I leave tonight for Phoenix where I'll report amidst the purple rocks on the build up to No. 10 Ohio State's Tostitos' Fiesta Bowl Clash with No. 3 Texas. Before packing my bags for the largely symbolic celebration, let's inventory our conference's bowl stock.
It's hard to argue with 1-5, but I'd like to suggest that the Big Brutes have actually performed admirably in light of disparities in matchups. If you're the kind of person who likes to take notes here's what I'd write down:
The Great: Iowa's 31-10 impaling of SEC scapegoat South Carolina in yesterday's bacon and eggs Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes controlled virtually every aspect of the contest; capitalizing on Garcia's hilarious inability to read simple coverages, and manhandling the line of scrimmage. Kirk Ferentz's blond boys looked powerful and in control.
The Good: No. 23 Northwestern's showing against No. 21 Missouri and it's "national championship" caliber offense and playmakers. The Wildcats dominated the first quarter and a half of play: picking on Mizzou's miserable secondary and keeping them honest up front. Pat Fitzgerald coached the purple to within a drive of searing the win and the Big 12's reputation. (See also Michigan State's solid showing against a simply more talented Georgia team).
The Bad: Wisconsin's slowpoke strategy versus Florida State. Wisky demanded respect for two quarters before burying itself in a mountain of turnovers and reminding us why they lost four straight in conference. The especially bad: Coach Bret Bielema's sneeringly ill-fated response to halftime reporters: "They don't want anything to do with (the running game). We're going to keep giving it to them." He might have been more honest if he was talking about the ball. (See also Minnesota's second half collapse against Kansas).
The Bad (Take 2): No. 8 Penn State's backwards blundering against the NFC West (ahem, Pac 10) Champion USC Trojans. Sure, they played four whole quarters, and didn't quit when it looked like they might be turned into pillars of salt by the stratospheric talent differential, but I'm not here to sugar coat things. The Nittany Lions were the epitome of uncool: from Daryl Clark's soft in the belly shyness after a successful quarterback draw led to Penn State's only first half points, to Joe Pa's falling asleep at the wheel strategy late in the game (i.e. opting for a field goal down 14-38 with 7:22 left to play). The apparent justification? He wanted to give Kevin Kelly the chance to kick a field goal in a Rose Bowl Game. Aww, shucks, that's nice.
No wonder the Lions were wearing white: it's universal for "we surrender."
On the Other Hand: Can you blame them? Let's face it: when they come to play USC competes on another level. With nine out of eleven defensive starters primed to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft we're not exactly comparing apples to apples. In my opinion, praise for this victory belongs to Pete Carroll and what he's done over the past seven seasons. USC has continuously and systematically obliterated and exposed apparent "equals," drawing from a common pool of talent. It's no secret that the Trojans were one game away from playing for and winning it all and if your head still hurts when you try to figure out how they lost to friggin' Oregon State remember this axiom I first wrote in September:
Columbus can't slay the dragon, Los Angeles can't swat the fly.
What's really happened here is that the Big 10 has been unevenly yoked from top to bottom in this bowl season and Ohio State and its maniacal fan base (myself included) is to blame.
I'm convinced that the conference is a more competitive entity across the board and (with the exception of Wisconsin) can escape the post-season David and Goliath gauntlet with its head up, having gained the invaluable experience of trial by fire.
Oh yeah, and we've still got the Buckeyes.
Is anyone holding their breath?