Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
CHICAGO – How does the Big Ten regain the respect of the rest of the college football nation? First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said it’s pretty simple.
“(We) have to win bowl games,” he said. “That’s the bottom line in all of this is to win.”
The Big Ten’s bowl record in the last decade, however, would suggest that it’s something easier said than done.
With a 34-51 bowl record since 2000, the conference has struggled to assert itself on the national scene while Meyer’s former league, the Southeastern Conference, has flourished during the same period.
Nationally, the reality of bowl wins and losses may be fueling the idea that Big Ten football is – and has been for some time – an outdated art; a mired, old approach to football, and has been surpassed.
And, despite its efforts, the Big Ten’s recent bowl performances hasn’t helped matters.
In last season’s bowls, the conference recorded a 4-6 mark that watched traditional powers OSU, Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska all lose in their respective bowl games.
For the SEC, however, last year was its sixth consecutive national championship and it’s eighth since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.
Locally, OSU has historically struggled in battling against its southern brethren -especially on the sport’s biggest stage.
The Buckeyes are 0-8 against the SEC in bowl games – a lone victory came in a 31-26 triumph in the 2011 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. That game has since been wiped from the record books in accordance with an NCAA-ordered vacation of wins from OSU’s 2010 season.
Meyer said in his own experiences now at OSU, he’s noticed that the SEC may have an advantage in overall team speed.
“I notice it on special teams. In spring practice I noticed that,” Meyer said. “So I just think overall athleticism right now we’re a little bit behind.”
That need for speed, though, is something Meyer said he is addressing.
“We’re recruiting with that motive, with that intention and I’m real proud to say it’s going very well,” he said.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who will open this season at defending national champion and SEC powerhouse, Alabama, said it’s hard to paint the entire conference as inferior to the speed and athleticism of the SEC.
“I think it’s a hard question, really, to even answer. Because I think everybody’s different. I think when people make the mistake of lumping the conference in not having speed or whatever it might be,” Hoke said. “When we’re playing the reigning national champion, they’re a terrific football team and they’ve done terrific things. We’re excited about the opportunity to go into a great venue, different venue, obviously, and go line up and see what happens.”
Similarly, while Meyer said he would benefit from another year of familiarizing himself with the teams and players in the Big Ten, the former Florida coach said he anticipates that “winning is not that far off.”
“The coaches in this conference would know much better than I would. I’ll know more obviously next year when you ask that same question. I’ll have a much better understanding because I’ll be in the stadiums and I’ll know the teams much better,” Meyer said. “But I know one thing: I’ve watched enough film this summer, there’s some very good teams in this conference.”