Saturday’s Instant Classic Draws National Attention
On Saturday, November 26th, #2 Ohio State defeated #3 Michigan 30-27 in one of the most memorable football games in recent memory. “The Game” had playoff implications, double-overtime drama, critical refereeing decisions, and the weight of a conference on it’s back. In the aftermath of the battle between the two teams, one thing has become abundantly clear: the Big Ten is back in the national spotlight. And may stay there for good.
According to ESPN, Saturday’s game drew a 10.4 TV rating, making it the most watched game of the college football season. To put that into perspective, the second highest rated game of the year was Notre Dame vs. Texas, which did a 7.0 rating. Factoring in record streaming numbers, it is estimated that Michigan vs. Ohio State was watched by nearly 16.2 million people.
Although nothing is certain with the NCAA’s playoff committee, it was largely assumed that the winner of Michigan vs. Ohio State would be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Due to Ohio State’s 30-27 victory, they have most likely earned one of those four bids. Add in the winner of the Big Ten Championship game between Wisconsin and Penn State, and the Big Ten could be the only conference with two teams in the playoff. This alone doesn’t make them the strongest conference in the country, but it is certainly a good start.
While Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the country since head coach Urban Meyer’s arrival in 2012, the Big Ten has lacked a second or even third team that can compete for a national title. Michigan State and Wisconsin have both been consistently successful for over a decade, but not on a championship level. In order to rival the SEC’s powerhouse programs, the Big Ten will need a signature rivalry and multiple teams that can win a national championship. Which brings us to Michigan, and their recent game against Ohio State.
Thanks to Jim Harbaugh’s return to Ann Arbor, Michigan has returned to national prominence, contending for a playoff spot and a Big Ten championship in Harbaugh’s second year at the helm. Despite the SEC’s stranglehold on the national spotlight for most of the 21st century, Harbaugh’s arrival has put the Big Ten back on the map. And while, yes, Michigan did in fact lose their game at Ohio State, their top 5 ranking for most of the season greatly helps the Big Ten’s national reputation. They have one of the biggest fan bases in the country, as well as the storied history and national fame that other Big Ten teams may not have.
In Harbaugh and Meyer, the conference has two of the best head coaches in the country, much like they had when Schembechler and Hayes started their “Ten Year War” at the respective schools from 1969 through 1978. A similar run of meaningful games between the two schools would captivate college football for years to come. And with continued success from Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State (excluding their 3-9 record this season), the conference could soon have bragging rights over the vaunted SEC.
It remains to be seen what happens with the 2016 College Football Playoff. Another championship from Ohio State, or even a playoff appearance from Wisconsin or Penn State would do wonders for the Big Ten and their fans. But one thing is certain: “The Game” is back, and so is the Big Ten.