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SportsMonday Column: No end in sight for Big Ten inferiority

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 2, 2012

The Michigan football team’s season was bookended by losses to two of the nation’s best — No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State. The first came to a close with strains of ‘S-E-C, S-E-C’ buffeting the air inside Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, the second with chants of ‘UN-DE-FEA-TED’ in Columbus.

But the defeats couldn’t have felt any different. The Wolverines walked away from the Cowboys Classic with a feeling of disbelief after a 42-14 loss. Man, ‘Bama actually WAS as good as expected. Against the Buckeyes, a rivalry game marred by turnovers and sloppy play-calling, there was a feeling that Michigan could match up just fine with the Big Ten’s best team.

The scale is far from balanced.

Saturday night was embarrassing. As the eyes of the nation were squared on the instant-classic SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta, a wave of dread slowly spread across Big Ten country.

Oh no, when they’re done with this, everyone’s going to watch us. And they’re going to expect a football game.

In the panic, Nebraska just decided not to show up. So when Wisconsin took a 25-point lead midway through the second quarter, I turned off the TV and decided to go bowling for the first time since sophomore year of high school.

I shot a 95, rather pleased that I managed to outscore the Badgers.

The Big Ten, given the spotlight and the primetime stage after an SEC epic, stayed in the shadows, hid behind the curtains and deserved every bit of the shower of jeers it received.

And now, before you even have time to recover, here comes bowl season, where the SEC has made it an annual tradition to wipe the floor with its northern counterparts. It really hasn’t been close.

The SEC has won the last six national championships. The Big Ten hasn’t won since Ohio State did in 2002 — thanks to a timely and controversial pass interference call — and hasn’t even played in the title game in the last five seasons.

There’s always the Rose Bowl, The Grandaddy of ‘Em All — a bowl game older than time itself — but the Big Ten has won only one Rose Bowl in the new millennium.

And in case Big Ten football couldn’t get an uglier reputation, Wisconsin will represent the conference in Pasendena, Calif. as the first five-loss team to ever compete in the Rose Bowl.

Yes, the Big Ten is sending Wisconsin, a team that lost to Oregon State and Nebraska and Michigan State and Ohio State and Penn State this fall. The Badgers’ best regular-season win was a two-point victory over Utah State, the pride of the WAC and the only team over .500 that Wisconsin beat all season.

The Badgers don’t even deserve to be on the same field as Stanford on New Year’s Day. No, actually, they don’t. Wisconsin finished third in its division and stumbled its way into the Big Ten championship game by losing three of its final four conference games.

It’s a broken system, and it plays out a little differently every time. Wisconsin has gone to the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons, and each time because of different tiebreaker regulations. This time, the Badgers leap-frogged ineligibles Ohio State and Penn State to earn a Big Ten title game berth despite going 3-2 in the Leaders Division.

On Wisconsin, I suppose.

And now on to Michigan.

The Wolverines have a New Year’s Day date with South Carolina, a second-tier but ever dangerous SEC team. And, my oh my, has Michigan struggled against the SEC of late. In the last two Michigan-SEC matchups — the 2011 Gator Bowl against Mississippi State and the Cowboys Classic against Alabama — the Wolverines have been outscored 94-28.

So Michigan can go ahead and boast as it did in its Outback Bowl press release that the Wolverines’ all-time record against the SEC is 23-7-1 and that Michigan is 7-4 in bowl games against the SEC, but those stats are almost as outdated as the Big Ten’s style of play.

This isn’t to say that Michigan can’t or won’t defeat the Gamecocks in Tampa. Not at all. It should be a good matchup. But this won’t be the year the scales tip back to even, especially with two of the Big Ten’s top-five teams ineligible.

College football belongs to the SEC. And that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.

— Nesbitt can be reached at stnesbit@umich.edu or on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt.