Big Ten teams determined not to be bowled over

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2010 - 1:19 AM

Postseason football success goes a long way in perception of league.

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Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) and the Buckeyes will face Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

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For the Gophers, bowl season is already guaranteed to be a success.

Minnesota won't be one of the record- tying eight Big Ten teams kicking off a postseason game over the next eight days, but its 1/11th share of the league's total haul of $45 million in bowl loot (minus expenses) should add somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million to the school's athletic department.

The league's eight bowl teams, though, are playing for something almost as valuable: redemption.

The Big Ten is only two years removed from a 1-6 postseason disaster that magnified a six-year postseason slide and battered the league's football brand. And according to the oddsmakers, the Big Ten is headed toward another painful New Year's hangover: Seven of its eight bowl teams -- all but Ohio State -- are underdogs.

Adversity is also opportunity, of course, and the Big Ten could use a few splashy successes to validate what appeared to be a particularly strong regular season -- the Big Ten's trio of 11-1 co-champions occupy three of the top seven spots in the AP football poll -- and reinforce last year's postseason turnaround.

"We needed to have a good bowl season last year. We had it," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged in August of last year's 4-3 bowl record, including a sweep of two BCS games. "We beat some top-quality teams, and I think that was a good step in the right direction."

Why does it matter? Conference bowl records might seem inconsequential, mostly about bragging rights, but they matter over time. Reputations play a big role in football polls and make a league's teams more appealing to bowl committees and television viewers. The Big Ten has cashed two BCS bowl checks for six consecutive seasons, but there's nothing that says that jackpot has to continue if the conference's teams are overmatched on the field.

As Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said this year: "I think you're only thought of as your most recent performances. Our bowl game performances."

He has experienced both ends of that phenomenon. Ohio State's victory over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl capped one of the most impressive postseasons in league history, with victories in five of seven bowls and a national championship for the Buckeyes.

But the Big Ten didn't have a winning postseason record for the next six seasons, and Ohio State lost back-to-back national championship games. The conference lost six Rose Bowls in a row until the Buckeyes finally broke the streak last January and has gone 19-31 overall in bowl games since 2003.

Meanwhile, the Southeastern Conference built a string of four consecutive national titles, and Auburn will try to make it five in its Jan. 10 matchup with Oregon. Four SEC teams face Big Ten opponents in what should reveal a lot about the respective strength of the two rival conferences.

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com

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