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SportsWednesday Column: It was nice to see a little spunk in the Big Ten this postseason

Mark J. Terrill/AP
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, left, and MVP Terrelle Pryor celebrate after winning the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Oregon, Friday, Jan. 1, 2010, in Pasadena, Calif. The final score was 26-17. Buy this photo

BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 5, 2010

I’m sure I’m not the only one around Ann Arbor who felt, well, empty during this holiday season, watching teams like East Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Idaho (Seriously, Idaho?) play in fluffy bowl games while Michigan couldn’t even muster a spot in the Little Caesar’s Pizza, Pizza Bowl.

Without a direct vested interest for the second consecutive bowl season (rooting against The Vest doesn't count), the games felt a little stale, boring and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, I watched almost every one, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t even have much hope for the whole “rooting for the Big Ten” route, as the conference gave me almost no hope of remote competitiveness after finishing 1-6 in postseason play last year, a record so bad you’d almost think the Big Ten was intentionally trying to embarrass itself.

But then Wisconsin dominated Miami (Fla.) in a game that was much more lopsided than its 20-14 score would lead you to believe. Then, Northwestern narrowly fell to Auburn in overtime in the Outback Bowl, despite five ridiculous interceptions from quarterback Mike Kafka, including two at the goal line, and a kicker who seemingly did not understand the ultimate goal of placekicking.

The Outback Bowl’s sideline reporter said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told his team in the fourth quarter that “We’re still in this, even though we’re playing with 10 men on offense — our QB is playing for the other team!” and the Wildcats still almost pulled it out.

Then, Penn State beat LSU in the trenches. And That Team Which Shall Remain Nameless claimed the conference’s first Rose Bowl Championship since the 1999-2000 season. (A fact which still boggles my mind, seeing as how the Big Ten helped create the "Grand Daddy Of Them All").

And Iowa won the Orange Bowl 24-14 last night. Georgia Tech’s spread-triple-option-type offense is incredibly hard to scout against (just ask Clemson), and the Hawkeyes should get major, major props for its pregame preparation.

Wait — the lowly Big Ten playing well in the BCS — the same conference which hadn’t won on the nation’s big stage since the 2004-05 season? Wow.

But the most impressive performance may have been in a losing effort — Michigan State and its Big Ten worst pass defense (sans starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker and a slew of frat-boy-pounding players after being suspended for an on-campus brawl) lost a heartbreaker to pass-happy Texas Tech, a game which I had written off as an inevitable blowout, with or without coach Mike Leach.

All told, the conference finished 4-3 in bowls, with a terrific showing in the Bowl Championship Series. It doesn’t sound all that spectacular, but it’s somewhat of a remarkable turnaround from a near-disastrous output 12 months ago.

The Big Ten finally — after what seems like a football eternity — has taken back some of the credibility it lost when Southern Cal decided to make idiots out of any Midwesterner who dared travel to Pasadena in January during a depressing eight-year span. And a wholly unexpected 2-0 mark in the BCS should certainly turn the nation’s collective head toward the Great Lakes.

I don’t think anyone saw this kind of collective performance coming (especially ESPN columnist Pat Forde, who predicted a second straight 1-6 record for the Big Ten). So it was a pleasant surprise for Big Ten fans — and it should be, even for the fans of the four teams that missed out on the postseason this time around.

I don’t know if this will have any long-lasting effects, but it’s gotta feel nice for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the rest of the conference to stifle the rest of the nation — at least for one offseason.

— Reid can be reached at andyreid@umich.edu.


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