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Memorable Milestones - The Bowls

Scott Tolzien wishes he could have that one back.

The last installment of our milestones series rubbed at least one Iowa fan the wrong way.  Hopefully this one gives him a reason to step back from the ledge.  It also showed me the importance of good research as I completely left Joe Pa's landmark 400th win off the list.  My apologies to the entire Penn State nation.

The good news is there are only eight bowls to contend with, so I shouldn't overlook anyone or anything.  In many ways bowl season is college football at its best.  It pits teams from different parts of the country against one another in (for the most part) fair-weather destinations, combining the color and pageantry of the sport with the unique cultural opportunities the host cities have to offer.  It gives fans of teams above the Mason-Dixon the chance to escape the tundra temporarily for a few days in paradise.

On the other hand, the bowls are the biggest remaining obstacle to the establishment of an FBS playoff, and their sheer number has diminished the value of post-season play.  They also cost most programs more to attend than they make back in revenues.  Finally, for all but one team, victory is somewhat illusory.

But nevermind that.  Here is the biggest game, best win, worst loss and greatest moment of the 2010 bowl season.

The Bowls

Biggest Game: Allstate Sugar Bowl, No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Arkansas (31-26)

You can certainly make the argument that no Big Ten bowl is bigger than The Granddaddy of 'Em All, and historically I couldn't agree more.  But this year, I think the Sugar Bowl was the biggest for the Big Ten, at least in matters of perception.  Like it or not, Ohio State has been the league's gold standard for the past half decade.  Yet despite dominating conference play, the scarlet have struggled mightily against teams from the Southeastern Conference.  It was a meme that kept rearing its ugly head. 

Point out Ohio State's elite performance this decade, and Southerners scoff.  Point out that the Big Ten was neck-and-neck with the SEC in bowls in the Aughts, and they counter by touting their five consecutive wins in the BCS National Championship Game (two of which were lopsided victories over the Buckeyes).  0-9 had become as much a referendum on the Big Ten's sluggishness as the scarlet's inexplicable drought.

That's why the opportunity to face the second-best team in the SEC in enemy territory was a huge one for Ohio State and the league.  It became even bigger after the Big Ten's embarrassing whiff on New Years Day.

Dane Sanzenbacher always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

The Buckeyes came out firing, positively overwhelming the BCS-rookie Razorbacks in the first half, and jumping out to a 31-13 lead.  To their credit, Arkansas responded with solid defense and impeccable special teams play, which -- along with a series of costly Buckeye mistakes -- allowed them to crawl back into the game.  After a blocked punt game the Razorbacks the ball on the Ohio State 18 with 1:09 remaining it seemed like the Buckeyes would again be the SEC's sacrificial lamb.  Solomon Thomas wasn't having any of it.  On a routine blitz play he dropped back into coverage and snared a blind pass from Ryan Mallett.

The interception gave the Buckeyes the ball and ended a 32-year nightmare.

Gave a whole new meaning to the phrase Pick 6.

Best Win: Insight Bowl, Iowa vs. No. 12 Mizzou (27-24)

After a forgettable regular season finale, compounded by problems off the field, few people gave Iowa a chance against a dynamic Missouri team in the desert.  Believe it or not, I was one of them (see my OPC Bowl Bracket).  I liked Kirk Ferentz's history of getting his teams ready to play in the post-season, and thought the Hawks might be a touch too physical for the Tigers at the line of scrimmage.

Although Marcus Coker looked like an All-American while racking up 219 yards on the ground, it was Micah Hyde's merciless 72-yard Pick 6 that gave Iowa the lead for good.  The interception was instantly one of the most spectacular moments of the young bowl season.

Runner Up: Texas Bowl, Illinois vs. Baylor (38-14)

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention Illinois' excellent performance against Baylor in the Texas Bowl.  Mikel Leshoure bowled over the Bears, rushing for 184 yards and a career-high three touchdowns that set five school records as Illinois earned its first bowl victory since 1999.  Talk about leaving on a high note.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words...

Worst Loss: No. 16 Alabama vs. No. 9 Michigan State (49-7)

Sadly, there was some hot competition for this spot, as Michigan fell by almost as bad of a margin to Mississippi State and looked almost as bad doing it.  What gave the Spartans the edge was the fact that this team and its fans believed it was worthy of the BCS.

Don't get me wrong.  First, I know motivation has a lot to do with these things, and you can make the argument that after getting snubbed by the Sugar Bowl the Spartans lost focus.  Second, I believed then and still do that Alabama was the most talented team in the nation, and if you played the season 10,000 times they'd be national champions 6,000 of them.  Add those together, and it's no surprise that State wasn't the favorite.  I didn't expect them to win and you probably didn't either. 

Still, there is no excuse for the effort the Spartans turned in on January 1st.  They looked wooden and softer than a triple cream Brie left out in the sun at a picnic.  There was no spark, no soul on the sidelines.  Just indifference.

It was unquestionably the lamest effort I've seen in a football game since, well.... this same team slept walked against Iowa in October. 

The Spartans may have been 2010's feel good team, and the bludgeoning didn't completely drown out the chorus of a successful season, but at some point you are what you are.  And this Michigan State team was good, not great.

Biggest Moment: Tank Swats the Pass

You're probably surprised the Rose Bowl hasn't gotten much attention in this article.  After all, it pitted the best team in the conference (Wisconsin) against an undefeated TCU, and both opponents were ranked in the Top 5.  And the game itself was as good as advertised, decided in the final 2:00 minutes of the fourth quarter by two points. 

So why wasn't it the biggest game?  Simple, because TCU was a non-AQ team, and a win over them would have been marginalized by the national press, so the stakes were smaller than the Sugar Bowl.  That's bulls*it, but it's the way the system works.

Let me give credit to the Badgers for a surgically precise 10 play, 77 yard touchdown drive that brought the score within 2 with 2:00 minutes to play and set up bowl season's biggest moment.  Bret Bielema didn't need his infamous card to tell him to go for this conversion, but he and Offensive Coordinator Paul Cryst might have needed to pay a little more attention to history.  Specifically, the last 10 plays, where Wisconsin ran 90 percent of the time, and averaged 7.4 yards a carry.

TCU knew the run was coming and still couldn't stop it.  So what did Cryst opt to do?

He put the ball in the air of course.  Wait...what???

On the plus side, Scott Tolzien did have an open receiver.  But TCU linebacker Tank Carder saw the pass, left his feet, and swatted it down to the turf.

Although it took 5 more plays to make it official, Wisconsin's Rose Bowl dreams died with the failed conversion.  It's a memory that will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the Badger faithful for years to come.