Home for the Holidays: Big Ten
Big Ten's Best and Worst Teams Missing Out on Bowl Games
Bowl season is in full swing, and more than half of the Big Ten’s teams will make postseason appearances this year.
Typically, the teams that stay home are the ones that didn’t win the six games necessary to become eligible for a bowl invitation. That’s not the case in the Big Ten this year, though, as the top two teams in the Leaders Division are sitting out as punishment – and not for poor play.
Ohio State finished the year 12-0, and for a team in a major conference, that’s generally a ticket to the BCS title game. While it’s clear that new head coach Urban Meyer has done a lot in just his first season in Columbus, college football fans won’t get the chance to find out just how the team stacks up, because the Buckeyes are under NCAA sanctions after former players exchanged memorabilia for money and tattoos.
Penn State, second in the division, is also serving a postseason ban, part of penalties levied against the school as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal.
Head coach Bill O’Brien did a masterful job of guiding the program through a painful season and focusing the team on football instead of the outside distractions. O’Brien was recognized by the conference as the Big Ten Coach of the Year, and also received Maxwell Coach of the Year honors for the season he pulled off while facing unprecedented circumstances. He’s likely to sign one of the top 25 recruiting classes in the country when February rolls around, but those recruits, like this year’s season, will be on the sidelines for the next few bowl seasons.
While OSU and PSU and their new coaching staffs will be held out of a bowl game through no fault of their own, the rest of the bowl-less B1G schools have no one to blame but themselves. Here’s a look at the good and the bad among the Big Ten teams not bowling this offseason.
It's not easy to go undefeated all season - just ask Alabama, Kansas State, and Oregon - but thanks to the transgressions of former players, this year's 12-0 Buckeyes won't be rewarded with a BCS berth. Coach Urban Meyer showed that even after some time off, he's still at the top of his game, and he can build a winning program with or without Tim Tebow. Meyer had help, of course, from quarterback Braxton Miller, who has Tebow-like abilities of his own and is already generating considerable Heisman buzz. Meyer and Miller could be another dominating combination in college football next season, but repeating an undefeated season is even tougher than going 12-0 in the first place. Prediction: Even if the team wins the title next year, fans will still shake their heads and wonder "What if?" about the Buckeyes' 2012 finish.
There are many who believe Penn State should've been punished for Jerry Sandusky's actions, and the inactions of former coach Joe Paterno and other administrators, by banning football entirely, for a season or even more. There are others who thought the hefty sanctions the NCAA doled out would result in a fate worse than a season ban.
Those points will be debated for years to come, but one thing is certain: the Nittany Lions' absence from this year's postseason has nothing to do with their on-field performance in 2012. Every single one of the players had an opportunity to transfer without penalty, but the players who chose to stay in spite of the sanctions their team was facing played their hearts out for first-year head coach Bill O'Brien.
No one really knew what to expect from the 2012 Nittany Lions after the tumultuous, heartbreaking offseason, and a loss to Ohio in the opener seemed to signal a rough year ahead, but the team rallied to an 8-4 finish, a solid beginning as Penn State faces year two of the sanctions era.
Indiana's second season under head coach Kevin Wilson was an improvement over 2011, but it still fell short of its potential. Four of the team's eight losses came close to landing in the win column, including a 52-49 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes that was a field goal from ending OSU's undefeated run. Indiana lost starting quarterback Tre Roberson for the year when he suffered a broken leg in the Hoosiers' second game, but a spot in the conference championship game was still in play into November.
The Hoosiers faced three bowl-bound Big Ten opponents in the last three weeks of the year, losing all three by an average of just over 30 points. A shellacking at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Nov. 10 ended the team's hopes of winning the division and playing for the Big Ten title, and their final loss of the season, to Purdue, allowed the Boilermakers to squeak into bowl eligiblity.
It's not the finish it could've been, but if the team continues its steady improvements over the next season or two, Wilson will have a good thing going at UI.
For the first time since 2007, Iowa's staying home during bowl season. The Hawkeyes suffered through one of their worst seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz, finishing 4-8 after a six-game losing streak to close out the year. The Iowa faithful started the cry to 'Fire Ferentz' early in the year, and his contract's massive buyout is widely thought to be the only thing keeping him in black and gold.
The Hawkeyes were unfairly hit with injuries, especially at running back; the position was so decimated by injury and attrition that many thought it could no longer be a coincidence: it had to be the work of the AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God). The offense overall made a case for changing the name of the "Big Ten" conference to something more numerically appropriate. After all, what's more embarrassing than ranking eleventh in the Big Ten conference in total offense and scoring offense? Well, being twelfth, which brings us to....
While Ohio State and Penn State wish their seasons weren't over just yet, the end of the year had to be a welcome relief for the Fighting Illini. They didn't put up much of a fight against opponents from major conferences this season, going winless against Big Ten competition and notching their only two wins against Western Michigan and Southern Charleston. Illinois lost its last nine straight - the team's last win came back in mid-September - which was certainly not what the university had in mind when it hired new head coach Tim Beckman last offseason.
The team was at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in most statistical categories except, of course, punting. The Illini offense was the worst in the league, but the defense was also abysmal, surrendering more than 40 points in six of the team's twelve games. While most teams look forward to bowl season as a time for valuable preparation and extra reps, Illinois might be better served by having some time off to regroup.