Monday’s Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game between No. 1-ranked Louisiana State University and No. 2-ranked Alabama was the capstone of the 2011-12 NCAA college football season. The blowing of the final whistle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La., also brought about an end to postseason play, and there are mixed reactions about how the Big Ten conference fared during this past bowl season.
Big Ten teams posted a combined 4-6 record in bowls this year with Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan claiming wins in their respective bowls. Those victories were outnumbered by the losses posted by Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes fell, 24-17, against the Florida Gators in the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Big Ten’s 2011-12 bowl-win total puts it in a three-way tie for second place among all Football Bowl Subdivision conferences behind only the Southeastern Conference’s and the Big 12’s six bowl triumphs.
The Big Ten shares second place with Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference, whose teams both posted 4-1 postseason records.
Jack Park, an OSU football historian, said the Big Ten’s most recent postseason performance is indicative of a trend away from the dominance of years past.
“The Big Ten is no longer a dominant conference. In the 1950s, typically, you’d have three or four Big Ten teams in the top 10 of the country every year,” Park said. “Today, in my opinion, the SEC has certainly become the dominant conference in the country.”
Doug Lesmerises, a sports writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said Big Ten teams exceeded his expectations this past bowl season.
“I think, actually, you take 4-6,” Lesmerises said. “I thought three (wins) would have been my guess.”
During the 2010-11 bowl season, eight Big Ten teams competed in bowl games and tallied a combined 4-4 record. However, OSU’s 31-26 win against Arkansas was later vacated along with the entire 2010 season for NCAA rules violations.
This year, Big Ten advanced 10 teams to the postseason — the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision conference — and posted a 1-1 record in BCS games as Michigan beat Virginia Tech, 23-20, in the Sugar Bowl while the conference champion Badgers fell to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.
With time to prepare for Oregon, Lesmerises said Wisconsin’s bowl loss hurt the Big Ten. He also said that Michigan’s win against the Hokies, while valuable to the conference, was not convincing.
“It’s a very good win for Michigan, a good win for the Big Ten to get a BCS win,” Lesmerises said. “I think the Oregon thing hurt a little bit, for Wisconsin not to beat Oregon. People were looking for Wisconsin to win that game.”
Oregon rushed for 345 yards against the Badgers and compiled 621 total yards of offense.
Park agreed, saying Wisconsin was unable to cope with Oregon’s speed.
“I thought the speed of the Oregon team was pretty much what dominated that game,” he said.
Despite the Big Ten’s collective step back from an apparent bygone tradition of postseason excellence, Park said Big Ten football is still very good.
“I like the type of football we play in the Big Ten,” Park said, “but there’s a lot of other schools that have passed us up a little bit.”
“Overall, I think (the Big Ten) was OK,” Lesmerises said, “but I think there were some opportunities to be even a little better this year. Also … opportunities to be worse.”