As Big Ten welcomes Nebraska, conference struggling for relevancy
Over the last few years, Big Ten has lost its status as an elite conference
Early this season, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue have taken their licks
Atmosphere Saturday night in Madison will be tremendous, but it's not the SEC
After four weeks of humiliation and disgrace, things return to normal this week for the vaunted Big Ten Conference. Which means -- for now -- the league can only be embarrassed by beating itself.
Other than one showcase game -- Michigan beating Notre Dame with a trey at the buzzer, 101-99, at the Big House on Sept. 10 -- Big Ten fans have been embarrassed week after week. Have you been keeping up with all of this on the Big Ten Network?
There was Ohio State getting shredded by Miami on the road and nearly beaten by Toledo at home, and Penn State's manhood being taken away at home by Alabama and almost losing to Temple. Did you catch Indiana going down to Ball State? Or was that North Texas? Actually it was both. Did you witness Purdue losing to Rice, North Dakota State mauling Minnesota, and Army beating Northwestern? There are more, but we don't have all day.
Saturday, the league finally has its moment in the sun. Drumroll please. No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin, the conference's showcase game season so far. ESPN's GameDay, a primetime slot on ABC and a wonderful setting at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison to officially welcome Nebraska to the Big Ten. Barry Alvarez told Lars Anderson in this week's Sports Illustrated it's the toughest ticket in Wisconsin history.
There is only one problem.
Even with a storied program like Nebraska joining the fold, the Big Ten is on life support. Gasping, wheezing and nearly choking to death. It has no swag. No buzz.
We will all be force-fed endless spin this weekend about how important and historic this first game with Nebraska will be for the league and for college football. No argument here, as the first time for anything is memorable. But this is just a normal Saturday night in the SEC.
The Big Bore Conference just doesn't do it for me anymore. I'll be in Gainesville Saturday night doing what any sane college football fan should be doing -- watching real football when Alabama visits the Swamp to take on Florida. You'll have two schools who own three of the last five BCS titles fighting for spots in the SEC championship game, the winner of which usually plays for the BCS title.
Ponder for a moment what the Gators will be facing after the game with Alabama. They will recover from battling the No. 3 team in the nation and travel to Baton Rouge to play No. 1 LSU in one of the most feared venues in the sport. Oh, by the way, LSU has won two BCS titles since 2003. Does Florida get any rest after that? The next week the Gators travel to Auburn, a diminished team, but still the defending BCS champ. Georgia comes later on Oct. 29, followed by a trip to South Carolina on Nov. 12. Of course, LSU still has the de facto BCS title game Nov. 5 against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has Indiana next week at home and Nebraska hosts the school formerly known at The Ohio State University. OK, so the Big Ten Network was a good idea and pays a hefty dividend, but how many Indiana-Northwestern and Minnesota-Purdue games can the average fan handle?
There is a good Big Ten game every year or so with major national implications. You used to be able to count on the annual grudge match between Ohio State and Michigan and a game or two involving Penn State and Wisconsin. Ohio State was riding high last year until it choked away another BCS title bid at Wisconsin. But the league hasn't been on the same par with the SEC since 2006, when we had the No. 1 and No. 2 showdown with Michigan and Ohio State.
After beating the Wolverines, the heavily-favored Buckeyes got gashed by Florida 41-14 in the title game. Ohio State made it back to the BCS title game the following year, only to be stomped by LSU.
Ohio State finally ended its 0-9 run against the SEC against Arkansas in the most recent Sugar Bowl. But I don't think you'll find too many Buckeye fans wearing a T-shirt boasting about that score considering what happened with Tattoogate. Besides, the game has now been expunged from OSU's win column, along with its head coach.
Before Big Ten acolytes bother getting off the floor to fight back, has anyone forgotten New Year's Day? Played out simultaneously, Florida beat Penn State by 14, Alabama thrashed Michigan State by 42 and Mississippi State drilled Michigan by 38. Nice way to ring in the New Year.
So, I hope GameDay enjoys its stay in Wisconsin. It should be a wonderful welcome mat for Nebraska to the Big Ten. But I'll take the Swamp under the lights. I'll take the story line of Nick Saban (the mentor) vs. Will Muschamp (the pupil) as opposed to Bo Pelini vs. Bret Bielema. I'll take a conference that owns the sport these days over one that used to be relevant.
Paul Finebaum's radio show is heard weekdays 3-7 p.m. ET on Sirius/XM Channel 91. Follow him on Twitter@finebaum.
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