There is an air of inevitability in the Big Ten now, and that is unfortunate
Just a few weeks ago, I was extremely excited about the possibilities in the Big Ten. I thought the conference had as good of a 2-bid possibility for the College Football Playoff as any conference. I genuinely thought the B1G was up for grabs. I didn’t know which of the 4 top-10 squads in the East would emerge, and I thought the West would have a legit CFP contender in Iowa.
Finally, this conference was more than just Ohio State.
But that optimism and excitement didn’t last. As the B1G stands heading into Week 9, I fear this season is starting to look almost exactly like the last few. Mainly, there is Ohio State and everyone else.
Not that I have anything against Ohio State. The No. 5 Buckeyes (6-1) are loads of fun, especially offensively. I find myself gasping watching some of these throws from CJ Stroud and these runs from TreVeyon Henderson. And they are an excellent representative of the conference on the national stage. But it’s always fun to see another team break through, because it’s a brand new experience for that program and fan base.
That feels like less and less of a possibility now. Sure, No. 6 Michigan (7-0) and No. 8 Michigan State (7-0) battle this weekend, but neither looks presently equipped to slay the monster that is the Buckeyes, who have taken it to another level with an offense that may be the best they’ve ever had (which is saying something).
The reason I bring this up is because Ohio State has won the last 4 Big Ten titles, and the last 2 felt inevitable with Justin Fields leading the way, so most figured this was the year to get the Buckeyes, as they had a redshirt freshman starting at QB. Then, the defensive struggles from last year carried over to the start of this season, leading to a home loss to an undermanned Oregon squad. The last 4 weeks, though, Ohio State is averaging a blistering 8.7 yards per play and has scored at least 52 points in each game. The defense is allowing only 3.8 yards per play the last 4 games after yielding 6.1 the first 3 weeks.
In summation, Ohio State has figured it out.
While that was happening, a few of the B1G’s contenders hit some road bumps.
It was a big deal a few weeks ago when Iowa hosted Penn State for the first top-5 matchup involving B1G teams that didn’t include Ohio State since 1997. But the next week, Iowa lost at home to unranked Purdue, and Penn State lost at home to unranked Illinois. Michigan State has skated by against Nebraska and Indiana, winning by a combined 8 points while gaining a total of 495 yards (which coincidentally is the offensive output by Ohio State in its worst offensive game of the year, the season opener at Minnesota). Michigan isn’t flashy and has a game manager at QB, which isn’t going to scare Ohio State one bit.
Out West, this could be the second time in 4 years that the division champion lost to a MAC program if Minnesota, currently tied for first with Iowa, can pull it out. That doesn’t speak well of the conference when you can lose to a MAC program and still play in the conference championship game. And unless Iowa makes significant strides offensively, it’s hard to envision it as a real CFP contender, even if it does win the West. It’ll be more of the same from the last few years when Northwestern played Ohio State in Indy.
The Big Ten is the No. 2 conference in college football, but it won’t even be in the same ballpark, much less the same conversation, as the SEC until it has a few programs that can be relevant nationally in addition to Ohio State.
If Georgia wins it all, that would be 3 SEC programs in 3 years with a national title. The Big Ten still has had just 2 teams in the CFP (Michigan State in 2015 is the other), and Ohio State is the only B1G team to actually score a point in the CFP.
The talent gap has increased the last few years, as Ryan Day has been incredibly impressive on the recruiting trail. Stroud and Henderson are only going to be even more difficult to contend with in the coming years, especially with all the talent that is waiting in the wings.
That’s why this was the year for the rest of the conference.
I hope Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa prove me wrong, I really do. That would be tremendous theatre. But I fear that Ohio State running away with the conference for a fifth straight season is almost assured.