On the January night in 2003 when Ohio State stunned Miami and won the national title, the Big Ten seemed poised for a renaissance.
The Buckeyes were back under Jim Tressel, and that wasn't all.
Michigan and Penn State were their usual selves, rolling up 10 and nine victories, respectively.
Iowa went 11-2 that season. Wisconsin and Minnesota each won eight games.
Surely, those schools and others in the league would rise to meet the Buckeyes at or near the summit.
Six humbling seasons later, Ohio State is still waiting for backup.
Yes, there have been high points for the rest of the conference: Iowa's 20 victories in 2003 and '04 combined; Penn State's 11-1 mark in 2005; Michigan's 11-2 and Wisconsin's 12-1 records in '06; Illinois' 2008 Rose Bowl berth; Northwestern and Michigan State each winning nine games last year.
But beyond the Buckeyes, every single program in the Big Ten has had at least one big bust of a season.
Ohio State has not ranked lower than No. 21 in the Sagarin computer ratings in any of the past six seasons. The other 10 teams in the league have ranked in the lower half of the FBS nationally at least once during that time.
Michigan had its 3-9 train wreck last year, finishing 95th.
Wisconsin threw in a 7-6 clunker last season against a soft schedule to finish 61st.
Iowa was 79th in 2007.
Penn State was 71st in 2003 and 63rd in '04.
Purdue slid in its final years under Joe Tiller, finishing 62nd in 2006 and 78th last year.
Michigan State had a couple of rough seasons under John L. Smith, ranking 66th in 2004 and 80th in '06.
Minnesota cratered in 2007, winning one game and finishing 123rd.
Northwestern is justifiably proud of earning three Big Ten titles since 1995, but it was No. 93 in the Sagarin ratings in 2006 and No. 86 in '07.
Illinois has been higher than 68th only once in the past six years.
And Indiana -- where they're now selling league home games to the highest bidder -- has failed to crack the top 70.
Compare that to the other leagues, and you'll see a consistency problem.
Five schools in the Big Ten's nemesis league, the Southeastern Conference, have ranked in the top half of the FBS nationally all six years: Florida, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Three of them -- Florida, LSU and Georgia -- have done what the Buckeyes have done, ranking in the top 30 every season.
I'd just like to add:
During his hateful rant against the Big Ten, I absolutely love how Pat slurps several SEC teams, yet conveniently doesn't mention the fact that the Big Ten has a winning record vs. the SEC this decade and all-time.
I suppose that's not really that important when your employer has a $3 Billion TV deal with the SEC though, huh...
Just focus on those lowly season end rankings and not the fact that many of those "terrible" Big Ten teams went on to beat an SEC team in a bowl game that same year.
Spun like a true ESPN anal-yst.
Here's a video of Forde's take, in case you want to see and hear what he has to say about the top five conferences and how he ranks them 1-5.
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This article was written by Pat Forde and posted on ESPN.com