One thing that can always boost a conference’s overall standing in college football is winning the big bowl games. It is a testament to the Big Ten Conference’s historical legacy and longevity that they are involved in almost every bowl game that takes place on January 1. The conference has also seen teams involved in other major/BCS bowl games over the years, but recent time has not been kind to them in these games.
Since the disaster that was New Year’s Day 2011, the Big Ten has been slowly attempting to rebuild their reputation as a winner in big bowl games. Thus far, the process has been a slow one.
The biggest win among not very many wins since that ugly day to begin 2011 was the Michigan Wolverines‘ Sugar Bowl win last January. Even though the Ohio St. Buckeyes won the same bowl game the season before, that win was tainted (and eventually vacated) by the scandal surrounding then-coach Jim Tressel and many Buckeyes players. Other than those two wins, there have been a couple of wins on January 1 from the Big Ten, but nothing majorly significant.
The Wisconsin Badgers, unfortunately, have been at the forefront of this need for Big Ten football teams to start winning major bowl games. The Badgers have represented the Big Ten three straight times in the Rose Bowl and lost all three. All of the losses were by single digits, and all were painful in their own way. Collectively, these losses added up to the Badgers being beaten at their own game (against the Stanford Cardinal this past season), beaten by overthinking (against the TCU Horned Frogs in January 2011), and being left behind by the changing face of college football (January 2012 against the Oregon Ducks).
This past season was a bit harsh for the conference in major bowl games, though nothing like January 2011. The conference went 1-4 in bowl games on January 1, 2013 with the only win coming from the Northwestern Wildcats over the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl. As for the losses, it was another gut-wrenching day for fans of the conference and/or any of the Big Ten teams playing that day.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers followed up allowing 70 points in the Big Ten Championship Game to giving up over 400 passing yards against Aaron Murray in a Capital One Bowl loss. The Wolverines played close, but were beaten in the final minute of the Outback Bowl against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Purdue Boilermakers had no chance going in and did end up getting slaughtered by the Oklahoma St. Cowboys in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Then to complete the day, the Badgers lost their third straight Rose Bowl.
It’s more and more New Year’s Day showings like this that are going to make Big Ten football irrelevant more than anything else on or off the field. Especially because the Big Ten is matched up against the Big 12, Pac-12 and the SEC on New Year’s Day every year.
The Big 12 and Pac 12 represent what college football is becoming: a mirror image of the pass-happy NFL, with no emphasis on defense. The SEC has taken the place of the Big Ten as representing what college football should be: equal emphasis on offense and defense with an equal emphasis of rushing and passing on offense.
The reason the SEC has taken the Big Ten’s place is not only because SEC teams have been slapping around Big Ten teams in bowl games and non-conference regular season games for years, but also because the SEC has been winning national championships for the better part of the last decade. The Big Ten’s only impact on the national title during that same time period was the Buckeyes being in the hunt or losing in the title game.