The bombshell that dropped on Memorial Day will forever resonate with Ohio State fans. The news that Jim Tressel, a coach with an 82% winning percentage and a coach who won or shared the Big 10 title for 7 consecutive years, has resigned amid allegations of rampant player misconduct. The Assistant Dean in the Big 10 is now gone, and the destruction that will be left behind is something only the future can know. Will the NCAA crack down? Will Ohio State get USC’d, so to speak? The Buckeye Nation will be on pins and needles until judgement has been rendered.
It has become clear the Ohio State leaders were ignorant (at best) to the goings on in Columbus, and the NCAA generally doesn’t take too kindly to such things. There are too many unknowns for me to essentially guess at what will happen to Ohio State, though I think we can all agree that the Buckeyes will feel the wrath of the NCAA at some point, it’s just a matter of how severe the wrath will be.
One thing that is for certain is there will be a massive void left when Ohio State takes their inevitable decline (spare me your crap, Buckeyes; you don’t go through what Ohio State is about to go through and not step back). This decline might not necessarily happen this year, though, as Ohio State is still the most talented team in the conference. The news of an independent investigation into star quarterback Terrelle Pryor could change that, however. Should Pryor be suspended for the season, or miss more than the 5 games he was previously suspended for, Ohio State could be in deep trouble, with options being a Joe Bauserman, a 6-foot-1, 233 pound (seriously?) senior with little experience, or the hot shot true freshmen Braxton Miller, a duel-threat quarterback with no experience and only 185 pounds on him. No matter how good Miller may be, starting a true freshmen at quarterback is never a good thing.
So not only will Ohio State be without one of the best coaches in Big 10 history, but they may (and right now it’s just that) be dealt with having a first-year head coach (Luke Fickell) AND a new starting quarterback. Yikes. With a schedule that includes Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan and Miami, that’s a lot to ask.
With that said, who can step into the void and fill the mighty shoes of Ohio State while they giants are on their knees? The good news for the Buckeyes is that, frankly, the Big 10 is lacking in talent right now. This isn’t the SEC where an Alabama can get knocked down and Florida or LSU will simply fill the gap. Every team in the conference has major questions, some of which are too great to think that the programs can capitalize at all. You can rule out Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota. No offense to those fan bases, but Ohio State avoiding NCAA trouble was never what was stopping them from Big 10 greatness.
That leaves us with 6 teams that can capitalize on Ohio State’s predicament: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin. Each team on this list has less talent than Ohio State, but the gap is different for each one, and that will play into why certain teams are higher than others. What will also be a key factor is what divisions the teams are in. Teams in Ohio State’s Leaders Division will be much happier than those that aren’t. Which teams have the most to gain? Let’s take a look.
1- Wisconsin: The Badgers are at No. 1 because they are the second best team in the conference in my opinion and they live in the same division as Ohio State. With the conference going to a divisional format, getting the Big 10 title game is paramount, and if your chief divisional rival is in hot water with the NCAA, life is good. The Badgers also have a style that is conducive to consistency. Recruit big lineman and pound the rock. They do have a big question mark at QB as well as OL for this year, though I doubt the latter will be an issue going forward.
2- Penn State: While Penn State doesn’t have the talent of Wisconsin, they do have a solid program that won’t be rebuilding forever. They, like Wisconsin, live in the Leaders division alongside Ohio State. If Penn State was ever going to challenge the top dog, it would be when the top dog was hobbled. Penn State could also benefit from Ohio State feeling vulnerable, and losing their sense of conference invincibility. Like it or not, Buckeyes, but that feeling will fade throughout this process.
3- Nebraska: The first team outside of the Leaders division is the Cornhuskers. Perhaps more talented at Wisconsin, Nebraska was given a tough road to hoe in it’s first two seasons in the Big 10, drawing both Ohio State and the Badgers. However, without Jim Tressel and perhaps Terrelle Pryor, things are looking up for Bo Pelini and Co. The thought of a true freshman or untested senior quarterback coming into Lincoln must make Pelini a happy man.
4- Michigan: The talent gap between the two teams is comical, but when your No. 1 rival is in the position that Michigan’s finds itself, things are looking good. With a new coach and a new sense of excitement around the program, Ohio State coming back to the field is the best thing that could happen to the Wolverines.
5- Michigan State: The Spartans, to me, always seem like they aren’t as good as they think they are. Last season was a perfect example of that. Yes, they went 11-2, but outside of a win against Wisconsin, their season was lacking in quality wins, but it did have two terrible losses (a combined score of 86-13). The Spartans get Ohio State first in in 2011 as far as Big 10 teams are concerned, and I have to think that’s a good thing for Michigan State, even though the Buckeyes own Sparty. Long term I’m not sure Michigan State can be the team that competes for the Big 10 title consistently, but they have a good shot at doing so in 2011 with what they bring back.
6- Iowa: Iowa won’t be affected by Ohio State’s troubles directly in 2011 as they avoid them on the schedule, but teams they play will get a weakened Buckeye opponent, so that will be tough. Iowa will never be a consistent league winner, but they will always be a solid team. They are the least affected by the Ohio State mess as they won’t play the Buckeyes until 2013 unless the two meet in the Big 10 final, so they won’t be as thrilled as the rest of the league with this news.
It’s not a given that any of the above teams will capitalize on Ohio State’s misfortunes, but I wouldn’t bet on the Buckeyes running through the league like they usually do. Losing a coach the caliber of Tressel is a tough blow, and if they do in fact lose Pryor that will make 2011 doubly difficult. The schedule gets that much harder for Big 10 teams with the new divisional format, and the odds of Ohio State absorbing the coming storm without a step (or two) backwards is unrealistic. The Big 10 teams will all say they feel for Ohio State, but behind closed doors there are fist pumps galore and the booze is free flowing. Goliath is weakened, and his cries of pain can be heard from State College, Pa., to Lincoln, Neb.