We are about to begin the greatest sporting event on earth, the men's NCAA basketball tournament.
But why let the hoops heads have all the fun? Just because major college football doesn't have a tournament — yet — doesn't mean we can't also do our own bracketing this week.
I've devised a fiendish but fun little version of March Madness for Big Ten football that requires some interactive assistance. Introducing: the Big Ten Champions Tournament.
Here's how it works: I've come up with an eight-team field of champions from the past 15 years. Why 15? Well, I wanted to restrict this to teams that were still fairly fresh in everyone's memory, and the 15-year mark just happens to allow us to potentially settle (or just rehash) a certain long-running debate. Sharp readers can infer from that statement that I am including Nebraska in this field even though the Huskers weren't Big Ten members until last season. But we're all about inclusion here on the blog.
My criteria for the eight teams was as follows: to be considered, a team had to win a Big Ten (or in Nebraska's case, a Big 12) title and either win a BCS game or play for the national championship. I'm sure some of you will disagree with my picks for the field, but all selection committees face criticism. Winners will be determined by your votes. I will put each matchup on the blog in the afternoon and cut off voting at 9 a.m. ET two days later.
Without further ado, I present the first of our first-round matchups:
No. 1 seed 2002 Ohio State vs. No. 8 seed 2007 Ohio State
It's an all-Buckeye encounter here, and don't be surprised to see a lot of Scarlet and Gray in our field since Ohio State won so many Big Ten titles in the past 15 years. Why did the 2002 team earn the No. 1 overall seed? Simple. Those Buckeyes are the only team in the tournament to go undefeated and win an undisputed national championship. They did so by beating one of the most talented teams in recent memory, edging the Miami Hurricanes in overtime of an all-time classic BCS title game.
That team did have several close calls, like a five-point win over Wisconsin, a six-point win over Penn State, a four-point win over Purdue and a five-point win over Michigan. It was not exactly an offensive juggernaut but got the job done with Craig Krenzel and Maurice Clarett and a stifling defense. Most of all, that team just found a way to win.
The 2007 Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season and played for the BCS title, losing 38-24 to LSU. It was a wild year in college football, and Ohio State made it to the title game despite losing at home to Illinois in their second-to-last regular season contest. Quarterback Todd Boeckman threw 25 touchdown passes but also had 14 interceptions. Chris "Beanie" Wells was the offensive star, rushing for more than 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns, while the defense allowed fewer than 13 points per game.
OK, now's your chance to vote on this matchup and send the winner to the semifinals. If you want to tell me why your pick would win this theoretical game, send me your breakdown here, and I'll publish the best responses along with the results on Wednesday morning.