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Ivey: Don’t call the Big Ten dead

| Thursday, September 24, 2015

The latest Top-25 college football rankings came out Sunday and there were a number of big changes.

The SEC went from ten ranked teams to six, Ole Miss skyrocketed from No. 15 to No. 3 and Alabama plummeted from No. 2 to No. 12 after the Rebels defeated the Tide. Stanford jumped from unranked to No. 21 after its impressive win over USC, which fell from No. 6 to No. 19.

But perhaps the biggest surprise — one that might have gone unnoticed — was at the very top of the poll: two Big Ten teams, Ohio State and Michigan State, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country, respectively.

It is the first time since 2006 two Big Ten teams hold the top two spots in the standings. The two teams back then were rivals Ohio State and Michigan, and they actually played against each other as the top two teams in the country on the final week of that season. In what became a classic game, the Buckeyes won 42-39 and secured a spot in the national championship game, which they lost to current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Florida.

The Big Ten I grew up watching was the best: hard-hitting, old-fashioned football. Every game was entertaining. Coaches like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, Lloyd Carr and Barry Alvarez roamed the sidelines and led their teams into battle. There was something different about Big Ten football. As it got later into the season, the weather would get colder and the games would get more physical. The games got closer and more exciting. It was the best type of football.

But that all started to change after the 2010 season. Nebraska joined the conference from the Big 12 Conference in 2011. The teams in the Big Ten were split into two divisions and the winners of those divisions played each other in the conference title game. The conference had never had a title game before that season.

In that same offseason, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel resigned because of an NCAA investigation into his players selling autographs for tattoos. Then, during the season, the infamous Sandusky scandal broke at Penn State, leading to the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno.

The 2012 Big Ten looked vastly different that it had just two years prior. Urban Mayer was now the head coach at Ohio State, and Bill O’Brien replaced Paterno at Penn State.

The best teams in the conference — Ohio State and Penn State — couldn’t compete in bowl games due to sanctions from their scandals. A 7-5 Wisconsin team ended up playing in and winning the Big Ten championship game and going to the Rose Bowl. It was a sign of how weak the conference had become. Some even called the conference dead.

The next year was a little better. There were only two good teams in the conference, Michigan State and Ohio State, and they ended up playing in the conference championship game. The Spartans beat the previously-undefeated Buckeyes, 34-24, actually preventing the Big Ten from sending a team to the national championship game that year.

In the 2014 season, the conference welcomed two unlikely programs, Rutgers and Maryland, as its newest members. Ohio State and Michigan State were once again expected to be the two best teams in the conference.

But they both lost in Week 2, and many people said the Big Ten was doomed from getting a team into the first-ever college football playoff.

But Ohio State went on an unanticipated run the rest of the season, finishing the regular season 11-1. After sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett was injured in the final regular season game, sophomore Cardale Jones stepped in and led the Buckeyes to a surprise playoff berth and a National Championship. A couple weeks before that, former NFL head coach Jim Harbaugh was announced as the new head coach of Michigan, his alma mater. The Big Ten was back on the rise.

This season, Ohio State started the year with the No. 1 ranking and Michigan State started inside the top five. They now have the top-two spots and can meet as the top two teams in the country later this season when Michigan State visits Columbus on Nov. 21st. Michigan is slowly starting to look like its old self again under Jim Harbaugh, and teams like Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa have gotten off to decent starts to the season.

Don’t call the Big Ten dead anymore. It’s very much alive and well.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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