Badger Bits: Badgers, Spartans help usher in new era of Big Ten football

If you take a look at the way the Big Ten conference has played out in the last decade or so, no one's name comes up more than a certain sweater-vested individual from Ohio State. Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes have dominated the conference since the turn of the millenium, earning at least a share of the Big Ten title in seven of the past nine years, including the last six in a row. Ohio State also won the conference's lone national championship since 1997 by beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl 2002.

But now, the Tressel era has come to an end. So too has Joe Paterno's long and very successful tenure at Penn State. With two of the conference's perennial powerhouses in transition, Wisconsin and Michigan State earned a share of the title last season and will play for it again on Saturday. Neither program has won a conference championship on their own since the Badgers did it in 1999. It's been even longer for the Spartans, whose last non-shared title came in 1987.

Are these two programs just peaking at a fortunate time, or are they here to stay? I'm inclined to argue for the latter, and while it seems unlikely either will dominate the conference the way the Buckeyes did in the '00s, I think it's an exciting development for the conference and its fans. One could argue Bret Bielema and Mark Dantonio were the conference's two top coaches in the brief couple of weeks between Paterno's dismissal and Ohio State's hiring of Urban Meyer. Obviously, they're here to stay, and there's no reason to think there will be a significant drop-off in how competitive their teams will be in the near future.

With the Badgers, Spartans and conference newcomer Nebraska in the fold amongst the conference's top teams, the Big Ten is in a position to narrow the gap between itself and the SEC and solidify its spot as the No. 2 football conference in the college game. It's not there yet, but with Michigan and Ohio State already on the way back up, competition in the Big Ten could be at an all-time high in a year or two.

At the very least, we'll all be spared of the sight of watching Jim Tressel hoist the Big Ten title year after year and I, for one, am excited for that reality.

Football links

Mark Dantonio also seems excited about the possibility of a brave new world in Big Ten football.

You may have caught this in John's story from yesterday, but Peter Konz still has a chance to play Saturday.

Here's a scouting report on MSU from Jeff Potrykus.

You have to admire Kevin Zeitler, a consensus all-Big Ten first teamer and an extremely hard worker.

Likewise with Josh Oglesby, who earned the same honor despite enduring six knee surgeries.

One of the more buzz-worthy stories from yesterday: ESPN's Brad Edwards endorses Montee Ball for the Heisman. Very thoughtful story, but you'll need an insider account.

Wisconsin's defense has been awful on third down against the Spartans.

The secondary also needs to prevent big plays, something it has struggled with this season despite being good otherwise.

Illinois is rumored to be interested in replacing Ron Zook with Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Badger fans are already buying Rose Bowl travel packages.

Dave Heller: how the Badgers ran and passed in week 13.

Montee Ball will be featured on College Game Day this Saturday.

Hoops Links

The Badgers can take a big step towards joining the nation's elite by beating North Carolina on the road tonight.

Transition defense will be extremely important against the lightning-quick Tar Heels.

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