or 9-3 most seasons. This year - MSU was the #3 team in the conference by record, yet was absolutely destroyed whenever they played a halfway-decent team. That's just not good for the conference, and that has been the case for a few years now.

I do think people are overlooking the bowl matchups, but as I stated in an earlier diary I don't really think the bowls mean much. It's all about goofy matchups across conferences, where the #2 Pac-10 team plays the #3 team in the Big 12 30+ days after either of them stepped on a football field. It's an exhibition game with a corporate sponsor, so people really shouldn't read much into it. If you look at the out-of-conference for each conference (except for the bowl games), you'll see that the Big 10 is consistently the second or third best conference out there, and while that may be an incomplete snapshot on each conference's strength, it certainly is better than just bowl records.

As for population - sure, it probably helps the Pac-10 that they can recruit such a fertile state such as California, but football has been a national (some would global) sport for decades now, and while I agree that some kids probably don't like the weather found in the north, the elite programs don't seem to have too tough of a problem recruiting kids. Sure, USC can bowl kids over with beautiful weather, attractive co-eds, and $25k suits, but OSU and UM have their own recruiting "tricks" that have blown up in their faces, and so the playing field is not nearly as stacked against certain teams as some people want to believe. I do believe that certain conferences benefit from more lax academic standards than others (looking at you, SEC and Big 12), but not to a significant enough degree as to fundamentally alter recruiting.

Honestly, the reason the Big 10 is down is because the teams at the top have been mediocre in big games despite having a great deal of talent. Call it bad matchups, call it bad luck, or call it mediocrity, but UM and OSU have laid eggs during many of their more recent "big games", and for the vast majority of people that is the only interaction they have with the Big 10. It's kind of like how most peoples' interactions with the SEC are during the bowl season and those in-game look-ins on ESPN when idiots on both sides start fighting because someone stepped on someone else's logo. The Big 10 is down NOW, but rest assured it will be at the top sometime soon.


January 16th, 2009 at 6:52 AM ^

I'm not buying any of these wimpy excuses. Win on the field. The rest is just crybaby stuff. Can you imagine Bo saying any of this mush mouth trash? Never ever. Win or shut up.


January 16th, 2009 at 11:45 AM ^

Bo used those excuses all the time.

He cited home field edge and the fact that osu/um beat up on each other so hard as the primary reasons the league and um/osu in particular fared so poorly in the rose bowl.

And, he frequently said the midwest players got caught up in the sunny weather and beaches whereas its business as usual for the kids and usc and ucla.

To denigrate any of the analysis here by saying Bo would never use those excuses is a little ridiculous.

Say, how is ND gonna do against the Orange tomorrow?


January 16th, 2009 at 1:04 PM ^

For the shot. Wont happen again.

But, Bo did use those excuses, despite your assertions that he never ever would.

I dont see how folks here using the same excuses/analysis to explain the bowl failures are somehow pissing on his legacy as you suggest.

Frankly the Big 10 teams aren't good enough right now to overcome some of the built in disadvantges they have going into certain bowl games.

But, those disadvantages do exist and Bo recognized them and spoke out about them often. These are not new arguments.


January 16th, 2009 at 1:59 PM ^

While I agree people should not be using "wimpy excuses" to explain away the Big 10's recent struggles during the bowl season, but to pull the whole "walk it off" "win or go home" mentality without considering the context many of these games are played in doesn't help either. Let's take the Rose Bowl as an example. USC has played in 33 Rose Bowls (won 24), 13 more than the next closest team (UM), and a whopping 19 times more than the next closest Pac-10 team (Wash.). And since the game is ALWAYS played in USC's home stadium, I think a reasonable person could conclude that it certainly doesn't hurt the Pac-10/USC when it comes to the matchup. So to me, that looks like the Big 10 has more of a problem with USC than the entire Pac-10, especially recently. While that doesn't excuse the Big 10 for all of its failings, it does show that maybe, possibly, the field is not completely level for this matchup. If the Rose Bowl was played in Chicago/Detroit/Pittsburgh every couple of years, and the Pac-10 teams still won, then I'd agree more with your sentiment. It's not an excuse to say that it helps certain teams to play a couple hundred miles away from their homes, with far more fans in the stands than the opposition, as compared to other schools. That's why home-field advantage is so beneficial in most sports - when teams are pretty close in talent, having the extra energy the crowd and familiarity provides may make all the difference between winning and losing.