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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Hope springs in the Big Ten

By Brian Bennett

We're less than 100 days away from the kickoff of the 2013 season. Hooray. Want another reason to celebrate? There's just one more season to go before the BCS officially dies and we get a new, four-team college football playoff.

As the BCS era -- which began with the 1998 regular season -- draws to a close, we're taking a look at the best achievements and worst failures of every league during that time. Here are five highs and lows from the Big Ten:

Low Five:

Jim Tressel
Ohio State went into the 2007 and 2008 BCS title games ranked No. 1, but came out without the crystal trophy.
1. National title drought: There's no getting around this one. The Big Ten has just one crystal football in its trophy case, thanks to Ohio State's overtime victory over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Other than that, the league has been shut out, and the Buckeyes got blown out in both the 2007 and 2008 BCS title games despite entering those contests ranked No. 1. Worse, Ohio State is the only Big Ten team that has even played in a national championship game. Compare that to the SEC, which has had five teams play for it all, or the Big 12, which has had three.

2. Rose Bowl record: OK, you say, so the Big Ten hasn't won a lot of national titles, but the Rose Bowl is the league's true ultimate goal. Well, the news there hasn't been very good, either. Since the dawn of the BCS era, the Big Ten has gone just 3-9 in the Grandaddy, with just one win in Pasadena since the 1999 season: Ohio State's 2010 victory over Oregon. That was the Buckeyes' only Rose Bowl appearance in the BCS era, as their success resulted in them playing in other bowls and often led to the league's second-best team going to California.

3. Non-Ohio State signature brands: We mentioned the lack of national title-game appearances outside of Ohio State. That's where the league's other brand-name schools have to take some blame. Michigan and Penn State have combined for seven BCS bowl appearances, which is good, but neither has made it to the national-title game. The Wolverines lost three out of four Rose Bowls from 2004-2007 and took a major step backward with the Rich Rodriguez hire. The Nittany Lions weren't able to play for a third national title and were sidelined for the final two BCS years because of probation. Nebraska hasn't reached the big stage game since joining the league two years ago, which was the continuation of a BCS drought for the Huskers that has now reached 11 seasons.

4. Scandal makers: The Big Ten takes great pride in its image and integrity, but the league took a serious hit in those areas toward the end of the BCS era. Three major programs -- Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan -- all went on NCAA probation, and the conference's assistance in helping keep several Buckeyes eligible for the 2011 Sugar Bowl wound up blowing up in its face a few months later. It also was poor timing that the Big Ten named its divisions Legends and Leaders right around the same time its supposedly squeaky-clean marquee programs were dealing with NCAA problems.

5. Recent New Year's massacres: Those with short memories may forget that the Big Ten actually performed quite well in its non-BCS bowls against the SEC and other power leagues for much of the BCS era. But more recent results have obscured that fact. New Year's Day 2011 might have been the low-water mark, as the league went 0-5 and got outscored 138-45 in its three games against the SEC. The Big Ten went 1-4 on Jan. 2, 2012, with Michigan State's overtime victory over Georgia saving the day (though Michigan did win the Sugar Bowl the following night). The league was more competitive on New Year's Day 2013 but still needed Northwestern to come through to avoid going 0-5 again. The Big Ten is just 2-7 against the SEC in the last three years, and that has damaged the perception of the conference's overall strength.

High Five

1. Doubling up: The BCS, all in all, has been good to the Big Ten. The league has made 26 BCS bowl appearances, more than any other conference (and one more than the mighty SEC). Until last year, the Big Ten had a streak of seven consecutive years of earning a BCS at-large bid. The conference's large, eager and sun-starved fan bases helped, especially for some teams with less than stellar résumés (i.e., Illinois in 2007, Michigan in 2011). The extra exposure and millions of dollars from those appearances have benefited the Big Ten, even if the league's 12-14 BCS record is a little wanting.

2. Ohio State's BCS run: Let's try and forget the '07 and '08 title games. The Buckeyes still have made an impressive run through the BCS era, with more appearances (nine) than any other school in the country. That number would have reached 10 last year if not for probation. The Buckeyes are also tied with USC for the most wins in BCS games (six), although the 2011 Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas was later vacated by the NCAA.

Wisconsin celebration
The Badgers have been to five Rose Bowls during the BCS era, winning two of them.
3. Wisconsin's Rose parade: No Big Ten team has spent more time in Pasadena during the BCS era than Wisconsin, which has made five Rose Bowls, including the past three in a row. The Badgers own two of the conference's three Rose wins in that time with back-to-back victories in the 1999 and 2000 games. Their three consecutive losses there are disappointing, but it's better to have lost in the Grandaddy than to not have gone at all.

4. Money, money, money: Sure, the Big Ten lacks national championship rings or a glittering Rose Bowl record. But that hasn't stopped the conference from growing exponentially during the BCS era. Commissioner Jim Delany pioneered the idea of a league-only TV channel, and the Big Ten Network has been hugely profitable. The Big Ten is the richest conference in the land right now and is poised to rake in more dough with its next TV deal.

5. Rise of the middle class: If the Big Ten's signature brands outside of Ohio State failed to make a dent in the BCS title picture, at least some of the other league programs rose up and became contenders. Iowa went to two BCS games and won the 2010 Orange Bowl. Illinois sandwiched Sugar and Rose bowl bids around some otherwise disappointing seasons. Purdue got to the Rose Bowl in 2001. Michigan State is still looking for its first-ever BCS bowl but did win a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and the inaugural Legends Division crown in 2011. Northwestern has been solid under Pat Fitzgerald and appears to be on an upward trajectory. Wisconsin has ascended into an annual conference power. While not every program has been able to maintain high levels of success, at least the Big Ten wasn't just the Big Two and Little Nine (or Ten, depending on the year) every season.