http://host.madison.com/content/tncms/assets/editorial/6/c4/a60/6c4a6040-af1e-11de-915b-001cc4c002e0.image.jpg" alt="MIKE LUCAS" width="108" height="103" align="left" />Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke was among the first to publicly identify the “Big Four” in addressing Big Ten expansion and realignment. Burke cited Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska as having the “biggest brands” over the last 50 years.

Why stop at 50?

The Wolverines established their brand with Fielding Yost at the turn of the 20th century and are the winningest program in college football history with 877 wins (32 more than Texas and 40 more than Notre Dame).

Also ranked in the Top Ten are the Cornhuskers at No. 4 (827 victories), the Buckeyes at No. 5 (819), and the Nittany Lions at No. 7 (812). Wisconsin is No. 50 (614).

The aforementioned branding extends to their respective venues.

Michigan’s Big House is again the biggest in the country following stadium renovation with a listed capacity of 109,901. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium (107,282) is No. 2, and Ohio State’s “Horseshoe” (102,329) is No. 4.

Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium (85,197) is No. 13. But the Cornhuskers have set the standard for consecutive home sellouts with 304, a streak that dates to 1962. Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium (80,321) is No. 18.

Who are the “most valuable” college football teams? Forbes.com developed its own Top 20 based on each program’s financial contributions to four beneficiaries, the university and community among them. The net profit of the athletic department, and the revenue split from the conferences, were included.

Texas and Notre Dame topped the list. Penn State was No. 3, Nebraska was No. 4, Ohio State was No. 8, and Michigan was No. 11. (Wisconsin was No. 19).

You get the idea.

Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska each carry a brand that is truly national in scope.

“And you’re not going to stack all four of them in one division,” Burke said, echoing the sentiments of most of his Big Ten fraternity brothers, including UW athletic director Barry Alvarez. “You’re going to need to create some level of parity.”

Over the last 17 seasons — dating to 1993, when Penn State joined the Big Ten — Ohio State has crafted the best record in conference games only (106-29-1). Michigan (94-42) is No. 2 and Penn State (86-50) is No. 3.

More branding.

Wisconsin (79-54-3) and Iowa (71-64-1) have carved out their own niche and make up the next tier. On the field, the Badgers and the Hawkeyes have a “brand” distinguished by their blue-collar nature and pedigree.

That’s reflected by the personality of their current starting quarterbacks, Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi. Both are unassuming and grounded.

Speaking of which — grounded — national pundits have made light of the “ground-hugging” Badgers forever, it seems.

“We’re a unique dinosaur,” UW coach Bret Bielema quipped this past spring.

Over the last 10 years, the Badgers had 481 more carries and 19 more rushing touchdowns than anybody else in the Big Ten.

In 128 games, from 2000 to 2009, they had 5,678 carries and rushed for 23,692 yards (185.1) and 260 scores.

That’s a brand.

Note: Minnesota has more total rushing yards (23,888) and a higher average (194.2) in five fewer games.

Ohio State, by the way, had the second-most rushes (5,197), while Purdue had the fewest (4,379).

Over the past decade, the Badgers have rushed for 6,234 more yards than the Boilermakers.

That’s a brand.

But don’t be deceived. Last season, Wisconsin was one of six teams nationally to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. The others were Florida, TCU, Stanford, Fresno State and Auburn.

The Badgers averaged 203.9 yards on the ground, and 213.1 through the air, dispelling any notions of being one-dimensional.

“We’re really hard to defend because we’re balanced,” said Alvarez, who left his own unique mark on the UW program during his 16 seasons on the sidelines.

“Wherever you go as a head coach, you have to be able to decide what type of athlete you can recruit, and then you decide the type of system to run. If I had taken the Miami (Fla.) job, I would have run a different offense than I ran here.”

“The system that I wanted to develop at Wisconsin was a physical brand on both sides of the ball. We recruited tough guys who liked football and we built the program around them.”

In noting how balanced the Badgers have become today with the run and the pass, Alvarez pointed to the flexibility of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

“Paul feels comfortable either way: running or throwing the ball,” Alvarez said. “Obviously, he’s going to run the ball and be physical. But he’s also going to take advantage of the possession passing game.

“Paul’s offense creates problems with multiple tight ends because of the type of leverage they get on the edge of the defense.”

The operative word would be “possession” — as in possession time.

“I never, ever, in my entire coaching career paid any attention to time of possession until I got here,” said Bielema, who joined Alvarez’s staff in 2004 as the defensive coordinator. “But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if we have the ball longer than you, we have a better chance of winning.”

Nobody held on to the football longer than the Badgers last season. They averaged 33 minutes, 55 seconds of possession. In their 20-14 win over Miami in the Florida Citrus Bowl, they had the ball for 39:15, including 12:22 in the third quarter alone.

That’s a brand, and a proven recipe for success.

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