Don't tell that to the 45 former Big Ten players who represented the conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this past week.
"The Big Ten didn't show very well in bowl games this year, but I feel like the Big Ten as a whole is getting better," former Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "There really aren't any bottom-feeders anymore. Michigan State's getting back to where they should be. Iowa is always a team that's up there. There's a lot of good teams. Northwestern had a great year. I think as a whole teams are getting better in the conference."
Although a number of teams now utilize a spread offensive attack, the conference has a reputation for being a tough-nosed, ground-based league. That sort of reputation might be a boon to players like former Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King as he pitches himself to NFL teams.
"The perception of the Big Ten is we have the big and strong offensive linemen, so going against those guys as a defensive lineman might help you," he said. "They might have that in the back of their head, ‘Oh, he played defensive line in the Big Ten, he's big and he's been against strong guys.' Maybe subconsciously, but I wouldn't think any more than a guy from the Southeast Conference or the WAC or anything like that."
On the other side of the field, Hoyer said players such as former OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and former Illinois corner Vonte Davie help prepare quarterbacks for what they will face at the next level.
"When you're playing against defenses like Iowa and Penn State and Ohio State and Michigan, I feel like that prepares you well for what's going to come ahead," he said. "You look at Ohio State's defense and they're probably going to have four or five draft picks alone from that team. You're playing against future pros when you play in the Big Ten."
That might not apply to players like former Michigan defensive lineman Terrance Taylor and his former teammates. After the Wolverines suffered through a program-worst 3-9 season, Taylor said both he and Tim Jamison might have to work harder to prove NFL teams that they are worthy of playing in the league.
"No doubt," Taylor said when asked if Michigan's season has hurt his draft stock. "If you watch film and know a player, it shouldn't matter but it probably does what the team does. It is what it is and I'm fortunate enough to be here and prove myself. I'm grateful for that."
A SECOND CHANCE: After being released from his Ohio State scholarship, it appeared Brandon Underwood's chances of playing Division I college football were gone – not to mention his NFL hopes.
Now two years removed from that event, Underwood was at the combine after starting all 14 games for the University of Cincinnati this past season and helping lead the Bearcats to a BCS berth. With a number of former OSU teammates also at the combine, Underwood said it was nice to re-connect with some familiar faces.
"When they see me, it's all love all around," Underwood said.
Underwood was referred to Cincinnati by a former all-star game teammate after he left the OSU program. After sitting out the 2007 season, he finished fifth on the team with 66 tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions.
Simply being in Indianapolis was an extra blessing, Underwood said, after all the uncertainty he has faced in the past few years.
"A lot of people who have played a lot of college ball haven't had the opportunity to come and participate in the combine," he said. "I'm really thankful and blessed that Coach Kelly and his staff thought enough of me to give me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams and play college football."
A sophomore when Jenkins entered the OSU program, Underwood said the newcomer immediately showed his talents when he arrived in Columbus.
"When Malcolm first came to Ohio State, his freshman year my sophomore year I remember watching him in camp and saying, ‘Man, his footwork is tremendous,' " Underwood said. "It looked like he was a pro already. He had great footwork. He reacted on the ball well."
NO END IN SIGHT: As is the case every year at the combine, reporters who primarily cover the NFL asked at least one former Nittany Lion how long current head coach Joe Paterno will remain as the main man in Happy Valley.
This year, it was Aaron Maybin who drew the questions. Asked if Paterno would ever retire, Maybin said, "I'd like to say so, but that guy might still be coaching when I get done playing the way he's going.
"Penn State hasn't changed at all since Joe got there, and it's not going to change just because a talented player comes into the organization. Whoever comes into the program will do what the coaches require of him."
As part of Paterno's approach, the head coach will routinely engage in behavior not typically associated with an octogenarian, Maybin said.
"He tries to hop into our workouts occasionally," he said. "I don't think the guy knows his age sometimes. He sometimes forgets the fact that he's not 20 years old and a young football player so he'll hop into our drills and almost end up getting trampled. He's a guy that's full of a lot of energy and he definitely inspires his players by the way he carries himself."