First, Northwestern scooted onto the platform and lost to Texas Tech 45-38.
Then Penn State fell against Florida 37-24.
Next up, Michigan State, which took a nosedive against Alabama 49-7.
Meanwhile, Michigan was going down to Mississippi State 52-14.
By dinner time, there was hardly any water left in the tank. Then Big Ten champ Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl 21-19 to cute, cuddly TCU.
Happy New Year's, Jim Delany!
The 2010-11 bowl season was a disaster for the Big Ten. Even the biggest achievement felt murky; Ohio State's win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl came after five players were suspended (then reinstated) following a tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal.
Twelve months later, another bowl season is upon us. And Big Ten fans must be wondering, is it going to happen again? Before we hypothesize, it's important to file a disclaimer.
In today's college football, conference comparison is tricky. There aren't enough inter-conference games to get a significant sample size, especially when powerhouses fill September schedules with glorified exhibitions.
Bowl games aren't much better. They take place a month after the regular season — when some teams have checked out emotionally. And often, the third-best team in one league faces the fifth-best team in another.
But the bowls are the best tool we have to judge conference strength. And they are a big reason the Big Ten's national reputation is weak.
The last five years, the Big Ten is 13-24 in bowl games, including 3-7 in BCS games. The SEC, by comparison, is 29-15 and 8-2 in BCS games.
Will the Big Ten trend continue? On paper, it looks that way. Seven of 10 Big Ten teams are underdogs, according to oddsmakers. All five Top 25 teams — Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State — face higher-ranked opponents, according to the BCS standings.
But study the matchups and you'll find reason for hope:
• Western Michigan, Purdue's opponent, went 7-5 in the Mid-American Conference. That's not scary.
• Iowa, which plays Oklahoma, is the biggest underdog on the board. But the Sooners are coming off two losses in their last three games. And Iowa upset 10-2 Missouri in the Insight Bowl last year.
• Northwestern is a 10-point underdog against Texas A&M. But the 6-6 Aggies, who fired Mike Sherman, slumped badly the past two months. They may be more interested in dreaming about the SEC than beating the Wildcats.
• Illinois lost six straight to finish the season, costing Ron Zook his job. But its opponent, UCLA, also canned its coach.
• Penn State, tarnished by scandal, dropped to the TicketCity Bowl. But the foe is Houston, which blew its BCS chance. Will the Cougars have the grit to beat the most physical team they've played?
• South Carolina is 10-2 and finished ninth in the BCS standings. But the Gamecocks didn't play LSU or Alabama — and are playing without their best player, injured tailback Marcus Lattimore.
• Georgia won 10 straight games before falling to LSU in the SEC championship game. But the Bulldogs' best win is over 7-5 Auburn. Michigan State, on the other hand, beat Michigan and Wisconsin.
• Ohio State-Florida looks even. But the Buckeyes might have a boost of energy with Urban Meyer in their tent. And Florida's offense is one of the worst in the country.
• Wisconsin faces an Oregon team that dropped its last two bowl games, scoring less than 21 points in each. Chip Kelly's high-octane offense isn't quite as crisp after a month off.
• Virginia Tech, Michigan's opponent in the Sugar Bowl, may be the worst at-large BCS choice in recent memory. The Hokies' best win of the season was against 8-4 Virginia. They were blown out twice by Clemson, whose speed compares to Michigan's.
Gerry DiNardo, Big Ten Network analyst and former coach, points to the Michigan and Michigan State losses last year as most damaging to the Big Ten's image.
"Anytime you match up with the SEC and you don't play well, that hurts you," DiNardo said. "That's what everyone uses as a measuring stick."
He views this year's lineup as more favorable. If the Big Ten can win three of the four duels with the SEC (DiNardo includes Northwestern-Texas A&M) and take the Rose Bowl, he said, the bowl season will be a success.
That's asking a lot. But it might take a lot to restore Big Ten pride after last year's day at the dunk tank.
If the Big Ten doesn't surge, who will? Which league is most likely to boost its brand?
Strangely, it's not the SEC. LSU and Alabama can't hammer anyone else; they play each other. And the league's middle tier is weaker than usual.
The Big 12, on the other hand, is in prime position. It is deep and drew relatively easy matchups — six of its eight bowl teams are favorites.
If things break just right for the Big 12, the season will end in controversy.
Imagine this: Oklahoma State drubs Stanford. Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas take care of business against inferior teams. Kansas State upsets Arkansas. And then — to top it off — Alabama beats LSU.
BCS critics howl for a playoff. Boone Pickens calls in the FBI. Nick Saban calls him crazy. One verbal dunk after another.
Splash, splash, splash.
There, on the sidelines, stands the Big Ten.
Quietly handing out towels.
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