Earlier league games key to B1G relevancy

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
10:53
AM ET
The Big Ten has made several proactive moves in recent years to remain relevant throughout the entire college football season.

A permanent bye week has pushed games to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This fall, the Big Ten introduces division play and the inaugural league title game, to be played on the same day (Dec. 3) conferences like the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC hold their championships.

In a sport largely driven by hype and perception, the league has taken necessary steps to stay in the spotlight. Now it must take one more.

The Big Ten needs to listen to its coaches and start playing league games earlier in the season.

Because you, the fans, deserve better than what you're getting in Week 4.

For the second consecutive season, Week 4 brings a slate of games featuring Big Ten teams that is uninspiring, to put it kindly.

Of the 10 games, only one comes against an opponent from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference (Colorado). Wisconsin and Minnesota both host FCS teams, while the other seven games come against teams from the MAC, Sun Belt and Mountain West.

The most compelling game on the docket is San Diego State-Michigan, and only because Wolverines coach Brady Hoke spent the past two seasons with the Aztecs.

The Big Ten blog never slows down, and Bennett and I will approach this week like any other. But don't bother asking us which games we'll be attending Saturday. We'll both be on our couches.

Hey, at least Saturday's slate isn't as bad as Week 4 in 2010. We were treated to the unofficial Big Ten-MAC Invitational, featuring eight matchups between the two leagues. The other two games that day came against FCS teams.

The Big Ten won't make a blip on the national college football radar Saturday unless teams like Ohio State or Michigan stumble on their home fields. People will start talking if Nebraska implodes against 3-0 Wyoming, but if the Huskers and other Big Ten teams handle their business, they'll fade into the backdrop.

For a week, the Big Ten will be irrelevant. At least there's realignment to keep us busy.

Granted, it's only a week, but there are only 14 of these during what many agree is the greatest regular season in sports.

Big Ten coaches like Wisconsin's Bret Bielema understand the problem. Bielema proposed a solution: schedule more league games in early to mid-September.

The other power conferences do it.

The SEC featured two league games in Week 2 (South Carolina-Georgia and Mississippi State-Auburn). Mississippi State was back in conference action last Thursday against LSU. The Thursday showcase on ESPN afforded the SEC to flaunt one of its best teams (LSU) in the national spotlight. Saturday brought two more conference games (Tennessee-Florida and Mississippi-Vanderbilt).

This week's SEC slate features some duds like Florida Atlantic-Auburn, but it also includes four conference matchups, headlined by No. 14 Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama.

People will be talking about the SEC.

And the Big 12, which features No. 7 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Texas A&M.

And the Pac-12, which has four conference games Saturday.

And the ACC, which features No. 11 Florida State at No. 21 Clemson.

The Big Ten? Wake us up Oct. 1.

Bielema's idea is to have one Big Ten game every Saturday.

"You can have a showcase game every week," he said in July.

"It's a good idea," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "The exposure of college football and the popularity, everybody's watching it and they want to watch the games that mean more. Maybe we could move a [conference] game up, second week, or each of us play one each week."

Commissioner Jim Delany is open to the idea, and there are some encouraging changes on the 2013 and 2014 schedules, which feature two Big Ten games on each of the final Saturdays in September.

It's important for the discussion to continue, and for the Big Ten to remain open to proactive moves that can showcase its product every single Saturday.

As Big Ten fans, you deserve nothing less.

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