Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Big Ten football fans, rejoice! Conference play has arrived and you are on the road to avoiding more national scrutiny about the quality of the league.
You know the criticism of which I speak. It’s been a seemingly never-ending cascade of disparagement regarding Big Ten football, how much it has fallen off, etc. Everyone must agree the Big Ten endured a forgettable non-conference portion of the 2012 season, which included:
– Then-No. 8-ranked Michigan’s 41-14 loss to then-No. 2-ranked Alabama on Sept. 1
– Penn State’s 24-14 loss to Ohio on Sept. 1
– All three losses to Notre Dame by Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State
– Iowa’s 32-31 loss to Central Michigan
– Too many other really bad games
See, the problem with these non-conference matchups is they provide context. When Alabama trounces Michigan by 27 points, America, and particularly Southeastern Conference fans and media, can begin to quantify the gulf in talent between the SEC’s best and the Big Ten’s perceived best.
When Mid-American Conference teams barge into Big Ten country and smack Iowa and Penn State around, that provides even more quantifiable evidence of the Big Ten’s perceived inferiority.
Now, those loses and the kind of context they provide is nice for others’ banter and formulating others’ opinions about the quality (or lack of quality) of the Big Ten. It’s really just a bother for the fans and media of Big Ten, though. It’s bothersome, like a gnat or a cramp in your leg after a nice jog.
Mercifully, the non-conference schedule is over. Big Ten teams can now beat the crap out of each other and the comparisons will still come at the conference from every direction, but those comparisons will lack the inter-conference context. Heck, Ohio State football could run the table or Wisconsin or Nebraska could end the regular season with one loss. And we’ll know it’s all hollow, but no one else will.
You’ve heard the old saying that it’s safer to travel in groups. Well, the Big Ten will proceed in 2012 as a single, self-contained unit in conference play. No outside interferences like Alabama, no context-seeking MAC schools. It’s just us – the Legends and Leaders divisions. Now, it’s all about the dusty, old trophies, the ever-so-fragile reputations of the programs and all the new coaches at Big Ten schools and the, er, improvements they’ve made.
Boy, is it ever nice to be back into Big Ten play, and just in time too. Another week of losses perceived to be embarrassing by those wacky pundits and they might write this conference off altogether.
Safe and sound in conference play. Whew.