Big Ten credibility has taken serious hit

Big Ten credibility has taken serious hit

Published Sep. 13, 2012 10:56 p.m. ET

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Conference credibility is at low tide right now.

The Big Ten has seldom, if ever, appeared this shabby in the eyes of the college football world. Only Michigan State is sending any shivers down the spine bones of the country’s top teams.

What the Pac-12 did to the Big Ten on Saturday was shocking.

Oregon State shut down Wisconsin, the defending conference champions with Heisman Trophy candidate tailback Montee Ball, in a 10-7 victory.

UCLA quarterback Johnathan Franklin made a name for himself by dismantling Nebraska, 36-30, in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. Sure, the Cornhuskers missed star tailback Rex Burkhead, but Ameer Abdullah stepped up to run for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and offense was not what lost the game.

Arizona State embarrassed Illinois, 45-14, just one year after losing to the Illini. Illinois didn’t have injured quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but no one player could have made up 31 points.

Those were telling blows to the pride of a conference that has experienced a tough first two weeks of the season. You can make a case that the Big Ten is the nation’s fifth-best conference right now.

I took this week’s Associated Press poll and assigned points in reverse order of ranking. So, No. 1 Alabama was worth 25 points for the Southeast Conference. And, after doing the math, the Big Ten came in fifth with 39 points based on having the No. 10 Spartans, No. 12 Buckeyes and No. 17 Wolverines.

The Southeast Conference — with LSU, Georgia and South Carolina joining the Crimson Tide in the Top 10 — was the runaway leader with 114 points in my power ranking.

Next up, was the Big 12, which earned 70.5 points with No. 5 Oklahoma (sharing that spot with Florida State) and No. 8 West Virginia showing the way.

The resurgent Pac-12 followed with 57 points, being paced by No. 2 Southern Cal and No. 4 Oregon.

Coming in fourth with 48.5 points was the Atlantic Coast Conference with the Seminoles, Clemson and Virginia Tech in the Top 13.

Hey, the Big Ten has just two wins against BCS conferences or Notre Dame. And both of those have come via Northwestern, which has beaten Syracuse and Vanderbilt.

The conference desperately needs the Spartans to beat the Fighting Irish on Saturday night, and doing so convincingly would help. The Big Ten’s national championship hopes could be all but dashed even before conference play begins should Notre Dame triumph in East Lansing.

Now, should Michigan keep winning and Denard Robinson runs up yards on quality teams and should Wisconsin and Ball do likewise with the Spartans continuing their strong start. Then, the Big Ten can once again make a viable claim to being a premier football conference.

But those are all pretty big ifs.

I asked Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio for his take on what has happened across the conference the first two weekends.

 “A lot of things can happen,” Dantonio said. “It’s very early in the season right now. I’m sure all these football teams are going to rebound and get themselves squared away, in and out of the conference. It’s just the nature of it.”

He presented the case of his own team last year as an example of an early loss not ruining a season. The Spartans lost, 31-13, at Notre Dame, but regrouped to win 11 games and a berth in the conference championship game.

Adding to the woes at this point are Ohio State and Penn State — both ineligible for postseason play. The Nittany Lions are 0-2, while the Buckeyes are 2-0 but untested. Should Ohio State return to prominence in Urban Meyer’s first season, it won’t be able to enhance the conference’s reputation in a bowl game.

The recognition is lacking for both the conference’s teams and its stars.

Big Ten teams have won 19 Heismans, but it doesn’t have a player in the top four spots of three different voter straw polls conducted by national web sites.

Spartans tailback Le’Veon Bell has dropped to fifth in both the Sports Illustrated and ESPN polls and vanished altogether from the poll. He was third in all three last week. Robinson and Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller finished seventh and tied for eighth, respectively, in the poll.

So, the Big Ten is getting only crumbs after two weeks. That’s all it deserves.

You reap what you sow, and the conference has been doing nothing but planting seeds of doubt at this point.