Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany may be the bowl system’s biggest proponent. A couple more weeks like the last one may change his mind. The Big Ten’s campaign began decently. Illinois blew out an overmatched Baylor. Iowa rehabbed from a drug scandal to muster a close one over Missouri. But, on Saturday the plot took a turn worthy of Ian McEwan. The five teams Delany shoved into the prime New Year’s Day viewing places got wrecked.
Northwestern never had much of a chance without Dan Persa. The Wildcats were valiant in defeat, forcing Texas Tech to labor to a 45-38 win. This loss was the high point.
Alabama vented a season’s worth of frustration onto 11-1 Michigan State, winning 49-7. Sparty saved Alabama the trouble of steamrolling them. They were flat when they left the tunnel. The dynamic duo of Baker and Bell combined for just 27 yards on 16 carries. The only positive was the embarrassment didn’t happen in a BCS bowl.
Dan Mullen raised Rich Rodriguez up, then suplexed him to the turf. Mississippi State, in year two of rebuilding from a much darker place, obliterated once-mighty Michigan 52-14, the worst bowl loss in Wolverine history. The loss illuminated the folly of the Rodriguez project for even the most unreasoned. Even with Denard Robinson at full strength, Michigan did not belong on the same field as a team that finished fifth in its division in the SEC.
Penn State could not win its battle of the flawed, a pick six cementing its 37-24 loss to Florida. Former walk-on Matt McGloin threw five interceptions. Nittany Lions fan should get used to him, because his ascendance may have cost them two quarterbacks.
Wisconsin lost as an underdog to TCU on a failed two-point conversion. The loss isn’t shameful, but, losing to a representative of the Little Sisters of the Poor on a stage the Big Ten created still stings.
The Big Ten is 2-5 this bowl season. If you throw in prized recruit Nebraska, who lost the Holiday Bowl to a Washington team they beat by 35 in Seattle, that record is 2-6.
Jim Delany’s prestigious conference wasn’t grasping for legends and leaders. They were grasping for competence. Bowl games may be off-peak exhibitions with little significance, but it’s hard to discredit the Big Ten completely wilting against better coaching and better players, especially in the case of the Michigan schools. Hopes to salvage face now rest with Ohio State against Arkansas. Ohio State is 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games.
These things may be “cyclical,” but, for the Big Ten, it is looking increasingly like a downward trend. The conference finished 4-3 in bowls last season, but that was their only winning season since 2002.
[Photo via Getty]