Monday, January 26, 2009

Big Ten or Little Eleven?

For today's opening post I will take a look back on the 2008/9 Bowl season and reflect on how I thought the Big Ten conference stacked up during bowl season.

As we all know the Big Ten conference has started out the new millennium in a less then stellar fashion. The Big Ten has only managed to make its claim to one national championship and even that was considered a major upset (2002 Ohio State). While, over the same time span, the Big 12 and Pac 10 have each crowned two champions and the SEC has four titles including three straight.

This along with the recent big game choke jobs by Ohio State, the collapse and rebuilding process by Michigan, and USC’s dismantling of every Big Ten team put in its’ way has fans and media alike wondering if the Big Ten is still an elite conference. Every year the thought of the Big Ten lacking true speed and elite athletes is pounded into our heads during bowl season.

Heading into this season’s postseason festivities it was an understatement to say that the Big Ten needed to have a superb bowl season this past year in order to get the conference prestige back to what it once was. Fast forward to now and we are left with a bitter taste of a 1-6 showing and no college football until August. Ouch.

But was it really as bad as the record might indicate? Or could it have possibly been worse? There were some positives to be had, but some bad and ugly games for the Big Ten conference.

The Ugly:
Wiconsin 13 – Florida State 42, Minnesota 21 – Kansas 42, Penn State 24 – USC 38
When Minnesota blazed out to a 7-1 start some people may have been tricked into thinking that they were an above average team. A quick glance at their schedule would show that their four out of conference games were against Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, and Florida Atlantic. And then their three Big Ten wins were against 2008 conference bottom dwellers Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue. The Golden Gopher’s true colors began to show towards the end of the year and they finished out losing their last five games. So, while it was still ugly, it wasn’t a shock that Minnesota would lose by three touchdowns to Kansas.

Next, we have Wisconsin, who was plagued by inconsistencies, under-achieving, and poor quarterback play all season long. They ended the regular season by squeaking by an overtime win against FCS opponent Cal Poly. As you can see, Wisky had little to no momentum heading into the bowl season. And, it certainly showed as they were manhandled by an ‘athletically superior’ Florida State team.

Finally, we have the 2009 Rose Bowl. This quintessential dagger to the heart for Big Ten fans every year and this was no different. This one fits into the ugly category because it was the one that Big Ten fans needed the most in order to claim conference superiority. And, the game was long over early on, and was not as close as the 14 point spread indicates.

The Bad:
Missouri 30 – Northwestern 23, Georgia 24 – Michigan State 12
Both of these games weren’t brutally ugly (see Wisconsin/FSU) and may have actually shown some signs of encouragement for the Big Ten. I was a firm believer heading into the bowl season that Michigan State would be dominated by a far superior Georgia team. And, although they did lose by double digits, MSU actually had the lead heading into halftime. And they managed to keep it relatively close against the preseason number one team.

Northwestern, on the other hand, played an excellent game against Missouri. Missouri was another team that had preseason national championship expectations. The Wildcats held Missouri well under their season long offensive averages. Missouri was only able to score two offensive touchdowns including a seven yard touchdown pass on a shortened field in overtime. This effort, in my mind, solidified the Wildcat’s 9-4 season. This could fit into the ‘Good’ category as Northwestern actually led much of the game, but it’s hard to make a claim for a higher conference prestige when you are having too many “good losses”.

The Good:
Iowa 31 – South Carolina 10, Ohio State 21 – Texas 24
The Hawkeye’s managed to nab the only win for the Big Ten via a blowout win against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Iowa was a bright spot in the Big Ten this season and really began to mold down the stretch. The Hawkeye’s outscored opponents by a combined 86-10 over the last two games. This win gives Iowa momentum heading into the 2009 campaign.

It was hard for many to get excited for the 2009 Fiesta bowl. As it looked like another OSU beat down on the national stage. We have all seen that movie one too many times. Texas came into the game with a legitimate argument that they should be playing in the national championship. While the Buckeyes entered the game with a 10-2 record and just barely squeezed into the BCS bowl picture. Ohio State played up to the level of the Longhorns and were beat by a touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in the game. It’s a shame because this was one game that the Big Ten, and Ohio State in general, could have really used to start reshaping the conference perception.

So there you have it. The Big Ten finished with a 1-6 overall record and 0-2 in BCS games. But was it really as bad as it seemed? Hypothetically if Ohio State had not have been chosen to be in a BCS bowl you could have realistically had these match-ups:

Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. USC
Capital One Bowl: Ohio State vs. Georgia
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. South Carolina
Alamo Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri
Insight Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kansas
Champ Sports Bowl: Minnesota vs. Florida State
Motor City Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Central Michigan

While the games would be slightly less high profile for each team besides Penn State, in these situations, I could see the Big Ten finishing with four wins during bowl season (Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern). While a 4-3 record certainly isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water it could have very well began talk of the Big Ten’s resurgence heading into 2009.

So, what are your thoughts? Was the Big Ten’s bowl season as bad or ugly as it seemed? How many games do you think the Big Ten would have won had OSU been leapfrogged by say Boise State for the final BCS slot? And, would you be willing to trade a 1-6 record for a 4-3 record knowing that you were playing in less high profile games?

3 comments:

  1. Everyone talks so much trash about the Big Ten this bowl season, but look at our match-ups and compare them to the match-ups of the ACC, or the Big East, or the Pac-10 even. Granted Oregon-Oklahoma State was no breeze, but their bowl slates were much easier overall and yet we still get to hear about how terrible we were this bowl season. Drives me crazy.

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  2. The Big Ten would have fared a lot better had Ohio State NOT made the BCS, but the Big Ten has sent more teams to BCS games the last six years than any other conference. And while everybody is quick to point out the losses the Big Ten has endured in big games, someone should tell the ESPN's so-called "experts" that Oklahoma has lost their last five BCS games. So who's really choking?

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  3. Until the Big Ten's "elite" teams can beat the other conference's "elite" teams, they aren't going to get any love. Oklahoma is an anomaly, but that is just one team, not the majority of a conference. I'm a Big Ten fan for sure, but when it comes to the BCS games that they play in, I have never thought they were going to win. Hopefully Iowa will be one of those teams next year and break the trend

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