By Steve Kelly
It was a woeful bowl season for the proud Big 10!
The conference had spent recent years in the shadow of the SEC and looked like it had finally broken through with an unmatched collection of elite teams, even while Alabama was still the clear No. 1.
Many even argued the conference deserved to have two teams reach the College Football Playoff.
Then came the bowl games — and the happiness market crashed!
In the final College Football Playoff rankings, the Big Ten had three of the top six teams. The one to reach the playoff, No. 3 Ohio State, wasn’t even the conference champion. That honor belonged to No. 5 Penn State, with Michigan at No. 6.
All three of these teams lost their season-ending contests. And the worst of the defeats came on the sport’s biggest stage when Clemson clobbered the Buckeyes 31-0 in the semifinals, marking the harshest blowout of Urban Meyer’s career.
The day before that, Michigan lost 33-32 to No. 11 Florida State in the Orange Bowl. All of this gave Penn State the perfect opportunity to assert that the Nittany Lions, in fact, were the Big Ten’s best. Or at least save face for the league. Then they blew a fourth quarter lead to lose to No. 9 Southern California 52-49 in the Rose Bowl.
Since 1993, this was the fourth instance of a conference entering bowl season with three of the top six teams, according to Stats LLC. This was the first time all three went on to lose.
When it was all set and done, the Big Ten went 3-7 in its bowl games. No. 8 Wisconsin provided the most notable win in the Cotton Bowl against No. 15 Western Michigan—a previously undefeated team, but one that hadn’t played a ranked opponent all season.
The Big Ten hoopla reached an apex when Ohio State and Michigan, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 at the time, respectively, finished their regular seasons with one of the wildest games in the rivalry’s history—a 30-27 double-overtime victory for the Buckeyes. It was the most watched game of the regular season by a landslide.
But what followed was actually familiar. The last time Ohio State and Michigan played such a big game was in 2006, when they were the top two teams in the country. The Wolverines proceeded to lose by two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl to USC. Then a week later, the Buckeyes lost by 27 in the national championship game—to none other than their current coach, Meyer, and Florida.