Disclaimer: I don’t root for the Big Ten unless there’s a really good reason. There was not a good reason yesterday, and I’m disappointed the conference even went 1-2.
That’s out of the way.
While I’m not going to go so far as say this weekend was outright disastrous for the conference...it was pretty damn close.
- Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan decided to pull a Penn State and only show up for the second half, falling to #11 Florida State 33-32. Amara Darboh grabbed a two-point conversion from Wilton Speight after a 30-yard TD run by Chris Evans, but the ensuing 66-yard kickoff return led to a Seminole score. While Josh Metellus ran back the blocked extra point, it was too little, too late.
- Music City Bowl: Nebraska was just not as good as Tennessee. There’s not much more to it than that for me, and without Jordan Westerkamp and Tommy Armstrong, this was always an uphill battle for the Huskers. I’m cool writing it off, especially since HEY SHUT UP BEATING TENNESSEE IS HARD.
- Fiesta Bowl: #3 Ohio State...didn’t show up. That’s about it. 31-0 to Clemson now makes it two straight seasons in which a Big Ten club has failed to show up in the playoffs. Our own GF3 has been on the record as wanting...well, about everyone responsible for Ohio State’s offense sent packing, but this is particularly stunning. Just a total failure by Ohio State.
- Cotton Bowl: I don’t particularly care if #6 wisconsin “controlled the game” or “took its foot off the gas” against #15 Western Michigan...they let the Broncos stick around. Jazz Peavy’s jet sweeps and Troy Fumagalli’s ridiculous hands carried the badgers—Corey Clement had a pedestrian 71 yards on 22 carries for a score, and Bart Houston had the workmanlike QB performance which has characterized badger quarterbacks for two decades.
- Outback Bowl: Oh. #17 Florida was already a better team than Iowa, but this is a bad look for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. I’m sure there will be contract jokes galore, but Ferentz continuing to play a clearly injured CJ Beathard for all but one series (even when the game was well out of hand) and Greg Davis’ continued vanilla offensive gameplan is damning. Iowa has offered nothing for three consecutive bowl games and there’s little hope in Iowa City that anything will change.
- Rose Bowl: Penn State blew a 49-35 lead. 17 unanswered points in the last 8:15. The Trace McSorley YOLO offense finally ran out of steam, as the sophomore threw an awful pick with under a minute left, allowing USC to set up the winning field goal as time expired.
And so the arguments are set. To recap:
- The Big Ten East went 0-5 in bowl games, though four of those teams lost by a combined 12 points. The Big Ten West went 3-2, with Northwestern and Minnesota both springing upsets.
- Penn State turned in another strong second half, but this time it fell just short. This is no doubt both a confirmation that they didn’t deserve to be in the playoff and that they would have done better than Ohio State against Clemson. Please spend at least 300 comments arguing about this.
- The West ain’t played nobody, and they lost if and when they did. Clearly the Big Ten West is better and/or worse than the Big Ten East.
- Minnesota is the worst 9-4 team in football. Or something. We sit and wait to see what changing with Tracy Claeys and staff.
- Northwestern is the best 7-6 team in football. Or something. We sit and wait to hear Mick McCall’s job stat—ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
- It’s disappointing to think what could’ve been if Armstrong and Westerkamp were healthy. Nebraska moved the ball occasionally on the Vols, but it’s still hard to think the Huskers were going to stop Joshua Dobbs at all.
- I can’t wait for an off-season of Harbaugh-to-Rams rumors.
Ultimately, the Big Ten just was not the elite conference it was cracked up to be, and that’s likely a product of our looking to four teams at the top (OSU, uw, MI, and PSU) who entered bowl season as incredibly flawed teams, whether for their inability to feed their RB, their offensive “meh”-ness, their lunatic coach, or their willingness to (and I tip my hat to a number of folks in our commentariat) “live by the YOLO, die by the YOLO.”
There is something to be said for the conference often being forced to “play up” against its competition on their turf, especially in the mid-tier games (Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota). Playing Florida a couple hours from Gainesville and Tennessee a short drive from Knoxville makes it damn tough for the Big Ten, but that remains the reality of the situation.
If I take one thing away from this season, it’s that the Big Ten season was one of missed opportunities. Indiana, frustratingly, came just short again. Nebraska could not eke out the West in a down year, and wisconsin choked away the championship. Penn State. Ohio State. With Oklahoma reestablishing itself in the Sugar Bowl and USC claiming the Rose Bowl title, along with Tennessee no doubt returning to Top 10 status just because, the Big Ten enters the 2017 looking like one of the bottom two Power 5 conferences.
Then again, McSorley returns. Ohio State brings back however many freshmen and sophomores. I’m sure the badgers have a dozen more hogs to lead some 1000-yard rushers. Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson...who knows? Maybe we’ll find out Minnesota rows the boat—there are lots of lakes, after all.
There will be more opportunities in 2017; perhaps this year the Big Ten seizes them.