I’m man enough to admit that I can’t see into the future now, and I definitely couldn’t see into the future 10 years ago.
Back in 2010, I was even worse at that. Even though that was my first year covering B1G football, I still — as you could guess — didn’t have a crystal ball. In my defense, I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted a lot of the major events that happened in the conference in the 2010s.
So let’s go back to Jan. 1, 2010. There were things that I think a lot of people would’ve predicted. Pat Fitzgerald was going to have long-term success at Northwestern, Wisconsin was going to have a billion more 1,000-yard rushers and Ohio State was going to win a whole bunch of football games.
But these are the 10 things that I had no idea were coming back on Jan. 1, 2010.
1. Urban Meyer comes to Ohio State
The only reason this happened was because of TattooGate, which obviously nobody saw coming in the beginning of 2010. It wasn’t until the end of 2010 that we found out about the suspensions to Terrelle Pryor and others. It wasn’t until later that we found out Jim Tressel lied to the NCAA and that the 2010 season would be his last.
But there’s the other side of this. Remember that 2009 was the last year of the Tim Tebow era at Florida. Heading into 2010, Meyer was leading a preseason top-5 team that ultimately finished unranked. Meyer then “retired,” which opened up the door for him to return to Ohio State after a year at ESPN. I’d be lying if I said I thought someone with multiple rings like Meyer would leave and become the B1G’s best coach of the decade.
2. Michigan State capitalizes on wide open B1G in first half of decade
While Ohio State was the B1G team of the decade, what Michigan State did to capitalize on Ohio State’s postseason ban and flux in the early part of the 2010s cannot be overlooked (Penn State was also dealing with a massive national scandal). Mark Dantonio went from a coach at a halfway decent program to top-15 seasons in 5 of the next 6 years with 4 division titles and 3 B1G crowns.
Keep in mind this was a team who entered 2010 unranked and who had 2 top-10 seasons in the previous 43 years. MSU rattled off 3 straight top-10 finishes from 2013-15. It was the perfect example of a program who everyone — myself include — thought they had figured out and it took the right coach to take it to the next level.
Also, I don’t think anyone saw Kirk Cousins becoming the NFL’s record-holder for most guaranteed money ever on a contract.
3. Nebraska joins the B1G
The Huskers made the move away from the Big 12 in June of 2010, which caught plenty of people off guard. It was a major victory for the conference to be able to add a football program like Nebraska, which was coming off a top-15 season fueled by Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh.
What that also meant was that with 12 teams, the B1G would get to have a championship game beginning in 2011. In the long run, Nebraska’s pockets benefited from the move away from the Big 12, though it’s fair to wonder if the Huskers would’ve had an easier path back to national relevance had they not made the switch.
4. And then Rutgers and Maryland follow later
These additions weren’t quite as obvious. But at a time when expansion was all the rage, it didn’t really matter to the B1G that the geographical identity of the conference was pushed aside. The benefits of Maryland were basketball and a budding athletics connection to Under Armour while Rutgers was infamously called the B1G’s in to “the New York market.”
What it did for the B1G was essentially keep pace with the SEC, which expanded to 14 teams a couple years earlier. And yes, it’s still weird that the B1G has 14 teams.
5. The division issues
“Legends and leaders” was a major punchline in the early 2010s. The division names itself were dumb, but in hindsight, they actually would line up pretty well today:
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Stick Rutgers with the Legends and Maryland with the Leaders and that’s actually not bad at all. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers gave the B1G a chance to rebrand in 2014, and what actually happened was imbalance.
We have yet to see a B1G West team win the conference championship in 5 years of the current setup. While I believe the West is better than it’s been in years past, that’s still a problem. As much as these things seem cyclical, that’s still something that cannot continue for a decade without change.
6. Joe Paterno’s fall from grace
Not to get too deep into this, but I think everyone back in 2010 saw a much more honorable fade from glory for Paterno. He was coming off a pair of top-8 seasons and even at age 83, he showed he could still hang with the nation’s elite. Remember those “come to Penn State!” commercials on Big Ten Network?
Then the Jerry Sandusky scandal happened.
It’s rare in sports that we see someone who had been so respected for so long have a fallout like that. Of all the ways for Paterno’s career to end, nobody saw him being pushed out because of a scandal. But instead, one of the biggest sports stories of the decade put Paterno’s legacy in question forever.
7. Only 1 B1G team appearing in a title game
So of the 18 teams who played for a national title in the 2010s, that 2014 Ohio State team that won it all was the B1G’s lone representation. Woof. I definitely didn’t think we’d be discussing that considering back in 2009, the B1G had 3 top-10 teams.
To me, that’s the more frustrating thing for the conference than the lone title. Meanwhile, the SEC accounted for 10 of those 18 teams. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
8. The massive success of the Big Ten Network and the TV revenue that followed
We knew that the BTN was good, but 3 years after it launched, we still didn’t realize how beneficial it was going to be. Not only was it massively ahead of the times compared to other Power 5 conferences, but it also gave the B1G important leverage in negotiating billion dollar TV rights deals.
Nobody would’ve thought that the Big Ten Network would help B1G schools rake in an annual $54 million revenue check by 2019.
Credit Jim Delany for that.
9. That Purdue paying its coach $5 million annually
Um, yeah. No chance anyone saw that coming. Danny Hope made $900,000 in base compensation with bonuses of up to $500,000 in 2010.
In 2010, Nick Saban and Mack Brown were the only coaches who made $5 million. In 2018, 13 coaches made that much, 4 of which were from the B1G. Now, Jeff Brohm will join that increasingly inclusive club.
10. Jim Harbaugh coming to Michigan … but the Wolverines can’t win the division
Speaking of coaches who make more than $5 million, go back to 2010 when Harbaugh was entering Year 4 at Stanford. It’s crazy to think that was before Harbaugh even left for the 49ers and led that team to a Super Bowl. Harbaugh to Michigan at the end of the 2010 season was a fun topic of discussion, but ultimately, he elected to go to the NFL.
Even at the time, I remember the idea of Harbaugh ever going to Michigan seeming unlikely, but that if it did happen, Michigan would return to national prominence in no time.
Well, I was wrong on both accounts. Not only did Harbaugh return home to Michigan after the 2014 season, but he hasn’t been able to lead the Wolverines to the success many thought he would. Has he still enjoyed a whole lot of success and is the program in its best position of the post-Lloyd Carr era? Absolutely.
But I didn’t foresee a Harbaugh-led Michigan team entering Year 5 without either an Ohio State victory or a division title.