Over the last five years, the Big Ten has been in constant defense mode trying to protect its position among the elite conferences. The annual losses in September combined with poor bowl records have tarnished its strength and reputation.
It is no secret that Ohio State is being punished in the polls this year based on the perception that the conference is not that good. Excuses are plenty in the Midwest, but the verdict has played out on the field.
The Buckeyes are expected to win out and head to the Rose Bowl instead of the BCS National Championship game. If they do, here are three reasons why the Big Ten should seek just one BCS Bowl bid.
Michigan State and Wisconsin Not Worthy
The Badgers and Spartans are both quality teams that appear to be peaking at the right time, but their accomplishments feel more like an indictment on the Big Ten than a solid improvement in performance.
Should Wisconsin’s boneheaded loss to Arizona State be ignored because it managed to run through the Big Ten with just one loss to the Buckeyes? How about Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame?
The fact remains that both of these teams failed their one true nonconference test. Furthermore, outside of the Spartans’ win over the Wolverines, neither team has really beaten a team with a pulse. Rewarding either team with a BCS bowl bid would exemplify what is wrong with the current system: giving undeserving teams a big payday based on an artificial record instead of substance.
Finally Get Proper Bowl Alignment
As the records currently stand, the Big Ten may fail to get enough bowl eligible teams to fill its eight slots. This alone is evidence that the conference is down, but getting two teams into BCS bowls would mean having considerable mismatches in the remaining bowls. Sending teams to the wrong bowls is a practice that has repeatedly damaged the league's standing among the elite conferences. It needs to be avoided this year.
Does the Big Ten really want to send Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska to take on three of the SEC’s top teams? Not this year.
A better slate would be:
|Ohio State||Jan. 1||Rose||Pasadena, Cal.||Stanford|
|Wisconsin||Jan. 1||Capital One||Orlando, Fla.||Auburn|
|Michigan State||Jan. 1||Outback||Tampa, Fla.||Missouri|
|Michigan||Jan. 1||Gator||Jacksonville, Fla.||South Carolina|
|Minnesota||Jan. 1||Heart of Dallas||Dallas, Texas||North Texas|
|Nebraska||Dec. 28||Buffalo Wild Wings||Tempe, Ariz.||Texas Tech|
|Iowa||Dec. 27||Texas||Houston, Texas||Kansas State|
There are still plenty of difficult games in this slate, but all of them are winnable.
Legitimate Shot to Repair the Image Before Playoff Era Begins
Some people may argue that the Big Ten’s weakness will be less relevant under the new playoff system. That would be a mistake.
Even in a watered-down conference like the Big Ten, going undefeated is rare. Most seasons, the conference champion will need to have a one-loss resume that will be significant enough for the selection committee to consider it for the playoff. The only way to do this is by changing the perception of the league, and it begins with this bowl season.
Under normal circumstances, pairing up an inferior team against a stronger team from a better conference in a lower tiered bowl would not matter. Typically, these bowls are less about performance and more about having fun, getting in extra practices and securing valuable playing time for younger players.
The Big Ten has been stuck in this cycle for too long though. After nearly of decade of substandard finishes, the conference needs to couple its financial success with winning on the field. The probable way to achieve this is to properly align its bowl eligible teams.
The league’s image will not be restored with a successful bowl season, but it is a considerable start. The Big Ten needs something positive to go its way on the football field. No one expects the conference to surpass the SEC anytime soon. Remaining stuck behind the Pac-12, ACC and possibly the Big 12 is ridiculous.
Giving two BCS bowl slots to the fifth-best conference is inappropriate. If the Buckeyes do not win the Big Ten conference championship, they should not be rewarded with an at-large bid either. Of course, this is unlikely considering that Ohio State brings fans and revenue, which are the two most important things to bowl executives. However, similar to the winning streak, this achievement would feel a little hollow.
The Big Ten is in a rut. Putting two teams in the BCS bowls will bring in long-term revenue, but the accomplishment will be void of respect if both teams lose their games. The better option to start the long road back into college football significance is to forego the payout, get the teams into the correct bowls and win some games for a change.