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Posted on Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

More isn't necessarily better when it comes to Big Ten football bowl teams

By Nick Baumgardner

If all goes the way it should, the Big Ten Conference will put 10 of its 12 football teams in bowls this season.

Sorry in advance, holiday football watchers. The Big Ten is a lot of things presently, but a league worthy of 10 bowl teams? Sorry, I'm not jumping on that ship.

Eight squads have clinched bowl eligibility. Northwestern (5-5) and Purdue (5-5) are one win away. But the Wildcats host woeful Minnesota this week and the Boilermakers host woeful-er Indiana in two weeks.

So unless disaster strikes for Northwestern and Purdue, the Big Ten will have representation in roughly 30 percent of your bowl calendar (which now features a staggering 34 bowl games and one national title contest).

That number looks great on paper for the league. But how will it look if, and perhaps when, the conference finishes with a sub-.500 mark in postseason play?

In a year where the Big Ten doesn't have one team that could even pretend to argue for a spot in the national title race, the league will likely be able thump its chest nationally about how tough and competitive its crop of members are.

Reality, though, tells a different story.

Wisconsin looked like a national player until it forgot to play the game's final minute against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Spartans, meanwhile, fell flat on their face against an average Notre Dame squad earlier in the season before getting steamrolled at Nebraska two weeks ago.

The Cornhuskers? They were an early-season favorite to contend for a league crown, and possibly a national title. That notion was shucked rather quickly, though, as it lost to Wisconsin by 31 points before embarrassing itself at home against Northwestern two weeks ago (the same Northwestern team that lost to Army).

What about the traditional powers? Ohio State grabbed control of its own destiny earlier this month by before gagging in overtime to a Purdue squad that lost to Rice and needed a blocked field goal to beat Middle Tennessee. Michigan, meanwhile, dropped its fourth straight game against Michigan State before falling on the road against Iowa — one week after the Hawkeyes gave Minnesota its first win of the year.

Illinois started 6-0 but has dropped four straight and appears to be derailing. On Tuesday, after having a linebacker get shot in the hand and two other arrested for a fight over the weekend, Ron Zook walked out of a weekly news conference after being asked about his job security.

So, there's that.

Last, but not least, there's Penn State. The Nittany Lions' issues off the field are obvious. On the field, though, the reality is that Penn State has barely squeaked by just about everyone it has beaten (PSU edged Temple by four and Indiana by six).

The Big Ten will likely put 10 teams in bowls this year, more than any other league. But it won't be because it is the country's best league (hello, SEC), or because it has 10 teams who deserve a postseason.

It'll be because the Big Ten has money, a ton of bowl ties and enough mediocre teams to fill them.

Happy watching, everyone.

Sky high: No. 12 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)


Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are in control in the Legends Division.

Associated Press

It ended a little closer than it could have been, but Michigan State officially exorcised its Iowa City demons Saturday with a convincing 37-21 road victory over Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.

The win avenged a loss a year ago, and more importantly, firmly planted the Spartans in the driver's seat for the Legends Division title and a spot in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game.

All the Spartans have to do is beat the league's worst team (Indiana) at home this week, and get help from rival Michigan against Nebraska, and they punch their ticket to Indianapolis.

The last time the Spartans were in a Rose Bowl (1988), Ronald Reagan was in office.

There's still plenty of work to be done before that drought ends, but things are looking up for the green and white.

Rock bottom: Ohio State (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten)

Last Thursday, Ohio State was slapped with the "failure to monitor" distinction by the NCAA prior to self-imposing a five-scholarship ban on itself due to booster violations.

The NCAA knocked the Buckeyes to the ground. Then Danny Hope and Purdue kicked OSU in its collective ribs.

The once dominant Buckeyes were embarrassed in a 26-23 overtime loss at Purdue on Saturday, effectively ending any shot the struggling squad had at a Leaders Division title, and piling more pain on the already teeth-gritting season in Columbus.

The only chance for salvation remaining?

Ohio State can extend its unbeaten streak over hated Michigan to eight years on Nov. 26 in Ann Arbor.

Last week's heavy lifter(s):
Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, Michigan senior defensive linemen

A year ago, the Michigan defense could've played with 22 players against Illinois, and the result still may have been embarrassing.

But on Saturday, thanks to a combined 16 tackles and three sacks from Van Bergen and Martin, the Wolverine defense redeemed itself in a dominating performance in Champaign.

Martin and Van Bergen finish just ahead of Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who inherited one of the country's worst units and has turned it into the nation's seventh-best scoring defense (15.5 points allowed per game).

Standout stats
Big Ten wins by first-year Michigan coach Brady Hoke, one more than single-season career-high of predecessor Rich Rodriguez.

Incompletion by Wisconsin's Russell Wilson on Saturday vs. Minnesota. He may not be in the thick of the Heisman talk any longer, but he's still the nation's most efficient passer with a 201.58 quarterback rating.

The number of punts and pass completions Ohio State had Saturday in a loss at Purdue. Braxton Miller was 8-for-18 with 132 yards, while OSU punter Ben Buchanan had eight kicks for 314 yards.

Rushing touchdowns by Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball, a single-season Big Ten record.


"I'm not built that way." — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on whether or not he'd be rooting for Michigan to beat Nebraska this week, something that would bring the Spartans one step closer to a Big Ten Legends division crown.

Off the cuff:

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini often sounds gruff and rather short when it comes to discussing anything surrounding his football program.

However, the normally guarded Pelini opened up following Nebraska's 17-14 win over Penn State on Saturday.

And he was spot-on.

“I thought that this game gave us an opportunity to show that the situation going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the football game that was just played. It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it, had they called it off,” Pelini said with regard to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. “It’s about education and putting things into perspective what the situation is all about. Hopefully, the fact that both teams sat up and prayed together put that in perspective a little bit."

Pelini, who has a 12-year-old son, explained how several young children were subjected to the Sandusky scandal on television all week long and were left confused as to what exactly was going on.

And, for the record, he's right. Last Saturday was a chance for the NCAA, the Big Ten and all of college football to prove that the well-being of children is in fact more important than a game.

Someday, maybe we'll all get on the same page as Pelini and get our priorities in order.