Chicago Colleges: Barry Alvarez

Final Big Ten power rankings for 2012

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
10:13
AM CT
Alabama and Notre Dame put a bow on the 2012 college football season Monday night. Most of the Big Ten would just as soon douse it with gasoline and light a match.

But before a largely forgettable 2012 Big Ten season goes up in flames, let's take one final look at the power rankings following the bowls. Ohio State not surprisingly remains on top, and the bottom three teams stay the same as well. There's a bit of shuffling among the seven bowl teams after varying performances. As has been the case most of the season, very little separates Nos. 2-6.

Here's a look at the pre-bowl power rankings.

Let's get to it ...

1. Ohio State (12-0; previously: 1): The Buckeyes will occupy this spot until they lose a game, which might be a while under coach Urban Meyer. After recording just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history, Ohio State sets its sights on even bigger goals as it emerges from NCAA sanctions. The Buckeyes showed major strides on offense behind sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and improved on both lines as the season went on. Meyer exceeded most expectations in Year 1, but they'll be much higher in 2013.

2. Northwestern (10-3; previously: 5): Pat Fitzgerald's team moves up three spots after claiming its first bowl victory in 64 years. There was surprisingly little drama as Northwestern capitalized on Mississippi State's errors and won the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl by two touchdowns. The Wildcats recorded just the third 10-win season in team history and easily could have won another game or two despite a young roster. Things are headed in the right direction in Evanston.

3. Michigan (8-5; previously: 2): The Wolverines were one defensive stop away from recording the most impressive win in the Big Ten's bowl season and in the Brady Hoke era. They paced a very talented South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl and received big performances from wideout Jeremy Gallon, running back Denard Robinson and quarterback Devin Gardner. Unfortunately for Michigan, an elite pass defense couldn't get it done in the end. Four of Michigan's five losses came against top-10 teams, but an 8-5 record isn't what Hoke or his players had in mind this fall.

4. Penn State (8-4; previously: 3): Penn State and Michigan are similar in that both teams have "good" losses on their résumés (Michigan a few more than Penn State). Both teams rallied to beat Northwestern at home, while Penn State has another quality win against Wisconsin. The Lions and Wolverines didn't play one another, and we'll never know how Penn State would have fared against a team like South Carolina. Michigan gets the slight edge here, but Penn State had a terrific season behind a dramatically improved offense and a defense led by senior stars Michael Mauti, Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges.

5. Nebraska (10-4; previously: 4): The Huskers beat the three teams ahead of them in the rankings, but the power rankings place more weight on recent results, and Nebraska finished the season with a thud. Bo Pelini's team surrendered 105 points in its last two games -- losses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska showed it could move the ball and score against anyone, despite being turnover-prone. But the defense was abysmal in the four losses and raises serious concerns for Pelini's program going forward.

6. Wisconsin (8-6; previously: 6): The Barry Alvarez-led Badgers showed they could hang with Stanford, but they couldn't take advantage of the unique opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl despite finishing third in the Leaders Division. The inconsistent offensive execution that plagued Wisconsin throughout the season surfaced once again against a tough and talented Stanford defense. Wisconsin just didn't have enough firepower to get over the hump, which was really the story of its season.

7. Michigan State (7-6; previously: 7): A come-from-behind win against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl takes the sting off of a season that didn't go according to plan for Michigan State. The Spartans leaned on their defense and received just enough offense from backup quarterback Connor Cook and Co. to get past a young Horned Frogs team in Tempe, Ariz. Michigan State posted its second straight bowl win under coach Mark Dantonio and said goodbye to three juniors -- running back Le'Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston -- in the days following the game.

8. Minnesota (6-7; previously: 9): Minnesota appeared poised to give the Big Ten a surprising 1-0 start to the bowl season. The Gophers made strides on offense between the end of the regular season and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, as young quarterback Philip Nelson and the offensive line looked a lot better against Texas Tech. But Minnesota still doesn't know how to finish and suffered breakdowns down the stretch in a tough loss to the Red Raiders. The team still doubled its win total in Jerry Kill's second season and could make some noise in a tough Legends Division next fall.

9. Purdue (6-7; previously: 8): The Boilers and Minnesota swap places after Minnesota performed much better in its bowl game than Purdue did. A mismatch on paper turned into a total whitewash on the field as Oklahoma State, which had no business being in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, outclassed Purdue from the get-go. Purdue's once-promising season ended with a thud as a veteran-laden Boilers team that kept pace with both Notre Dame and Ohio State struggled mightily against most of the good to great teams it faced this season.

10. Indiana (4-8; previously: 10): After going 1-11 in Kevin Wilson's first year, Indiana could only get better and took some important steps this season. The Hoosiers showed they can score points on just about every defense in the Big Ten, and their group of skill players is among the league's best. IU's defense still isn't at a Big Ten level and improving the talent and depth on that side of the ball is the chief challenge for Wilson and his staff entering the 2013 season.

11. Iowa (4-8; previously: 11): A bowl appearance looked like a guarantee for Iowa before the season as the schedule set up favorably for eight or more wins. But the offense took a giant step backward, and injuries hurt the unit throughout the season. Iowa's defense kept it in quite a few games but also let down against better offenses like Northwestern and Michigan. The Hawkeyes will look for more cohesion on offense and more playmakers to emerge. The Legends Division only seems to be getting tougher.

12. Illinois (2-10; previously: 12): No team and no coach wants to turn the page on 2012 more than Illinois and Tim Beckman. Almost nothing went right in Beckman's first season, as the offense stalled and the defense struggled against spread offenses. The Illini dropped all eight of their Big Ten contests and lost by fewer than 14 points just once. Perhaps new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit can get the offense on track. The defense, meanwhile, must fill holes up front and in the secondary. At least Illinois gets a fresh start in 2013.

Poll: Who most needs a bowl win?

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
2:01
PM CT
We must remember this season that, outside of the national title game and the other BCS games, postseason results are forgotten quickly.

Yes, overall bowl performance can certainly help or harm a league's image, and the Big Ten could use a positive showing this year. But most people will have a hard time remembering who won the Outback or Heart of Dallas bowls a few months from now, and wins or losses in the postseason don't necessarily have an effect on the following season. See Michigan State, which scored the Big Ten's best bowl win last year, over Georgia, but didn't do much to continue that momentum with a 6-6 season in 2012.

Still, bowl wins can lead to better perception and set up higher preseason rankings for the following year. With that in mind, we thought we'd take a look at which Big Ten teams could most use a bowl victory this year. Our top five candidates:

SportsNation

Which Big Ten team needs a bowl win the most?

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    21%
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    22%
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    37%
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    15%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,505)

Northwestern (vs. Mississippi State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl): Beating an SEC team would be a nice cap to a strong season for the Wildcats. But who are we kidding? Just beating anybody in a bowl game would be a thrill, and a relief, for a program that is tired of talking about not having won one since 1949. Shedding that albatross would help Pat Fitzgerald and everyone else in purple move forward. A win would also mean a 10-3 season, and for a team that brings nearly everybody back, that should equate into a preseason ranking in 2013.

Wisconsin (vs. Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio): Hey, it's the Rose Bowl, so of course a victory would be meaningful. The Badgers are eager to avoid a third straight loss in Pasadena, and they have a chance to get Barry Alvarez his fourth Rose Bowl title. Things are going to change immensely after the game with a new head coach regardless of the outcome, but some positive vibes sure couldn't hurt.

Nebraska (vs. Georgia in the Capital One Bowl): The Cornhuskers have to be disappointed to be back in Orlando and not in the Rose Bowl. But a victory over a highly ranked SEC team would erase some of the sting of that Big Ten title game disaster. Beating Georgia would also remove some of the criticism surrounding Bo Pelini as fans couldn't complain too much about an 11-win season.

Michigan (vs. South Carolina in the Outback Bowl): The Wolverines lost every one of their high-profile games this season (Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska) to finish 8-4. Beating the Gamecocks would reverse that trend and end the year on a positive note. If Devin Gardner has a big game against a nasty South Carolina defense, it could be a good sign of things to come for '13.

Minnesota (vs. Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas): Just advancing to a bowl game in Year 2 under Jerry Kill was a strong accomplishment, and the Gophers are heavy underdogs against the Red Raiders. An upset win wouldn't suddenly turn Minnesota into a 2013 Legends Division favorite, but it would register as probably the biggest victory to date of the Kill era and send this young team into winter conditioning with a serious bounce in its step. Playing well in Texas could also aid recruiting efforts.

Which of these five teams would benefit the most from a bowl win? Vote now in our poll.
It figures that the most important meetings to determine college football's future postseason structure are taking place this week in Hollywood, Fla.

After all, every other meaningful event in the sport occurs well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany needs to make sure that changes, no matter which playoff format the BCS leaders ultimately choose. Forget the laughable "Four Teams Plus" plan that keeps the Rose Bowl in the mix for determining the national champion, but has virtually no chance of being approved by commissioners not from the Big Ten or Pac-12. While Delany loves the Rose Bowl and always will, his top priority this week in South Florida should be proximity.

If a four-team postseason plan is green-lighted, as many expect, Delany must ensure that it's possible for at least some of the games to be played in or near the Big Ten footprint. Because the current system doesn't serve the Big Ten or its fans.

There are myriad reasons for the Big Ten's downturn during the BCS era, but the location of the most significant bowl games, including the national championship, undoubtedly hurts the league, which has played several virtual road contests.

Since the BCS launched in 1998, the Big Ten has dropped two games to LSU in New Orleans, including the national title game after the 2007 season. The Big Ten also is 0-4 against USC at the Rose Bowl. While there are exceptions, like Penn State's Orange Bowl win against Florida State, Big Ten teams generally become roadkill in these matchups.

The Big Ten's destination dilemma is inherent within the current bowl/BCS system. The big bowl games always have been played in the south and west, and because of the "double-hosting" model, the same holds true for the national championship games. Most Big Ten fans understand the reasons behind this, and have willingly hopped on airplanes every December and traveled far and wide to see their teams play. It's this willingness that has made Big Ten teams so attractive to BCS bowl committees.

But the future postseason structure will bring change. A four-team setup would create two semifinals, which might take place within the current bowl structure, but most likely will not. The semis could take place at on-campus sites belonging to the higher seeds, a plan Delany advocates, or at neutral sites like Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium and Detroit's Ford Field. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis? Beats facing LSU in NOLA.

"Yes, has to be," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told ESPN.com. "If you go neutral sites, you've got to have one in the Midwest. You've just got to. If it's campus sites, it's hard to dictate that, because it depends on the rankings. If you go campus sites, you hope some Midwest team is up there and they get to host."

Although Big Ten fans travel better than any in the country, the cost of making two long trips -- for the semifinals and championship game -- in a short span around the holidays will be too much for many to bear.

"If you think about it, just about every conference now has a [championship game], so you expect your fans to go to that," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is attending the BCS meetings along with Delany, told ESPN.com. "Now you're going to go to a bowl site, and if you're in a championship game, that's three games you want them to travel to. It would be nice if one of those games would be at a home site, or two of them."

There's also the possibility the national championship game moves away from the bowl sites and goes to the highest bidder, which could bring venues like Lucas Oil Stadium and Ford Field into the rotation. The chance to play for a title on Big Ten soil will excite fans around the Midwest, but they'll settle for having some type of nationally relevant football game within driving distance in late December or early January.

Delany's ideal setup likely would call for semifinal games on campus, and the national title game at the Rose Bowl every year. Don't hold your breath on either element coming to fruition, but having a neutral-site semifinal in the Midwest every year certainly isn't too much to ask.

Big Ten fans have served their league and its teams extremely well by traveling in droves to big-time bowl games in faraway destinations.

It's time for Delany to return the favor by ensuring they'll have a chance to see their teams play meaningful games closer to home.
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