Some things are just given in sports. The Chicago Cubs not making the World Series, the Cleveland Browns missing the playoffs and the Big Ten laying an egg during bowl season. Already 0-2 after losses by Minnesota and Michigan, the nightmare scenario is unraveling for the conference once again.
Of course the apologists will say that the lower-tiered bowls are meaningless. This is nonsense. The Wolverines and Golden Gophers are not good teams and neither are most of the other teams in the Big Ten. It is that simple.
Others will argue that fans in the Big Ten root for their teams, not the conference. Give it a break. Sure, nonconference and bowl losses by other teams are not shared, but the abundance of losses over the last three years has been embarrassing for everyone. Consequently, any significant achievement made in conference play is immediately ridiculed.
New Year’s Day provides an opportunity to restore some pride. It could also deliver another round of humiliation. Odds favor the latter, which will further cement the widespread opinion that the Big Ten is no longer relevant in the FBS.
No conference takes more pride in sticking it to the Big Ten than the SEC. Few things get under the skin of Big Ten fans more than the SEC chant. Most will say they hate it because they feel SEC fans are taking credit for something not earned. The real reason is the chant represents something they don’t have: championships.
Granted, Ohio State won the BCS title in 2002 and Michigan captured the AP Championship in 1997. Bravo. The SEC has nine in the same time period and two more if you go back another six years.
Maybe a few of these titles were handed to the SEC on a silver platter, but most were earned. 11 titles in 20 seasons don't represent a fluke. The SEC’s best took care of business when it mattered most.
Over the last 10 years, the Big Ten is 10-13 against the SEC on January 1, which is hardly lopsided. Many Big Ten fans will point to this record as proof that the SEC is not as deep as proclaimed. The issue, though, is Ohio State’s two BCS Championship losses. These blowouts highlighted the SEC’s superiority over the Big Ten, and the conference has been in defense mode ever since.
The real dagger may not be the losses to the SEC but instead the 1-9 record in the Rose Bowl since 2001. It is no secret that the Big Ten measures itself by the outcome of this game. After dominating in the 1990s, the conference has had trouble winning the “Granddaddy of Them All,” over the last decade.
A win by Michigan State won’t immediately repair the Big Ten’s image, but it would be a step in the right direction. To really make a statement, the conference needs to go 2-1 against the SEC in the Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl and Capital One Bowl, and for Ohio State to win the Orange Bowl.
There is an important issue beyond the bowl games. A new era is beginning next season when the Football Bowl Subdivision will finally have a postseason playoff. The four teams will be selected by a 13-member committee. Humans will decide who will play in the College Football Playoff. Perception will be a factor in determining the teams. Right now, the Big Ten is vulnerable. Finishing with a winning bowl record will help ease the negative opinion that surrounds the conference.
Unfortunately, the conference will be lucky to win one game, let alone three or four. Here are three reasons why the Big Ten will struggle in its remaining bowl games.
Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave, Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III and Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock are all average quarterbacks that no respectable defense fears.
|Ron Kellogg III||919||6||3|
*Statistics provided by NCAA.com
The glaring statistic is the excessive interceptions which are shocking considering the Badgers, Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes are all good at protecting the quarterback.
The game plan is simple. The Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Tigers will load the box to stop the running game and force Stave, Kellogg III and Rudock to win the games with their arms. When this happens, the games will be over because these quarterbacks are mistake-prone.
Ohio State’s Defense
Concerns were already high on how the much-maligned secondary could handle Clemson’s passing offense that averages 329.3 yards per game. With star defensive end Noah Spence potentially out for a personal reason and cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Curtis Grant nursing injuries, the Buckeyes might be in deep trouble.
Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant form one of the nation's premier wide receiver combinations. On the season, Watkins has 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Bryant has 39 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns. Their size and speed will test the Buckeyes defense all night.
There is a glimmer of hope considering that Florida State and South Carolina had little trouble slowing down Clemson’s potent attack, but the Buckeyes secondary is not on the same level. Stopping Watkins may mean having to play press coverage or just double-teaming him. This will leave the defense vulnerable, but that is the risk it needs to take to win the game.
The best bet for Ohio State to win the game is to ride running back Carlos Hyde. Clemson’s rush defense allows 152.6 yards per game, so Hyde should have a field day if given the chance. The question is whether or not coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have the will to chuck the system and just hand the ball to Hyde.
Stanford’s Ground Game
Stanford and Michigan State are so similar it is scary. Both teams have outstanding defenses and strong rushing attacks. Neither team has a glaring weakness.
|Rushing Defense||Passing Defense||Scoring Defense||Rushing Offense||Passing Offense||Scoring Offense||Turnover Margin|
*Statistics provided by NCAA.com
They share one common opponent in Notre Dame. The Cardinal beat the Fighting Irish 27-20, and the Spartans lost 17-13. Michigan State is a different team now than it was on September 21, so reading into that loss is a stretch.
What might be important in predicting the outcome of this game is the overall strength of schedule for both teams. The Pac-12 is clearly better than the Big Ten this year. UCLA, Washington and Arizona State beat Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin respectively on September 14. The Cardinal beat UCLA, Washington and Arizona State this year. Coupled with the win over Notre Dame, the edge favors Stanford since its road to the Rose Bowl was more challenging.
Of course this is speculation, but there is cause for concern. Are Michigan State’s defensive statistics inflated because it played inferior opponents compared to Stanford? Probably.
Stanford is going to do what Ohio State failed to do against Michigan State. Feed running back Tyler Gaffney the ball in the fourth quarter. On the season, Gaffney has rushed for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Cardinal will take advantage of the absence of standout linebacker Max Bullough by pounding the ball until the holes open late in the game.
Finding a win for Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa is difficult, but history suggests one of these teams will win. Ohio State has the offense to beat Clemson, but its defense is a huge liability. The loss of Bullough will hurt Michigan State.
Fans want to believe that the teams will do well, but only Ohio State and Wisconsin will win, leaving the Big Ten with a 2-5 bowl record. It is a shame that the revenue dominance of the conference has not led to strong performances on the field. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has laughed all the way to bank, but the fans have been left defending the indefensible. The conference is terrible.