We are the Big Ten and we are ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

... getting a facelift.

Our two flagship programs, Ohio State and Michigan, have fallen on hard times for different reasons. The Buckeyes continue to embarrass themselves against premier nonconference competitors, and the Wolverines are off to another slow start and likely will struggle to reach a bowl game under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez. We now turn to Wisconsin and Penn State to restore our sagging national reputation. The Badgers lack the panache of USC and other top 10 teams, but their bruising line play and robust running backs command respect from knowledgeable football observers. Penn State is surging behind the sexy Spread HD offense (55.3 ppg) and could do big things for 81-year-old coach Joe Paterno. If Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa make some strides, our end-of-year standings could have a dramatically different look.

Best case scenario -- Wisconsin or Penn State wins out and plays for it all in Miami. The loser of the Oct. 11 matchup heads to Pasadena and preferably faces someone other than USC. Ohio State and either Michigan State, Illinois or Iowa beats SEC teams in the Capital One and Outback bowls.

Worst case scenario -- Ohio State dominates the Big Ten slate, goes to the Rose Bowl and suffers another blowout loss to USC or another premier non-league foe. The rest of the league continues to slip farther behind the Buckeyes and struggles in bowl matchups with SEC and Big 12 foes.