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Big Ten teams lack speed to compete outside conference

I love Ohio State, love what Urban Meyer has done with that program since taking it over two years ago. Winning 22 straight games is not an easy accomplishment.

With that said, I like Baylor even more. That's why I moved the Bears ahead of Ohio State on my Harris Poll ballot this week. And I did it with confidence and conviction.

You give me a neutral field and put both of those teams on it, and I don't think it's even close. No offense to Ohio State, because the Buckeyes are well-coached and have excellent players, many of whom will contribute at the next level. But because of the way football is played today offensively, where players are spread out all over the field, really good Big Ten teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin will always be sizable underdogs against their SEC, Pac-12 -- as well as many of their ACC and Big 12 -- counterparts.

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And it all comes down to two things: Speed and quickness.

I was on the sideline of Baylor's 63-34 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday. The speed at which the game was played was impressive, especially by Baylor.

Now watch a Big Ten game, and you'll notice most of the skill players are plodders. That's less criticism than it is factual. That type of athlete used to work years ago when offenses were constructed in a phone booth, with most of the formations and action taking place between the hashmarks.

Not any more. Speed and quickness are the biggest reasons for success in today's college game of spread offenses. If a team got ahead, 20-7, like Texas Tech did Saturday night, it was lights out. But now, the score can change so fast because of speed and quickness. It did for Baylor, which went on to outscore the Red Raiders 56-14 the rest of the way.

I watched Ohio State beat up on Illinois earlier in the day. Running back Carlos Hyde, a good player with great balance, scored five touchdowns in the game, two from beyond 50 yards. But what got my attention is how a slow defensive Illini team was able to catch him from behind on a 26-yard run at the end of the first quarter. It's a small thing, but very telling of his lack of speed and quickness.

I don't pretend to know where Hyde will end up being drafted. All it takes is one team. But I do know I'm not alone in my opinion of him, the good and the bad.

Hyde is typical of a lot of the Big Ten's skill players. Wisconsin has some talent, including WR Jared Abbredaris and RB Melvin Gordon, the latter having some burst and wiggle to his game. But when you compare them to Baylor's backs and receivers, they don't get to the "next level" nearly as fast. And for every Gordon that Wisconsin has, Baylor has five.

Nov 2, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Danny Etling (5) hands the ball off as Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier (2) breaks through the line of scrimmage at Ross Ade Stadium. Ohio State defeats Purdue 56-0. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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This shift has been going on for years. Remember the "monumental" upset Appalachian State had over Michigan in 2007? If you don't, watch it (highlights are available all over YouTube). What you'll see after Michigan gets out to an early lead is an Appalachian State team that spread the ball out on offense and was running at a higher level with players that were faster and quicker. Yes, Michigan still should have won, but App State was able to compete, and eventually win, because of who they were and how they did it.

In recent years, the Big Ten has been exposed in bigger bowl games. In 2011 it went 0-for-5 on New Year's Day, losing twice to the SEC, twice to the Big 12 and once to the ACC. In 2012, only Michigan State's triple overtime victory over Georgia kept the Big Ten from going 0-for-5 again. Same thing last year: Northwestern over Mississippi State was the conference's lone New Year's Day victory. For those keeping track, that's two wins, 13 losses. In fairness, Ohio State and Michigan did have BCS wins in the 2011 and '12 Sugar Bowls, narrow victories against SEC (Arkansas) and ACC (Virginia Tech) foes.

Here's something else that to me is telling about Ohio State (and by extension the Big Ten). Buffalo LB Khalil Mack, a top NFL prospect, destroyed the Buckeyes in the season opener with two tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an INT-TD return. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Had the draft been held the day after that game, he would have been a top-10 pick. But unfortunately for Mack he had to play Baylor the next week, and was limited to three solo tackles, no tackles for loss and no sacks.

Speed and quickness was the difference.

It's a difference that shows up on draft day, as well. This past April, only one player from the Big Ten was selected in the first round. That's not an accident. With the 31st pick, the Dallas Cowboys took Travis Frederick, a center from Wisconsin whom many thought was more of a late second- or third-round pick.

Go a little deeper and only seven Big Ten players were selected in the first two days of the draft; as a comparison, LSU alone had six players drafted in the first three rounds.

Most of the Big Ten players drafted these days are between-the-hashmarks, non-skilled-position players like Frederick and Purdue DT Kawann Short, the second player from the conference taken in the last draft, No. 44 overall by the Carolina Panthers. The upcoming draft should be no different. While three of my top 100 seniors are from Big Ten teams, each is a lineman.

There are some who think Meyer will be able to change the trend, at least with Ohio State, by the type of athletes the former Florida coach will be able to recruit. Maybe just in time for next year's College Football Playoff.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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