The Big Ten for years had been considered on the downswing & the weakest Power 5 Conference in college football. Funny how one year can change things as now it looks like a conference on the rise.
Meyer Hiring Recharged Big Ten
No Big Ten club had won a national championship since Ohio State, led by a freshman running back named Maurice Clarett, upset unbeaten and powerhouse Miami 31-24 in double overtime in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2002 season. Actually, I would argue Miami, which was loaded with an unbelievable amount of NFL talent, won that game but there was a horrific defensive pass interference call that went against the Hurricanes and gave OSU life.
The Buckeyes are the only Big Ten team to play for it all this century. They played in the BCS Championship Game following the 2006 season and were routed by Florida -- with the Gators coached of course by Urban Meyer, who now leads Ohio State. The next year, Ohio State returned to the BCS title game and was routed by LSU 38-24. Really, those two losses are what started critics saying the Big Ten couldn't compete with the SEC, mainly because of the population shifts to the southern part of the United States and that Big Ten teams weren't able to recruit in SEC country.
Meyer obviously changed all that when he took over at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were unbeaten in Meyer's first season, 2012, but couldn't play in a bowl to due self-imposed sanctions. The next year, they might have played for a national title if not for an upset loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game (when OSU and Sparty were in different divisions).
And of course last season, Ohio State snuck into the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed following a Big Ten title game slaughter of Wisconsin as former third-string quarterback Cardale Jones made his first career start. The Buckeyes would then upset No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Oregon in the title game.
And it's not just Ohio State carrying the torch for the Big Ten. Michigan State is having a terrific stretch under Coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in four of the past five years and have won major bowl games the past two: Cotton Bowl over Baylor last season and Rose Bowl over Stanford the season before.
Michigan is only going to get better with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. Ditto Penn State under second-year coach James Franklin and with the NCAA sanctions off the program. Frankly, it's a shame OSU, MSU, UM and PSU are all in the East Division, which is ridiculously better than the West. That division features a very good but not great Wisconsin program, so-so Nebraska, overrated Iowa and a decent Minnesota team.
Ohio State Vs. ??? In Indy?
Ohio State is going to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country, probably unanimously, when the polls come out soon. The Buckeyes are the national title favorites at every sportsbook on the planet and they likely only got better offensively with the news last week that former starting quarterback Braxton Miller, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year who missed all of 2014 injured, was moving to H-back for his senior season. Miller will no doubt be used like how Meyer used Percy Harvin at Florida, and that's a scary thought for opposing defensive coordinators. So now Jones and J.T. Barrett will battle for the QB spot in fall camp. Recent reports out of Columbus have the media there thinking Barrett will win the job.
OSU is -270 at 5Dimes to win the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis and +210 not to. It is -395 to win the East Division and +305 not to. Really the only team with a chance to beat out the Buckeyes is Michigan State. Sparty is +750 to win the Big Ten title game and -1370 not to. MSU is +560 to win the Big Ten East and the field is -950. I'd give Michigan State a shot if it hosted Ohio State this year, but the Spartans go to Columbus on Nov. 21. The Buckeyes are already 12-point favorites and they might be double-digit favorites for every regular-season game. They are that good. So put Ohio State in Indianapolis.
In the Big Ten West, Wisconsin is the +150 favorite with the field at -180. It is +1200 to win the Big Ten title game. Nebraska is +230 to win the West and the field at -290. The Huskers are +1700 to win their first Big Ten title. And I think it's only going to be a two-team West Division race between those two. The Badgers visit Lincoln on Oct. 10 but avoid all the good teams from the East Division in Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan. The Huskers do have to face Michigan State but host the Spartans on Nov. 7. Both Wisconsin and Nebraska are breaking in new coaches and lost their star running backs from last season so that's a wash.
College Football Free Pick: Wisconsin wins the West but again loses to Ohio State in Indianapolis. It will be much closer than 59-0 this season, however.