Time is about to run out on the Big Ten being able to sit back and bask in its football renaissance. All the goodwill earned by the conference with big victories last postseason - the highlight being Ohio State's national championship - isn't guaranteed as a new season begins this week.
Time is about to run out on the Big Ten being able to sit back and bask in its football renaissance.
All the goodwill earned by the conference with big victories last postseason - the highlight being Ohio State's national championship - isn't guaranteed as a new season begins this week.
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"We have great energy," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We had a great year last year, and it was a long and interesting run. We didn't start strong, but we ended strong. But that was last year's story. This year's story is going to unfold over 13 weeks."
The Big Ten's 120th season begins Thursday when Jim Harbaugh makes his much-anticipated debut as Michigan's coach by taking his Wolverines to Utah to play a team that won 26-10 last year in Ann Arbor.
Later Thursday, resurgent Minnesota plays host to No. 2 Texas Christian, which walloped the Gophers 30-7 last September. The Horned Frogs are still smarting about being left out of the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff in favor of OSU.
"That's a great game for us to open up with and see where we're at," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "We're going to bring in a little bit of artificial snow in there and see how they can handle that snow in September."
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Kill was joking, but Ohio State finds no humor in its own opener. The No. 1 Buckeyes, hurt by player suspensions, play Monday night at Virginia Tech, the only team to hand OSU a loss last season.
Other chances for the Big Ten to improve or damage its restored reputation will occur between Thursday and Monday in the league's schedule of 14 first-week games.
No. 20 Wisconsin and new coach Paul Chryst debut Saturday night against No. 3 Alabama, the Southeastern Conference power that OSU upset in last year's Sugar Bowl national semifinal. Earlier Saturday, Nebraska and new coach Mike Riley meet BYU at home, and Northwestern plays host to No. 21 Stanford from the Pac-12.
"You want to set a good tone. You want to make it look good," Riley said.
September offers the Big Ten other image-buffering opportunities beyond the season's first week.
Michigan State, with its highest preseason ranking (No. 5) in 48 years, plays host to No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 12. Nebraska is at the University of Miami and Illinois at North Carolina on Sept. 19. Iowa is at Iowa State that day, and the Hawkeyes play Pittsburgh a week later. Michigan plays host to BYU and Maryland plays at West Virginia on Sept. 26.
"You're going to have four weeks' worth of an evaluation from a national perspective on where our conference is based on head-to-head matchup games with Power Five teams," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
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September was a disaster for the Big Ten in 2014. Wisconsin lost its opener to LSU, and a week later, five league teams lost nonconference games, including three high-profile defeats: Virginia Tech upset OSU, Michigan State fell at Oregon and Michigan lost 31-0 at Notre Dame.
Those losses continued a negative narrative about the Big Ten, which from 2010 through the end of the 2014 regular season went 10-29 against ranked teams from the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, as well as Notre Dame.
Last year's nonconference flops are why the Big Ten spent the regular season looking as if it wouldn't place a team in the College Football Playoff.
That changed when the Buckeyes defeated Wisconsin 59-0 in the league championship game.
Ohio State then rolled past Alabama and Oregon for the Big Ten's first national championship since 2002.
The league also received a boost from Michigan State's Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor and Wisconsin's victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
The Big Ten went 6-3 in the postseason, with a 4-1 record against ranked teams from the Power Five conferences, including 2-1 against the SEC.
"There's a lot of parity in college football," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Things hang by the inches. When people get hot, great things can happen. And I think you saw that last year."
There still is reputation work for the Big Ten to do. The league's three-ranked teams are far outpaced by the SEC's eight and the Pac-12's six. Success in September could change that.