All 10 teams were underdogs according to Vegas odds.
I have always been a Big Ten fan. My father was a huge Buckeyes fan, and I have carried on that tradition. The Big Ten’s resume over the decades has been stellar, not only with great teams, but even greater players. Look at how many former Big Ten players are currently on NFL rosters. However, since the 2007 National Championship where Ohio State was huge favorites over the Florida Gators, has the Big Ten gotten a bad reputation for being less-than others, especially the Southeastern Conference. Buckeye fans recall how Ohio State had 57 days to hear about how much Florida was going to roll over and take their whipping, that it seemed to go straight to their heads. Then Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Buckeyes appeared to go into cruise control. Well, that Florida team, from the SEC and coached by current Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, had a different take. They out hustled, out ran, and out executed the Buckeyes to an embarrassing 42-14 championship. It was the first of two national championships in three years for Meyer’s Gators.
It wasn’t until that game that you heard the pundits talk about the lack of speed, athletes, and skill players for the Big Ten, especially compared to the SEC. Then the Big Ten showed them they were all mostly correct over the next several seasons, with a few exceptions sprinkled in. The experts looked to the bowl games as their guide. The Big Ten and SEC contractually play each other in at least three bowls now in the state of Florida, and what most people neglect to realize, is that the Big Ten has held their own in those games. In between those Florida national titles? Does anyone remember Chad Henne and Michigan beating the Gators in a shoot-out on New Year’s Day, Tim Tebow’s sophomore Heisman Trophy winning year? Where was the superior team speed in that one?
That being said, at the beginning of this season, I was the first to kind of turn on the Big Ten. I had always had some rose-colored glasses, but after a couple of bad showings early in this season, I thought the Big Ten was weaker than ever. Now, however, I think that I may have been a little hasty in my opinion. I believe that the top teams in the Big Ten, with the right match-up can win their bowl games. Urban Meyer has clearly built a power in Columbus, and whether Buckeye haters want to admit it or not, they are built like, you guessed it, an SEC team. It seems the middle-of-the-pack teams in the conference are mediocre.
Some interesting notes about the Big Ten teams. The two newcomers, Maryland and Rutgers, are playing in a bowl game this year. Ten out the 14 teams made a bowl, but Michigan is not one of them. Northwestern, who had been on the upswing in recent years, did not make it this year. Graham High School graduate Nick VanHoose is a starting defensive back for the Wildcats. Purdue and Indiana also failed to qualify for a bowl, and you have to figure that Boilermaker fans long for the Joe Tiller and Drew Brees days of yore. Indiana, interestingly enough, happened to win at SEC West champion Missouri in Week 4 this year, but could not handle their Big Ten schedule.
Also, there are more teams in bowls (74) than make March Madness (68). Do you think the games are watered down or is it great for the fan bases of those teams? If a team plays a 12-game regular season, they only have to win six games to qualify for a bowl game. Not every team that qualifies makes it in, however, which happened to the Ohio Bobcats this season. Fresno State, at 6-7 lost in their conference championship game, but still qualified and accepted a bowl game appearance.
Now getting to the bowls. They are in order of appearance with the Vegas spread included. There have already been four Big Ten bowl games, with the conference going 2-2. Rutgers and Penn State were victorious, while Illinois and Nebraska lost. We’ll preview the rest.
Foster Farms- Stanford (7-5) vs. Maryland (7-5)- Stanford by 14- This is the highest spread of all the bowls making Maryland the biggest underdog. They were not real competitive against good teams in the Big Ten this season and Stanford had gone to the last two Rose Bowls.
Outback- Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)- Auburn by 6.5- Wisconsin will have former head coach and current A.D. Barry Alvarez coaching them. Auburn has played a gauntlet and came out OK. They both played LSU, Auburn blew them out and Wisconsin led big at the half, but stopped running the ball, allowing LSU to come back and win by four. Wisconsin is too one-dimensional on offense. Ohio State showed how to beat Wisconsin by stopping RB Melvin Gordon.
Goodyear Cotton- Baylor (11-1) vs. Michigan State (10-2)- Baylor by 2.5. Only twice were the Bears held under 38 points in a game. They also did not likely face the quality of defense that Sparty plays. Plus, MSU’s offense is much better than Baylor’s defense. Michigan State’s two losses are to two of the final four in Oregon and OSU. The Spartans seem to be more balanced on both sides of the ball.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus- Missouri (10-3) vs. Minnesota (8-4)- Missouri by 5- Minnesota is having a resurgence and have produced a strong running game. Missouri won the SEC West, but was not real impressive in doing so. Jerry Kill has his Golden Gophers competing well.
Allstate Sugar- Alabama (12-1) vs. Ohio State (12-1)- Alabama by 9. The Buckeyes are an easy pick if you are only picking against the spread alone, but to predict the outright win is risky. This is not the dominant Alabama of the past few years, and they should have lost to LSU and Arkansas earlier in the season. WR Amari Cooper with give the questionable OSU passing defense problems all game, but Ohio State matches up well at every postion. The Buckeyes will be using Cardale Jones at QB, but he still gives them a good chance to win. All of the talk about giving Nick Saban a month to prepare should be a guaranteed victory, but as I mentioned earlier, Urban Meyer won two national titles before Saban ever did. Meyer should be national coach of the year after winning the Big Ten title with his second and third string Quarterbacks and losing arguably their best defensive lineman for the year in the suspended Noah Spence. Meyer has helped to rebuild a defensive secondary that was atrocious by the end of last season, replaced RB Carlos Hyde, and returned only one starting offensive lineman in Vandalia-Butler’s Taylor Decker. Alabama has Springfield HS grad Trey DePriest at LB and they have a formidable defensive line. In fact, if you look at both teams’ personnel, they are almost a carbon copy of each other, right down to the coaching staffs. The Crimson Tide should be on upset alert. It could happen here.
Taxslayer- Tennessee (6-6) vs Iowa (7-5)- Tennessee by 3.5- There should be a rule against any small-time bowl games being played after New Year’s Day. Iowa is coached by the senior member of the Big Ten in Kirk Ferentz. Bryant Billing’s buddy has seen mediocre seasons at the helm of the Hawkeyes lately, and their creativity is about as exciting as Vanilla pudding. Tennessee is fortunate to be back in a bowl after trying to rebuild what was once a great program.
If there ever was a year for the Big Ten to pick up some victories, this is it. The SEC is always ranked high, but it is humans’ opinions doing so. There is not one dominant team this year, and a lot of parity at the top of the major conferences. Every team has a kryptonite. Happy Bowling.