<
>

Big Ten bowls a step back, not a disaster

The Big Ten's bowl performance and the ensuing backlash is yet another example of perception versus reality.

Reality: The Big Ten went 3-5 in the bowls. This is neither surprising nor unique.

The Big Ten usually posts a losing record in the postseason. It went below .500 in the bowls for four consecutive seasons (2005-08) before ending the slide with a 4-3 ledger last year.

There are several reasons for the Big Ten's bowl difficulties. No other league plays a more challenging lineup, especially when location is factored into the equation. No other league puts more teams in BCS bowls, causing the order of teams to move up and creating tougher matchups.

And let's face it: The Big Ten has been pretty average as of late. There haven't been many signature nonconference wins, and the league has struggled in some of its featured bowl matchups against the SEC and former Pac-10 power USC.

The league faces recruiting challenges because of its location and because of practices like oversigning that take place elsewhere.

Anyway, you get the picture.

Because of some of the reasons detailed above, the Big Ten entered this year's bowls as underdogs in seven of the eight matchups. So while 3-5 should NEVER be deemed a success, it can't be deemed a major shocker, either.

So why all the outcry?

It comes down to perception.

When you try to dominate New Year's Day with five bowl matchups featuring Big Ten teams and lose them all, you pay a price in terms of public perception. 0-5 makes for easy copy and snappy one-liners on "SportsCenter." The Big Ten made itself an easy target by failing miserably on the most famous day of the college football calendar.

But when you really look at the matchups, is it such a surprise? Aside from Wisconsin, a team many experts pegged to beat slight favorite TCU in the Rose Bowl, all the other Big Ten teams were supposed to lose on New Year's Day. And while it didn't help that neither Michigan State nor Michigan showed up against SEC opponents, losses are losses.

If these five Big Ten games had been spread out over, say, a week, and bowl wins by both Iowa and Illinois were interspersed, there's no way the Big Ten backlash is so severe. We can debate whether Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win is tainted by the suspension drama, but the Buckeyes showed that at full strength, they're one of the nation's best teams.

Only one BCS automatic qualifying league (Big East) finished with a winning record in the bowls. The Big 12 also went 3-5 despite a much more favorable bowl lineup.

To be clear, I'm not apologizing for the Big Ten's bowl record. Going 3-5 is never satisfactory. But it's not a complete disaster like many would have you believe.

The Big Ten had two elite teams this season in Ohio State and Wisconsin, a very good squad that admittedly overachieved in Michigan State and not much else. The thing that strikes me most about the SEC's run is that four different teams (Florida, Alabama, LSU, Auburn) have won national titles.

Until the Big Ten establishes similar depth, we can expect more of the same in the bowls.