The Big Ten has lacked respect over the past few years, but a Michigan win in the Sugar Bowl would be put the conference back in the right direction.
Last season, the teams combined for a 3-5 record, including a 0-5 mark on New Year’s Day.
This time around has not been much better. The league is sporting a 3-6 record with only Michigan left to play. The games played on Jan. 2 left the Big Ten with four losses and only one win.
The lack of postseason success is starting to hurt the reputation of some historic programs.
The downslide started in 2006, when Michigan and Ohio State were competing as the top two teams in the country. The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines 42-39, but that started one of the bigger national championship debates to that point.
Analysts started calling for a rematch for the title because they believed the Big Ten featured the two best teams in the country.
Fortunately enough voters made the correct decision to allow Florida to play for the national championship. The Gators dominated Ohio State by a score of 41-14. Michigan did not have any more success in the Rose Bowl and lost to USC.
A year later, Ohio State was once again defeated in the national championship game by an SEC team, this time to LSU.
Since that point, no Big Ten team has even been in consideration for a title.
There are other factors that have held the conference back. The past year has seen the Big Ten make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The biggest story of the 2011 season was the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
A former Penn State defensive coordinator is currently facing trial for molesting boys in the locker rooms on campus. The story led to the removal of many prominent people at the school, including long-time head coach Joe Paterno.
Before all of this unraveled, the offseason headlines belonged to Ohio State.
“In December, five Ohio State players -- including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor -- were found to have received cash and discounted tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor who was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking case.”
Head coach Jim Tressel resigned instead of dealing with possible NCAA sanctions. Recently the NCAA announced it would give Ohio State one year of probation for lack of institutional control.
These scandals not only put a negative view on the schools themselves, but the entire conference loses respect. Each team will also be hurt in recruiting when players do not want to deal with any problems.
This brings us to the Sugar Bowl between Michigan and Virginia Tech.
The game matches up two at-large BCS teams who stole bids from more deserving teams. Boise State, Kansas State and even Baylor might have better teams, but the committee decided to take two teams that would sell the most tickets and generate more television revenue.
Each school has to win to prove it is worthy of inclusion in the high-profile game.
Virginia Tech is no stranger to this stage. The Hokies have been in the Orange Bowl in three of the past four seasons, but only have one win to show for it.
Just like Michigan, Virginia Tech needs to do well in the game to give its conference a boost. The ACC has never had an at-large bid until now, and have only two victories in BCS games. A win would be a big step in building a national reputation.
The difference is that the ACC does not have the historic significance of the Big Ten. Teams like Michigan and Ohio State have been in the forefront of college football for over a century. The NCAA needs the Big Ten to succeed in order to increase popularity.
The Sugar Bowl now has national implications for the future of the sport.
Michigan cares about winning this game, although it might not be for the same reasons. When Lloyd Carr retired in 2007, he left a successful program that won a national championship just 10 years earlier.
Rich Rodriguez took his place and drove the football team into the ground. He had a 15-22 record in three seasons, only one of which included a bowl game.
Rodriguez was quickly removed and replaced by Brady Hoke, who has found much more success in his short time in Ann Arbor. The 10-2 Wolverines are now in a BCS game in its first year under the new coach, and a win would justify its inclusion.
Win or lose, Michigan should still be proud of the season it had. Quarterback Denard Robinson should return in 2012 and be high on the list of Heisman candidates. The Wolverines could be legitimate contenders for the national championship next season for the first time since 2006.
On the other hand, the Big Ten needs this win and cannot afford to lose. Each of the other 11 members (interesting math) of the conference should put aside the rivalries and cheer as hard as they can for a Michigan win.
Without it a victory, the conference looks incredibly pathetic.
The Big Ten has received the most at-large bids to BCS bowls to total 24 appearances but have only an 11-13 record to show for it. Since 2006, the conference is 3-7 in these games.
The rest of the nation is starting to get angry.
Why should Michigan be able to get an at-large bid over deserving teams when the conference cannot win in the postseason?
The Big Ten has been beaten up over the past few years, and a loss will only continue the downward trend. A Wolverine win will not solve all of the problems, but it will be a step in the right direction.
This conference desperately needs to see something positive.
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