As the bowl season really starts to accelerate over the next few days, leading to what can only be classified as a college football fan’s dream with Monday’s long list of New Year’s Day bowls, so have conference bowl game expectations.
For Big Ten Conference faithful, it is yet another opportunity to walk away in a huff, or sit with their arms crossed, sour about the lack of respect the conference has earned once again this year. These reactions, while nothing new, are also not worth imitating – even the late Rodney Dangerfield would refrain on this one.
Simply put, the Big Ten Conference has been awful in bowl games over the last nine years, and what fans now believe to be the coldhearted calculations of the Bowl Championship Series are really nothing more than the conference’s true colors shining through.
To say this has been a down year for the Big Ten is a colossal understatement.
Starting 2011, the conference went 2-5 during bowl games, including a paltry 0-5 in New Year’s Day games. It was the first time the conference failed to win a New Year’s Day bowl game since 2002 — however, Ohio State defeated Miami in double overtime 31-24 to win the national championship that year, and the conference went 5-2 in bowl games overall (Just trying to lighten the mood).
In fact, since 2000, the Big Ten is 30-46 in bowl games. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers that are going to draw better bowls, higher attendance or television ratings.
Then, there were the scandals. First at Ohio State, resulting in head coach Jim Tressel being forced to resign in May for withholding evidence of NCAA infractions from OSU and NCAA officials. Second, the sex-abuse scandal at Penn State that began in early November, and still dominates news wires to this day. Former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing young boys, charges that led to the firing of PSU president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno. The iconic head coach led the Nittany Lions to 409 victories, more than any other coach in the history major college football.
How’s that for rocking a conference’s prestige?
After all this, the result has been lackluster expectations for the Big Ten, and the bowl games prove that.
Five Big Ten bowl games involve two ranked teams: Michigan-Virginia Tech, Wisconsin-Oregon, Nebraska-South Carolina, Michigan State-Georgia and Penn State-Houston. None of the Big Ten teams in those games enter with a higher ranking than their opponent, and only the Wolverines are favored to emerge with a victory.
Michigan, Illinois and Purdue were the only Big Ten teams favored in their matchups at the start of the bowl season. The Boilermakers already proved the oddsmakers correct, defeating Western Michigan 37-32 Tuesday night in the Little Caesars Bowl. But for the other two squads, being favored is due to the competition, and not the strength of their respective program.
That isn’t to say the Wolverines don’t deserve to be in a BCS game, or can’t play at that level. Obviously, they can. Other teams may have been more deserving, but UM is there. But Virginia Tech’s presence in the BCS is a bit of a puzzler, and after seeing how the Hokies faced against a Clemson team similar to Michigan — both of VT’s losses are to the Tigers — picking Michigan to win is a no-brainer.
So is choosing Illinois, which faces a UCLA team that is under .500 with a 6-7 record. Enough said.
Since 2000, the Big Ten is 6-12 in BCS bowl games. While the Southeastern Conference is waiting to see which of its top-two teams will emerge as the BCS National Champion, the Big Ten is grasping for something positive to hold on to. A strong showing this year — while difficult — is the first step in the direction of the SEC, which has easily become the most important conference in college football. Just to drive that point home: For the sixth straight season, the national title will be from the SEC.
While the Big Ten set a record for the number of teams participating in bowls — 10 of the 12 teams are in bowl games — seeing conference teams ranked lower than their opponents or with little expectations proves how the Big Ten is seen as a whole. It is seen as a conference with schools that travel well, but aren’t necessarily up-to-snuff on the field. It is seen as a moneymaker, but not a title contender.
And right now, based on its recent track record, it deserves it.
Nate Carey is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Contact him at email@example.com with questions, comments and story ideas. Or follow the Telegram Sports Staff on Twitter at CTelegramSports.