Posted 01/04/2008 at 02:23 PM
A great win for Kansas last night brings some validation to the 12-1 record but the Jayhawks remain a team that probably didn’t deserve the opportunity given the non-conference schedule. At this time of year everyone want to make claims about who was better than who and what conference is the strongest but the bowl games prove little as they are all individual match-ups on one given day.
Big Ten and SEC fans always go to war this time of year but there is really no way to settle things since there are so few match-ups over the course of the season. It was pretty clear that the Big Ten did not have the depth that it has had in past years where as the SEC had a number of teams playing at a high level. The SEC has produced great results in bowl games this year while the Big Ten had one impressive win with Michigan but little else to hold onto. I don’t think anyone (that isn’t delusional) would seriously argue that the Big Ten was stronger than the SEC this season even if LSU would happen to lose to Ohio State. Wisconsin and Michigan fell short of expectations this year and teams like Iowa and Purdue were not as strong as recent seasons. That said, the match-ups were not quite even, as the Big Ten was favored in just two bowl games and won S/U in both of those games. The SEC won twice as an underdog with Auburn and Mississippi State but lost as a big favorite with Florida. The Pac-10 was likely also stronger than the Big Ten this season, but using the Illinois loss to justify the Pac-10 being superior to the Big Ten is ridiculous, as USC was the Pac-10’s best team. Illinois was third in the Big Ten in the standings.
One overlooked factor is the huge location disadvantage that the Big Ten faces in bowl games every year. Big Ten fans travel well but take a look at disadvantages – Illinois playing USC in Pasadena, Michigan playing Florida in Orlando, Penn State playing Texas A&M in San Antonio, Purdue had to play Central Michigan in Detroit, Ohio State faces LSU in New Orleans. Wisconsin and Michigan State also both had to travel much further than their opponents as well. It would be interesting to see how SEC or Pac-10 teams would fare if they had to travel to the Midwest in November for a non-conference game.
Ohio State’s schedule was not strong this season but they did play a non-conference road game at Washington. The Huskies weren’t very good this year but when the schedule was made they were a prominent team. The Buckeyes played Texas the past two years and will play USC the next two years, I don’t think Ohio State should have to justify their schedule that has come under such intense scrutiny.
LSU played Virginia Tech at home but they didn’t leave the state of Louisiana in non-conference play. Although there are a few exceptions, the entire SEC is guilty of staying at home in non-conference play. With the tough conference schedules faced it is justifiable, but four SEC bowl teams played all four non-conference games at home. It is very much a financial decision to keep those games at home but the quality of the SEC should come under some fire in year where nine SEC teams went to bowl games. In contrast, all but two Big Ten teams played a non-conference game on the road and all but two Pac-10 teams did the same despite only getting to schedule three non-conference games.