Some narratives die quietly, and others have to be clubbed repeatedly with a giant stick before they go the hell away. Last Saturday, Big Ten schools picked up the same number of wins over schools from peer Power 5 conferences — four, and that’s not even counting Michigan State’s mugging of Notre Dame in South Bend — as they’d managed over an entire season in 2007 and 2008.
The beast is back. And not just back — it’s taking names. Big names. Marquee names. Oklahoma. Oregon. LSU. The Irish.
“From a conference perspective, it looks like they’re all kind of getting in the picture,” ESPN analyst Anthony Becht told Landof10.com Monday. “And they’re going to be the showcase conference.
“You look at the teams they’re playing and the teams they’ve beaten, what they’re collectively doing, there’s four or five special teams in the Big Ten, every week.”
And what the heck? Embrace the special. The Big Ten makes up four of the top 11 spots in the latest Associated Press Poll, with Ohio State (No. 2) chasing Alabama’s heels at the top. On Kenneth Massey’s comprehensive ratings compilation page, a Big Ten school accounts for four of the top 12 slots nationally — the Buckeyes sit at No. 2; Michigan, No. 6; Wisconsin, No. 11; Michigan State, No. 12 — and five of the top 20 (Nebraska, No. 19).
“You know, it always comes down to the Power 5 games,” Becht continued. “Outside of Iowa, which is a good team that got caught (by North Dakota State), it was a good week. You got wins pretty much across the board with Notre Dame, the Big 12 and the Pac-12. So, yeah, for sure, when you talk about it and when you look at the big picture as one of those College Football Playoff guys that are looking over where the games were played and who have you beaten, for sure, that’s definitely going to be big.”
What does it mean? On one hand, it’s early, still. On the other, barely 20 days into the season, the Big Ten has already staked a flag in Norman, Okla., South Bend, Ind., and Green Bay, Wis.
Ohio State took 16 first-year starters to a Big 12 power and won. Comfortably. Michigan State and Wisconsin both tested first-time No. 1s at quarterback away from home, and walked off clutching the spoils. After three weekends, the Big Ten is 7-3 (.700) against Power 5 peers and 1-0 against the SEC thanks to the Badgers’ victory over the Tigers at Lambeau Field.
And if that feels like a stark contrast, that’s because it is: Over the previous 10 seasons, Big Ten schools were 69-99 against Power 5 brethren (.417) and 16-28 (.363) against the SEC. The league’s seven Power 5 wins match the season-long tallies of 2013 and 2010 and already top the victory count in ’12 (five), ’09 (six), ’08 (four), ’07 (four) and ’06 (five).
“You know, you don’t really form an identity on a football team until midyear and then you finish it out,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio told reporters on a conference call Sunday night.
“That’s my opinion. You finish it out at the end of the year and at the end of November and figure out who you were. We’ve always said that here and so we’re not jumping to any conclusions. I just think we played very well and respect how our guys played. We competed.”
What does it mean? Great weekend, Iowa City notwithstanding. Outstanding weekend.
Long way to go.
“That’s a coach’s perspective,” Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo chuckled as he recalled Dantonio’s take. “The fans’ perspective is to jump to conclusions. And everyone talks about it, and the world spins on its axis.”
It’s just spinning a little faster now in Madison. And even faster in Columbus and East Lansing and Ann Arbor. Experts are starting to ponder if the Big Ten could place not just one, but two, teams in the College Football Playoff once the dust finally settles. The conference is seven up, three down against peer schools after failing to post a winning record against the Power 5 in any season from 2006-2015. The closest it came to the .500 mark was last fall (12-13, .480).
What does it mean? Ask us in eight weeks.
“When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech (in September 2014), the Big Ten was ‘dead,’ ” DiNardo said. “And they wound up winning the national championship.”
Fair point. Embrace the moment. Flaunt it, even. But in the brave new world of the CFP, the bottom line isn’t necessarily how you start. It’s how you finish.