The Big Ten didn’t fare well during bowl season after widely being considered college football’s best conference. We’ll examine what went wrong – and the little that went right – in this edition of Livin’ B1G.
The Big Ten entered bowl season with four teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25, with three playing in major bowl games and another headed to the College Football Playoff.
Only one came away with a win. Over a MAC team. By one score.
That was all part of a 3-7 showing in bowl games for the Big Ten, a conference considered by many to be the best in nation for most of 2016. Yet when it was time to go bowling, the Big Ten threw a gutter ball.
Ohio State did the conference’s reputation no favors by appearing in the CFB despite not even winning the Big Ten East, then subsequently getting routed by Clemson. The actual Big Ten champion, Penn State, at least put on an offensive show in a Rose Bowl loss to USC, while Michigan blew it down the stretch against Florida State.
Thankfully Wisconsin salvaged a major-bowl victory by knocking off previously undefeated Western Michigan, that of the feel-good Row the Boat story.
What else went right for the Big Ten during bowl season? Not much. At all.
Ohio State shoots blanks
Urban Meyer was the head coach for 193 games at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State prior to the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson. Not once did any of his teams get shut out.
But the Tigers made Meyer’s Buckeyes look pedestrian in a 31-0 blowout that had critics barking at the committee for allowing Ohio State to play in the CFP without even winning its own conference. Ohio State finished with 215 yards, including 88 on the ground after leading the Big Ten in total yards per game during the regular season.
That defeat followed Michigan State’s dismal performance in its College Football Playoff loss to Alabama last season, as opponents have outscored the Big Ten 72-0 in the CFP the last two years.
Michigan can’t hang on
The Wolverines missed out on a CFP berth with a double-overtime loss to Ohio State to close the regular season, then blew a lead in the final two minutes and lost 33-32 to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
Not only did tight end Jake Butt tear his ACL in the game, but Jabrill Peppers sat out entirely because of a hamstring issue – not because he was trying to avoid risking injury before an NFL career. Peppers later took to Twitter to make it clear he hasn’t decided on his future.
Penn State throws away Rose Bowl
The Nittany Lions’ nine-game winning streak and Big Ten championship were extremely impressive following a 2-2 start. Coach James Franklin brought the program back from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and nearly into the College Football Playoff before settling for a Rose Bowl berth.
But USC outscored Penn State 17-0 in the fourth quarter, kicking a field goal as time expired for a 52-49 win after Trace McSorley threw an interception with less than a minute remaining.
Hey, at least the Nittany Lions scored. Right, Ohio State?
Not a good look, Wisconsin
The Badgers provided the only positive in the Big Ten’s major bowl games, beating Western Michigan, 24-16. Wisconsin again used two quarterbacks and leaned on Corey Clement, much like its offense did all season.
Afterward the Badgers decided to go one step too far, trolling the MAC champions from Kalamazoo and the trademark phrase coach P.J. Fleck created:
You’re better than that, Wisconsin. But perhaps there’s some karma, as that trademark defense will be losing standout T.J. Watt to the NFL, where his brother has been crushing skulls for years.
Wow, Iowa. Just … wow
The Hawkeyes gained 226 total yards in a 30-3 Outback Bowl loss to Florida, as C.J. Beathard threw three interceptions and had one returned for a touchdown. In a truly ugly offensive game, Gators quarterback Austin Appleby tossed two picks and yet the Hawkeyes just couldn’t take advantage.
But the most perplexing part of the Outback Bowl was leaving Beathard in the game late when it had gotten out of hand. Maybe Kirk Ferentz wanted to let Beathard try to redeem himself after going 7-of-23 for 55 yards?
Whatever the case, Iowa embarrassed the Big Ten plenty in Tampa.
But what about the good stuff?!
Let’s just gloss over the fact that Nebraska continued to prove me right about being overrated all season by losing to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, as well as Indiana falling to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl and Maryland getting beat by former ACC foe Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Northwestern beat Pitt, 31-24, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, giving the Wildcats just their second bowl victory in the last 68 years. Justin Jackson was the star, rushing 33 times for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
But arguably the Big Ten’s crowning achievement of the bowl season was Minnesota’s stunning 17-12 win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. The Gophers shut down the high-scoring Cougars without 10 players who were suspended stemming from a sexual assault investigation.
Let’s see if that’s enough to save Tracy Claeys’ job after he publicly supported the players’ boycott following the suspensions.
UPDATE: Less than five minutes after this post went live, Minnesota fired Claeys. Man, what a banner month for the Big Ten.