The Big Ten takes a lot of criticism from the rest of the college football world, mainly because of Ohio State’s lack of success the past two years in the BCS Title game, but year after year it is a solid conference from top to bottom. Year after year you will find a Big Ten team fighting for a National Title. So what I have decided to do was to look at the conference as a whole during this decade.
First we know that the Big Ten is not the best with numbers, they are a conference of eleven, yet still call themselves’ the Big Ten. Also, they hand out conference titles to teams tied for first place, even if there is a tie breaker for head to head. Below is the conference standings since the year 2000, with the conference titles in parentheses.
1t. Ohio State 50-14 (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007)
1t. Michigan 50-14 (2000, 2003, 2004)
3. Iowa 38-26 (2002 & 2004)
4. Wisconsin 36-28
5. Purdue 35-29 (2000)
6. Penn State 32-32 (2005)
7. Northwestern 28-36 (2000)
8. Minnesota 24-40
9. Michigan State 22-42
10. Illinois 21-43 (2001)
11. Indiana 16-48
Just looking at those standings you can see why people refer to the Big Ten as the Big 2 and the Little 9. During this decade, only one year, (2001) did not have either Ohio State or Michigan with at least a share of the title. I like to look at the Big Ten in three tiers.
First you obviously have Ohio State and Michigan. The next tier has Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Penn State. Finally, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana make up the third tier. One would argue that you could place Northwestern in the second tier, but that’s splitting hairs.
The one team that jumps out to me is Penn State. I know they had a rough start to the decade, but I did not expect to see them behind Purdue and Iowa. Nittany Lion fans believe (sometimes falsely) that they are in the same category as Michigan and Ohio State, but clearly they are not. The Big 2 are competing on a national level year in and year out. Yes, Penn State did finish #3 in the polls in 2005, but USC and/or Texas would have beaten them handily that year.
I was surprised to see Purdue with such a good conference record, mainly because I see them as a team who prey’s on the lower half and when it comes to play the stiffer competition, they fail. In the 8 years, the Boilermakers have only two seasons (05 & 07) where they finished with a sub .500 conference record.
Some other interesting statistics from this decade:
- Michigan has had at least 5 conference wins each season.
- Michigan State and Minnesota have had only one season over .500.
- There have been three teams with perfect conference records: 2002 Ohio State, 2002 Iowa, and 2006 Ohio State.
- The Buckeyes are 22-1 in the last 3 seasons.
- In 2001 & 2007 combined, Illinois is 13-3, the rest of the years combined they are 8-40.
- Indiana had one season at .500 (2001), the rest of the time the Hoosiers were below .500.
- Although ranked 4th since 2000, the Badgers have not won a conference title since 1999.
- Northwestern has more winning seasons in the Big Ten than Penn State.
- Three times this decade a team has failed to win a conference game: 2003 Illinois, 2005 Illinois, and 2007 Minnesota.
With Michigan rebuilding this season they might take a step back behind Ohio State, but they have a long way to go before they fall into that second tier. Wisconsin has a strong core back as well as Penn State, and you can never count out Iowa. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see that at the end of this decade, we will still be talking about the Big 2 and the Little 9 in the Big Ten conference.