Sugar win prevents Big Ten bowl disaster

The 2010-11 Big Ten bowl season can't be labeled a success. But to call it an outright disaster would be missing the mark as well.

Ohio State's victory against Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl helps the league save some face after the New Year's Day debacle. The Big Ten finishes 3-5 in this year's bowls but 1-1 in the all-important BCS games. The league went 1-3 against the SEC, but the victory came in the biggest matchup.

Here's the thing about the Big Ten bowl lineup: a .500 mark isn't bad at all, and a winning record is fabulous but most likely rare.

No conference plays a more challenging bowl lineup, especially when you factor in location. There might be a season where the Big Ten goes 6-2, but it will be the exception rather than the rule. The league entered this year's bowls as underdogs in seven of the eight games.

"If you want to be .500 or if you want to win 70 percent of your games, you can schedule that," Big Ten commissioner Delany told me Sunday. "A lot of people do in September. What it really comes down to is how you play big games against great opponents on big stages."

Ohio State defeated Arkansas on a big stage, and Wisconsin fell just short against TCU. Both the Buckeyes and Badgers showed they're among the nation's elite.

The Big Ten's problem this year was depth, and it showed on New Year's Day.

Michigan State shared the league championship with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but the Spartans really hurt themselves and their league with a blowout loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Alabama clearly is better than it performed in the regular season, but Michigan State's performance was stunning. The Big Ten's other bowl teams had flaws, which showed up for Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern in bowl losses. Illinois looked very impressive in the Texas Bowl, while Iowa rallied to beat Missouri.

This was a top-heavy league and it showed in the bowls.

No one is pleased with 3-5, but the BCS split makes a difference.