The week before the Big Ten conference football season begins is generally not a time to schedule tough opponents, which is why Wisconsin hosted UTEP instead of, say, Alabama or Southern Cal. Still, the Badgers had all they could handle from the mighty Miners, pulling out a 37-26 victory. Wisconsin lost to the only BCS opponent on its nonconference slate, getting outclassed at Oregon State in the second week of the season.
The Badgers aren't alone. A glance at the Big Ten's nonconference record turns up zero big wins. Michigan has been thumped by Alabama and Notre Dame. Michigan State and Purdue also lost to the Fighting Irish. Nebraska, which drubbed Idaho State last Saturday, lost to UCLA on Sept. 8. The only instance of a Big Ten team beating a ranked opponent was Michigan State squeaking past Boise State on Aug. 30. This continues a string of ho-hum results that started during last year's bowl schedule, when Big Ten teams finished 4-5.
Ohio State, ineligible for postseason play, is the only Big Ten team ranked in the top 15 in either of the major national polls (the AP has the Buckeyes 14th). So unless one of the conference's other undefeated squads - Minnesota, Northwestern - manages to win out, the race for the national championship will likely take place without a Big Ten team for the fifth straight year.
When it was announced in June that a four-team tournament will determine the national champion starting in the 2014 season, many felt it would compel big-shot programs to differentiate themselves by playing against stronger nonconference opponents. But as long as Big Ten programs continue to lose to those teams, there's not much incentive to schedule more of these games.