Big Ten needs big improvement in bowl games

Conference's 1-6 2008 postseason record a problem

August 25, 2009, 4:30 PM

By: Jonathan Hood

The Big Ten's goal for the upcoming college football season is relatively simple: Stop the carnage.

Seriously, 1-6 in the 2008 postseason is not a good thing.

The Big Ten has to turn it around for the sake of recruiting and for the good of the conference. The Big Ten is now constantly bashed by the media and fans because of its lousy record in bowl games. Every year, Big Ten fans tell me how strong their conference is, saying that the fortunes of the Big Ten in the postseason would be different if the bowl games were played in cold weather.

My response is: If you are an excellent team, you show up and you thump the other team no matter where you're playing or what the weather is like at game time.

Let's take a look back at the 2008 bowl season to see how the Big Ten did:

Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13.

A mediocre season for the Badgers at 7-6. Wisconsin also had instability at the quarterback position.

Alamo Bowl: Missouri 30, Northwestern 23 (OT)

Good game, looking forward to the Wildcats improving on their 9-4 record. I love the job head coach Pat Fitzgerald is doing in Evanston, and I think Northwestern is one of the bright spots in the Big Ten.

Insight Bowl: Kansas 42, Minnesota 21

The Gophers limped into the bowl game after playing inferior competition in nonconference play and getting whipped against Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa and losing a heartbreaker against Wisconsin.

Outback Bowl: Iowa 31, South Carolina 10 (win)

I really like how Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi manages each game; he had solid games against Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota and rolled the Gamecocks for the only Big Ten win in the postseason.

Capital One Bowl: Georgia 24, Michigan State 12

Running back Javon Ringer and quarterback Brian Hoyer led the Spartans to their bowl game with a 9-4 record. Did the Spartans lose confidence by losing to Penn State 49-18 in their last game going into their meeting against the Bulldogs?

Rose Bowl: USC 38, Penn State 24

The Nittany Lions' record of 11-2 is impressive; but no one on their 2008 schedule was of the same caliber of USC. Have you seen the Lions' 2009 schedule? Penn State is playing four of their first five games against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois University. It isn't fair for fans to see that kind of competition and it doesn't get your team ready to face ranked teams like Ohio State or other teams in the upper echelon of college football.

Fiesta Bowl: Texas 24, Ohio State 21

Jim Tressel losing a big game? Noooo! The Buckeyes' beatdown at the hands of USC should have been an indicator that they weren't going to win their bowl game. If you saw the Ohio State-USC game, you would have seen the gulf between the Big Ten and the Pac-10.

Judging by the bowl record, the question becomes: Why does the Big Ten fall apart during bowl season? For an explanation, I turned to one of college football's top analysts.

"When you look at the defensive line and linebackers in the SEC, they're trimmer and faster," said Kirk Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback who is now an ESPN college football expert and host of "College GameDay." "I'm not saying that the SEC is fast and the Big Ten is slow. I'm saying the Big Ten can run equal to the SEC when it comes to skill. In the trenches is where I see a noticeable difference."

I think conferences like the SEC, Pac-10 and even Big 12 have surpassed the Big Ten as far as roster depth and overall talent over the past few years. For example: As good as QB Troy Smith was for Ohio State in 2006 against the Big Ten, it was an entirely different story when he faced Florida. Last season, Florida's defense held the high-octane offense of Oklahoma to 14 points in the BCS title game.

It's not even close.

Is the Big Ten the Big Sky conference? No. However, I'm wondering which Big Ten team is going to step up this year and carry the banner for the conference. For those of you that watch your favorite Big Ten team at 11 a.m. CT, I suggest you keep the television on at 2:30 p.m. and then again at 7 p.m., when the teams from the Pac-10, SEC and Big 12 take the stage, and compare your favorite Big Ten team to other conferences. You will see that the Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC play the game at a higher level.

One last thing: if you are a high school standout defensive lineman/tackle in the Midwest and you are recruited by teams in the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or Pac-10, which conference would you choose? Obviously, if you play college ball, you hope to be drafted by an NFL team or put in a position to ready yourself for the real world.

Minnesota Gophers head coach Tim Brewster told Lindy Sports magazine, "The hardest thing to recruit is defensive tackles. They are the hardest to find in college and the hardest to get in the NFL."

LSU, USC and Texas combined had seven defensive linemen selected in the 2009 NFL draft. Five were drafted from the entire Big Ten. Since 2004, 16 defensive tackles have been picked in the first round of the NFL draft. None of them were from the Big Ten. The last defensive tackle from a Big Ten school to be taken in the first round was in 2003, when Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy was taken with the 12th pick by the St. Louis Rams.

It will be interesting to see if the Big Ten can get to the level of the other power conferences. If they do, the Big Ten could return to respectability among national college football fans.

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