We took some time to talk about the Big 10 with our friends from he SBNation Big 10 site Off Tackle Empire and their editors Jesse Collins and MNWildcat. Here’s what they had to say:
Pacific Takes - We’re pretty hard on ourselves lately over here in the Pac-12 so I’m curious to see what other conferences think of us right now. What’s the Big 10 perception of the Pac-12 right now?
MNWildcat: If I were giving a general “Big Ten fan” perception of the Pac-12, I’d think it would lean toward the more trite understandings: You play at a weird time, Oregon has those cool jerseys, is USC back? There’s definitely the feeling in Big Ten country that the SEC and B1G are 1A and 1B in terms of talent, with the Pac-12 trailing behind in part because neither Washington nor Stanford has ever really grabbed the imagination in a way that USC or Oregon did.
My perception is of the Pac-12 being just a smidge below the Big Ten and SEC in terms of upper-division talent...but then you’d think the Big Ten would have a lot more College Football Playoff appearances, wouldn’t you?
And that’s why my other perception of the Big Ten and Pac-12 is that of two conferences at least trying to do it The Right Way(TM) and getting punished because the two “elite” programs and the rest of college football are not going to bother playing by those rules. Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, by my count, have not only played nine conference games but have bothered to play competitive road games against P5 and G5 competition, not hiding behind neutral-game locations and refusing to play at weird hours.
Jesse Collins: Right, I think there’s something to the notion that B1G fans probably think the Pac 12 is generally a conference that has its priorities straight. But there’s also such an immense history between the two conferences. We chatted with Team Speed Kills yesterday, but there’s a perception that the SEC and Big Ten are the same conference because the tiers of talent and styles of play are similar. But, it fascinates me - especially as the relative newcomer - how little they share culturally versus how much the ‘academically’ inclined Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences mirror each other.
As for football perceptions, specifically, I’m pretty sure most Big Ten fans probably think the conference is a prettier version of the Big XII so uh... take that for what it’s worth.
Pacific Takes - The Big 10 has done a great job of having an elite team (Ohio State), but still having a tough supporting cast that can compete for the CFP (Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State & Wisconsin). Do you think these secondary powers can maintain their Top 10ish power and can any of them ever catch Ohio State?
MNW: First, Wisconsin is not seriously in that conversation anymore (and we’re all broken up about it, I assure you). Even in 2017, entering the Big Ten Championship 12-0, the badgers needed a ridiculously-weak schedule to get there and cracked/stayed in the Top 5 only because of sheer attrition (they fell from 4 to 6 when pollsters looked around on November 6 and realized there were easily two teams better than wisconsin).
I’m sorry, I appear to have had an episode. What was the question?
Right--Ohio State carrying the conference’s water. I think the easy answer is that Michigan can catch the Buckeyes, and that we might be in for a repeat of the Big 2/Little 8 10 12 situation of yesteryear. But there’s some flux at the top of the conference, too: Will Ryan Day pick up right where Urban Meyer left off? Will Jim Harbaugh stay at Michigan, or will the honeymoon run out? On face value, at least, those are the two brand names, and Penn State and Michigan State have proven to be flawed and damaged goods in the last decade. You can put wisconsin in a tier with them as being consistent division contenders with flash-in-the-pan seasons, and then Iowa, Northwestern, and maybe even Nebraska lurking right below them.
Jesse: I like the part where we think Michigan can actually beat Ohio State. I’m sort of officially on the “prove it to me that Ohio State isn’t unbeatable when it matters in conference” team until something happens a la that time Nebraska knocked off Ohio State and Luke Fickell got sent to Cincinnati. Anyhow, to answer your question, I think that there will always be some version of secondary power in the conference because there really are good systems in place. Harbaugh was already mentioned but, there are stalwarts like Dantonio, Ferentz, and Fitzgerald , newcomers like Frost and Brohm, and bigger names like Franklin and Chryst. Overall, there are good coaches here that may not always get the best recruits, but definitely have shown they can compete week in and week out.
Pacific Takes - The Big 10 is suddenly hitting Pac-12 territory harder than ever on the recruiting trail. Case in point, I think five of the Top 30 recruits in the Class of 2020 who are in Pac-12 states are heading to Ohio State alone. Do you think the Big 10 raiding the Pac-12 states is here to stay or has more to do with USC/UCLA and the Arizona schools being down? Also, do you think there is any chance that Pac-12 teams could really recruit the Big 10 states?
MNW: Not a huge recruiting guy myself, so take this with a shaker’s worth of salt (though that’s too spicy for my Midwestern palate). I certainly would not be surprised if, like you suggest, the LA and AZ schools struggling helps the Big Ten’s best recruit the West Coast. But it seems to me, just looking at some of the recruiting rankings and seeing Clemson, Georgia, and Notre Dame showing up in California and Arizona’s best, that recruiting and college football have become a more national game.
That breaks both ways, too! While the Big Ten states you actually want to recruit are...Pennsylvania and Ohio probably?...there’s no reason that the Pac-12 can’t hit those states harder and emphasize its visibility on platforms like ESPN, FS1, and others. And getting fewer gold-plated toilets for Larry Scott and more TV deals for Pac-12 Network probably couldn’t hurt the conference’s name brand, either. It’s a bold strategy turning down DirecTV and ESPN’s latest offers, and at some point you have to ask whether the focus on TV isn’t trickling down to other aspects of conference competitiveness.
That said, please play 9am games. Not because it’s good business sense, but because I’ve never had the chance to watch Oregon State host North Texas at 11am CT, and I want that privilege, damnit.
Jesse: I think that some of the premier schools these days raid whoever and wherever. It obviously doesn’t help when UCLA has recruiting blunders like they did last season, and Clay Helton seems about as lame duck as a coach as I’ve ever seen. However, even with them at full strength, slowing down Ohio State, Michigan, and to an extent Penn State and Nebraska - a traditional California pipeline school - isn’t easy. Blame hudl, blame 247 and rivals, or just remember that the Midwest isn’t quite as dense a recruiting powerhouse as you all.
As for thinking some of the premier schools in the Pac 12 could raid the Midwest, well, it’s easy to say yes. I don’t know if you know this, but it snows a lot here (uh... I moved so I can’t even claim here these days) and when you offer them something like “Have you been to Palo Alto?” more than a few eyebrows go up. It’s not easy to find all of the gems that way, but when you find the right kids, you can get them to appreciate the location as much as anything else.
Pacific Takes: Do you think Ohio State could slip the way Oregon and Stanford did as they go through a coaching change and a change at QB (though they seem to reload well in recent history)?
MNW: They certainly could, but I think this is where recruiting plays into it. OSU recruits at a consistently elite level, whereas Oregon had a few down years and Stanford is wisconsin with legal weed. The Buckeyes will reload and keep a pretty consistent offensive mindset, and that should be enough to run them toward the top of the Big Ten as always. It’s fun, we swear. We’re having a blast here.
Jesse: I’ll start with the latter leading the former here. Ohio State reloads at the skills positions in a way that protects them from absolute catastrophe. I joked earlier that I don’t think anyone can catch them in conference right now, but that’s because when you look at their QB room, they pushed out about every top 4* kid because ‘Oh look, Justin Fields decided to come here!’ While I believe that there could be some hiccups along the way, Ryan Day is setup for success much more akin to the way Lincoln Riley was setup in Oklahoma. Only, Ohio State has even more talent up and down the lineup. Bottom line? Sure, it’s always possible they slip like Oregon and Stanford but recruiting + consistent system + good coaching means it probably isn’t happening.
Pacific Takes: I think the Pac-12 teams might be underdogs in all of their non-conference games against Big 10 teams . Do you think the Pac-12 teams can win any of those games? Also, do you think any of the teams in the Pac-12 could take Ohio State down to the wire this year?
MNW: NU at Stanford: I would be stunned if my Northwestern Wildcats were road favorites over the Stanford Cardinal (and looking at it, they’re 6.5-point dogs). Stanford can (and probably should!) win this game, especially if it’s a hot one and drags on later than its 1pm PT kickoff would suggest. The big Northwestern storyline is the presumptive debut of 5-star Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson at quarterback (don’t buy the “TJ Green could start” narrative out of the NU camp), but you’ve got two programs that could definitely repeat their 16-6 snoozefest in Evanston from 2015--and if you ever want to see a pathetic field-storming, watch Northwestern fans rush the field after upsetting Stanford. The ‘Cats will pound Isaiah Bowser over and over into the Cardinal defensive line, throw the ball away from Paulson Adebo, and try to pick on a rebuilt Stanford linebacking corps with crossing routes and slants. It’ll be disciplined, boring football, and I’ll be in Palo Alto for the game! Give me recommendations!
UNL at Colorado: Boy, the Husker Hype Train will be in full force for this one. Your Buffs readers already know what to expect from Big Red, and I’m sorry in advance. I’m sure they’ll be 7-8 point dogs unless the Huskers do something silly like lose to South Alabama. Contain Adrian Martinez and get to the QB, though, and maybe Steven Montez and Laviska Shenault, Jr. can score their way through it. My fantasy team would thank you.
Arizona State at MSU: You cannot pay me enough money to watch what will be a 13-9 game which kicks off in 75-degree heat and 80% humidity at 11am CT. God, Herm Edwards may be winning in Tempe, but he’s ruining Pac-12 After Dark.
I would watch Oregon or Washington give Ohio State a run for their money, but I’d still take the Buckeyes. (edited)
Jesse: I think that the Pac 12 can win any of those three games actually. Forced to pick, I’m going Stanford at home over Northwestern, Nebraska over Colorado because I actually think they should have won last year and this team is better and Colorado is worse, and well... Arizona State is such a weird matchup for MSU every time. I’ll pick the Spartans at home, but mostly because they’ll defense this game to death and it’s going to be awful. You should tell your readers to watch anything else.
Oh, and I totally think Oregon could mess with Ohio State for a couple of quarters. Shootouts are fun, and while I tend to think that the Buckeyes defense gets better this year, they gotta prove it.