Ohio State, Michigan prove to be class of Big Ten

The Big Ten plays for its share -- OK, more than its share -- of goofy trophies, like a bronze pig, a spittoon, an oversized axe and a wooden turtle.

What then, to give Michigan for joining the unenviable fraternity of worthy national championship game participants hosed by the ever-changing-yet-still-never-getting-it-right Bowl Championship Series formula?

How about The Golden Screw?

Congratulations, Lloyd Carr and the Wolverines.

Hey, and while we're at it, let's give the Platinum Dagger to Bret Bielema and the boys up there at Wisconsin.
Here you go, guys, enjoy it … right between the shoulder blades.

In a year where the Big Ten could be celebrating a historic monopoly on the BCS title game participants, Michigan won't get the chance to play Ohio State for the national championship.

And Wisconsin, despite an 11-1 record, a No. 7 ranking in the BCS standings and a spot as high as fifth in the polls, won't get in any of the five most lucrative and prestigious bowls because no conference can have more than two participants. (And, because, well, you know, we gotta make room for Notre Dame and that snazzy 26-point loss to Michigan and impressive 20-point beat down by USC).

The Wolverines made a compelling argument all season that they were, indeed, the nation's second-best team.

Too bad they eventually were undone by several unpardonable sins:
• Losing by three points on the consensus No. 1 team's home field, where the third set of sod this season afforded the same secure footing an ice rink offers someone in tap shoes.

• Concluding its season by Nov. 18, thus giving Florida the chance to impress brain dead voters with a rout of the always-stuborn Division I-AA Western Carolina Kick-Me-Hards, and an Arkansas club in the SEC championship game that can't pass a lick.

• Refusing to engage in the same posturing of Florida coach Urban Meyer, who whined and complained about everyone from university presidents to poll voters when a Michigan-Ohio State rematch looked like a certain fallback if USC fell to UCLA.

Carr declined to go that route, saying it wouldn't be good for the game. He meant the entire sport, of course, while Meyer's look at the issue was more, shall we say, Gatorcentric.

Does anyone see the irony of Meyer successfully lobbying about the unfairness of an OSU-Michigan rematch, when the only national championship trophy in his program's history came courtesy of a rematch in 1996 after a regular-season loss to Florida State?

Let's see, what was the score back then? Oh, Florida State 24, Florida 21.
And about five weeks later in the Sugar Bowl it was Florida 52, Florida State 20.
Yeah, Urban.
You're right.

Rematches are so unfair.

Most Valuable Player
QB Troy Smith, Ohio State
What, you expected someone else? Smith was a runaway Heisman winner and he's the unquestioned reason why Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite to win its second national championship in five years. Even when he wasn't shredding teams with his 30-touchdown, five-interception success, he was breaking their hearts with scrambling big plays like the 37-yard touchdown off a near-certain midfield sack that broke open the win over Penn State. Without Smith, OSU is 10-2, at best. With him, the Buckeyes are untouchable.

Coach of the Year
Wisconsin's Bret Bielema
When you're handpicked by the certifiable coaching legend at your school, who also happens to be your boss as athletic director, it's a mixed blessing. It's nice to have the legend's support and availability for advice, but the shadow cast could freeze you like a Norweigan winter. Bielema, just 36 years old, operated confidently where others might have been afraid to make a single wrong move. He wrestled 11 wins out of the Badgers, a jaunty 10 more than ex-coach-turned-AD Barry Alvarez managed in his first season. Bielema shepherded a team that returned not one receiver who'd ever caught a collegiate pass, while relying upon a freshman tailback to within a whisker of a conference championship. That's some pretty sharp cheddar to chew on.

Newcomer of the Year
RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
He says he doesn't want to be compared to Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. Well, if so, then Hill came to the wrong place. That Mack truck of a lower body and nasty running style evokes pretty strong images of the guy who left college football as its career rushing leader. Hill led the league in rushing with 1,533 yards and 15 touchdowns. The best thing about him is he's back for three more years. Hey, no one thought Dayne would stick around that long, either, but he did. Not to compare, or anything.

Biggest Surprise

The Wolverines' tradition and pride foretold a bounce back from a 7-5 finish in 2005, but few outside the locker room believed Carr could author such a dramatic turnaround. A defense that couldn't stop anyone in the fourth quarter last year became a marauding unit that led the nation in rushing defense and tormented opposing quarterbacks with the league's best pass rush. Offensively, tailback Mike Hart's and tackle Jake Long's return to health gave Michigan a clock-killing running game that grew fangs when coupled with Mario Manningham's development into the league's most dangerous deep threat. The only thing Michigan couldn't turn around was its recent difficulty with Ohio State, which with a 42-39 triumph in Columbus claimed its fifth win in the last six years of the series. It marked the first meeting ever between the teams when ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

Biggest Disappointment

Losing an unexpected nonconference game always has been the problem during Iowa's resurgence under Kirk Ferentz. Well, not this year, when the problems came later. And later, and later and later. Unbeaten and ranked No. 13 when Ohio State visited on Sept. 30, Iowa was overpowered in the second half of a 38-17 loss that portended problems to come. Iowa won only twice after that and lost five of its last six games to finish 6-6. Amid the defeats were failures against Indiana and visiting Northwestern, which had earlier lost to Division I-AA opponents. For some reason, the Alamo Bowl still chose Iowa over Minnesota, which whipped the Hawkeyes in the season finale and matched their 6-6 record.

All-Big Ten Team
QB -- Troy Smith, Ohio State
RB -- Mike Hart, Michigan
RB -- P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
WR -- Mario Manningham, Michigan
WR -- Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State
OL -- Doug Datish, Ohio State
OL -- Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL -- Jake Long, Michigan
OL -- Adam Kraus, Michigan
OL -- T.J. Downing, Ohio State
TE -- Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
K -- Garrett Rivas, Michigan

LB -- David Harris, Michigan
LB -- J Leman, Illinois
LB -- James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
DL -- Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State
DL -- Alan Branch, Michigan
DL -- LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
DL -- Anthony Spencer, Purdue
DB -- Leon Hall, Michigan
DB -- Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
DB -- Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
DB -- Justin King, Penn State
P -- Brandon Fields, Michigan State

Bruce Hooley covered the Big Ten for 19 years and now is host of a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.