Reputation and respect are ever-evolving concepts. They take many years -- decades even -- to establish, yet they can be damaged or destroyed very quickly.
The Big Ten Conference is a great example. The league has enjoyed remarkable success, and it was a mere three years ago that it was on top of the college football world.
For 16 seconds.
Then? Ohio State blew it.
The exact turning point of the Big Ten's fate can be pinpointed to Jan. 8, 2007. The Buckeyes, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, entered the BCS national championship game ranked No. 1 and were coming off a thrilling 42-39 win over No. 2 Michigan in the regular-season finale.
The Buckeyes and Wolverines were clearly the two best teams in the nation, many people thought, so why not let them play a rematch in the BCS title game? It didn't happen, as Florida jumped Michigan in the standings and played Ohio State for the title.
How Ohio State has fared in prominent games against national powers since 2006:
Season Opponent Result
2009 USC L, 18-15
#2008 Texas L, 24-21
2008 USC L, 35-3
*2007 LSU L, 38-24
*2006 Florida L, 41-14
*--BCS national championship game
Those who believed it wouldn't be a contest felt even stronger about that after Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for an Ohio State touchdown.
It took 16 seconds. The rout was on, right?
Right. Except that the wrong team ending up winning in a rout.
Florida, behind starting quarterback Chris Leak and backup Tim Tebow, scored the next 21 points and went on to crush the Buckeyes, 41-14.
Ohio State bounced back, went undefeated in 2007 and returned to the national title game again ranked No. 1. This time, a two-loss LSU squad easily beat the Buckeyes, 38-24.
Two supposedly great Buckeye teams, two very bad losses.
Early in 2008, USC blasted Ohio State, 35-3. By that point, the Big Ten's reputation had dropped from contender to pretender, and it was made even worse when the conference went 1-6 in bowl games last season.
Critics have had a field day with the Big Ten's demise on the national stage.
"The results are pretty clear," ESPN's Colin Cowherd said this week on my radio show. "The conference has eroded in the last five, six, seven years. ... It doesn't mean it's terrible. It's better than the Big East. But it's top teams have not been as good."
Even a terrific, hard-fought 13-6 game between the league's two best teams, Penn State and Ohio State, drew criticism last year as college football pundits claimed the contest was an example of how the Big Ten is boring.
"They're criticizing defense," Penn State linebacker Sean Lee said. "I mean, a 13-6 game, for us, is what we want. ... I don't think that's a criticism on the style of the league. I think that's just good football, good defense."
Style points matter, however, in college football, and defense-first teams that have trouble scoring a lot of points in big games don't earn many style points.
It's not all Ohio State's fault. The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since Wisconsin did so way back in the 1999 season. Add those nine straight losses to the Buckeyes' BCS title game defeats, and the Big Ten is winless in its last 11 games on the biggest national stages.
Penn State didn't help matters by losing to USC, 38-24, in last season's Rose Bowl.
"We didn't play very well ... and I think that didn't help the conference," Joe Paterno said.
Paterno believes the Big Ten is out of sight, out of mind for so long at the end of the regular season -- wrapping up before Thanksgiving -- that its top teams get overlooked. The league, he says, should add a 12th team and a conference championship game like others currently have.
Iowa is No. 4 in the BCS standings this season but likely will get shut out of the BCS title game if it goes undefeated. The Hawkeyes, who have come from behind in eight of their nine wins, are No. 2 in the BCS computers but aren't getting much love from the human voters (No. 6 in coaches poll, No. 8 in Harris poll).
Iowa decided to go on the offensive this week, sending out this e-mail to college football reporters:
"It seems popular for national pundits to criticize the University of Iowa football team these days. Many have said Iowa doesn't belong on the same board with Florida, Texas, Alabama, Cincinnati, TCU, Oregon or Boise State. Iowa's schedule has been rated the seventh toughest in the nation. Only one team in Big Ten history has beaten Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin on the road in the same season (Michigan did it in 1997). ... To say Iowa hasn't played a strong enough schedule is to be totally misinformed."
The e-mail also pointed out Iowa tops Cincinnati, TCU, Oregon and Boise State in several areas, such as victories against teams with winning records and number of wins over current BCS top 25 teams.
So in a nutshell, the Big Ten's best team is relegated to having to defend itself with a propaganda e-mail in an attempt to earn more respect.
That would make Woody Hayes roll over in his grave.
Unfortunately, the late Ohio State coach is probably used to doing that by now after the way the Buckeyes have let down the Big Ten so many times in recent years.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.