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Posted on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Big Ten's bowl fortunes look ominous, especially with 4 games against SEC

By Pete Bigelow


Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and his team are underdogs in the Outback Bowl, where the Nittany Lions will face Florida on New Year's Day.

Associated Press

Angered by the Big Ten’s soulless division names, its bland new logo or its populated new trophy case?

Save the vitriol for another day.

Right now, the Big Ten has more pressing problems. In a few short weeks, conference officials might actually yearn for the good old days of the division-naming crisis.

Should the Big Ten’s member schools endure subpar bowl seasons, the conference will have an image problem much greater than one caused by whatever garish logo adorns its marketing material.

No question, it’s going to be an uphill fight this postseason. Of the record-tying eight conference teams playing this postseason, just two are favored to win.

This is nothing new for the Big Ten.

Prior to last year’s 4-3 bowl record, for which the conference did a lot of patting itself on the back, it hadn’t posted a winning postseason record in seven years.

Since 2003, the Big Ten has compiled a 19-31 overall bowl record.

Since 2003, the conference has gone 3-5, 3-3, 3-5, 2-5 and 3-5 before bottoming out with a 1-6 record in 2008, a collective failure so great it spawned fears of a slow fade into sepia-toned memories and a lot of hysterical hand-wringing.

By that point, of course, the fall had already occurred. The conference had claimed only one national championship in the previous 13 years, and that one came courtesy of a late yellow flag in 2002.

A positive emerged from that ’08 Big Ten bomb.

It sharpened focus on the shortcomings, cemented a consensus that the Big Ten couldn’t stand pat and ultimately spurred discussions of expansion.

But the fruits of that exploration, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, don’t arrive until next year. So that leaves the current crop of eight bowl-bound teams on its own for one more year.

It’s a dicey outlook.

The conference’s bowl season kicks off Tuesday night with a falling-apart Iowa program serving as a three-point underdog to Missouri in the Insight Bowl.

Texas Tech is favored by 11 points over Northwestern. Florida is favored over Penn State in the Outback, Alabama holds a seven-point edge over the Spartans, Mississippi State is a five-point favorite over Michigan.

It’s those last three games, along with Ohio State’s date in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, which matter most.

Four head-to-head matchups with SEC teams.

Four chances to beat the conference that has pulled ahead of the Big Ten in terms of national prominence.

Four chances to make a dent in that image problem.

No division names or logo can correct that disparity - nor do they present as rich an opportunity.

There’s no question the SEC is the deepest conference in the nation right now. It has a chance to win its fifth consecutive BCS championship, and accomplish that feat with four different schools.

If the Big Ten teams can break even in their four games against the SEC … if Michigan State can knock off defending national champion Alabama in the Capital One Bowl … if Penn State’s third-string quarterback can somehow scare a distracted Florida team.

Any and all would help the Big Ten chip away at the SEC’s dominance.

Image can be a funny thing.

The Big Ten placed three teams in last year’s final Top 10, and should do so again this year. Since 2003, it actually has a 9-9 record in bowl games against SEC teams.

(More disconcerting would be the Big Ten’s 3-11 bowl record against the Big 12 in the same timeframe and the 2-6 postseason mark against Pac-10 teams, but those are stories for another day).

But that’s not what will be remembered if the Big Ten shanks its way through another subpar bowl season.

Fans will remember another failed litmus test against the SEC, another subpar bowl season in a decade full of them, another notch in the second-tier status currently assigned to the conference.

After the debacle surrounding the division names and a new logo, that’s not where Big Ten officials want the conversation to move.

Pete Bigelow covers Michigan football for He can be reached at (734) 623-2556, via e-mail at and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.



Fri, Dec 24, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

I am not going to pretend to root for OSU. When they loose, I smile, it's just a reflex. However, I can root for the rest of the Big Ten, and I hope they do well.


Fri, Dec 24, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

I hope the Big Ten does well this bowl season against all the conferences, not just against the SEC. I think this year's Big Ten was as tough from top to bottom as any conference in the country and I think they will do respectably well in the bowls. They should go at least 4-4 and maybe 5-3, and none of their teams should get blown out. Maybe that is being too optimistic, but I think it will happen.

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Dec 24, 2010 : 7:40 a.m.

It may help that the Big 10 season ended one week later this year than previously. A major factor in the Big 10s lack of bowl success was a layoff which was two weeks longer than many of their bowl opponents. Next year's championship game should also help the top teams which play in it. On the other hand, this year's Michigan team may well benefit from the extra week's layoff, with respect to healing injuries and getting DRob to full speed.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 11:46 p.m.

Major embarrassment: OSU Buckeyes who has a 0-9 record against the SEC. Arkansas Razorbacks on the other hand has a 0-3 record against Big10. It should be called the Losers Bowl.

don clary

Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

So what? There are many reasons why the big ten does not do well in bowl games and it is way past time when you sports writers should understand this and refocus your articles. First, the big ten teams are almost always matched against teams ranked higher in the polls. this is because the big ten always travels well to bowl and it is all about $ anyway. Second, the big ten is not on an equal footing with teams from the Sec. They have some major advantages over the big ten when recruiting. They have much lower standards for students to be admitted to those schools and 2nd, they have major advantages when signing football players becuase the SEC has lower standards. For example, Ohio STate has signed 99 players the past 5 years,(Michigan 114 and penn state 106) while Alabama has signed 135 and Auburn 145 and like numbers for other teams in the SEC. Teams are allowed to have 85 on scholarship at any one time. What happens to those other players in the SEC? They simply get cut by low character coaches when they don't pan out in a year or so. That is a major reason why the SEC has won the last 5 championships of college football and it will not change as long as the NCAA does not do something to level the playing field. So enjoy your team in the bowl games and let the chips fall as they are.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

As Tx says, it's all about the matchups. If the #1 B10 was pitted against the #1 team from the SEC/Big 12, whatever, and the #2 against #2, etc, we'd be just fine. You just have to look at UM's overall 23-5 record against the SEC to realize they're no better than us (2-0 against the vaunted Gators). I actually think the Big 10 could do okay this year anyway. OSU will beat Arkansas and Wisconsin should win a great game against TCU. That's 2 marquee wins. Iowa always does well in bowl games under Ferentz (and Missouri isn't as good as their record) so that could be a big one as well. Then, UM has a shot against Miss St, Illinois/Baylor is 50-50 and, contrary to popular opinion, I think PSU has a shot against Florida simply because the Gators are not that good. And while I think Alabama will beat MSU, I wouldn't completely discount Sparty: Kirk Cousins and Co are gamers. I know close to nothing about Texas Tech, and Northwestern is so up and down, I'll defer to the experts on that one. So I see the Big 10 winning at least 2 marquee games, then the potential to win 3-4 more (which odds are they'll win at least 1-2 of those). The great thing for the conference, though, is that if OSU and Wisconsin do win, those are games the nation will notice, so that even if we do lose some of those smaller ones, we will still look halfway decent. And when Nebraska thrashes Washington, we'll just sneak them into our win total as well. They're done with the Big 12 anyway, right?


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

Pete, It's all about match-ups. The conference bs is just If Iowa was playing Texas Tech they would be favored and not Texas Tech. And why aren't they? Isn't that a more even match-up? One thing that has often bothered me is - prior to this year - it has always seemed like lower seeded Big Ten teams would get matched up with higher seeded teams from the Big 12, SEC, etc....and they had more teams. This year it seems like the match-ups (seed wise) are fair - with the exception of Iowa vs. Missouri.?? How on earth is that regarded as an even match-up? I think the only hope for the Big Ten to save face this year is for Ohio State and Michigan to win. MSU does not stand a chance against Alabama. They are going to get run out of that embarrassing fashion. Penn State will not be much different.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 8:04 a.m.

The OSU/UM game is over and now its time to close ranks and cheer the Big 10 onto Bowl victories. Like the article says, it's an uphill battle. The SEC isn't inherently better. They're simply different. They're all fair-weather teams that are designed for speed, knowing the NEVER have to cross the Maxon-Dixie Line, even during bolw season. I have NO RESPECT for the SEC. I won't until they start offering to play the Big 10 IN NOVEMEBER. Our teams are expected to compete in the heat. They need to show they can compete in the rain, sleet, snow and COLD!


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 7:53 a.m.

I'd love to see Cam Newton show his stuff in a bowl game at Soldier Field in January.


Thu, Dec 23, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

For the most part bowl games are money machines for those locales that benefit from nice weather and above average stadiums. The BCS teams gain the most attention, and money, but the only game that matters is the revolving title game. Bowl are always tilted in favor to the schools from the South. Those schools build their teams to match the playing conditions most likely found in their conferences. They also have the advantage of playing close, and in a lot of cases, very close to home. They get more and better seating and since it's usually near their campus, travel and associated costs aren't much of a problem for their fans. So the chips are slightly stack against the northern schools but that's OK. As long as everyone understands that if there is ever to be a true NC, the game sites should be at the home field for the higher ranked team. UMD just won the Division II championship, after a playoff that included a home game in Duluth. Wind chill about 15 below, blowing snow and frozen field. Stands had fans in them and they supported their team. As far as the bowls go for now, its a reward for having a non-losing year. Only one of the two to three DOZEN bowl games truely matter. Bragging rights and bowl records go hand in hand but do they really mean much after that? I don't think so.