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Talent questions linger for changed Big Ten

CHICAGO -- Tradition is a wonderful thing in college football, right up to the point where it becomes a roadblock to progress.

The hidebound Big Ten was at that point. An ancient refusal to play conference games after Thanksgiving left it out of sight and out of mind as other leagues reached a crescendo. The buzz surrounding a conference championship game was absent in the Midwest. Michigan's refusal to host a night game or build luxury suites cost one of the league's marquee programs exposure and revenue.

So the Big Ten was faced with a challenge. It had to break its decades-old mold without breaking ties with the hard-core traditionalists.

That's been a work in progress over the past few years, and now we're ready for the unveiling of a thoroughly modern Big Ten. It has 12 teams, two (lamely named) divisions, a conference championship game, lights at the Big House and a schedule that will keep the conference visible all season long.

"Our change has been incremental, not radical," said commissioner Jim Delany. "Our conference has been pretty conservative."

Give Delany credit for skillfully selling a conservative conference on expansion twice (first Penn State, now Nebraska), and on instant replay (first major conference to use it), and on starting its own network, and on loosening up the schedule restraints. It's been a pretty significant makeover.

Aside from playing its title game indoors instead of at Soldier Field or another outdoor locale, in the elements that are part of the Big Ten's DNA, I believe the newest and biggest changes are good. I believe the league will benefit. And I believe it will do so without sending the old guard screaming that the apocalypse is nigh.

Change doesn't mean Penn State is going to start dressing like Oregon. Or that Ohio State's band will spell the state name in block letters. Or that Michigan's "Go Blue" banner will feature flashing neon. Wisconsin fans will still jump around and the Iowa-Minnesota winner will still get a brass pig. It's all good.

"I think bringing Nebraska in was a real big asset and I think the league's great," said Penn State's Joe Paterno. "And the fact that it gave us an opportunity to play for a conference championship game, I think it's kind of exciting, it really is. It's something we want to do. If we end up winning the division in a big game in Indianapolis, I think that's great."

There you have it. If the 84-year-old guy in the league is OK with it, everyone else should be, too.

But here is what's not so great about the new Big Ten: It looks a lot like the Big Ten of recent years when it comes to talent and athleticism. ...

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