The Big Ten has been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to bowl games. It thinks it is a national power of a conference, but it plays like the C-USA.
/Looks at Houston.
I mean, the Big Ten plays like the MAC.
Thanks to the wonders of Jim Delany's scheduling, the Big Ten plays five bowl games on New Year's Day (or in the case of this year, January 2nd), and four of them run at the same time. Sorry, Big Ten fans, if you want to watch the top half of the Big Ten play its bowl games you better have DVR.
This year there were four matchups in the early slot. Penn State took on Houston at noon in the TicketCity.com Bowl, Michigan State took on Georgia at 1pm in the Outback Bowl, Ohio State took on Florida in the Gator Bowl, and Nebraska took on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
Good news? The Big Ten owned the early timeslot with four games against four marquee opponents (yes, this includes Houston).
Bad news? The Big Ten had to play four marquee opponents in nationally televised games.
Let's run down the damage.
First, Penn State walked into Dallas as favorites only to give up 17 points in the first quarter, 381 passing yards in the first half, and by the end of it all had been doubled up in yardage (600 yards to 308) by a Houston team that had only beaten one Big Six conference team all year (38-34 vs UCLA).
Rob Bolden stepped in admirably for the injured Matt McGloin; and by admirably I mean, he didn't just walk out halfway through when it became obvious that it wasn't his day. Bolden finished the day completing seven of 26 passes for 138 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
The Penn State defense --- ranked in the top five in both pass yards allowed and pass efficiency defense coming into the game --- was absolutely housed by Houston's Case Keenum who finished with 533 yards and three touchdowns.
Next, Ohio State was matched up with Florida in the No Offense, er, um, I mean the Gator Bowl. Of course, offense isn't all that necessary when your team can manage a kick return touchdown and a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Those 14 points were more than enough to break the offensive stalemate between the two teams at ten points.
Braxton Miller reverted to his pre-Michigan self for most of the game but put together a late drive to finish with 165 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, Ohio State's run game was bottled up to just 3.5 yards per carry and 135 yards.
Elsewhere in Florida, Nebraska took on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl and actually had a lead through much of the first half before giving up a long touchdown pass with seven second left before halftime. Nebraska's 13 first quarter points would be the only points on the board.
South Carolina's mediocre passing attack was on point enough to take control of the game. Gamecock quarterback Conner Shaw passed for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns while running for one more touchdown.
The Big Ten's only chance at a victory came from Michigan State in the form of a late comeback. The Spartans were down 16-0 at halftime but soon fought back for a one point lead that was short lived. Georgia scored the next touchdown but Michigan State took it in for a score with seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Michigan State didn't make it through three plays before Kirk Cousins turned the ball over on an interception, but leave it to Mark Richt to play it conservative and set his kicker up for a 42 yard field goal for the win. The kick missed and after the teams traded long kicks in second overtime the game was pushed to a third overtime period where Michigan State got the last laugh by blocking the tying field goal for the win.
In the end, the Big Ten has once again used a national stage to squander its reputation at the hands of the SEC. The Big Ten had four winnable games (granted, Big Ten teams were not favored in all of these games, but the matchups themselves were much more favorable than say, Iowa vs. Oklahoma) and only won one of them.
Going into next year it is hard to imagine the Big Ten gets any boost in its reputation. The conference is 3-5 in bowl games at this point and can at best finish .500. The road back to respectability will be a long one for the Big Ten, and unfortunately, today has been a big step in the wrong direction.