Buckeyes' flops start Big Ten bashing

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Now that preseason practice has begun and the start of the non-conference season is less than a month away, Big Ten bashing is in full bloom.

Ohio State's poor performance in the national championship game the past two years seems to have tainted the entire conference.

It doesn't seem to matter that the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the USA Today Top 25 preseason coaches' poll, tying it for the lead with the SEC and the Big 12.

"The Big Ten has always been hated by the SEC and the Pac-10 and now the Big Ten has become a national punch line," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said recently. "[Those conferences] mock the Big Ten. They laugh at the Big Ten. They think the Big Ten is the most overrated conference in the country every year.

"It's a shame. If you went back and studied it, the record would be about equal. But because of the stage and the magnitude, everyone is like, 'See what I'm talking about.' "

Ohio State has cruised to a 23-1 regular-season record the past two years but finished with embarrassing losses to the SEC's Florida (41-14) and LSU (38-24) -- in the BCS national championship game.

It doesn't help the Big Ten's image that the Buckeyes are 0-9 overall against the SEC in bowl games or that both Michigan and Illinois have been blown out by Pac-10 power Southern California in the past two Rose Bowls.

The brunt of the criticism has been directed at Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, whose Buckeyes return 20 starters and once again are overwhelming favorites to win their fourth consecutive Big Ten title. If that happens, a third consecutive trip to the national championship game in Miami would be a distinct possibility.

But the criticism still follows the Buckeyes.

"I know, from our standpoint, where it comes from is that we played in the national championship the last two years and haven't been successful, so is that fair?" Tressel said. "I think that's fair we haven't been successful. Should that paint a picture of our whole conference? I don't think so."

Ohio State is No. 3 in the coaches' poll, followed by No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 19 Illinois, No. 22 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan.

The Buckeyes captured the conference's last national title in 2002, beating Miami in double-overtime. But the Big Ten has a 14-22 bowl record in the five years since, with zero national championships to the SEC's three.

"I think the public perception the last two years is that we've been looked down upon a little bit in terms of strength, and what we can do, because of [Ohio State]," Penn State center A.Q. Shipley said. "But I think you have to give Ohio State a lot of credit. They played well enough to get to the national championship game."

The SEC is viewed by most as a conference with faster players and more innovative coaches than the Big Ten. But first-year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who spent the past seven years coaching West Virginia in the Big East Conference, doesn't think that's an accurate assessment.

"I think the perception is just that, perception," he said. "There's obviously some great speed in other leagues, but there's some great speed in our league as well. ... There's a lot of players in the Big Ten playing in the NFL. I don't know what the numbers are, but we stack up pretty high in that regard. That's just a perception for years and years that we're more of a pound-it-out, smashmouth, football team."

Herbstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback, believes the easiest way for the Buckeyes to redeem themselves and earn some respect for the Big Ten is by winning their Sept. 13 non-conference showdown at USC.

The Trojans have two national titles and a runner-up finish in the past five years.

"If Ohio State loses by 30 points, it's not going to help them or the conference," he said. "If they go out and win, it sets them up for another run."

Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com


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