Hold on to your hats, Big Ten haters, because college football’s top coach just called the conference “really good.” Nick Saban, during a recent fundraiser in Cincinnati, touched on the Big Ten following a question comparing it to the SEC.
When asked, “How long will it take the Big Ten to get up to SEC standards,” Saban took the politically correct route and offered high praise for the conference.
“I think we have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to the recruiting base we have in the Southeast,” stated Saban. “But I think the Big Ten is a really good conference. And I want to be quoted on that.”
He expounded on the SEC’s territorial advantage, but also acknowledged that the Big Ten has its own share of talent pools.
“I think you have great high school football here in Ohio, but there’s a lot of really good players in the Southeast and I think there’s a lot of passion for those players, and as that league has accomplished a lot of success through the years, more and more people on a national basis want to come there,” Saban said. “So it’s created a real competitive conference. But I think the Big Ten has great institutions and are certainly capable of all those things and I think you almost have to nationally recruit in this day and age.”
Yes, a majority of the country’s best high schoolers are located in the South, making it a short drive for SEC recruiters. However, the same recruiting grounds are still just a private jet ride away for Big Ten coaches.
Despite the bashing the Big Ten receives, Saban is correct in his assertion that it’s a good football conference. In his piece about Saban’s quote, Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports dismisses that notion, going as far as placing the conference fifth among the Power Five (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). I find it hard to rank the Big Ten behind the ACC, but that discussion is for another time and place.
Even if it is the worst among the power conferences, does that mean the Big Ten isn’t good? In a word: no. It doesn’t. Let’s put the qualifier “good” into context for a minute. Remember, there are several layers of NCAA football – from FBS to DIII. The Big Ten falls among the top group of the top division (FBS) in the NCAA. Let’s also remember that “good” does not mean “great.” For instance, the SEC is a great conference, not simply good. The Big Ten, however, is still better than the majority of conferences in the NCAA. The conference would likely win a head-to-head battle with most leagues.
Even if we are talking about imbalance within the conference, the Big Ten is still no different than the other four top leagues. It’s unrealistic to expect Indiana to compete against Ohio State on a yearly basis. The Hoosiers never have, and they never will. The same also goes for teams in smaller conferences, only America isn’t exposed to them as much. The Big Ten regularly turns out some very good football teams (see: Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin in 2013), which are better than the majority of other teams in the country. Good football is played across all five power conferences, whether fans like to believe it or not. Go ahead and stick Nebraska in the Mountain West Conference and let’s see just how “good” that league’s football is.
In the end it’s all relative, and the Big Ten is being measured up against the best conferences in America. Just because the league may not reach the levels of the Pac-12 or SEC doesn’t mean that it isn’t good.
And as for Saban: remember that he cut his teeth in the Big Ten and understand’s its competitiveness. Besides, it’s not like he has a reason to sugar coat the conference. He’s doing just fine down South.