Prior to last night’s Sugar Bowl, there was a lot of talk surrounding the "monkey” that was on Ohio State’s back. (Prior to beating Arkansas, they were 0-9 in bowl games against the conference.) There was also a lot of talk about how much that game meant to the Big Ten, which had performed awfully in New Year’s Day bowl games. (The Big Ten Conference was 0-5 on their New Year’s day games.)
After last night, all that talk is over. But is Big Ten Football really redeemed?
In the media, they probably were—in fact, the media never really treated them too badly after prior bowl season collapses. And maybe the Big Ten deserves some credit: they are 7-8 in the past two bowl seasons, including an impressive 3-0 in BCS games (that is coming off of a three year stretch in which the Big Ten was 5-16 in bowl games, including 0-6 in BCS games). So have they turned it around?
The verdict is still out, but I think the 2010-11 bowl season showed more weaknesses than strengths in the Big Ten conference. The conferences three co-champions, all vaunting 11-1 records, lost two of their three games. Michigan State losing to an Alabama team is understandable, even if Alabama was disappointed to be there.
But losing 49-7 is unforgivable, in the case of Michigan State. Wisconsin was arguably the hottest team to finish the season and many didn’t think an undersized TCU could handle them, but the Roses went to TCU anyway.
Ohio State was the lone man standing atop the Big Ten at the end, with a 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Yet even that victory is questionable. It is not just questionable because of the suspended players that played in the game, but because of Arkansas’ mistakes: the Razorbacks dropped a likely touchdown pass on their first offensive play and a first-down pass on second down of the same drive, they missed an easy fumble recovery that led to OSU’s first TD, they dropped another TD pass at the end of the half, they dropped another pass on third down in the fourth quarter that would have put them in field goal range, and they also fell on the ball after a blocked punt that could easily have been the go-ahead touchdown with a minute to go.
Lest we also forget, Ohio State’s offense was completely shut down in the second half after a great start. The offensive didn’t perform down the stretch. Only OSU’s defensive line, which consistently put pressure on Ryan Mallett, performed phenomenally throughout the game.
Looking at the rest of the Big Ten, the only standout victory is Iowa (8-5) over Missouri (10-3). The rest of the Big Ten’s second tier of teams lost to the second tier teams of the SEC, while also splitting a pair of games with middling Big 12 teams. With an eye to the future, the conference is excited to welcome Nebraska into the fold next season, but even Nebraska (10-4) had a big bowl letdown against Washington (7-6).
These types of performances continue to damage the reputation of the Big Ten in the eyes of everyone who is not a fan of their teams. So no, the Big Ten is not redeemed. We shall until next year—when there will likely be two more BCS teams from the conference—to determine if they have made a real turnaround. But for now, the Big Ten redemption is yet to be confirmed.