Wisconsin Holds the Key to the Big Ten's Bowl Season Success

Tom Scurlock@tas1372Correspondent IIIDecember 14, 2012

He's back
He's backDoug Benc/Getty Images

Bowl season has been cruel to the Big Ten over the last decade. 

The facts are loud and clear.  The conference owns a dismal 28-39 record over that span and its best teams have been routinely humiliated.  

With Ohio State and Penn State serving postseason bans and most of the bowl-bound teams grossly overrated, the outlook for 2012 is not promising either. 

The laughable part is the conference rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars each year and remains so awful on the gridiron. 

If the Big Ten wants to climb back into college football relevancy, it begins with winning its bowl games. 

Just look at the SEC.  You can criticize the non-conference schedule and favorable treatment in the polls, but the SEC gets it done at the end of the year.  There is no debate; the SEC is king because it delivers when it counts. 

The Big Ten needs to step up and show grit and swagger.  They have seven games to prove they are better than the perception. 

All the games matter, but the game that will define the Big Ten’s success is the Rose Bowl. 

The Rose Bowl is to Big Ten what the Coliseum was to the Romans—the perfect stage for showcasing its best talent. 

Of course playing for the BCS title is the ultimate goal, but making it to the Rose Bowl is a perfect consolation prize. 

It is easy to understand why the Big Ten and Pac-12 refuse to release their hold on the game.

The setting is as good as it gets in college football.  As the afternoon sun crosses over the San Gabriel Mountains and sets into the Pacific, who can resist watching the Rose Bowl with family and friends? 

This is what makes New Year’s Day special. 

For the third-straight year, Wisconsin is representing the Big Ten in ‘The Granddaddy of Them All.’  They are also seeking to end their two-game skid. 

Typically, losing a coach during bowl season is tough to overcome, but the Badgers may have received a blessing in disguise when Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas last week. 

At the request of the team’s current leadership and pretty much the entire state of Wisconsin, former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez agreed to step in as interim coach. 

Alvarez has not walked the sideline since the 2005 season, but he was the architect that put Wisconsin football back on the map. 

Before he arrived, Wisconsin’s football program was on life support, winning just a handful of games in the late 1980’s.  It took a few seasons, but Alvarez turned the Badgers into a perennial power.

Over his fifteen seasons, Alvarez won 118 games, three Big Ten titles and went 3-0 in the Rose Bowl.  The Badgers faithful are confident that he can bring back some of his magic.

They are also hoping to see Alvarez’s signature Mack Truck offense take the field on New Year’s Day against Stanford. 

Who can blame them?  Badger football was built on the power running game, and this year has been no exception.

Montee Ball heated up at the end of the season rushing for 725 yards and scoring seven touchdowns over the last four games.  Alvarez will turn to him to carry the team to victory. 

The question is whether or not that strategy will work.  Stanford is ranked No. 3 in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing just 88 yards per game (per NCAA.com). 

At the beginning of the season, few thought the Cardinals could compete for the Pac-12 title. They were replacing Andrew Luck and USC and Oregon were seen as the overwhelming favorites to win the championship.

After losing a 17-13 to Washington on September 27 and suffering a gut-wrenching 20-13 overtime loss to Notre Dame on October 13, it definitely appeared that Stanford was in a rebuilding year.

The Cardinals shocked everyone by rattling off seven-straight wins, including an epic 17-14 overtime win at Oregon on November 17 to make it to back its first Rose Bowl since 2000.

The heart and soul of the team is its defense.  Beyond the Cardinals' ability to stop the run, they also lead the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. 

Don’t be surprised if this game goes into overtime.  Wisconsin and Stanford both played in three overtime games this season.  The Badgers lost all of their overtime games and the Cardinal went 2-1. 

The Big Ten is just 2-8 in the Rose Bowl over the last 10 years, but Wisconsin has a good shot at winning the game. 

The key will be finishing the game.  The Badgers lost five games by a total of 19 points.  The team is a lot better than its record.

Expectations are low for the Big Ten to do well this bowl season.  That might be a good sign. 

If they can pull out the Rose Bowl and sprinkle in a few other wins, the conference can head into the offseason with some pride for a change. 


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