Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, August 4, 2015

Woody and Bo. Bo and Woody.

The names conjure images of dominance hearkening to the epic ?10-Year War,? from 1969-78, during which Bo Schembechler's Michigan teams and Woody Hayes' Ohio State squads so dominated the Big Ten that the conference became known as the ?Big Two and Little Eight.?

Purdue? Indiana? Michigan State? Illinois? Minnesota? All the others? Hapless punching bags to the goliaths that were the Wolverines and Buckeyes, who routinely were ranked in the top five in the country while churning out myriad stars.

Now, Ohio State and Michigan look primed to declare war again on the rest of the Big Ten with Urban Meyer sitting on a national power in Columbus and Jim Harbaugh at the commands in Ann Arbor.

?With the momentum Ohio State built last year, you have to think the program is primed for more big things,? said FOX college football analyst Joel Klatt. ?And Jim Harbaugh has Michigan thinking big."

Wait. There?s more. There always is for a story as potentially delicious as this one. The Big Ten?s awesome meter may threaten to break off with Michigan State rolling and Penn State on the cusp. Yes, this could be a fun few years coming up for the grand ol? Big Ten.

?Add in Michigan State?s dominance under Mark Dantonio, James Franklin at Penn State and new coaches at Nebraska and Wisconsin, and the Big Ten could be in store for a run,? Klatt said.

Not long ago, the Big Ten was a punch line, choking on the dust of the SEC, which ripped off seven national championships in a row from 2006-12. Remember?

Until Ohio State?s magical run to the summit last season, the Big Ten hadn?t won a national title since 2002. Ancient history. But the conference did have many missteps in big New Year?s Day bowls. No flops were bigger than Ohio State falling in consecutive BCS title games after the 2006 and 2007 seasons-both times to SEC schools. In fact, it was those defeats, first to Florida and then to LSU, that seemed to set the Big Ten on a funk while propelling the SEC onto its dominating run.

?You have to tip your hat to the SEC,? said Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. ?The conference was playing some good football. But now, the Big Ten is coming on.?

The vanguard of this new world order is Ohio State, a looming giant of the sport that looks poised to be a lynchpin. In fact, the Buckeyes could become college football?s ?it? program, the envy of the nation.

Ohio State is coming off an improbable run to the 2014 national championship. And most of the key cogs from that squad are back, which is why the Buckeyes are the favorite to win it all in 2015. There?s Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, Darron Lee, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Braxton Miller and Raekwon McMillan, among others. And then there is Ezekiel Elliott, maybe the Heisman favorite, and the quarterback tandem of Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.

Will Ohio State lose a game? Its biggest foe may be complacency.

?All we can do is watch the indicators, watch it closely, and then dive into it with a sledgehammer if we start to see something that's disrupting the team,? Meyer said. ?And we've dealt with one. And I knew this was coming for a while. And at some point, we're going to have to address it and we did. The good thing is we have three players here and actually had a little chat with them on the plane about it. And we're going and going as hard as you possibly can.?


The arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan has jacked up expectations in Ann Arbor to levels not seen in years. Harbaugh?s energy has infused what has been a largely listless program that hasn?t won the Big Ten since 2004. The former Wolverine star brings a glossy resume back to campus-but work looms. Still, given a track record that saw him go 29-21 at Stanford from 2007-10 with an Orange Bowl bid and 44-19 with the 49ers from 2011-14 with a trip to the Super Bowl, it?s easy to see why Wolverine fans are setting their hair on fire.

?Not striving to be creating any buzz,? Harbaugh said. ?Just striving to coach the football team. Not trying to be popular or anything. Anyone who is popular is bound to be disliked. So just coaching football.?

Harbaugh and his khakis, ball cap and whistle fear no one. Ask Pete Carroll, whose USC program was the national giant in the early-to-mid-2000s when Harbaugh arrived in Palo Alto. No matter, the plucky Harbaugh chased down the mighty Trojans.


Michigan State is almost a forgotten team, lost amid the hoopla surrounding Harbaugh?s arrival and the large shadow cast by Meyer?s Buckeyes. Dantonio?s Spartans have won double-digit games four times in the last five years with two Big Ten titles and wins in the Rose and Cotton Bowls. That win over Baylor in the Cotton last year still resonates for Dantonio.

?The bowl game, our bowl game victory was very, very exciting,? said Dantonio. ?It showed that we could be mentally tough and continue to push through tough times and be able to come out on the front end at the end of the game. And I think we just kept playing.?


Franklin enters his second season at Penn State with a full complement of scholarships for the first time, as NCAA sanctions have been wiped away. If you believe recruiting rankings, Franklin is assembling lots of talent in State College, Pennsylvania. And he?s stoked about battling Meyer, Harbaugh, Dantonio et al.

?I think it's great,? Franklin said. ?That's why you come to the Big Ten. That's why you come to Penn State. It's exciting that we're able to go to high schools and go to recruits and say – you have an opportunity to get a world-class education and play against the very best, which is what everybody wants to do. Big-time football, big-time academics, tremendous support. I think it's great. I think it's great for our conference. Like I said in the beginning, you think about the stories and the narrative that was being told a year ago compared to now, it's a 180-degree switch. So I think that's exciting.

?I think it's exciting in the fact that our players are going to be able to compete against some of the top players in the country. Our coaches are going to be able to compete against top coaches. We're going to be able to go into great environments and play big-time college football. We've embraced it. It's all about competing in everything you do, in the classroom and on the football field.?


Wisconsin has been one of the Big Ten?s best programs the last 20-plus years. The Badgers won three Big Ten titles in a row from 2010-12 and have played in three of the first four league title games.

?I love this program,? said Chryst, a former Badger player and assistant. ?And I love the guys. The people that have been part of the program are part of it now. And, certainly, I want to keep attracting more young players into our program. But I think the biggest thing for me is I've got to be me and be who I am. But as far as the issues and talking about it, I love this place and I love the players that play the game and feel really fortunate to be doing it with the group of guys that we have at Wisconsin.?


And then there?s Nebraska. There was a point in the 1990s when the Cornhuskers were the aforementioned nation?s ?it? program, winning national titles in 1994, 1995 and 1997. And the program came close to winning it all in 1993, 1995 and 2001. But since that run to the BCS title game in 2001, Nebraska hasn?t been a national contender. Frank Solich, Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini all failed to deliver big-time results. Now, Mike Riley will take a shot.

?I am excited by the competition,? Riley said. ?This is a challenging league that?s only getting better.

?Let?s get started.?


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.