Big Ten Football Exposed...Again

Alex HowieContributor IJanuary 6, 2009

The Fiesta Bowl featured one of the bowl season's better matchups, and an even better game, between the Texas Longhorns and Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday night. As the game wore on, the intensity mounted, the teams stayed competitive, and it was back and forth all night.

The Ohio State meltdowns of the past two years were over. They were the real Buckeyes that everyone always knew they were—the ones that could compete with the best there is.

But then Colt McCoy led the Longhorns on 79-yard game winning drive, culminating with a 26-yard pass to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds remaining.

On that touchdown pass, and that drive, the Buckeyes defense folded, and the Longhorns showed how good the Big 12 offenses really are. How much better they are, and how impressive they are, compared to the slow Big Ten defenses. The Longhorns also had touchdown drives of 80 and 85-yards in the third quarter.

But the game was closer than expected. The first half featured a 6-3 brawl, where defenses did not dominate, but offenses failed to perform. In the third quarter, Texas started clicking and scored two touchdowns, but also hurt themselves with penalties on another promising drive. 

Fortunes reversed in the fourth quarter. Texas again miscued as McCoy fumbled the ball at the Ohio State 34-yard line. The Longhorns recovered the fumble for an eight yard loss and got no points on the drive. The Buckeyes took advantage and scored back-to-back touchdowns to take the lead. 

In the end, though, there were no more miscues from Texas. They methodically drove down the field and scored the game winning touchdown with only 16 ticks left.    

The Fiesta Bowl ended a terrible bowl season for the Big Ten. They ended with an overall 1-6 record, giving up an average of over 33 points per game in defeat. So much for Big Ten defense. They also scored a mere 19 points per game in defeat. So much for Big Ten offense. 

Iowa (9-4) gave the Big Ten their only bowl win by defeating a 7-6 South Carolina team 31-10. 

The conference has lost six straight BCS bowl games, all in the last three seasons, since Ohio State and Penn State both won BCS games in the 2005-06 season—beating an overrated Notre Dame team and default ACC Champion Florida State. 

The Big Ten’s lack of speed shows up year in and year out in big time games. Watching Iowa play Penn State, Wisconsin take on Illinois, or an Ohio State showdown with Michigan are all good games. The teams match up well. They have a similar base of talent and speed.

In recent years, though, Big Ten-Big 12 games, Big Ten-SEC match ups, and Big Ten versus Pac-10 “showdowns,” have not produced the great games that have been anticipated. The talent level across leagues may not vary significantly, but the speed does. The toughness does. And that is what shows up in the bowl games. 

The Pac-10 and Big 12 have talent known for speed, but not lacking toughness. The SEC has talent known for toughness, but not lacking speed. The ACC has a mixture of speed and toughness. Boise State was a BCS buster with speed mixed with a dose of toughness. Utah, who had toughness mixed with some speed, was also a BCS buster. 

The Big Ten has talent—but that talent lacks the speed and toughness to compete with the rest of the top conferences and teams.