Big Ten hunting the big game
The Big Ten has an image problem. It’s the hangover from Ohio State losing back-to-back BCS National Championship games in one-sided fashion, and conference representatives Michigan and Illinois having been stomped by USC in the past two Rose Bowls.
It was enough to prompt an unsolicited defense from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
“We want to play the big games on the big stage and sometimes you just get whipped, and we did,” he said. “And, so, I think you have to nuzzle up to that and sort of accept it. But what I don’t like to do is take it further than you should.”
That also is the take of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who discoursed on what is fair and unfair regarding images in the wake of his team’s two BCS title game drubbings.
“I know, from our standpoint, where it comes from is we played the national championship the last two years and haven’t been successful, so is that fairâ¢ I think that’s fair,” Tressel said. “We haven’t been successful. Should that paint a picture of our whole conferenceâ¢ I don’t think so.”
With their 0-4 record in BCS games the past two seasons, Big Ten teams are being regarded cumulatively as the Buffalo Bills, who went to four consecutive Super Bowls, winning none, and in so doing became synonymous with failure despite mammoth success in the regular seasons and playoffs during that span.
“A lot of people would have loved to beat Buffalo,” Delany said.
The Ohio State players, who are again favored to win the Big Ten, are feeling the burden of carrying the conference colors.
“Somebody’s going to think that we’re weak. We think the Big Ten is good,” All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “You have just got to take it all in and go play football. I don’t think there’s as huge a gap as the nation thinks there is.”
Ohio State won’t have to wait for the bowls to make a statement. The Buckeyes play at USC on Sept. 13.
“Obviously, the Big Ten hasn’t been too successful in big games recently, with us, and Illinois last year,” Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said. “We didn’t handle it, I guess; didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I guess we’ve just got to win that big one to kind of get over the hump.”
Penn State has been the exception among Big Ten teams, the only conference member to have won its past three bowl games, beating ACC representative Florida State in the Orange Bowl following the 2005 season, SEC team Tennessee in the Outback Bowl following the 2006 season, and Big 12 team Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl last season.
Michigan and Purdue, the other Big Ten bowl game winners last season, had lost bowl games the previous year.
“It sort of gets to you, thinking that people think that the Big Ten Conference is a weak conference,” Penn State senior defensive end Josh Gaines said.
Illinois gets a chance to strike a blow for conference pride when it opens with Big 12 power Missouri.
“The thing I’ve told our team, the schedule gives us an opportunity,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “If we can go in and take care of business in our schedule and play the kind of football that we’re capable of playing, I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to get back to where we were.”
Zook, who coached at Florida, understands that the Big Ten reputation has taken a hit with bowl results in recent seasons.
But, he said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that the Big Ten Conference is a great, great conference. Now, until we (win bowl games) there’s not a whole lot we can say.”
If the future holds another BCS title game loss for Ohio State this season, Tressel can accept it.
“If that happens again, that means we were the Big Ten champions,” he said, “And I would never be disappointed about being the Big Ten champions.”
Big Ten teams’ cumulative record in bowl games in recent seasons:
Big Ten results in BCS games the last two seasons:
2007: National Championship — LSU 38, Ohio State 24
Rose Bowl — USC 49, Illinois 17
2006: National Championship — Florida 41, Ohio State 14
Rose Bowl — USC 32, Michigan 18