If or when Penn State gets its program back up to elite status, the Nittany Lions could go a long way toward helping the Big Ten gain a higher national profile.
Because it sure doesn't have one right now.
Witness the first Bowl Championship Series rankings in which Wisconsin, the consensus best team in the Big Ten, is listed sixth behind the likes of Oklahoma State and Boise State.
That shows you two things: 1) How the balance of power in college football is better distributed than it used to be; 2) How the Big Ten has fallen.
The unbeaten Big Ten frontrunner ranked behind Boise State? Really?
Wisconsin may eventually pass Boise but probably will still be behind the Alabama-LSU winner and Oklahoma, presuming those teams also finish unblemished.
Despite the BCS rankings, I am not sure Wisconsin wouldn't pound the ball down the throat of every team in the country, including LSU or Alabama.
The Badgers' offensive line looks like Mount Rushmore, and they now have a quarterback in Russell Wilson to provide a dangerous passing game.
But even if Wisconsin runs the table and finishes 13-0 after rocking the Legends Division frontrunner in the inaugural Big Ten title game, it's possible and even likely that the Badgers won't play for the national championship.
There simply aren't that many chances for them to impress the national pollsters, in part because of the current state of the Big Ten.
Wisconsin did not play a marquee non-conference opponent (UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota), but it put 48 points on Nebraska, and its victory margin of 38.1 leads the nation.
The Badgers play at Michigan State today. It should be a reasonable test, but Wisconsin is favored by 8 points on the road and probably won't get much credit unless it scores 35.
That leads to another discussion on college football's absurd lack of a playoff, forcing coaches to think they need style points and encouraging them to classlessly roll up the score. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who put 83 on Indiana last year, is more than willing.
And he might have to in order to make his point because unlike LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and Okie State, Wisconsin will not get an opportunity to beat a top-five team the rest of the way.
That's where the Big Ten needs to get better.
The Spartans are ranked 16th in the BCS. Imagine this: Michigan State won at Ohio State -- shutting out the Buckeyes in Columbus until the game's final seconds -- and beat rival Michigan by two scores last week.
That hasn't happened often in MSU history, and yet the Spartans don't get the kind of credit they once would have because Ohio State and Michigan are both rebuilding.
Then again, the Spartans' 31-13 loss to Notre Dame didn't help their cause.
Switching back to Penn State, if the Lions' can overcome their biggest challenge so far this year -- melting in the red zone -- they should beat Northwestern tonight.
But even that is telling in that here's a Penn State football program, with as much or more tradition and resources as anybody in the country, headed to a Northwestern team that has lost four straight while giving up an average of 40 points per conference game, and the Lions are a mere 4-point favorite.
That tells you about all you need to know about the state of the Big Ten.
Until Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska become the forces they once were, the league champion may have to consider the Rose Bowl, presuming it's not hosting the BCS title game, as a nice consolation prize.
Rudel can be reached at email@example.com.