Thursday, December 15, 2011
What to watch in the Big Ten bowls
By Adam Rittenberg
A Big Ten-record 10 teams will be playing in bowls this season, beginning on Dec. 27 with Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and ending Jan. 3 with Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Here are several things to watch during the Big Ten's bowl season:
1. Wisconsin's quest for redemption: Anyone in the locker room after Wisconsin's 21-19 loss to TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl could sense the unfiltered anguish and disappointment. The narrow defeat fueled the Badgers throughout the offseason. Now they're back in Pasadena with a chance to finish what they couldn't against TCU. No game will shape the Big Ten's national perception more than the Rose, and Wisconsin is an underdog against a formidable Oregon team that has stumbled twice on the big stage. The Badgers can establish themselves as a nationally elite team with a win, while a loss will show they're not quite there.
2. B1G attempts to atone vs. SEC: While the Big Ten has held its own against the SEC in non-BCS bowls, the SEC embarrassed the Big Ten in last year's games. SEC teams beat their Big Ten opponents by a combined score of 138-45 in the Capital One, Outback and Gator bowls. The Big Ten can't afford such a porous showing this season, and the three matchups with the SEC appear more favorable (Nebraska-South Carolina in Capital One, Michigan State-Georgia in Outback, Ohio State-Florida in TaxSlayer.com Gator). While the Big Ten will have to wait at least another year to end the SEC's streak of national titles, it must fare better in these games. Michigan State might have the most at stake as the Spartans were humbled 49-7 last year in the Capital One Bowl and have yet to win a bowl game under coach Mark Dantonio. While a narrow Big Ten title loss still stings, the Spartans should be motivated Jan. 2.
3. Penn State's motivation in Dallas: Penn State players had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, but they paid a price for the fallout as several bowl games passed over the Nittany Lions and selected teams they beat (Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State). Lions players didn't seem too pleased when they learned they had slipped to the TicketCity Bowl, and it will be interesting to see how a team that has dealt with so much since early December responds on Jan. 2. The Penn State-Houston matchup features two talented teams with star players (Devon Still, Case Keenum) but no permanent coaches. It will be interesting to see which Penn State team shows up to finish off a season like none other.
4. Big Ten bowl streaks (both good and bad): There are several streaks to monitor in the Big Ten as bowl season begins. Northwestern looks for its first postseason win since the 1949 Rose after dropping eight straight bowls, including ones in each of the past three years. Dantonio, who has revolutionized the Michigan State program, aims for the elusive first bowl win with the Spartans. Michigan ends a five-year drought without a BCS bowl appearance but looks for its first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange when some guy named Tom Brady played quarterback for the Wolverines. Iowa has been the Big Ten's best bowl representative in recent years and tries to continue its streak of three consecutive postseason wins when it takes on heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl.