One of the major topics of discussion at the Big Ten Media Days was regarding how the Big Ten stacks up against the other conferences in college football. It seems pretty clear that the SEC and the Big 12 are in a tier of their own right now, while the Pac 10 and ACC claim that they have an edge over the "struggling" Big Ten.
There is no doubt that the Big Ten has taken a step back in the past few years, but too much is being made of the Big Ten's struggles in the postseason. Several college football experts, including my favorite blogger Adam Rittenberg, have put the Pac-10 in front of the Big Ten. But as the great Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast my friend!"
When one thinks of the Pac-10, the juggernaut that is USC comes to mind. The powerhouse program has been dominant on the college scene for over a decade, but the depth of the Big Ten right now gives it an edge over its West Coast counterparts.
Let's take a look at the rankings. Here are the general consensus rankings for the Big Ten:
|1. Ohio State|
|2. Penn State|
|4. Michigan State|
And here is the Pac 10:
|4. Oregon State|
|5. Arizona St.|
|10. Washington St.|
I'll be the first to admit that preseason rankings don't mean much and that these are definitely up for debate. But for the sake of comparing the conferences and examining head to head matchups, we'll stick with these.
Obviously the Big Ten has one more team, which one could say adds to the argument regarding depth, but we'll compare the conferences in two ways - first by taking the Big Ten's weakest team out of the equation (Indiana) and also by taking the Big Ten's median team (Wisconsin) out.
If we take the weakest team - Indiana- out, here's how the head-to-head looks like, with the favored team in each matchup in bold.
|Michigan State||Oregon State|
The Pac-10 takes 3 out of the 4 top matchups, but the Big Ten takes 7 overall, including the final 6. Some may only want to point to the top teams when comparing conferences, but consider this: the top games will be closer than the bottom games.
In the USA Today Coaches Poll, USC is ranked No. 4 while OSU is No. 6. In the Rivals college football rankings (which I have more respect for than the Coaches Poll), Penn State is placed No. 12 and California is at No. 13, while Oregon is at No. 17 and Iowa is at No. 18. Oregon State (No. 26) and Michigan State (No. 31) are only seperated by five spots.
Illinois (No. 35) and Arizona State (No. 45) are 10 spots away from each other, while Michigan (No. 46), Wisconsin (No. 49), and Minnesota (No. 51) are all ranked higher than the Pac-10's next best team - Stanford (No. 54).
This may be skewed a bit since these are all just the opinions of Rivals.com, but there is no denying the difference in depth between the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. Washington and Washington St. are worse than any team in the Big Ten, and while the Pac-10 had more teams ranked in the Coaches Poll (4) than the Big Ten (3), the Big Ten also had six teams receive votes (Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Minnesota), while the Pac-10 had just two (UCLA, Arizona).
Of course, polls are just polls, but let's take the a look at the head-to-head matchups if we take out the Big Ten's median team (Wisconsin).
|Michigan State||Oregon State|
Even if Wisconsin is taken out, the results don't change, showing the strength of the Big Ten's depth. Of course, having better "weaker" teams than another conference may be like saying you're the thinnest kid at fat camp, but this still is worthy of being considered. There isn't too much disparity amongst the top teams, although a slight nod should be given to the Pac-10, but the Big Ten's much stronger depth should make it the stronger conference.
And even when comparing bowls, it should be noted that the Big Ten is consistently represented by two schools in the BCS, while Pac-10 usually only has one - USC.
And there is no question that the Big Ten's depth can - and will - get better. The Michigan of today is immeasurably worse than the Michigan of yesterday, while Rich Rodriguez's recruiting and new system may have the Wolverines back on top of the collegiate rankings very soon. On top of bringing Michigan back as a powerhouse program, the Big Ten also has Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin close to becoming consistently successful programs.
So not so fast my friends, the Pac-10 takes a backseat to the Big Ten, and it better get comfortable.