Big Ten’s image against SEC a topic at Media Days

Last week’s Big Ten Media Days didn’t have a “Tebowgate” scandal of any sort. The SEC Football Media Days were filled with questions about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Reporters at Big Ten Media Days didn’t focus on Tebow, but there was no shortage of discussion on the SEC.

With their conference mired in a recent bowl slump, Big Ten head coaches were time and again questioned regarding their national perception, often in comparison to what is widely regarded as college football’s toughest conference. And time and again, the Big Ten bosses defended the talent and competition in their league.

“I don’t see that big of a difference between the conferences,” Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio said after being asked whether he felt the Big Ten was inferior to the SEC.

Of course, those types of questions stem from statistics. The Big Ten went 1-6 in bowl games last season — the one triumph was Iowa’s 31-10 victory over SEC member South Carolina in the Outback Bowl — and is just 9-20 in bowl games in the last four years. The Big Ten is 5-5 against the SEC in bowl games in the same four-year stretch, something that’s not lost on Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema.

“I think that bowl games, a lot of it depends on obviously your preparation and what you put into it. But a lot of it is what happens on that day,” Bielema said before citing his 2-2 record against the SEC in his five-year tenure with the Badgers.

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez acknowledged that his team’s struggles last season may be adding to the Big Ten’s slipping national perception, saying “you expect Michigan to be playing in a January bowl game or potentially in a BCS game.” But Rodriguez also believes the solution to improving the conference perception is simple — and that it will come soon.

“I think our league is poised to have a big bowl performance situation very, very soon if you look at who’s coming back in our league and the teams … As a league, once we get a few big wins, whether it’s regular season, nonconference, a BCS bowl or bowl games, that perception will change,” Rodriguez said.

One of the Big Ten’s first opportunities to grab an important non-conference win will come on Sept. 12 when Ohio State hosts perennial power USC. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel doesn’t think any Big Ten team feels overmatched heading into big games.

“I don’t know that anyone in (the Big Ten) has an inferiority complex,” Tressel said. “If you watch ball games, our guys will play toe to toe with anyone.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz thought the whole situation may be overblown. As support, he referred to the 2002 Big Ten Media Days, when the “sky was clearly falling.”

“At the end of the (2002) season, we had four teams in the top 13 with Ohio State winning the national championship,” Ferentz said. “So I think about perceptions. It seems like the more we talk about things, the more we focus on things, the more pronounced they become. And I’m not sure they’re always factual.”

Nevertheless, Tressel stressed that he and fellow conference coaches are concerned about the Big Ten’s image.

“It is something that, as I mentioned earlier, we take very, very serious, that every time we line up outside our conference, obviously we’re representing ourselves and our institution, but we’re representing this league. That’s important to us,” Tressel said.