A funny thing happened on the way to the Big Ten embarrassing itself in the 2009-2010 bowl games.
It didn't even come close to happening.
Even the three "worst" teams repping the conference played well overall.
Seven Big Ten teams were invited to play in a bowl game this year, and four of those seven played in top-tier bowls, vs. four opponents all of whom are/were ranked in the top 15.
Minnesota, a perennial doormat, lost by one point to Iowa State of the Big 12 in the Insight Bowl. It's not like there were high expectations placed upon them, and hey, at least they were in the game.
Then there's Michigan State—who despite suspending something like 15 players before their Alamo Bowl matchup vs. the Leech-less Texas Tech Red Raiders, actually held a fourth quarter lead—only to falter and lose in the end, like they always seem to do, in and out of conference. That's what happens when you have a terrible defense.
Northwestern gave a strong showing against SEC foe Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Trailing 38-35, Coach Pat Fitzgerald called a fake FG in overtime, and tried for a touchdown that could have won the game, but fell just a few yards short of the endzone.
Sure, they lost in the end, but I still give him props for having the marbles to make that call to try and win the game. Auburn is a decent team and they had wins over West Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi this season, so there's no shame in losing a hard fought game to a good SEC opponent.
No. 25 Wisconsin, the Big Tens' fourth place team, surprised No. 15 Miami, and most of the rest of us in all honesty in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Badgers out gained the Hurricanes 430 to 239 in yardage, and outscored the Canes 20-14 to set the tone for the Big Ten as they etched the first big win of the bowl season for the conference. During the season, Miami had wins over then-No. 18 FSU, then-No. 14 Georgia Tech, and then-No. 8 Oklahoma.
No. 13 Penn State finished third in the conference this season which earned them a trip to the Capital One Bowl to face the No. 12 LSU Tigers. LSU beat then-No. 18 Georgia, Auburn, and Arkansas during the regular season.
On a rainy, muddly, sloppy field in Orlando, the Nittany Lions and the Tigers played a near even game, but in the end, Penn State was able to move into field goal range for the game-winning 27-yard kick with just :57 seconds left on the clock, and ultimately send the Big Ten to a 2-0 mark in the top-tier bowl game matchups with their 19-17 victory.
QB Ricky Stanzi returned from an ankle injury after missing the final two games of the regular season for No. 10 Iowa, and helped lead the Hawkeyes to the Big Tens' third top-tier bowl game win over No. 9 Georgia Tech.
The Hawkeyes held the Yellow Jackets, who average over 300 yards rushing per game, to just 32 total yards in the first half, 155 total yards for the game, and one offensive touchdown that came in the fourth quarter, as they coasted to the 24-14 win.
Georgia Tech had several key wins during the season including two wins over Clemson, as well as victories against then-No. 22 North Carolina, and then-No. 4 Virginia Tech.
Last, but certainly far from least,
Ever since No. 7 Oregon squeaked by Oregon State on December 3 to win the Pac-10, everyone and their brother, and their brother's wives brother, and all the "experts" were all predicting an easy, probable blow-out win for the Ducks over the Bucks.
Even on this very blog, on my Rose Bowl preview article, Oregon fans found their way here and posted some of the rudest, and cockiest comments I've just about ever read. Of course, now I'm actually glad they did so I can read over them again and get a good laugh!
Oregon had only lost to No. 6 Boise State (who just beat No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl and completed a perfect 14-0 season) to open the year in the now infamous "sucker-punch" game on the blue turf, and to Heisman runner-up stud running back Toby Gerhart and Stanford in Santa Clara.
Despite the two losses during the regular season, they did have several big wins over ranked opponents, including Utah, Cal, USC, Arizona, and Oregon State.
As for the game with Ohio State, billed as the unstoppable offense of Oregon vs. the bend-but-not-break vaunted defense of Ohio State, something had to give, and contrary to popular belief, it did not end up being Ohio State's "D".
The Buckeyes held Oregon to 260 total yards and 17 points, both well under their season averages. Only once did Oregon briefly lead in the third quarter when they took a 17-16 lead after a Jeremiah Masoli one-yard touchdown run with 11:03 to go.
Five minutes later, OSU took the lead back for good on a 38-yard field goal from Devin Barclay, and added a little insurance in the fourth when Terrelle Pryor hooked up with favorite target DeVier Posey for a 17-yard touchdown with 7:02 left on the clock.
Posey had a career best performance, and Pryor had one of his best performances as well, and certainly his best on the "big-stage" outside of the Big Ten.
On the year, the Buckeyes accomplished a feat, that so far, I have not been able to confirm has ever been done before in college football by any other team in one season.
They defeated five teams (Navy, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, and Oregon) that all had 10-win seasons, and that will all likely be ranked in the final AP top 25 poll of the year.
I wrote an article in May, well before the 2009 season began, in which I claimed the Big Ten was back. As you might expect, it was met with much criticism, ridicule, and people calling me a homer and a clueless moron.
FYI: I also predicted the Buckeyes would win the Rose Bowl 24-17. The actual final score was 26-17.
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