Since an admittedly great 2005 season, here are the Big Ten's collective football rankings according to Sagarin are as follows.
2013 - 4th
2012 - 4th
2011 - 3rd
2010 - 5th
2009 - 6th
2008 - 6th
2007 - 6th
2006 - 5th
The conference is of a minor upswing as of late, but let's not pretend that Rutgers is entering the SEC here. The fact is, there are significant reasons for optimism entering the fall. Gary Nova exchanges the worst QB coach in the NCAA for one of the best, and has a terrific supporting cast. Strong 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes form the core of this team. All of the freshmen defensive backs thrown into the fire last year actually have some experience now. Leonte Carroo and Darius Hamilton could both be among the top ten players in the Big Ten. That's coupled by a head coach who has looked terrible for the past year and a half, but there are scenarios where Ralph Friedgen lights everyone up, and last year was just an aberration.
Is that particularly likely? Probably not, but Randy Edsall looked like he was going to be fired after one season in 2012, and now he's somehow inspiring reasons for optimism? Having a relatively hard conference schedule isn't a good excuse. Michigan and Nebraska are somewhat flawed this year, while Penn State is extremely ripe for the taking with their personnel issues. Seven or eight wins should be expected, and if that doesn't happen, it's yet another missed opportunity in a long series of them in Piscataway. There are probably 80 coaches in DI who could win that total at Rutgers this season. Fundamentally, the problem remains coaching. With the upperclassmen still on this roster, Greg Schiano's consistent, overarching mediocrity could easily sleepwalk to an 8-4 record and Sun or Gator Bowl birth. They will never admit it, but that is what really troubles Big Ten fans.
Jim Delany deserves all the thanks in the world from saving us from certain doom, which was indeed an occasion to celebrate over the past week, but it's long past time to call out the myriad critics who are acting like this is somehow the worst thing that's ever happened, as opposed to yet another money grab in an unending series of them, dating all the way back to when the Western Conference originally decided to form their cartel in the first place. For the principled on regional rivalries or over-commercialization, we're sorry and don't like it too, but this isn't the Rubicon for that. Caesar's already far past Gaul, and has been for decades.
Otherwise, the claim that Rutgers and Maryland water down the Big Ten conference in football is preposterous if you even take one garner at the Big Ten West division. The entire conference isn't currently comprised of twelve Ohio States. Purdue is just as much of a member as Wisconsin, which is why the warped perception of the Big Ten supposedly being a strong (or at minimum, stronger than the old Louisville/West Virginia Big East) is so divorced completely from reality. They're all one big cargo cult worshiping the god of small sample sizes.
We're supposed to be scared of Al Borges (yeah, I know he's gone now) grinding out a dis-spirited running attack that would make Woody Hayes rise up from the grave in appreciation? This, of course, is from the same broken clocks who insisted that Rutgers would never join the Big Ten, the Big Ten Network would never gain coverage in the New York City metropolitan area, and now that Rutgers is a bad addition and magically has nothing to do with all of the new television rights deals. How do those guys have their finger so in tuned to the pulse of the Big Apple while all sitting in one collective cornfield anyway?
Therein lies the ultimate reason for their hatred: a gigantic, wailing vortex of an inferiority complex and faux-earnestness situated right about over the Great Lakes. The very reason for the Big Ten expanding is that the rust belt has been passed by in every conceivable way. They all remain stewing in resentment of Eastern intellectual supremacy (after all, we're taking all the spots at most Big Ten schools), economic vitality, and cultural hegemony. A fraction of a percentage of NYC metro dwarfs all of Muncie, Lima, Minnetonka, and Sheboygan in importance, and this is a point of contention. Every Chicago or Bloomington is the exception to the rule of all the burned out hell holes out there that figuratively make the living envy the dead. It may take some time then to untangle the mess of the ill-fated Kyle Flood hiring, but taking all of those sweet cable rights fees in the interim should go a long way towards soothing that wound.