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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Big Ten can't change sad script in bowl season

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A miserable bowl season that ranked among the worst in Big Ten history underscored the biggest problem with the league this fall.

Nothing changed. 

The Big Ten entered the 2008 season hearing how bad it was, and despite ample opportunities to change its national perception, the conference only made things worse. The script played out exactly how the critics thought it would, never more so than in the postseason.

Of the seven Big Ten bowl teams, only Iowa was favored to win its contest. Though the Big Ten sent two teams to BCS games for the fourth consecutive year, co-champs Penn State and Ohio State entered the Rose and Fiesta bowls as heavy underdogs. 

Las Vegas turned out to be spot on, which meant bad news for the Big Ten. Iowa won its game, and the other six teams came up short. 

Much like Ohio State in the previous two BCS title games, Penn State fell victim to a disastrous second quarter against USC in the Rose Bowl and couldn't recover.

The league's bowl record nearly received boosts from Ohio State and Northwestern, both of whom were a play away from knocking off heavily favored Big 12 foes (Texas and Missouri). Both teams played solid defense and held acclaimed spread offenses in check, but Ohio State caved in the clutch and Northwestern committed inexcusable special-teams blunders. 

Ohio State's loss extended the Big Ten's BCS losing streak to six. Penn State's loss extended the league's Rose Bowl slide to five. Since its last winning bowl record in 2002-'03, the Big Ten has gone 15-28 in the postseason.

Is the Big Ten still relevant? From a marketing standpoint, absolutely. But after the recent on-field performances, particularly in bowls, it's a tough sell. 

Bowl locations and matchups undoubtedly make things tough, and the Big Ten could have benefited from sending only one team to a BCS bowl this year. Michigan State played hard but was overwhelmed by a superior Georgia team. Wisconsin and Minnesota looked totally overmatched against Florida State and Kansas. 

As commissioner Jim Delany said this week, "I'm not sure anybody plays up as much as we do. And we're not playing in our backyard, that's for sure."

But Delany admits those things aren't going to change.

There's an added urgency for the Big Ten to elevate its play and improve in both key nonconference games and the bowls. 

It's time for the league to change the script.

Right now, it reads like a tragedy.