The Big Ten was once referred to as the Big Two and Little Eight during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. For more than a decade, either Ohio State or Michigan won the conference championship and played in the Rose Bowl, and in most seasons, the participant was chosen in the season finale between the two schools.
In 1968, Ohio State defeated Michigan 50-14 to earn the conference championship and Rose Bowl bid. After beating O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes won the National Championship as well. In 1969, Ohio State had a team similar to the Buckeye team of this season. Considered unbeatable, the Buckeyes destroyed eight consecutive opponents before facing a 7-2 Michigan team in the season finale. Michigan had a first year head coach in Bo Schmebechler, a fiery sort who would suffer a heart attack just a month later. Ohio State began the game looking like they would win and go on to defend their national title in the Rose Bowl, but something happened. Michigan’s defense toughened, and All-Conference quarterback Rex Kern began throwing interceptions. Michigan capitalized and pulled off the big upset to win the league crown and Rose Bowl berth.
The following year, Ohio State ran the table in the regular season, getting revenge over the 9-0 Wolverines, and entering the Rose Bowl with a chance to cop another national title, with Texas losing earlier in the day in the Cotton Bowl. However, Stanford and Heisman Trophy winning QB Jim Plunkett was too much for the conservative Buckeyes.
Michigan went undefeated in the regular season in 1971, and the Wolverines lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. 1972 was Ohio State’e turn to ruin Michigan’s national title hopes. The Wolverines had the best defense in college football in six years, but the Buckeyes pulled off the 14-11 upset to foil the Rose Bowl Game of The Century between #1 USC and #2 Michigan.
1973 once again saw both powers enter the big game undefeated, and in this case, they still were both undefeated after the game, following a 10-10 tie. Ohio State was voted to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes defeated USC. Ohio State won the big game in 1974 but lost the Rose Bowl to USC.
1975 was supposed to be Ohio State’s best year in the Woody Hayes era. The Buckeyes returned the bulk of the team from the year before. Michigan was down just a tad with a younger than average squad. The Buckeyes ran the table against a strong schedule that included non-conference wins over Penn State (an independent then) and UCLA (by 21 points). They knocked off an 8-0-2 Michigan squad to head to Pasadena to face the Bruin team they blew off the LA Coliseum field in September. The Bruins got their revenge, and the Buckeyes did not get that final title for Woody.
1976, 77, and 78 were Michigan’s years to shine. The Wolverines appeared to be primed to compete for three consecutive national titles. They would beat Ohio State all three seasons, but letdowns in one game each year and then Rose Bowl losses each year spoiled their national title hopes. During this time, Ohio State began to fade, and Coach Hayes was let go after an embarrassing incident that occured at the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl.
In 1979, Ohio State returned to glory with new coach Earl Bruce. The Buckeyes ran the table with a close 18-15 win over the Wolverines, and they appeared to be in control of the Rose Bowl, until USC scored late to win 17-16.
In 1980, neither team was as strong as it had been in the 1970’s, but Michigan went undefeated in league play to enter the Rose Bowl at 9-2. It was Coach Schembechler’s weakest Rose Bowl team yet, and he was 0-5 in previous Rose Bowls. This time, the Wolverines upset Washington to finally give Bo his Roses.
13 years of dominance between the Big Two came to an end in 1981, as Iowa became the first “Little 8” team to appear in the Rose Bowl since the Cardiac Kids of Indiana won the 1967 Big Ten Championship.
Which brings us back to the current time: The Buckeyes appear to be on the cusp of becoming as dominant as they were in the past. Urban Meyer pulled off the big surprise last year, and now Ohio State looks to be 7-10 points better this year than last. Once again, Michigan has a fiery new coach in Jim Harbaugh. But, there are differences this year compared to 1969. First, Michigan State is the team most likely to play the role of 1969 Michigan. The Spartans are talented enough this year to win the national title themselves. Penn State is sitting pretty with a loaded team needing a potentially star quarterback to “get it” and put it all together. Michigan went 5-7 last year and will be pleased with any forward movement. 8-4 might earn Harbaugh Coach of the Year honors.
The West Division has its intrigue as well. Wisconsin has a new coach. Former Badger offensive coordinator Paul Chryst returns to Madison after a three-year sojourn in Pittsburgh. He will continue the Barry Alvarez/Bret Bielema/Gary Andersen philosophy of pounding the ball and throwing to twin tight ends, but UW has some reloading to do.
Nebraska also has a new coach, but Mike Riley will bring a new philosophy to the plains. The Cornhuskers will rely more on a wide-open offense with more balance, something Bill Callahan tried to install in Lincoln a decade ago and failed miserably.
Iowa and Northwestern have talent but not enough to compete for a division title, which opens the door for the one team with both talent and the same coach that has been there long enough to establish his system. Our surprise pick to win the West Division this year is the Minnesota Golden Gophers. In what appears to be a minor rebuilding year at TCF Bank Stadium, we believe Coach Jerry Kill’s squad will benefit from a favorable schedule where the Gophers will face Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while having enough talent to win at Iowa, Northwestern, and Purdue to win the division in a tiebreaker over the Badgers.
Here is the Big Ten Media’s Preseason Poll. It is no surprise who their pick is to win, but notice that it is unanimous, and that the second best team is also unanimous.
|Big Ten Conference Media Poll|
|Pos.||Team||1st Place||Total||Champ. Votes|
The Big Ten has never polled a preseason all-conference team, but they do vote on offensive and defensive players of the year. We have substituted our top-rated players at each position in place of the All-Big Ten and then included the players of the year voting below.
|Big Ten Preseason All-Conference Team|
|Quarterback||Connor Cook||Michigan St.|
|Running Back||Ezekiel Elliott||Ohio St.|
|Running Back||Corey Clement||Wisconsin|
|Wide Receiver||Leonte Carroo||Rutgers|
|Wide Receiver||DaeSean Hamilton||Penn St.|
|Wide Receiver||Braxton Miller||Ohio St.|
|Tight End||Josiah Price||Michigan St.|
|Tackle||Taylor Decker||Ohio St.|
|Tackle||Jack Conklin||Michigan St.|
|Guard||Pat Elfein||Ohio St.|
|Center||Jack Allen||Michigan St.|
|End||Joey Bosa||Ohio St.|
|End||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan St.|
|Tackle||Anthony Zettel||Penn St.|
|Tackle||Adolphus Washington||Ohio St.|
|Linebacker||Darron Lee||Ohio St.|
|Linebacker||Ed Davis||Michigan St.|
|Safety||Vonn Bell||Ohio St.|
|Safety||Jordan Lucas||Penn St.|
|Return Specialist||Janarion Grant||Rutgers|
|Return Specialist||De’Mornay Pierson-El||Nebraska|
Note in the offensive player of the year that “Ohio State quarterbacks” received 2 first place votes and 9 votes overall. We don’t know if this included Braxton Miller as one of three, but all three Ohio State players finished in the top 10 of the voting.
|Preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)|
|1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State RB, 105 (31)|
|2. Connor Cook, Michigan State QB, 57 (3)|
|3. Cardale Jones, Ohio State QB, 19 (2)|
|4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB, 15 (1)|
|5. Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB, 15|
|6. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB, 9|
|6. Ohio State quarterbacks 9 (2)|
|8. Braxton Miller, Ohio State H-back, 3|
|9. Wes Lunt, Illinois QB, 2|
|Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year voting (1st Pl.)|
|1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE, 111 (37)|
|2. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State DE, 50|
|3. Anthony Zettel, Penn State DT, 25|
|4. Darron Lee, Ohio State LB, 18|
|5. William Likely, Maryland CB, 8 (1)|
|6. Maliek Collins, Nebraska DE, 5|
|7. Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB, 2|
|7. Ed Davis, Michigan State LB, 2|
|7. Vonn Bell, Ohio State S, 2|
|10. Joe Bolden, Michigan LB, 1|
|10. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan S, 1|
|10. Darius Hamilton, Rutgers DT, 1|
|10. Eric Murray, Minnesota CB, 1|
|10. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin S, 1|
Here are our PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average ratings to start the season. More about Ohio State’s preseason PiRate Rating follows below.
|Big Ten Conference|
|Ohio St.||137.2 %||125.6||138.4||133.7|
% Ohio State’s 137.2 preseason PiRate Rating is the highest to start a season since Nebraska in 1995. No Mean or Bias ratings date back that far, so only the PiRate Rating has been considered. Because the ratings have undergone a little bit of tweaking in recent years, the 137.2 rating would equate to a 140.8 rating using the old calculations. Nebraska in 1995 began the season at 142.6. Other teams rated higher than 140 to begin the season were: Alabama in 1979, USC in 1972, and Nebraska in 1971. We began this rating system in October of 1969, so Ohio State’s preseason rating did not exist. We guess that their rating would have been the highest ever had it existed, and we do not have any saved data prior to 1971.
Predicted Records & Bowl Projections
The Big Ten has tie-ins with nine different bowls, not counting any possible playoff spots. Because, we believe that the conference will comprise half of the 2015-16 playoff spots this year, it means the league will have 11 slots to fill. We only believe nine teams will become bowl eligible, so the bottom tier bowls, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas, will need to find at-large teams to replace the Big Ten representative. Here are our won-loss predictions and bowl projections for the league.
|PiRate Ratings Predicted Records|
|1||Ohio St.||8-0||13-0 *||Playoffs|
|*||Wins Title Game|
|^||Loses Title Game|
Coming Next: The Big 12 Conference