Fun fact: The Big Ten West — the pundits’ piñata, the League of Redheaded Stepchildren, the Wales-Portugal side of the Euro 2016 bracket — actually picked up as many victories last fall over teams in stat guru Ken Massey’s Top 40 as the entire Atlantic Coast Conference (13).
Another nugget: Since the summer of 2014, the Big Ten West actually has a better winning percentage in bowl games (4-6, .400) than the Big 12 (5-9, .357) or the ACC (8-13, .381).
And yet the narrative persists, because the narrative is easy and obvious. That and the fact that Buckeyes 59, Badgers 0 at the 2014 Big Ten Championship game is still tattooed to the back of everyone’s skull. Whether you love or loathe Urban Meyer, when it comes to the biggest stages and the largest stakes, the man doesn’t mess around. His teams leave a mark.
But what the heck: We’ll go out on a limb here, splinters and all. The problem with the Big Ten West and national perception — which is, to say, that it’s a bit of an afterthought, the flyover’s flyover — isn’t necessarily the Big Ten West.
It’s the guys on the other side of the fence. The ones with the swimming pool and the bounce house in the backyard and the boat parked out front.
The quandary of geographic sense in Big Ten’s football divisional alignment, instituted two years earlier as the league added Maryland and Rutgers and planted flags up and down the eastern seaboard, is that it makes utter competitive nonsense.
Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State – all storied solo acts in their own right – are now joined as one East Division collective.
Together, you’re The Black Keys.
Together, they’re The Beatles.
You rock. Historically, they roll.
Which isn’t to say, microphone in hand, that you can’t kick out the jams with the biggest and baddest on the bandstand. The average Massey national rank for a Big Ten West team at the end of 2015 was 47.3, nearly a seven-slot jump over the 53.7 of the year before and better than the collective averages (again) posted by the entire Big 12 (49.6) and ACC (54.9) — and well within shouting distance of the Pac-12 (44.4).
The Big Ten East: 42.8.
They have Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio, and you don’t. The bounce house don’t lie.
That’s the thing about perceptions, especially between the hashmarks: The good ones are hard to keep, and the bad ones are an absolute beast to shake.
The book says the West has the stronger casseroles, the East has the brighter star power. If you want to change that, either hire Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick or win. A lot. Because the memo for fixing what ails the Big Ten West on the P.R. front invariably starts with a fairly predictable set of stanzas:
- Win the Big Ten title game.
- Win the Big Ten title game in a crazy memorable way.
- Repeat Step One for four or five straight years.
- Beat the SEC at every conceivable opportunity.
- Beat Nick Saban or have him diss you in a crazy memorable way.
- Beat Urban Meyer (diss optional)
- Beat Jim Harbaugh or have him diss you in a crazy memorable way.
The beauty of Delanyville is that every argument, no matter the nuances, can usually be won by simply pointing to the trophy case, assuming a scoreboard isn’t handy.
But if that doesn’t work, and it should, try mentioning this: Over the past two seasons, the Big Ten East, Diana Ross to the Big Ten West’s Supremes, has picked up 17 wins over Massey Top 40 programs.
The Redheaded Stepchildren, if you’re curious, managed to grab 20.