Why January could be good for Big Ten

There is no escaping the ugly facts if you are a fan of the Big Ten conference.

Over the last three years, the Big Ten has floundered to a 4-13 record in January bowl games, with a majority of those games not being close. In the 17 games, the conference has been outscored by an average of 11.4 points and allowed 37 points seven times.

Even the four wins left lingering questions, as they were hardly emphatic.

• In the 2013 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Northwestern beat a Mississippi State team which was 1-5 versus teams which finished the season with a winning record.

• Michigan State’s overtime win over Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl – a game in which Georgia blew a 16-point second-half lead, kicker Blair Walsh missed a 42-yard field goal and had another attempt blocked.

Michigan’s 23-20 overtime win over Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl – a game in which the Wolverines were outgained 377-184 and Denard Robinson completed 2-of-8 passes after halftime.

• Even Ohio State’s win over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl had the cloud of Ohio State playing players that were to be suspended for the first five games the following season.

However, the struggles extend past the last three years. Since 2006, the Big Ten is 4-20 versus Top 10 non-conference opponents.

But there are reasons to think this year could be different.

In the Outback Bowl, Iowa faces an LSU team that lost starting QB Zach Mettenberger in the final game of the regular season.

Instead, true freshman Anthony Jennings and his 10 career pass attempts will get the start. Iowa has led at halftime in 10 of its 12 games.

If that trend continues, will Jennings again make plays as he did on the game-winning drive versus Arkansas?

For the second straight year, Nebraska will play Georgia in a bowl game.

This time around, the Bulldogs will not have the most productive quarterback in SEC history, as Aaron Murray suffered a knee injury in the Bulldogs' final home game.

Junior Hutson Mason will get the start. Georgia gave up 226 rushing yards to South Carolina, 323 rushing yards to Auburn and 263 to Georgia Tech. That likely doesn’t bode well with Ameer Abdullah and his 1,568 rushing yards waiting for them.

And how excited will the Georgia faithful be for a second trip to Jacksonville in three months after a season of high hopes decimated by injuries?

Wisconsin is a slight favorite over South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl and ESPN’s Football Power Index agrees with that assessment.

The Badgers pair of 1,300 yard rushers – Melvin Gordon and James White – could neutralize the Gamecocks great pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

The Big Ten is 1-9 in its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances but Michigan State has a chance of stopping that slide. The Spartans defense allows FBS-lows in yards per play (3.9) and third down conversions (27.7 percent).

Michigan State is one of three defenses to allow under one point per drive (Florida State and Alabama are the others).

If Kevin Hogan continues to struggle in the red zone (23.0 QBR this year, 88.0 QBR in 2012) and the Cardinal have to settle for field goals, Michigan State should find itself in a great position to win.

Despite a pass defense which has allowed 755 pass yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games, Ohio State is favored over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Aaron Murray and Jameis Winston shredded the Tigers defense for a combined 767 pass yards and 86 points this season. Can Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes offense enjoy similar success?

For all the focus on the Big Ten’s bowl struggles, remember the ACC is 3-13 in BCS games with its last two wins coming over Cincinnati and Northern Illinois.

The last time Clemson played in this game, the Tigers allowed 343 yards and 49 first half points in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.

How the Big Ten fares this January will either continue to fuel the fire of skeptics or provide its supporters with reason to celebrate.