If you're a Big Ten fan, how you feel about this weekend's games likely depends heavily on whether you live east or west of Interstate 65. The Big Ten, once mocked heavily for its poor national performances (especially compared to the SEC), now cannot be shoved into a convenient box of mediocre football.
That's because the Big Ten East is dominant. Just this Saturday, No. 3 Ohio State beat the pulp out of No. 14 Oklahoma, 45-24 in Norman, and No. 12 Michigan State won at No. 18 Notre Dame. Add in 3-0 Michigan's expectations as a potential College Football Playoff team, and you have a monster division that has even more top teams than the fabled SEC West.
But then there's the Big Ten West, which showed on Saturday that it doesn't have close to the amount of muscle needed to compete with the East. A recap:
- Division favorite Iowa lost to FCS North Dakota State, which is a good team, but also not a game Iowa should lose.
- Wisconsin somehow looked even more pathetic than Iowa in their 23-17 win over Georgia State, a team far worse than NDSU—mind you, the Badgers were losing in the fourth quarter.
- Northwestern, last year's second-place team, got its first win! But that win came over Duke, and the Wildcats don't look likely to break six wins.
The lone bright spot for the West this week was Nebraska's 35-32 win over No. 22 Oregon. That's a big-name win because of the Ducks' success most years—but Oregon hasn't looked good so far this season, and that win might not turn out to be what people had hoped. The same goes for Wisconsin's week one win over an LSU team that can't find an identity on offense. Minnesota, everyone's favorite dark horse, nearly lost at home to lowly Oregon State.
This East-West split was bound to happen eventually, and people warned about it when the divisions were formed. While recruiting rankings aren't perfect, they are generally indicators of which teams will be most successful long-term. And right now the three East powers—Ohio State and Michigan in particular—are dominating the West in recruiting.
In the current recruiting class, Ohio State and Michigan bookend the top 10, respectively, according to 247Sports. Only one other Big 10 team cracks the top 20 (Iowa at No. 18). Last year, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State ranked fourth, sixth, and 17th, respectively, while Nebraska was the top West team at No. 25. In fact, since 247Sports started tracking recruiting rankings in 2000, the top recruiting team in the Big Ten has never come from the pool of current West teams.
Of course, recruiting rankings don't mean that the West can't have a great team. Last year, Iowa went 12-0 in the regular season and nearly knocked off Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin has had plenty of success in recent years, too. However, given the massive talent differential, the West teams need a lot of luck to be great, while the East is already there.
It's easy to mock the Big Ten as a whole when you see games like Iowa-NDSU and Wisconsin-Georgia State, but at least at the top, the Big Ten is one of the best leagues in the country. But three weeks into the season, it looks like the Big Ten West is going to deserve all the mockery it gets.