Opinion: The Big Ten is the Superior Conference in Both Major Sports


Bobby Winebrenner, Editor

All stats and numbers are from the time this was written.

It was the first day of the new year, and I was slumped at a restaurant in the Los Cabos International Airport. It was early in the morning, and I had stayed up late bringing in 2018 with my family. I was hunched over with a Mountain Dew watching Michigan play South Carolina. Being an Indiana fan with a best friend as a Michigan one, I had actually grown to adapt a strong dislike toward the Wolverines. But due to the self-proclaimed curse over Indiana football, I am a Big Ten football fan and was cheering for the Wolverines. The conference was sitting at 7-0 in bowl season and needed one more win over the Gamecocks to remain perfect. The plane heading to O’Hare began boarding, and I had to leave my post after the third quarter.

As we touched down in Chicago, I immediately checked my phone to find that South Carolina had used a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to upset the Wolverines. Disappointed with the result, I had to settle with a 7-1 record. While a 0 would’ve been nice in the right hand column of the won-loss metric, an .875 winning percentage was good enough for my annual banter of why the Big Ten is the superior conference in football.

While I acknowledge that two SEC teams making the playoff hampered their record, the conference went 3-1 in the playoff; thus, we’ll count it as a bonus actually and look at the rest of the league. Aside from the playoff, the SEC went 2-4, proving its top-heaviness that is pretty common year-in, year-out. A year before, the league went 3-3 in bowl games. I’m not here to argue that the Big Ten has better top teams; it’s just not true. But as a whole, the Big Ten reigns supreme.

While some may say that the SEC is better this year, and we can’t look at last year’s Bowl games, the polls tend to have an “SEC bias” and value SEC teams higher than they should. So there’s not much to look at as a measuring stick aside from bowl games which pit conferences against one another. This is due to the fact that NCAA football teams tend to schedule weak non-conference matchups in order to ensure wins prior to conference season. You can’t sit here and tell me that Kentucky is a Top 15 team; they got embarrassed by Georgia at home and lost to a five win Tennessee team by 17 as well. The Bowl games tend to reveal the SEC bias in the rankings, and I encourage college football fans to wait until the end of 2018 to find this once more. I realize it’s tough to make a case for the Big Ten this season, but I have found that the league as a whole tends to be deeper and more productive come Bowl season.

The Big 12 and ACC don’t even deserve to be in the discussion this year, and the PAC-12 barely deserves to be mentioned in this piece. Oklahoma, the Big 12’s top team, needed overtime to beat an Army team which would’ve lost to an FCS team in Colgate had they had their starting quarterback. The Cadets were the best non-conference team the Sooners played, so Kyler Murray and company steamrolled abysmal Big 12 defenses to “earn” their playoff nod. After Oklahoma, Texas is #15 in the country but managed to lose to another subpar Big Ten team in Maryland.

Clemson is a proven team in the ACC, but the second best team is either Syracuse or Pitt. The Orange lost to the Panthers, and Pitt managed to get obliterated by the 3rd or 4th best team in the Big Ten (Penn State) by 45. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany requires that each Big Ten team plays a nine game conference slate, making it all the more likely that a team drops a game along the way to a team they shouldn’t. Ahem, Ohio State, ahem.

Now that it’s clear that the Big Ten is a top two conference in football, I hope that college football fans wait until Bowl season before forming an opinion over which conference is the best. I’ll move on to basketball which is much less of an argument this season. Now it’s still early in the season, but much of this year has consisted of non-conference battles between top teams, which is much less prevalent in football. So we’ll start by looking at the well-established rankings which sees half the Big Ten (seven teams, 7!) in the top 25 along with Purdue and Indiana on the cusp. The annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge resulted in a draw as Florida State knocked off the Boilermakers in the final seconds to preserve the tie. The Atlantic Coast Conference may have gotten the benefit of the doubt too as their top team, Duke, was given a home matchup versus the Big Ten’s eighth best team in Indiana.

Anyways, aside from the Challenge, the Big Ten impressed in the rest of their non-conference slate. In the “Gavitt Games,” another conference challenge, the Big East fell at the hands of the Big Ten, 5-3. With a non-conference record of 76-20, Big Ten fans should be pleased with the conference’s showing. Michigan State won the Las Vegas Invitational over the likes of Texas, UNC, and UCLA; Iowa won the 2k Classic over the likes of Oregon, UConn, and Syracuse; Michigan knocked off the defending national champions on the road by 20; heck, even bottom-feeder Illinois kept it close with #1 ranked Gonzaga. While the Big Ten may have underperformed in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, they certainly did not over the rest of their non-conference slate.  

The factor that separates the Big Ten this year is its depth. Each coach in the conference has commented on how tough league play will be this year. Every night’s a challenge and road wins will be almost impossible to come by. The Big Ten could legitimately get ten teams into the NCAA tournament, a claim no other conference can make this season.

I challenge readers to follow closely with College Football Bowl season and witness another year of Big Ten domination. With basketball, the league will surely continue to show its non-conference prowess and also test one another through the gauntlet that is the conference portion of the season. 14 exceptional institutions make up the Big Ten and while most understand the academic excellence which the conference possesses, their superior athletic achievement is often wrongfully overlooked.