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The Day the Big Ten Died: Part 3

On September 6th, 2014 13 Big Ten Teams entered non-conference play. 6 teams lost while 4 barely escaped with their lives. When the day began Five Power Conferences entered the fray but only four returned. This is the day the Big Ten Died. How did this happen, how did it come to this and how do we move forward?

Ed Zurga

And now we get to the end. We know what happened on September 6th, 2014 and we know how we got there, but what we don't know is where do we go from here? Has the Big Ten truly reached bottom? Will it ever recover or will it fade into the black like the old Big East? Will the MAC become a power conference? The answers are complicated, but for me they are at least optimistic. The Big Ten may well have reached bottom 16 days ago, but if the 14 teams follow the next few steps the conference will soon find itself back on top. And there is good news sports fans, a few of these teams have already started.

Three Steps to Greatness

1. Stop playing the SEC's game
Look as Big Ten fans we need to face some facts that will never change. No fan, coach, or player will ever want to go to the Midwest in January over the South. No channel, network or radio broadcast will ever want to cover a 6-3 slug-fest played in 4 feet of snow over a 45-38 shootout highlighted by cheerleaders dancing in the California sun. And nobody will ever pay hard earned money to take a vacation to a frozen tundra over a sunbathed paradise. This is life in the Big Ten and that will never change. The conference plays a hard, cold type of football not liked in other states. It's bad for getting Bowl Games but good for character.

So no more whining about Bowl Games being not really being in "neutral" sites, there is really nothing you can do. However, you can control the non-conference schedule. This is where the Big Ten must stay strong and not play the SEC's game. If you want to play Alabama but they want you to come to Tuscaloosa and a "neutral" site in Dallas tell them know. Home and Home or no dice. The best way to be the best is to beat the best and its a lot easier to beat the best in East Lansing or Columbus than Tuscaloosa or Death Valley. If they won't come North, don't go South. Oregon has shown that big schools will do Home and Home's, if the SEC won't do the same, leave them behind.

2. Get (and keep) some elite coaches
I covered this in explicit detail in Part 2 but the gist is that the Big Ten doesn't have the coaching talent to go toe-to-toe with a conference like the SEC. So Step 2 is simple, go out and find some elite coaching. Fortunately the Big Ten is on its way to reaches the glory days of the early 2000's (Carr, Tressel, Paterno, Alvarez to name a few) but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Big Ten has two clear elite coaches in rivals Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer and each show how a school can get an elite coach. Smaller name schools need to go out and find unproven talent (like Dantonio in 2007) and hope they blossom into an elite talent, which big name schools can go out and get proven talent (like Meyer in 2012) through school name, influence and cold hard cash. Of course for every success story there are two failures. Michigan can actually lay claim to both having spent big money to bring in proven talent (Rich Rod) before spending big money to bring in the next thing in (Brady Hoke) and neither of which have really worked out. The Big Ten needs to hit on its coaching moves to close the gap on the SEC.

Fortunately at least two schools seem to be on their way. Penn State is following Ohio State on a smaller scale by bringing in proven ex-SEC coach James Franklin while Wisconsin has followed MSU by handing the reigns to the unproven Gary Andersen. So far the results have been good, but the wins have overshadowed the underlying problem. Franklin and Anderson where only brought in to replace O'Brien and Bielema who left the Big Ten for better fortunes in the SEC and the NFL. Even so, Penn State and Wisconsin seem to be on the right track. If even a few schools (cough, Michigan, cough Harbaugh, cough cough) can find similar success throughout the conference the Big Ten will have the coaches to go toe-to-toe with the other conferences in no time.

The last one is the simplest and also the hardest. No matter how games you get at home, coaches you hire or talent you bring in you still have to go out and win on Saturday. Like I said in Step 1 the important games in January will always be played in SEC and PAC12 territory, it's just a part of life. At some point the Big Ten needs to go out in January and win their bowl games, make the playoff and contend for win a national title. It doesn't need to happen all at once but steps need to be taken, the ACC hardly just woke up with Winston and won a national title.

Michigan State needs to beat Oregon next year in East Lansing. Ohio State needs to win a postseason game with Urban Meyer. Indiana needs to go to Missouri and win... wait what? Yup the Indiana Hoosiers have started off the new era of Big Ten with a bang by knocking off an SEC division champ on the road! Games like this have a huge ripple effect through rankings, coverage and recruiting and when added up can change the course of a conference. If the Big Ten can go out and win in September, December and January then nobody will ever talk about the Day the Big Ten Died. All September 6th, 2014 will ever be is the Day the Big Ten Survived.