Urban Meyer strode to the podium at Big Ten football media days with a title none of the schools in his conference have earned in more than a decade: defending national champion.
Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes won the inaugural college football playoff last season despite being an underdog in both playoff games.
But after a national championship and a successful postseason overall, Ohio State and the Big Ten conference as a whole aren’t going to be
“You think about the story that’s being told about our institution and the Big Ten as a whole this year compared to last year,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “It couldn’t be more dramatically different.”
At the end of last season, teams from the Big Ten played in 11 postseason games, not counting the conference’s own championship game.
The Big Ten was the underdog in each match-up, indicating how low perception of the league had fallen. But the Big Ten ended bowl and playoff season with a 6-5 record, the second-best among the five major conferences.
“We had a great year last year,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “And it was a long and interesting run. We didn’t start strong, but we ended strong.”
The positivity carried over into the offseason when Michigan hired alumni Jim Harbaugh as their newest head coach. Harbaugh spent the previous four years coaching the
San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl and three NFC Championship games.
The hire brought hopes another Big Ten powerhouse could soon be on the way, though the coach downplayed the impact of his arrival at media days.
“[I’m] not striving to create any buzz,” Harbaugh said. “[I’m] just striving to coach the football team. Not trying to be popular or anything. Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked.”
But as Harbaugh works to shape his program into an eventual title contender, Michigan’s chief rival Ohio State is working simply to maintain its status.
The Buckeyes’ finish has it atop the latest USA Today coaches poll, but Ohio State and many other Big Ten teams will be challenged early in the season to keep the conference’s stock high.
The Buckeye’s first game of the season will come against Virginia Tech, the only team to defeat the national champions last season. Ohio State will head into that game without 2014 Big Ten defensive player of the year Joey Bosa as well, after he was suspended one game for a violation of team rules.
Minnesota opens up its schedule with a bang, too, hosting the runner-up in the coaches poll, Texas Christian University, in its first game of the season.
And Wisconsin will travel to Texas to play No. 3 Alabama in their first game of the season.
In their opener last season, Wisconsin played Alabama rival Louisiana State University and jumped out to a 17 point lead on the then No. 13 Tigers.
A win could’ve catapulted the Badgers up the college football’s rankings, but the team collapsed to lose 28-24. The loss became an example of how the Big Ten couldn’t stack up.
Now, with Alabama in their sights, Wisconsin could be looking for redemption.
“I just see it as, if we put up a good opening first two quarters against LSU, and if we came out
stronger in the second half, we could’ve won,” Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said. “Who’s to say we can’t come out even harder and know what needs to be done to solidify a victory against Alabama?”
A Wisconsin triumph over Alabama would be a large feather in the Big Ten’s cap, just as Ohio State’s victory against the Crimson Tide in the college football playoff last year created energy around the league.
Urban Meyer said at media days he was shocked at how far the perception of the league had fallen when he took over at Ohio State in 2011. But now, the Big Ten having a strong year should be a shock to no one.
“The resurgence is obvious,” Meyer said.