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Saturday, January 1, 2011
Worst day in Big Ten football history? Yep

By Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten had spent the last year or so rebuilding its tattered national reputation.

All it took was one day for things to come crashing down.

A 0-5 performance in New Year's Day bowls is indefensible. No one will care that Big Ten teams were underdogs in all five games, or that the locations were tough, or that no bowl lineup compares to the Big Ten's in terms of difficulty.

Losing the national title game is bad, but I can't think of a worse day in Big Ten football history.

The bottom line is you still need to show up and play the games. Two Big Ten teams didn't show up -- Michigan State and Michigan -- and all five lost the games that counted.

Perception drives college football, and the perception of the Big Ten took a major beating Saturday. It doesn't help that the Big Ten went 0-3 against the rival SEC in bowls, dropping the three games by a combined score of 138-45.

It also doesn't help that the New Year's debacle comes on the heels of the Legends and Leaders divisions debacle. Or that future Big Ten member Nebraska lost to a 6-6 Washington team in the Holiday Bowl.

Colleague Mark Schlabach addresses the Big Ten blues and provides some sobering thoughts and nuggets:
Just brutal.

The Big Ten needed better performances in the Florida bowls, especially from co-champ Michigan State, which never stood a chance against 9-3 Alabama.

Wisconsin could have redeemed the league a bit by winning the Rose. Although folks who know college football understand there's no shame in losing to TCU, falling to a team from a non-AQ league on a stage like the one in Pasadena still counts as a significant hit in how the Big Ten is perceived.

Even Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, who downplayed teams from non-AQ conferences because of their schedules, was left humbled Saturday night, telling The New York Times: "I'm going to New Orleans [Sunday], and Antoine's is a great restaurant there. I think they serve crow, and I'll be eating my portion of that."

The Big Ten turns its teary eyes to Gee's Ohio State Buckeyes, who can help the league save some face by beating Arkansas on Tuesday in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Perhaps now we know why Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany lobbied last month to get Ohio State's suspended players to New Orleans for the bowl.

He might have known what was coming.