As the games unfolded on the week two slate of the college football season, the Big Ten struggled to silence the growing number of critics from around the country. The once dominant power conference in the sport has slowly seen its grip on the sport loosen. The second week of the 2014 season became the latest proverbial nail in the coffin for the conference, according to many around the country. With Michigan State letting a potential win get away from them at Oregon, Ohio State crumbling at home against Virginia Tech and Michigan blowing a tie on the road at Notre Dame, week two had a New Year’s Day atmosphere around the Big Ten.
What happened to the Big Ten? More importantly, can it be fixed or is the Big Ten beyond a point of no return at this point in the evolution of the college football world?
Unfortunately for the Big Ten, the chance to prove itself on the national stage in 2014 has officially been missed. After Wisconsin slipped up against LSU in the season opener the previous week, week two of the season was when the Big Ten had its biggest games outside of conference play, and it fell flat on its collective face. The downfall occurred over time with recruiting trends moving away from traditional Big Ten battle grounds and forcing the conference to expand recruiting efforts into territory dominated by the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 or ACC. This does not mean we have seen the last of the Big Ten on the big stage, but it takes time to sway recruits away from these regions and it takes even more time to convince talent originating from these regions to move north to the Big Ten.
It would also be unwise to buy into the idea that the Big Ten will now be locked out of the playoff conversation. With three months of games still to be played, there is a lot that can happen in every conference. If Michigan State rebounds form its loss at Oregon to go 11-1 in the regular season and then moves on to win the Big Ten championship, the Spartans would still have a profile worth considering for one of the four playoff spots. If Michigan State was to string together that many wins, the team would easily move up the rankings, especially when at least eight teams currently ranked ahead of them are guaranteed at least one loss between now and late November.
Then there is the new variable to the Big Ten equation in State College, Pennsylvania. With the NCAA lifting the postseason ban on Penn State on Monday, the 2-0 Nittany Lions are all a sudden a contender in the Big Ten rather than simply a spoiler. Although Penn State faces depth concerns across the roster as a result of the past two years under sanctions, Penn State has the talent on the first team roster to give any team in the Big Ten East some troubles. Penn State also gets a favorable schedule that includes home games against Ohio State and Michigan State. Penn State may not be likely to run the table or even go 11-1 or 10-2, but the NCAA has granted James Franklin and the Nittany Lions an opportunity to represent the Big Ten in the postseason.
The lesson of the day is similar to the caution expressed last week with regard to the Heisman Trophy race. It is unwise to overreact to any one particular week, especially in early September. This is a brand new era for college football and we still have no real idea how the College Football Playoff selection committee will choose to determine the top four teams for the playoff seedings. Perhaps the damage has been done to the Big Ten, but unless there is an undefeated team in the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, the Big Ten is still very much alive for getting a playoff spot at the end of the season.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.