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Which team gains most if OSU backslides?

6/3/2011

By any measure, Ohio State has been the Big Ten's No. 1 program for the past decade.

But the recent storm around the program -- coach Jim Tressel's resignation, an upcoming NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing, new investigations by the NCAA and the school into troubling allegations -- has many thinking the Buckeyes are on their way down. The potential for significant penalties from the NCAA, including the dreaded bowl ban, adds to this belief.

The next question, then, is which teams will benefit most from an Ohio State decline?

Colleague Pat Forde thinks Ohio State's troubles combined with Michigan's mediocrity give the rest of the Big Ten a chance to rise up.

Others have had their moments of glory in recent years, including BCS berths for Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Illinois in the past four years. It can be done -- but perhaps now more than ever. The league's vast middle class should have renewed offseason energy, charged by the chance to fill a vacuum concurrently left by the twin titans. ...

As it stands today, all the Big Ten commoners have reason to believe.

My belief is that while an Ohio State decline could help every other Big Ten team, the five squads in the Buckeyes' division (Leaders) are set to benefit the most. We all need to get into the divisional mindset when evaluating the Big Ten. Division games become paramount, and the teams that will be facing the Buckeyes each year within the division -- Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue -- could capitalize if Ohio State becomes ordinary.

Of those Leaders division teams, Wisconsin could benefit the most. The Badgers proved in the late 1990s that they can achieve Big Ten powerhouse status, and they're coming off a Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State also has a chance to benefit if it can make strides in the next year or so.

Reader John from Ann Arbor disagrees:

You could not be more wrong on who has the most to gain with tressel leaving ohio. Yes Wisco will probably be the best team in their division now, but Michigan unquestionably has the most to gain.The first thing that jt did when he showed up was lock down the ohio border especially from Michigan. Soon as that started happening they had a major talent edge. With him gone Michigan will soon run wild recruiting that state and take back its throne.

John, you might be right from a recruiting standpoint, but Michigan still has to beat Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota each year for the division title. Nebraska has won 10 games in each of the past two seasons. Michigan State comes off its first league title in 20 years. Iowa has shown it can compete for Big Ten championships, and Northwestern is enjoying its most consistent stretch of success. Minnesota is down, but new coach Jerry Kill should have things going in the right direction soon.

My point: Ohio State could take a step back, but if Michigan can't win its division, it won't matter.

What are your thoughts? Weigh in on the poll above.