Posted 01/06/2011 at 01:29 PM
Much is being made of the disastrous New Year’s Day for the Big Ten, going 0-5 in bowl games by combined score of 204-102. There is no dispute that the Big Ten was not that great this season but most media sources fail to mention that those five Big Ten teams were all underdogs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl will be the only Big Ten team to be a favorite in the bowl season (Illinois technically closed as a favorite but was dogged until just hours before kickoff) and so far the Big Ten is 4-3 ATS. The SEC is 3-3 in bowl games both S/U and ATS but all six SEC teams were favorites. The Florida win over Penn State was also one of the most misleading final scores of the bowl season as Penn State was in position to win most of the way with a big yardage edge. So while it will not go down as a good bowl season for the Big Ten, Saturday was not the disaster most are making it out to be, the Big Ten was matched up against teams that had been better all year and they lost, three of the five losing by very slim margins. Every year everyone also fails to mention the extreme venue disadvantages faced by nearly every Big Ten team in the bowl season. Illinois, Northwestern, and Penn State had to play their opponent in the opponent’s home state while Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State had to play in favorable nearby venues for the opposition.
The only conferences that can make a claim to having highly successful bowl seasons at this point are the Mountain West and the Sun Belt. The Mountain West is 4-1 and the only loss came by Utah, a team leaving the league, and the Utes lost to Boise State a team that will join the Mountain West next season. The Sun Belt is 2-0 so far this season but both wins came against questionable MAC opposition. The conference gets another shot facing MAC champion Miami, OH this week to try to complete a perfect 3-0 bowl season.
A bigger story could have been the ugly season from the Big XII this season had the Big Ten not stolen the spotlight. The Big XII has a game to play but currently sits a 3-4 S/U and 2-5 ATS. Oklahoma saved the day with a blowout win over Connecticut but it was a favorable match-up. Had one of the Big Ten champions had the chance to play Connecticut it would have likely been a convincing win as well as recall that Michigan, arguably the worst Big Ten team in a bowl game, soundly defeated the Huskies early in the season. The Big Ten is often a victim of its popularity as teams from the conference are desirable in terms of creating TV match-ups and selling out stadiums so they are often over-seeded in games, particularly BCS match-ups. Nebraska lost by just three in the Big XII championship and was considered a BCS caliber team most of the way and the Huskers were crushed by an average Pac-10 team. Adding that the face of the conference Texas did not even make a bowl game, this will not go down as season of great success for the Big XII, soon to also lose two teams. Texas A&M has a chance to redeem the league as a win over LSU in the Cotton Bowl would be a big statement and limit the SEC to only modest results this bowl season.
Teams that needed to win to get into the playoffs last week mainly got the job done in the NFL with the Packers, Giants, Buccaneers, and Colts all winning games. Jacksonville was the only team to lose in that situation last week but they were down to a back-up QB. Of those five teams only Tampa Bay covered, winning outright as underdogs though the Giants were covering until a late score. Seattle and St. Louis were obviously both in that situation as well but faced each other. Teams that had the chance to seal up a first round bye seemed to have more incentive with both Atlanta and Pittsburgh winning in dominant fashion. It would have been interesting to see if the Bears/Packers game had gone differently if the Bears still had that motivation if Philadelphia had beaten Minnesota as heavy favorites the previous week. There will be at least two road favorites this week to open the playoffs and the Saints will be the first double-digit road favorite as far back as we have data (1980). That status is fitting of course as Seattle is the first losing team to win a division title at 7-9 with the closest of those nine losses being a 15-point defeat. On to this week’s slate…