- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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How often in the past four years have you watched a bowl game featuring a Big Ten team and actually felt good about the matchup?
How often have Big Ten teams been favored in their games? How many times have you seen Big Ten teams keep pace for a half, three quarters or longer, only to come up short in the end?
Bowl games seem to bring out the worst in Big Ten teams, and the most recent bowl lineup, which mercifully concluded this season, underscored the league's struggles in postseason play. The Big Ten had a losing bowl record in all four years of the last postseason lineup, including a 2-5 mark this year. The overall record: 11-21 (including Ohio State's vacated win in the 2011 Sugar Bowl).
Losing is losing, and the Big Ten's postseason struggles reflect the league's current state, but the lineup did the conference no favors. It was extremely ambitious, and commissioner Jim Delany's desire to play the best competition in the best games is admirable, but it hurt the league's perception. Big Ten teams were favored in only eight of the 32 bowl matchups during the past four seasons.
As I've written many times, leagues are judged by their bowl records, not how tough their lineups are. No one rips the Pac-12, SEC or ACC for playing small-conference teams in bowls.
The Big Ten gets no credit for playing virtual road games, all against major-conference opponents, if the end result is losses.
Now here's the good news: the league's next bowl lineup should bring more wins and a boost to perception.
Not only will the Big Ten have more reasonable matchups, but the league will take a more active role in creating the pairings through the tiered system. You won't see as many repeat destinations or repeat opponents, but you also likely won't see as many obvious mismatches.
"You're going to see a lot of movement by teams among bowls," Delany said in June. "We're fortunate that all these are fantastic destinations, they're world-class cities with opponents coming from world-class conferences. We think there are great brands on our side and great brands on the other side, and together, that will produce great bowl matchups."
The new lineup isn't a panacea, and Big Ten teams must find ways to win close games after repeatedly falling short in bowls. But a reset in matchups should provide some hope for a league that, short of ending its national title drought, can benefit greatly from ending seasons on a much stronger note.
6dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy