COLUMBUS — All season long, national media and college football fanatics everywhere have collectively blasted the BCS for giving the depleted Big East an automatic bid.

Gennaro Filice

Everyone possessed an opinion on the situation, and most folks outside of Boston, Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.V., shared similar thoughts:

Without Miami and Virginia Tech, the conference is no better than the MAC or the Mountain West.

The Big East winner will serve as a sacrificial lamb in whichever bowl it attends.

Give the Big East bid to an at-large team.

Nowhere were these assertions more prevalent than in Big Ten country and — prior to Michigan State’s victory over Wisconsin — in Ann Arbor, specifically.

The Maize and Blue faithful complained about possibly going undefeated in the Big Ten only to earn a winter vacation in central Florida. Wolverines supporters placed blame on two factors for this potential misfortune: Utah (the Mountain West champion snatching an at-large bid) and the Big East winner.

Now that Wisconsin has handed the Wolverines a second consecutive Rose Bowl bid, this is all insignificant, and Michigan fans can stop worrying about missing out on a BCS game because the Big East champion received a BCS spot it didn’t deserve. But enthusiasts of the Big Ten champions must prepare for what they swore awaited the Big East winners: A New Year’s Day embarrassment.

Besides the Big East, the Big Ten is the worst of the six major conferences in college football. The SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 all boast at least one legitimate national-title contender. The new ACC isn’t as good as many thought it would be at the beginning of the year, but it’s still deeper than the Big Ten. Many Big Ten teams are still a year away from really contending on the national scene, and two of the teams that were supposed to pace the conference — Purdue and Minnesota — highly underachieved. This is how Michigan earned another trip to the Rose Bowl, where it holds an 8-10 all-time mark.

The 2004 Wolverines are not an outstanding team — they didn’t dominate the Big Ten conference, they survived it.

An inconsistent offense and a consistently mediocre defense led to unpredictably from week to week. The Wolverines proved to be clutch, and that factor won them games (Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan State). But fourth-quarter excellence is supposed to be the finishing touch on a great team, not the defining characteristic, as it was for the Wolverines.

Michigan revealed its (and the Big Ten’s) truly average colors on Saturday. The Wolverines were manhandled by — at least until Saturday — the most unimpressive Ohio State team I’ve seen in my four years at this university; an Ohio State team that kicked off the Big Ten season with three consecutive losses. And although the Wolverines entered the game as heavy favorites, Ohio State’s win didn’t seem fluky at all. The Buckeyes’ performance was overwhelmingly dominant.

So, how does a team that entered the game tied for sixth place in the Big Ten beat the conference’s leader with relative ease? The Big Ten — and therefore the Big Ten’s best team — is unquestionably vanilla in 2004.

This will be reflected on Jan. 1.

Last season, the Wolverines shipped off to Pasadena with high hopes, but left the Rose Bowl with their tails between their legs, having suffered an extremely one-sided 14-point loss to rampaging Southern Cal. And this year’s installment shouldn’t be much different.

While the Southern Cal. team that Michigan faced in the 2004 Rose Bowl was the best college football team I’ve ever seen in person, this year’s possible opponents — Cal, Texas and the 2004 Trojans — don’t look too shabby.

At this point, Cal is the team that has the best chance to face Michigan in the Rose Bowl. As long as the Golden Bears get past a trip to Southern Miss in two weeks, they’ll probably stay at No. 4 in the BCS and earn a trip to Pasadena. Cal is eerily similar to the 2003 Trojans, as it boasts an explosive offense (ranked fifth nationally) and a stout defense (ranked 11th nationally). Coach Jeff Tedford’s well-rounded, free-spirited offense is worlds better than anything the Wolverine defense has faced this year.

Texas would slip into the Rose Bowl if Cal loses. There’s also a possibility that a convincing win over Texas A&M on Friday would push the Longhorns past Cal in the BCS and present them with a date with the Wolverines. Texas would definitely be a step down from Cal, especially since the Longhorns seem to annually take off the Oklahoma game and their bowl game. This team would be the most favorable matchup for the Wolverines. But Michigan’s defense has looked silly against mobile quarterbacks this year (especially against Ohio State), and the Longhorns have one of the nation’s best running signal-callers in Vince Young.

The Trojans, on course for the BCS title game in the Orange Bowl, would be probably relegated to the Rose Bowl if they were to lose one of their remaining games against Notre Dame or UCLA. Southern Cal. isn’t as good as last year, but neither is Michigan. Regardless, the Trojans may have the best overall talent in college football with players like Reggie Bush, who is a better version of Ted Ginn Jr.

All three of these teams are better (in Cal’s and Southern Cal.’s case, much better) than a youthful Michigan squad that starts just five seniors.

So, I’m excited to spend my entire winter break in my beautiful home state and happy to attend a game in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. But I’m prepared for a long flight back, and if you’re planning on making the westward trek, I think you should be, too.

Gennaro Filice can be reached at gfilice@umich.edu.

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