Thursday, May 10, 2012
Take Two: Fastest track to national title?
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Given all the recent talk about a college football playoff, today's Take Two topic is this: Which Big Ten program is best equipped to win a national title in the next five years?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
As we've both written, the Big Ten doesn't appear to have a national title contender in 2012. Michigan and Michigan State might have the best teams to do it, but the Wolverines face one of the nation's toughest schedules, and Michigan State is replacing much of its offensive firepower from last year's Legends division championship squad. So we're looking at 2013 at the earliest. Ohio State likely will be a popular pick, as Urban Meyer will be in his second year at the helm and players will be used to his offensive system. The Buckeyes certainly have shown they can get to the title game. But I'm going with Michigan here.
Why Michigan? Because I love the consistent vision Brady Hoke and his staff have for the program. They know exactly where they're going -- as evidenced by the recruiting success so early in the calendar -- and they're taking steps to get there despite inheriting a roster that doesn't exactly fit what they want to do. By 2013, Michigan should have more of Hoke's top-level recruits in position to make a difference. Sure, quarterback Denard Robinson no longer will be wearing a winged helmet, but his presence, in a sense, is delaying Michigan from running the type of offense that Hoke, coordinator Al Borges and the rest of the staff envision. The Wolverines will be more of a true pro-style offensive team, and I see no reason why the defense won't continue to make strides with this staff in place. Does that mean Michigan will compete for a national title in 2013? Not necessarily, but the Wolverines will be closer to that point in 2013 and beyond.
You certainly can make a strong case for Ohio State as well. And Michigan State has favorable schedules in both 2013 and 2014. I wouldn't be shocked if the Spartans, who are rolling by the way, make a run one of those years. Nebraska has national championship aspirations, and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema loves the team he'll have in 2013. But Michigan isn't far away, even if the Wolverines don't win 11 games again this fall because of the brutal schedule. While Michigan hasn't played for a crystal football in the BCS era, the wait could end soon.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
It may sound strange since they're ineligible for postseason play this season, but I believe the Ohio State Buckeyes are still the league's best bet to win a national title in the near future. This is a program that has never lacked for talent and has a lot of good young players in the system right now, plus some future studs at key positions on both lines coming in. Meyer knows how to win national championships; he has two more than every other Big Ten coach right now. Ohio State has everything in place to compete at the highest level, as evidenced by its three BCS title game appearances since 2003. Nebraska (2002) is the only other program in the league to make the championship game in the BCS era.
Meyer still has work to do to get the Buckeyes back among the nation's elite. Specifically, he has to recruit world-class athletes at the skill positions to run his offense effectively. But those players are easier to find than dominating defensive linemen, several of which he has already scooped up, and they can be plugged into the starting lineup more quickly than the guys in the trenches. That's why I believe Ohio State can contend for a title as soon as 2013, and definitely by 2014. The biggest difference for me between Ohio State and Michigan is that the Buckeyes will have an established veteran quarterback for the next three years in Braxton Miller, while the Wolverines will have to break in a new starter for Robinson next season.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan State or Wisconsin break through and play for -- and possibly win -- a national championship in the next five years. But if I'm picking one program to do it, I'll take Ohio State.