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5 Thoughts (1/3) - The Big Ten's Big Disaster
Posted Jan 3, 2011

So how is your 2011 going? The Big Ten might like a do-over after one of the biggest one day disasters for any conference in the history of college football. Throw in Nebraska's clunker, and the PR nightmare of Leaders & Legends, and the league is having a rough time. This, TCU not getting a shot, and more in the latest 5 Thoughts.

CFN Analysis 

5 Thoughts, Jan. 3

- 5 Thoughts Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving?  | Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC 
- Week 3 - Uhhh ... Texas & Florida? | Week 4 - Ohio State's Schedule 
- Week 5 - Boise State's Poll Slide | Week 6 - The Poll Problem 
- Week 7 - The 2 Left Standing? | Week 8 - The Oregon Résumé
- Week 9 - What do you want for a national title?
- Week 10 - Do you believe Cam? | Week 11 - Arguing FOR the BCS?! 
- Week 12 - Denard's great year | Week 13 - The Pac 10's free pass 
- Week 14 - The BCS didn't "work"

1. On the plus side, most of the games were on cable and ratings were down 

E-mail Pete Fiutak

So how’s your 2011 going?

It’s going to be completely lost in the shuffle after the Big Ten bloodbath on New Year’s Day, but the league enjoyed some positives in the bowl season and can still finish a not that bad 3-5 if Ohio State beats Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Iowa was outplayed, but was able to stun Missouri in the Insight Bowl, and Illinois looked great against Baylor in the Texas Bowl, and … and … and …

As of right now, there are just 362 more days left until 2012.

I tried to find any day in the history of college football that was worse for any one conference than January 1, 2011 was for the Big Ten, considering the blowout factor in the early afternoon games and the egg on the face in the granddaddy of them all, and I couldn’t find anything that came even remotely close. This hasn’t been a good month for the conference, and it’ll require years of damage control, and lots of wins over good teams, to get the reputation back. These things might go in cycles, and the Big Ten has been almost dead-even with the SEC in recent years when Ohio State isn’t factored in, but not anymore. Not this year.

If the Big Ten was merely adequate and pulled off one win on the first, there would’ve been a chance to go 4-4 in the bowls and the talk might be more about how awful Georgia was, or the Big 12 North’s problems, or all the coaching situations, but unless Ohio State blasts Arkansas by 30 in the Sugar Bowl, it’s best if the conference lays low for a while.

Start with the Leaders and Legends fiasco. In an effort to not offend anyone, and with the hope of creating something new and exciting for the 12-team league, Jim Delany and the Big Ten bigwigs had to sit back and groove on a mix of ridicule and scorn for the dorky divisional names and the amateurish new logo that doesn’t make any sense. The backlash was so voluminous and so universal that Delany had to make a statement saying the conference would take another look at the names. The Big Ten, as anyone who covers the conference knows, doesn’t like to be questioned on anything other than the level of its greatness.

Next came Ohio State, or Tattoo U., and the scandal involving five of its top players and the suspension for the first five games of next year. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had been just any five Buckeyes, but because the Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, and Mike Adams were involved, and because of the NCAA’s bizarre ruling to let them be eligible for the Sugar Bowl, the SEC’s bowl hex over the Buckeyes no longer became the interesting part of the story. Head coach Jim Tressel came under fire for not making a statement by keeping his stars out, there are rumors swirling about bizarre handshake deals that the players could play against the Hogs if they agreed to come back next year, and all of a sudden, there’s a black mark next to Ohio State’s reputation.

Then, just when things started to brighten up with a 2-0 bowl season start, the new kid on the block, Nebraska, laid a egg with an embarrassing, pathetic Holiday Bowl effort against a lousy Washington team. Losing to a team the Huskers ripped through in September was bad enough, but the 19-7 loss took on another level of miserable considering they were among the biggest locks of the bowls. All they needed to do was show up and care, and they couldn’t even do that. Welcome to the Big Ten, Big Red! Now, do you want to be a Leader or a Legend?

And then came the real fun.

The problem wasn’t that the Big Ten went 0-4 in the pre-Rose Bowl New Year’s Day games; it was that the SEC, who was decidedly mediocre this year compared to past seasons, just ended the debate for the next several years. No, the SEC isn’t bigger and faster than the Big Ten; the Big Ten, at least on New Year’s Day, was simply far, far, far worse at playing college football.

The Northwestern loss to Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl was forgivable. The Cats were without star QB Dan Persa, but they scratched and clawed their way back to push the Red Raiders in a seven point loss. But that was against a Big 12 team, and there isn’t a huge ongoing Big Ten-Big 12 debate like there is with the SEC.

Penn State battled hard in the Outback Bowl loss to an emotional Florida team in Urban Meyer’s last game, but throwing five interceptions didn’t help the aesthetics of the day, especially with the main highlight on all the shows being Ahmad Black taking a pick to the house.

But the Michigan schools took things to a whole other level.

Alabama’s offensive line didn’t block anyone all year long, and suddenly, Michigan State found itself flat on its back for a large portion of the first half. In the ultimate unintended slap in the face, Bama sat several star players with ten minutes to play … IN THE THIRD QUARTER. The supposedly motivated Spartans were going to prove to the world that they belonged in the Sugar Bowl and deserved the Rose. That went bye-bye the second Mark Ingram looked like Mark Ingram again.

Michigan doesn’t have a defense, and no one thought the Mississippi State offense was going to be stopped cold in the Gator, but the Wolverines looked disorganized, confused, out of position, and out of place. It was amateur hour, and any case Rich Rodriguez might have had to keep his job going into the game was flattened by Chris Relf. For the Wolverines to give up 52 points was one thing, but for the offense to not put a point on the board over the final 47 minutes was inexcusable. MSU was good, but this was hardly a special team good enough to beat anyone in the Big Ten by 38 points. How bad was Michigan? Alcorn State held the Bulldogs to 49 points.

Because the day wasn’t going poorly enough, Wisconsin decided to put a nice little cherry on top of the spit sundae with a flat-out dumb loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl. Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst not only lost track of time at the end of the first half, but they were the only two people in America who failed to realize that the Horned Frogs had no earthly prayer of stopping the Badger ground game until it was too late.

The Big Ten’s bigger problem is that these were the games that really mattered. The Pac 10 loads up with tremendous non-conference matchups, and everyone in the SEC has at least one brutal rivalry-type game against a real, live BCS conference team. In non-conference play this year, the Big Ten had Penn State at Alabama, Miami at Ohio State, and a slew of games against Notre Dame. There was an Iowa at Arizona here and an Illinois vs. Missouri there, but the Big Ten lost both of those games, it’s not like the conference went out of its way to schedule matchups that could make a statement on a national scale. The bowl season was when the conference was supposed to flex its muscle, but instead it got sand kicked in its face.

So what now?

The Big Ten needs to get caught up in the excitement of the new set up and the addition of Nebraska. It needs to sell the fact that January 1st was just one day, and these things go in cycles. And along the way, a set of ear plugs and a block from viewing SEC message boards will be a must.

2. A problem Patterson will gladly take.

Richard Cirminiello

Gary Patterson and his staff have proven for years that they can coach up modest recruits into pro-caliber athletes. How will they handle the occasional blue-chipper that begins to make his way to Fort Worth?

TCU’s Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin was epic on so many different levels, some of which will persist for many years. Recruiting, in particular, figures to get a considerable bump. Hey, the ‘Horned Frogs aren’t about to start stealing can’t-miss prospects away from the ‘Horns. Texas remains the undisputed king of the Lone Star State. However, the Frogs could be set to chip away at its monopoly. The message was clear as TCU celebrated on the grandest of bowl stages on Saturday evening—you can get national attention and play in major games at this tiny program in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Oh, and now that the program is headed to the Big East, where champions get automatic BCS bowl bids, Patterson will have a few new gems for prospective recruits when he hits the recruiting trail in the final stages leading up to signing day.

Rose Bowl MVPs Andy Dalton and Tank Carder were not heavily recruited coming out of high school. While those types of kids will still be the foundation of TCU, they’re likely to be surrounded by a few more bells and whistles than in the past.

3. But the Rose Bowl talk can finally be done

Richard Cirminiello

Michigan State’s season? I’m saying the glass remains half-full, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m in the minority on this one today.

The Spartans lost just twice all season, winning 11 games for the first time in school history. Had someone suggested in August that this program was going to play on New Year’s Day and win a share of the Big Ten championship, you’d have assumed that guy was Kirk Cousins or Greg Jones. Nice team, but 11 wins? Based on what? Michigan State soared past expectations in 2010. The problem, however, is how those two defeats went down. On Oct. 30, the Spartans got plowed by Iowa, 37-6. And over the weekend, they were dressed down for 60 minutes by Alabama, 49-7. While there’s certainly no shame in dropping a pair of games during the course of a season, Saturday’s outcome left an indelible mark in the minds of all who witnessed it. There’s losing and then there’s getting whipped so thoroughly that it erases a lot of the good that took place in September, October, and November. The Spartans may have achieved the latter in Orlando.

It was a great year for Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. Fair or not, however, the Spartans played so poorly over the weekend that a big chunk of the country is going to classify their regular season as either a fluke or the product of an overrated Big Ten Conference. That’s going to be the fallout of a loss to ‘Bama that was so lopsided that it looked at times that the Tide was hosting an FCS opponent.

4. And while you're at it, let's throw Bama back into the mix

By Matt Zemek

In the wake of TCU's stirring Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, let's put this not-quite-ended college football season into perspective with one powerful yet simple recollection:

After TCU defeated San Diego State on Nov. 13, the Horned Frogs had clinched a second straight Mountain West Conference championship. They had cleared the last genuine hurdle on the road to a second straight unbeaten regular season. Moreover, they had managed to back up their emotional win over Utah the week before. Yet, the mood of the Frogs in their locker room that evening was somber, bordering on funereal. TCU's players felt that they let themselves down and fell short of their goals. The team was shaken, even hurt. This, after winning its conference and essentially sealing an unbeaten regular season (only a 1-10 New Mexico team remained on their schedule after the win against SDSU).

Remember this story when you ponder the phrases "every game matters", "sanctity of the regular season", and "the BCS works."

The evening of November 13, 2010, stands as a lasting monument to the injustice that is the Bowl Championship Series. Sure, it's not an injustice the way AIG's fraud was unjust. Naturally, it's not outrageous the way a murder or a Bernie Madoff swindle is outrageous. Yet, within its own comparatively trivial but still meaningful realm, it's an embarrassment to college football and a thunderous refutation of the notion that this sport crowns true national champions who beat an appreciable cross-section of opponents throughout the country.

5. Piling on the Spartans. Sort of like the first half of the Capital One

By Matt Zemek

There's nothing inherently "wrong" or dumb or unethical about having a divergent view on an issue, but it is striking that Michigan State got laughed off the stage after the Capital One Bowl no-show against a rocking and rolling Alabama bunch. A common refrain seen on the internet during the Bama bloodbath in Orlando was that Michigan State did not deserve to be in the Rose Bowl. I understand where this sentiment comes from and appreciate the desire to see better New Year's Day matchups.

Let's just get one thing straight: Sparty's awful afternoon proved that coach Mark Dantonio's team did not deserve a Sugar Bowl bid. Michigan State still did deserve the Rose Bowl.

Please understand (even if you don't think along these lines): The argument that Michigan State was and still is the Big Ten team that deserved a Rose Bowl bid is an argument that doesn't come from a BCS-style comparison of teams. The argument comes from a belief that within conference-specific metrics, Michigan State did more than the two teams it tied in the Big Ten standings.

If you didn't read this five weeks ago, read it now: In three-way competition, the Big Ten's tied teams - Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State - had different cumulative records. Ohio State was 0-1 against Wisconsin and MSU. Wisconsin went 1-1 against Ohio State and Sparty. Michigan State went 1-0 against Ohio State and Wisconsin. That measurement of performance - against the teams one tied in the standings - should have formed the basis for awarding the Rose Bowl bid.

Not convinced? Let's recall Big Ten history for a little bit.

In 1973, 10-0 Michigan tied 9-0 Ohio State. At the time, the Big Ten sent only its champion to a bowl game, and the Rose Bowl was the only show that mattered in the Midwest. In the case of ties in the standings, the Rose Bowl participant was decided by vote, essentially a smoke-filled room or a good-ole-boy network. Pure politics determined a Rose Bowl representative. The outrage of 1973 is what eventually led the Big Ten to allow other teams to take part in bowl games, and it's why conference championships were meant to be decided by something rooted in raw merit... like records against common opponents or in-conference point differential or overall point differential.

A conference championship is a narrow measurement of a body of work, not a beauty contest akin to the BCS derby or the pre-BCS spectacles called "poll and bowl" and, in the mid-1990s, "the Bowl Alliance." A conference title should be based only on strict numerical facts and precise head-to-head results. The 2010 Michigan State Spartans - spiritual descendants of the 1978 MSU team that was wrongly denied a Rose Bowl bid - will always be seen by history as the apolitical winners of a majority share of the Big Ten championship.

Maybe, in future seasons, the majority of college football fans will be able to appreciate as much. Right now, such a way of thinking is not penetrating the public consciousness.