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Big Ten's Future

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What does the immediate future hold for the Big Ten on the field?

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In transition mode

Maisel By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com
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Dumping on the Big Ten is as fashionable as flat-front pants, as hip as craft beer. So let's all put down our iPhone 5s for a second. Let's take a deep breath. Step back. Look at the bigger picture. You will find that the Big Ten still has the necessary ingredients for success at the highest levels of college football.

The Big Ten is in the midst of a transformation, a more conventional change than the realignments that the SEC and Big 12 are digesting this season. The Big Ten's traditional powers are molting, shedding old skins and developing new ones. Ohio State? New coaching staff. Michigan? Second year of new coaching staff. Wisconsin? Six new assistant coaches. Nebraska? Second year in the conference.

By comparison, look at the power teams in the SEC. Yeah, I know, the Big Ten has had it up to its chin strap with being compared to the SEC. But there's an important point. Alabama? Nick Saban is in his sixth season. LSU? Les Miles is in his eighth season. Georgia? Mark Richt has been there 12 seasons. South Carolina? Steve Spurrier is in his eighth season, too.

The SEC's most powerful programs have a foundation anchored in coaching staffs that know how to win. The Big Ten's powers don't have that foundation right now. It is a coincidence that they found themselves in transition at the same time, a coincidence that has been bad for the league on the field.

College football is a cyclical sport, and the Big Ten's time at the bottom of the Ferris Wheel is lasting longer than anyone believed. But the ups and downs of college football don't compromise the building blocks that create success in college football. Those are tradition, deep pockets and large passionate fan bases.

The Big Ten still has plenty of programs with those three attributes. History and economics reassure us that Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska will regain their bearings and find themselves in the national championship race sometime soon. They combined to win five national championships in a nine-season span (1994-2002).

Wisconsin's history of successful football dates to the Clinton administration. Nonetheless, the past two decades -- including the past two seasons that ended with the Badgers in Pasadena -- indicate that the struggles of September will disappear before they take root.

Besides, Minnesota and Northwestern are both 4-0. Maybe the Big Ten will get its power from a couple of non-traditional sources.

Answers are far away

Schlabach By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com
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The Big Ten's dumpster fire won't be extinguished anytime soon.

Penn State is going to need 10 years to recover from the worst NCAA sanctions in college football history.

Michigan is going to go into the 2013 season with a new quarterback (which might not be a terrible thing) and still needs one or two recruiting classes to fix the defense Rich Rodriguez left behind.

Wisconsin has major issues on offense and is losing 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball after this season. Unless Badgers coach Bret Bielema can persuade Georgia's Aaron Murray to transfer to Wisconsin for his senior year, the Badgers figure to have another plodding offense in 2013.

Ohio State will eventually become a national powerhouse again under new coach Urban Meyer, but the Buckeyes are ineligible for a bowl game this season because of NCAA sanctions. Beating Michigan at season's end won't even feel as rewarding after the Wolverines lost to Alabama 41-14 and Notre Dame 13-6.

It's not even that much fun to kick around the Big Ten anymore. It's like poking fun at Arkansas interim coach John L. Smith. You can only kick a dead horse so many times until your foot hurts.

Through the first month of the season, Big Ten teams are 31-13. Its members are 6-9 against teams from BCS schools and 25 of their 31 victories came against opponents from non-BCS conferences or the FCS ranks.

At least there's undefeated Minnesota and Northwestern.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany can start his rebuilding job by changing the names of his league's divisions. Legends and Leaders? How about "Beat MAC Schools" and "Lost to MAC Schools"?

Last weekend, Central Michigan won at Iowa. The week before, Ball State won at Indiana. Ohio knocked off Penn State in Week 1.

Big Ten fans are sick and tired of hearing it, but there simply isn't enough speed in the league. Michigan tried to run a spread offense under Rodriguez but failed. Meyer is now trying to change the way the Buckeyes play, but doesn't yet have enough skill players on offense to do it.

Why are we surprised by the Big Ten's struggles? Since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998, Ohio State is the only Big Ten team to play for a national championship. Current Big Ten teams are 1-9 in the past 10 Rose Bowls and 8-11 in BCS bowl games since 2002.

I bet Delany can't wait for New Year's Day.