Michigan, MSU salvage Big Ten's poor bowl season
The Big East and the ACC may take an annual beating for poor nonconference losses and sometimes sending overmatched automatic qualifiers into BCS bowl games, but the Big Ten is known for something more damning: bad postseason records.
The Big Ten went 4-6 in bowl games this season, which isn't much better than the league's performance last year when conference members went 0-5 in bowl games on New Years Day, the first time since 2002 that one of the league's teams failed to win on college football's most sacred day. Overall, the Big Ten went 3-5 with Ohio State's win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl being the standout victory. It was the Buckeyes' first win over an SEC team in the postseason after losing nine games in a row against them. So at least Ohio State is on the right track, although Urban Meyer's squad will not be going bowling next year because of NCAA sanctions.
This postseason, Purdue used seven forced turnovers to defeat Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Bowl, while Illinois dropped UCLA to 6-8 with a win in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Certainly those wins shouldn't go unnoticed, but the Boilermakers and the Fighting Illini had no business not winning those contests. Meanwhile, Oklahoma beat Iowa in the Insight Bowl, a game the Hawkeyes played without starting running back Marcus Coker — a contributing factor to them not scoring until the fourth quarter against the Sooners. And in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Northwestern fell behind Texas A&M 30-7 before a late rally fell short.
All the focus was on the January 2 games, along with Michigan's Sugar Bowl date last night with Virginia Tech — and rightfully so. But the Big Ten didn't take care of business when it mattered the most.
Penn State was embarassed by Houston in the TicketCity Bowl; Nebraska was smashed by South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl; Ohio State fell to Florida in the Gator Bowl; and Wisconsin couldn't keep up with Oregon in Pasadena.
ICONBrady Hoke led Michigan to a BCS bowl win in his first season at the school.
The lone win in the league on Monday came from Michigan State, which needed a conservative approach in the closing minute from Georgia head coach Mark Richt to steal a win in the Outback Bowl. And last night, Michigan was outplayed seemingly the whole game but managed to take advantage of Virginia Tech's numerous mistakes to claim an overtime win in the Sugar Bowl.
Just two postseasons ago, the Big Ten seemed to be on the right track, going 4-3 in bowl games after Ohio State upset Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Iowa defeated ACC champion Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. But the league certainly has fallen on hard times in the postseason once again. The winning mark in 2009 is the aberration, especially when you look at the combined 7-11 record the past two seasons and the marks from 2003-08.
No matter the culprit — difficult schematic matchups, playing in warmer climates better suited for their opponents, lack of speed, etc. — the postseason format isn't changing any time soon. So Big Ten teams are going to have to find a way to start winning more of their bowl matchups.
On the bright side, Meyer eventually should get Ohio State back to a BCS-level program, Brady Hoke took Michigan to a BCS game in his first season, and Wisconsin is making a habit of going to the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio and Bo Pelini, meanwhile, still have designs on elevating their Michigan State and Nebraska programs, respectively, to annual Rose Bowl contenders.
But will the subpar postseason play continue to mar the Big Ten's national reputation?
Meanwhile, the SEC is preparing to crown its sixth consecutive national champion next Monday night when LSU and Alabama battle in the BCS title game.
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