Big Ten is granddaddy of major-college sports leagues
The conference that historically has been at the center of college football's evolution is the Big Ten. It's easily the oldest major-college conference, having begun in 1896, long before the Ivy League (which is now a flight below in terms of caliber of competition in the National Collegiate Athletic Association) was formally created in 1954.
The Big Ten early established eligibility requirements to keep professionals and nonstudents from suiting up. It moved more quickly to racial integration of team rosters than Southern leagues. It also has boasted 14 different winners of the Heisman Trophy, including the first, the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger in 1935 (before Chicago withdrew from the league in 1946) and the only two-time winner, Ohio State's Archie Griffin, who is now president of the Ohio State Alumni Association.
The oldest Division I-A NCAA football conferences and the year each began: