I think there's a notion in sports that the Big Ten is a weak conference among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) leagues. I somewhat disagree with that notion. I believe the Big Ten, particularly the Big Ten East, is on the rise.
For starters, let's look at the Michigan Wolverines, now led by Jim Harbaugh. Prior to spending the last four seasons at the helm of the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh was the head football coach at Stanford University. The Cardinal won just six games combined in the two years before Harbaugh arrived, including an abysmal 1-11 season in 2006. But in 2010, Harbaugh's final year before leaving for the NFL, Stanford went 12-1 and notched an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Given his past performance as an FBS coach, I think Harbaugh will turn things around in Ann Arbor and make a contender out of a Michigan squad that managed just a 5-7 record this season.
Next, look to Happy Valley. James Franklin and Penn State defeated Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl this season, a game that was significant in part because it was the Nittany Lions' first post-sanctions bowl appearance. Now that Penn State is eligible for post-season play again, I think there will be more recruits who want to make Beaver Stadium their home stadium thanks to the tradition and spirit that live on in Happy Valley and in the minds of many a Penn Stater.
Rounding out the crop of the Big Ten East are Ohio State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes are 13-1 entering the 2014-15 national championship game against Oregon, and have a head coach who so far has lost just three games in three years at Columbus. I don't think Urban Meyer's going anywhere thanks to his track record as a Buckeye, and as long as he stays put, Ohio State will remain a power in the Big Ten East and the FBS.
Mark Dantonio is rather impressive himself as the head man in East Lansing. Save for a 7-6 season in 2012, the Spartans won at least 11 games every year from 2010 to 2014. So just like their counterparts in Ohio, Michigan State will likely remain competitive as long as Dantonio coaches and coaches the Spartans.
So the Big Ten East is on the rise, or at least that's what I believe. Look at the men who coach the schools in the division and the records they've put together during their years in the FBS. Look, too, at Penn State and how just maybe, in my opinion, they could see some excellent players come to their campus and turn the Nittany Lions into a serious contender again. It might not be next year, and it might not even be the year after that, but someday, and someday soon, Big Ten East will be a force to be reckoned with.
*Note: All records used in this post came from either espn.go.com or sports-reference.com/cfb.