One of the themes of the first half of the 2016 college football season is the struggles of a number of the sport’s superpowers.
Across the country there are blue-blood programs reeling from multiple losses and coping with a season gone awry. That is not a problem in the Big Ten, where the titans of the conference are in national-title-contending form.
It’s why the Big Ten is well positioned to be the most successful conference in the country in 2016.
Ohio State and Michigan are two of the bluest of the blue bloods in college football. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh have the two rivals rolling on the field and in recruiting, ensuring they can remain among the top contenders to win titles in the sport for years to come.
This season, the Buckeyes and Wolverines are punishing opponents on both sides of the ball and appear destined for a titanic Thanksgiving weekend showdown. It’s even possible that two Big Ten teams could make the College Football Playoff, which would be a first for any conference. While they are on course after impressive starts, the same can’t be said for many of the nation’s other elite programs.
Stanford and Oregon have won the past seven Pac-12 championships, yet both are almost certainly eliminated from contention at this point with Washington rolling and both saddled with at least two losses. Southern Cal was once the standard-bearer for the conference, but the Trojans have three losses overall and plenty of recent turmoil to sort out before becoming a national power again.
Texas and Oklahoma both have at least two losses, and the Big 12 is stuck hoping upstart West Virginia or disgraced Baylor can run through the conference schedule unscathed. The conference had a rough start to the season in the nonconference, and a one-loss Big 12 champion would likely be left behind when the playoff begins.
Notre Dame, LSU and Florida State all have at least two losses. Florida and Georgia have one loss but hardly look like contenders, while Tennessee has a loss and a date with Alabama this coming weekend.
Teams like Louisville and Texas A&M could be great for college football if they somehow break through and reach the playoff, but they are both relative newcomers in their conference and don’t have the same cache as teams like Florida State or Georgia would.
Ohio State and Michigan are the types of college football brands that will draw casual sports fans to a big game. While turmoil at Texas or a power vacuum at LSU is great theater for everyone else, those conferences will be happy to see those teams rebound and return to normal.
There’s another reason for the Big Ten to relish how the first half of the season has unfolded. Nebraska has returned to the top 10 of the Associated Press poll for the first time in five years.
The Cornhuskers do not boast a better program in 2016 than Michigan State or Wisconsin, but they do have a storied history and offer plenty of name recognition. College football fans of a certain age undoubtedly remember the days of Tom Osborne’s terrific teams, and nostalgia is a powerful marketing force in this sport.
It’s not that the big-name schools should always win, but having them among the best draws more eyeballs and provides the opportunity for other teams to beat them at their best. The success at Michigan and Ohio State will also push the other programs to find ways to compete with them.
Alabama continues to look like a computer program devised to dominate college football, and Clemson is slowly finding its 2015 form. So many of the other top teams have already faltered.
The schools at the top of the Big Ten have not, and the conference is primed to reap the benefits.