The Big Ten hasn't gotten a lot of national respect or acknowledgement from the national media or fans from other conferences in recent years, and that's a frustrating thing for Big Ten fans. This season, however, it's been much more difficult to argue given the criticisms surrounding the conference.
After performances in line with what you would expect in the first week of the season, the second week of the NCAA season raised some serious concerns about the Big Ten. Nebraska only beat McNeese State by one score. Purdue, bless their hearts, lost dramatically to Central Michigan. Iowa squeaked out a four-point win over Ball State, and Middle Tennessee kept their game against Minnesota much closer than one might have expected. Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois, Michigan State failed to keep it competitive against Oregon, Michigan got shut out by Notre Dame, and Ohio State lost their home opener to Virginia Tech. It was not a good showing.
Week 3 was a bit of a mixed bag as well. Indiana lost to Bowling Green, Maryland lost to West Virginia, Iowa lost to their in-state rival Iowa State, Minnesota got rolled by TCU, Illinois lost to Washington, and the Boilermakers lost to Notre Dame, making them the only team to lose to a ranked team. Meanwhile, the wins were not terribly impressive. Ohio State did have a decisive win over Kent State, but it was Kent State. Michigan beat Miami of Ohio, Penn State managed a three-point victory over Rutgers -- so the Big Ten pretty much breaks even there -- and Nebraska beat Fresno State. It was easy at this point to look around the Big Ten and not find much support for the idea of the Big Ten's strength as a conference.
Week 4 began a turnaround for the conference. Michigan State hung 73 points on in-state rival Eastern Michigan, Northwestern beat Western Illinois, Iowa beat Pitt, and Purdue was victorious over Southern Illinois. Bowling Green lost to Wisconsin by a 51-point margin, Maryland beat Syracuse, Rutgers beat a good Navy team, Illinois beat Texas State, Minnesota beat San Jose State, Penn State dominated U Mass, and Nebraska beat Miami. Perhaps the most impressive win of the week was Indiana over ranked Missouri. The only real blow to the conference in Week 4 was a 16-point Michigan loss to Utah.
Week 5 was another strong week for the Big Ten. The standings are starting to take shape, with Northwestern beating Penn State, Iowa beating Purdue, Maryland beating Indiana, Minnesota beating Michigan, and Nebraska beating Illinois in conference play in Week 5. Additionally, Michigan State dominated Wyoming, Rutgers pulled off a decisive victory over Tulane, Wisconsin beat USF by a 17-point margin, and surely you watched the Buckeyes light up the Bearcats offensively on Saturday for a 50-28 victory.
Heading into Week 6, the Big Ten has four teams -- Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Ohio State -- ranked in the top 20 on the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll. Maryland also received votes for the AP Poll, and Iowa and Minnesota received votes for the Coaches' Poll.
Are Big Ten teams' performances over the past couple of weeks enough to turn around public opinion about the Big Ten? Probably not. Is it sufficient to even convince Big Ten fans that the conference currently is as strong as it needs to be for the Buckeyes, and other Big Ten teams, to be taken seriously? That's also doubtful. But it is nice, after a shaky start, for Big Ten fans to see teams winning games against the teams they should beat, often decisively.
How are you feeling about the relative strength of the Big Ten so far this season?