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Thursday, December 16, 2010
Delany: BT faces 'uphill' climb in bowls

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The Big Ten started to repair its national reputation by going 4-3 in postseason play last year with two wins in BCS bowls and four victories against top 15 opponents.

The league's next challenge: keep the momentum going.

It won't be easy.

"I think it's going to be really challenging," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told me recently. "We've got great matchups. We play the SEC, great league; Big 12, great league. I think it's an uphill. Most people looking at it see it as an uphill."

Big Ten teams are viewed as underdogs in most of the matchups, and there are no gimmes.

The league faces five teams ranked in the final BCS standings: No. 3 TCU, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 12 Missouri, No. 16 Alabama and No. 21 Mississippi State. While the Big Ten boasts three teams in the top 10 -- No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 Michigan State -- no other squad is anywhere near the rankings.

Three Big Ten teams -- Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern -- face bowl opponents playing in their home states. Penn State meets Florida in Tampa at the Outback Bowl, Illinois takes on Baylor in Houston at the Texas Bowl and Northwestern meets Texas Tech in Dallas at the inaugural TicketCity Bowl.

And that's not all.

"We're playing the defending national champion in Alabama," Delany said. "I think that's the best 3-loss team in the country. I look at the challenge with TCU, I think they're a favorite in that game. It's unbelievable, but it just represents how good they are. A lot of people say they may have the best defense and may have the most NFL defensive players on their team. I look at Arkansas, they probably have the best pro-style quarterback [Ryan Mallett] in the game, great offense.

"All across the board, the challenges we have are significant. They should get our competitive juices going. I don't think I've seen a stronger or better set of opponents than what we're facing this year."

Delany isn't sandbagging, folks. The lineup is brutal, especially compared to what other leagues (ahem, Big 12) are facing.

I'm not too confident about the Big Ten's chances this bowl season. The league really needs its best teams -- Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State -- to perform like it in January.