Big Ten football is so down right now, the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 might want to rename this conference quintet “The Power Four and That Other League.”

With a 1-10 record against teams from the other Power Five conferences, the Big Ten has become a national punch line again. And this didn’t happen overnight. Since 2010, the Big Ten is 8-33 against those teams.

Why has this conference fallen so far? That’s a complex discussion, but here are three of the factors:

1. Population shifts

Everyone knows it starts with recruiting, but it’s gotten tougher for Big Ten teams to keep up with other major conferences, as people migrate from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. Fewer people mean a smaller talent pool.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press points to the electoral map to emphasize the population drain within the Big Ten footprint. In 1980, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania combined for 99 electoral votes. By 2012, that number had shrunk to 74.

Meanwhile, Florida, Texas and California went from a combined 88 electoral votes to 122. According to, those three states combined to produce 39.1 percent of the FBS-level players from 2008 to 2013.

No matter how good your coach, facilities and traditions are, it’s hard convincing elite athletes to leave sunny climes for Big Ten cities. And three of the other four states producing the most football talent in that span were Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana — from the heart of SEC country, where football is like a religion.

“Just take a look at Pennsylvania, and the great high school teams that used to be in that area,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told Sharp. “Now because of the steel towns and the exodus of so many jobs in that area, high school football is not what it once was. I think that’s happened in a lot of these industrial cities throughout the Midwest as well.”

2. Powers struggle

When it comes to national perception, a conference is only as good as its best teams.

SEC teams have combined to win eight national titles — Alabama (three), Louisiana State (two), Florida (two) and Auburn (one) — since the Big Ten last claimed one, by Ohio State in 2003.

The Buckeyes also lost BCS title games in 2007 and 2008, and were ranked No. 2 last year before losing the Big Ten title game to Michigan State. But outside Columbus, the Big Ten hasn’t produced many elite teams over the past dozen years.

The 2006 Ohio State/Michigan game pitted No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the country. Since then, the Wolverines are 52-42.

There is hope at Penn State, especially now that the NCAA has lifted sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Bill O’Brien did a commendable job holding that program together, and James Franklin has the Nittany Lions ranked atop the latest Big Ten recruiting rankings.

3. Dearth of QBs

The last Big Ten quarterback to get drafted in the first round was Penn State’s Kerry Collins — in 1995. Current Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has the look of a future first-rounder, and Connor Cook is everything Michigan State could want, too.

But other teams across the league are struggling at quarterback. Wisconsin fans are longing for the next Russell Wilson. Devin Gardner’s inconsistency is one reason Michigan hasn’t gained traction.

It’s not just quarterback. In 2013, the Big Ten produced just one first-round draft pick, at any position. The SEC had 13. The difference in talent seems more glaring each year.


1. Michigan State (1-1): The Spartans had a bye week to lick their wounds from Oregon. Up next: Eastern Michigan.

2. Wisconsin (1-1): Melvin Gordon champing at the bit after Western Illinois held him to 38 yards on 17 carries.

3. Ohio State (2-1): Kent State is awful, but J.T. Barrett’s six TD passes offered a much-needed confidence boost.

4. Nebraska (3-0): Ameer Abdullah ranks eighth in the nation with 178.3 all-purpose yards per game.

5. Penn State (3-0): Nittany Lions’ win at Rutgers wasn’t pretty, but Christian Hackenberg was Mr. Clutch again.

6. Iowa (2-1): Strong RB depth and a good line, yet no single rusher has topped 50 yards in a game.

7. Rutgers (2-1): Gary Nova’s interception problems resurfaced, derailing Big Ten opener vs. Penn State.

8. Maryland (2-1): Came within three points of beating West Virginia for a 3-0 start. This week: at Syracuse.

9. Michigan (2-1): Defense held Notre Dame to 1.7 yards per rush and Miami (Ohio) to 2.0 yards per rush.

10. Gophers (2-1): As poorly as they played last week, teams below them on this list have played worse.

11. Indiana (1-1): Tevin Coleman leads the nation with 218.5 rushing yards per game. Great player. Bad team.

12. Illinois (2-1): Team ranks last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, yielding 183.7 yards per game.

13. Purdue (1-2): Danny Etling raised confidence, going 12-for-14 passes for two TDs in first half vs. Notre Dame.

14. Northwestern (0-2): Facing Western Illinois this week, after a bye, gives Wildcats a chance to pick up the pieces.