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For the better part of the last 15 years, bashing the Big Ten has been the favorite pastime of many college football fans.

Outside of Ohio State, the Big Ten has failed to consistently be a player on the national scene while the Southeastern Conference has taken over as the dominant conference in the country. And while some others have jumped into the mix — Big 12 and Pac 12 in particular — the one constant has been the failures of the Big Ten.

But while the pride of the Midwest has been able to fight that perception for many years — it had 28 appearances in Bowls Championship Series bowls — that battle is a losing one this season.

No longer can the Big Ten say, from top to bottom, it is on par with the other Power Five conferences. A 1-10 mark against those teams, along with a 5-3 record against the Mid-American Conference, has cemented the Big Ten as a solid No. 5.

"We're not feeling very good, but the facts are the facts," conference commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN after the Big Ten lost three marquee games in Week 2. "I would just say with 50 percent of the nonconference games and 100 percent of conference games remaining, it's premature to make any judgments.

"Anyone who writes the story of the 2014 football season after two weeks, that's premature."

It's the spin expected from the head of one of the most lucrative conferences in college sports, but it's hard to make that case when the elite — Michigan State and Ohio State — lost on national television and one of its dormant traditional powers — Michigan — was shut out for the first time nearly 30 years.

And it's reality that has been bubbling below the surface, even as Ohio State was getting its shot at national championships and other Big Ten schools were playing in high-paying BCS bowls. In the same 15 years, the SEC has nine national titles while the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 each have a pair.

Traditional powers struggle

All the while, the traditional powers of the Big Ten — Michigan and Penn State, specifically — have been in a downward spiral they continue to try and pull out of. Wisconsin has been solid, as has Michigan State in recent years. But despite a quick surge from Iowa, the rest of the Big Ten has been woefully behind.

"I think every league starts with their historic powers," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "History tells us those teams are Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State, if you go strictly by the numbers."

DiNardo is in a unique position on the issue, having coached at LSU and Indiana. On top of that, he played at Notre Dame, so he understand a bit about the dynamic of teams in the Midwest against those in the South, or predominantly in the SEC and Big 12.

And a look at those traditional powers doesn't paint a pretty picture for the Big Ten. Penn State is just coming out of probation for a sexual abuse scandal, and its only Big Ten title came in 1994. Michigan hasn't won a Big Ten championship since sharing it with Iowa in 2004.

"I would say, in general terms, Ohio State is fine," DiNardo said. "There's no reason to believe they will not continue to compete for national championships.

"I see the future as being very bright for Penn State. I think (coach) James Franklin can bring them back to their historic past and be a factor in the Big Ten and national championship."

When it comes to Michigan and Nebraska, however, DiNardo is less sure.

"Michigan is the hardest to put a finger on," he said. "They have all the resources and it seems to me since Lloyd (Carr) left the identity has changed. … When it was Lloyd and Bo (Schembechler), all Michigan football talked about was what was inside the white lines. It seems to me it has evolved to a conversation about everything other than what's on the field. It is what jersey number is a player wearing and who are they honoring? It's about a team number or attendance or complaining about Notre Dame ending the series. It never used to be a lot of conversation about Michigan football outside the white lines."

As for Nebraska, DiNardo believes it is hurt by the difficulty in recruiting, which leads to one of the biggest reasons the Big Ten is in the position it is.

Resources spread thin

The fact is, there simply aren't as many good players in the Midwest as other parts of the country, the South in particular.

"If you look at the number of All-Americans that were drafted last year, 11 alone played in Florida in high school," said Allen Trieu, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "One from the entire Midwest went in the first round. Those numbers show it is clear the home base of talent for the Big Ten is not as good as it is elsewhere. It's not to say there are not outstanding players in the Midwest, but there are more in other regions."

Ohio State has continued to bring in top classes and Penn State is seeing a surge under Franklin. And while it hasn't translated into success on the field, Michigan has brought in top classes as well.

"Obviously recruiting is the life force of college football," Trieu said. "You have to get talent, but once on campus you have to be able to cultivate it and develop it. Some schools have shown they can. You can't deny the SEC recruits well with the number of players it puts in the NFL.

"(The Big Ten's struggles) are more than just recruiting, but I think it is the foundation of all of it."

But how does the Big Ten win those battles? No doubt, the resources have to be invested to do so, but around the Big Ten, that isn't exactly happening.

Only recently have some schools started to hire staff specifically to focus on recruiting — Michigan State hired Curtis Blackwell last season — and facilities, while impressive at some schools, lag behind those of other conferences.

The money is there. Next year, teams in the Big Ten are expected to bring in about $30 million in television revenue alone. Seven of the schools in the Big Ten rank in the top 20 in the nation in athletic department revenue.

But that doesn't always translate to success. Michigan is fourth in revenue and Minnesota is 15th. How that revenue is spent is the issue as most Big Ten teams are funding far more sports than those, for example, in the SEC.

At Michigan State, there are 25 varsity sports while at Auburn there are 19.

"The SEC doesn't have a hockey team that has to win a national championship or basketball team, other than Kentucky, that has to win a national championship," DiNardo said. "So even though they're making a lot of money there are still limited resources. It's still limited when it comes to spending money on football or basketball and the Big Ten is in a different position than the SEC. My guess is the Pac 12 doesn't have hockey issues."

Spring to it

Redirecting those resources might not happen anytime soon in the Big Ten. Having broad-based programs is at the heart of what the conference believes in so there likely won't be a point when, for example, the funding for the volleyball team suffers for the sake of football.

It's a cultural issue in the Big Ten and the region. The same can be said for spring football at the high school level.

In the South, spring football is the norm. Not so in the Midwest.

"It really helps develop the big guys," DiNardo said of spring practice. "In most of the Big Ten footprint, at 3:30 in the afternoon the skill guys might be playing basketball or baseball, but the big guys go home. They might lift, but in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio they all go home. In Louisiana and Alabama and Florida they go to spring practice."

It might not be the only reason there are better recruits in the South, but it is just another example of how the players in those regions are ahead of the game.

Michigan State's rise

There are signs it is only a matter of time before the Big Ten gets back to national prominence.

Ohio State is going nowhere and Franklin already has one of the top recruiting classes for next season. Michigan continues to bring in top players, and Nebraska has a shot to get back to the conference title game this season.

Then there is the emergence of Michigan State and the consistency of Wisconsin.

"Michigan State has been lights out," DiNardo said. "Mark (Dantonio) has done and unbelievable job in eight years. He's taken an inconsistent program and made it consistent. He's like Oregon was, a more regional program that now is on the cusp of becoming a national program. So Michigan State is doing it right and can help the Big Ten. They are meeting expectations if not exceeding them."

The Spartans could get a shot at the inaugural College Football Playoff, and that could be a sign the Big Ten isn't going to disappear from the national scene.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Trieu said. "College football tends to be cyclical and it happens to be a tough year for the Big Ten. But some schools have to step up and break that cycle."

Until then, the Power 5 might not exactly be powerful from top to bottom.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Cream of the crop

First-round NFL draft picks by conference over the last 10 years

Year

SEC

Big Ten

Pac 12

Big 12

ACC

2014

11

4

3

2

5

2013

11

1

5

4

6

2012

10

4

4

5

3

2011

10

6

3

8

3

2010

7

3

2

9

3

2009

8

4

4

7

5

2008

6

4

6

1

7

2007

11

6

1

4

6

2006

4

8

4

3

12

2005

10

4

3

5

5

By the numbers

1 BCS championships for the Big Ten. Ohio State defeated Miami in 2002.

9 BCS championships for the Southeastern Conference

3 BCS championship game appearances for the Big Ten. Ohio State played in 2002, 2006 and 2007. Nebraska played in the title game in 2001 but wasn't a member of the Big Ten.

28 Appearances by the Big Ten in BCS bowl games.

10 Appearances in BCS bowl games by Ohio State, the most of any other school. Michigan and Wisconsin have five each.

13-15 Big Ten record in BCS games. By contrast, the SEC went 17-10

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