Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year 2011: Rough Start for the Big Ten Conference

After winning two bowl games in 2010 to close out the year, the Big Ten goes 0-5 to open the New Year. It's not been a strong beginning to 2011 for the Big Ten Conference.

The Big Ten is now 2-5 heading into the Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arkansas, on Tuesday night. Will the Buckeyes reverse history? The Buckeyes have never beat a SEC team in a bowl.

Looking at the match ups, had the Big Ten 0-8 for the 2010-11 bowl line up. The Big Ten were considered underdogs in all eight games.

In the first two Big Ten-Big 12 games, Iowa and Illinois took care of business knocking off Top 15 Missouri and Baylor, respectively. Iowa was coming off a three game losing streak in November, while coach Ron Zook picked up his first bowl win, in six seasons in Champaign.

Northwestern faced Texas Tech on New Year's Day for the third Big Ten-Big 12 match up. The Wildcats entered the game, bowl eligible, but without the quarterback that got them there. QB Dan Persa's season came to an end on the final play that gave Northwestern a win over Iowa in Game 10 for the Wildcats. It was an ugly New Years Day for the Wildcats, but they made it respectable, 38-45, to Texas Tech, without Persa, the teams #1 weapon.

The real loss for the Big Ten was in the BCS game, where Wisconsin fell to a very solid TCU team in the Rose Bowl 19-21. TCU was clearly the better coached team. Further, is there any question that QB Andy Dalton wasn't the best QB on the field, in comparison to Wisconsin's QB Scott Tolzien? Why did Badger coach Bret Bielema move away from the bread and butter in the Rose Bowl? Wisconsin OC Paul Chryst went away from inside running and on the two point conversation, used the shotgun to the amazement of everyone.

TCU is a Top 3 team this season, without a doubt. There is a reason why the Horned Frogs coach, Gary Patterson, has avoided invitations from BCS programs for a job. Now, TCU will move to the Big East in 2012.

In the NCAA Basketball Tournament, guard play is so important. For Football ...

We witnessed how important quarterback play is in College Football on New Year's Day with the losses Wisconsin and Penn State had. The difference in the Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Florida, came down to Penn State's charitable quarterback and special teams. Penn State Sophomore QB Matt McGloin didn't get it done for 84 year old head coach Joe Paterno. Congratulations to Florida Gator head coach Urban Meyer, who retired at age 46, after the Gators 37-24 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Quarterback play is very important in bowl games. Simply, it's important in any football game. There is a reason ESPN is dedicating 2011 to the quarterback.

A quarterback doesn't necessarily have to win a game. Wisconsin certainly could have pounded the football and beat TCU in the Rose Bowl. But, a quarterback can hurt you, if they turn the ball over and put their team in poor positions.

We saw how important QB play can be in the Insight Bowl, with both Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. Also, it is important to have more than just a quarterback, as we saw with Michigan in 2010. By the way, Mississippi State is a Top 25 program. Michigan isn't. They went 7-6 this season, beat Big East champion, UConn, but outside of super sophomore QB Denard Robinson, the Wolverines have one of the most dysfunctional defenses, playing a 4-2-5, that has been witnessed in the modern era in major college football.

The Big Ten had a very good season, but far from a great one. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State finished 7-1 in the Big Ten.

  • Ohio State wasn't a dominant BCS Title Game candidate this past season.

  • Wisconsin was hot-cold, depending on the mood of their coaching staff.

  • Michigan State benefited from schedule, but clearly Iowa and Alabama (Capital One Bowl) found ways to exploit the Spartans.
The Big Ten begins a new decade in 2011, with 12 members and a need to pick it up a notch, again. This fall, we will welcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers as the 12Th member.

Some thoughts and resolutions for the New Year ...

  • Ohio State remains the program to beat, since 2005, in the Big Ten. However, the program has some questions off the field and it would be nice to see the Buckeyes clean up things, both on and off the field. Will Tressel and the Ohio State program finally beat a SEC team in a bowl, with the Sugar Bowl game on Tuesday, for the first time in school history?

  • The Big Ten West (Legends, if you listen to the conference) appears wide open heading into 2011. Only Iowa won a bowl game. The Hawkeyes have won three straight bowl games for the first time in Hawkeye football history. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is 6-3 in bowls, 3-1 vs. SEC schools, 2-1 vs. Big 12, 0-1 vs. Pac Ten. The Hawkeyes have two co-Big Ten titles under Ferentz ('02 and '04), when will number three come and Iowa's next Rose Bowl trip, since 1991?

  • Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will enter his fifth season in East Lansing as head coach in 2011. The Spartans have not won a bowl game in a decade now. The Spartans did win a share of the Big Ten for the first time in 20 years, however, the 7-49 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl on New Years Day was ugly, but not surprising. Alabama was supposed to defend its BCS title and be in the BCS mix this past season.

  • Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is now 2-3 in bowl games, after replacing Barry Alvarez, who lead UW to three Rose Bowl wins. Wisconsin won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time in over 10 seasons. Next up: division play for Big Ten teams, including the Badgers, who will play in the Big Ten East (Leaders, if you listen to the conference).

  • Penn State will welcome 84 year-old Joe Paterno for a remarkable 46Th season in 2011. The Nittany Lions are young, but they will have to replace nine senior starters on offense and seven on defense, along with place kicker and holder heading into 2011. The Nittany Lions had a trio of three young QBs this season, but now two appear set to transfer leaving junior to be Matt McGloin remaining, coming off five INTs vs. Florida in Outback Bowl, ouch!

  • Michigan football has fallen on bad times over the past three seasons. The Wolverines did go 7-6 and get back to a bowl game, after a two year absence. But, the coach Rich Rodriquez experiment has turned into a mistake. Lloyd Carr maybe wasn't getting it done, but he was a better representative for one of the best programs in college football history. What's next for the Michigan AD? Jim Harbaugh isn't the likely answer or option?

  • Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald will begin his sixth season in 2011. The Wildcats have gone to three straight bowl games, which is a school record. The school only has one bowl victory ever (1949 Rose Bowl, 1-7 overall). It should be very interesting to see Northwestern in division play, joining others in the Big Ten West.

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook saved his job this season and will enter his seventh season in Champaign in 2011. Zook is the only current Big Ten coach with division play experience, after three seasons in the SEC East at Florida, as head coach. Zook has never coached his team in a conference title game though. Next up: closing out the Class of 2011 recruiting and the Big Ten East.

  • Purdue coach Danny Hope will enter year three in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers will resume a rivalry with the Iowa Hawkeyes in the new Big Ten division schedule format, as the designated rival. Look for Hope to continue the rebuilding process and like other coaches in the past, becoming bowl eligible in year three.

  • Indiana will begin a new era of Hoosier football under a new head coach in 2011. Kevin Wilson is coming back to the Big Ten as a head coach this time, after the Hoosiers make the call for the Oklahoma OC. There is new excitement again in Bloomington. Wilson hired Nebraska's current LB coach, as his DC.

  • Minnesota will open its third season in TCF Bank Stadium with a new head coach. The Golden Gophers hired Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill to lead Minnesota into 2011. Will excitement come back to a dormant program, with a rich football history over 50 years ago?

  • Finally, Nebraska heads to the Big Ten in 2011 and will represent the West. Not since Penn State, when they arrived from the East in 1993, does the conference add a new member. Head coach Bo Pelini is coming off two straight Big 12 division titles, but no conference titles or BCS games, in three seasons. How far will the Huskers go in 2011?


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