For years the Big Ten was referred to as the Big Two, Little Eight. Then Penn State joined the conference and, depending on the season, the name either added a “Medium One” or altered the ending to “Little Nine.” That seems like eons ago. While Ohio State has still dominated the conference in recent memory – the Buckeyes had won at least a share of six-straight Big Ten titles before last season’s swoon – Michigan hasn’t been a continually dominant team since the late 90s. That, coupled with the league’s parity since the mid-90s and the Big Two, Little Eight is so stuck in the Bo Schembechler-Woody Hayes Era. Since 2000, nine of the current 12 Big Ten teams have won at least a share of the Big Ten Championship. (That, of course, is counting Nebraska as one of the teams that have failed to win a conference crown despite just one season in the conference). See the chart below for the conference’s champions in the last dozen years.
It just shows how tough times have been in Minnesota and Indiana in recent years. (How ironic is it that neither Minnesota or Indiana has sniffed the Big Ten Championship since each winning a share of the title in 1967?). The point is, unlike any other conference, the Big Ten is filled with at least a half dozen teams capable of competing for a league crown each season. It might not seem like that looking at recruiting rankings and projections the 2012 Big Ten Championship is sure to be more than a 3- or 4-team race. If Ohio State was eligible for postseason play I could see the Buckeyes not only as the Leaders Division favorites but also Big Ten favorites. Alas, the Buckeyes aren’t eligible and, as it stands now, here are the odds to secure the automatic BCS bid from the Big Ten this season:
***The oddsmakers are pretty clear about their expectations in the Big Ten: Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State will battle for the Legends Division crown while Wisconsin is practically guaranteed to win the Leaders Division title. Interestingly enough, it’s Michigan – not Wisconsin – that is the league favorite. I think the Wolverines have the ultimate playmaker in Denard Robinson who can steal them a game or two as well as a defensive unit that plays like one of the nation’s best. However, what makes Michigan so dangerous also makes it scary in a negative way. Put nicely, if Denard could throw the ball like Tim Tebow Michigan would be a national championship contender. Nevertheless, Denard throws jump ball after jump ball as if he’s officiating NBA games. Nevertheless, if Denard trashes the turnover bug, this team could be very dangerous. While it “technically” has no impact on the Big Ten schedule, Michigan’s opening game vs. Alabama in Dallas and battle at Notre Dame in the nonconference will really set the tone for the season. Michigan gets Michigan State at home but does travel to Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. Those back-to-back games, at worst, need to be split. If Michigan loses them both, which is a very real possibility, the Big Ten title is all but a dream. The conference finale at Ohio State could also have conference title implication. Avoiding Wisconsin and Penn State might be the reason Michigan is getting the most Big Ten love, but at +200 I would avoid the Wolverines like the plague. Last year’s team overachieved and this year’s team is facing higher expectations. There is nowhere to go but down and this could easily be a 9-3 or 8-4 season with 2-3 conference defeats.