The Big Ten's regular season is in the books, and we don't need to go into great detail about what a disappointment it was for most of the programs. It was a mess.
Ah, but December and January are bowl season, and that's where hope springs eternal for all teams and conferences with bad years. Just get to a bowl, get your win, get out of the year with a smile on your face and all is well. Or so one hopes, anyway.
The reality for the Big Ten is that those wins aren't exactly going to be easy to come by this season. In fact, it could be the ultimate of indignities for the Big Ten: a winless bowl season.
Wisconsin's got a chance in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, but the Cardinal are favored by a touchdown—no trifling matter, that. As far as the Capital One Bowl goes, Georgia came within a couple yards of playing for the BCS National Championship; Nebraska, um, did not.
Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and that's a South Carolina team that shut down Clemson and gave Georgia its only loss of the season in a 35-7 whipping. The Wolverines have the talent to keep this one close, but Michigan hasn't beaten anybody near as good as the Gamecocks all year.
So unless Northwestern can beat Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, it's entirely plausible that the Big Ten is going to be looking for a bowl victory from one of its 6-6 teams, and let's make a couple things clear. First of all, expecting Minnesota or Purdue to do anything right is an invitation for disaster. They're bowl teams, but only by way of technicality, like how chihuahuas are technically dogs.
Second of all, nobody cares what a conference's 6-6 teams do come bowl season. A conference's strength is defined by what its best teams do (see: the SEC and everything it's been reminding you about for the last six seasons), and if the Big Ten lays an egg in every single bowl game of even mild importance, it's going to be another embarrassing offseason for the Big Ten.
But you know what? Let's look at those lowest three games anyway. Let's see how bad the pain's going to be. Michigan State faces Big 12 foe TCU in a game where 12 points might be enough win. Maybe the Spartans win it; maybe they won't.
Minnesota's foe in the Meineke Car Care Bowl is a Texas Tech team that averaged almost 38 points a game this year and beat previously undefeated West Virginia by 35 points. The best team Minnesota beat this year is, um... Syracuse.
And finally, in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Purdue faces Oklahoma State; that might be the biggest mismatch of any of the bowls the Big Ten is participating in. It's not C-USA champion Tulsa against Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl, but it's pretty far up there.
Folks, it is entirely plausible that the Big Ten just gets flat-out swept in the bowls this season. Upsets happen, but that's what it's going to be if anyone (except maybe Michigan State) wins one for the Big Ten this year: an upset.
In fact, there's no shortage of irony in the fact that the Big Ten's best hope for a bowl victory involving a non-.500 team is Northwestern—a team that hasn't won a bowl in 64 years and counting. But even though Mississippi State is an eight-win team from the best conference in college football, the Bulldogs didn't really beat anybody of significance.
Northwestern, meanwhile, led by double digits in every single one of its losses this season. Nobody outclassed the Wildcats—not Nebraska, Michigan or Penn State. That team's legit. Of course, it's also still a team that just always loses its bowl games, too.
So the best-case scenario here for the Big Ten is probably, oh, 3-4. Plausibly, this is going to be a one-win bowl season...if that. Get your cringing faces ready, Big Ten fans. You're probably going to need them.
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