Tuesday, January 04, 2011

SPORTS>>SEC bids to bump Big Ten

Leader sports editor

After the Big Ten’s woeful, 0-5 performance in the New Years Day bowl games, someone I know recommended the conference be stripped of its automatic Bowl Coalition Series berth.

I’ll go further. The Big Ten performed so badly it should have its epaulettes ripped off and its sword snapped in two.

SEC member Mississippi State beat Michigan 52-14 and the SEC’s Alabama beat Michigan State 49-7. In the “close” games on New Year’s Day, Florida, yet another SEC school, beat Penn State 37-24 and Texas Tech beat Northwestern 45-38.

But those last two weren’t all that close. Florida outscored Penn State 17-0 in the fourth quarter and 23-7 in the second half and Texas Tech was up 24-6 on Northwestern at halftime.

Then there was the Rose Bowl, when upstart Texas Christian beat Big Ten champion Wisconsin 21-19 in a game that featured 13 second-half points. Wisconsin could only muster six fourth-quarter points to pull close by the final gun.

Automatic berth? To do what? Take football players sightseeing?

Hey Big Ten, here’s a thought: when you send your teams on a trip to play a football game, tell them to remember to bring their pads and actually show up for kickoff.

Automatic berth? While we’re at it, let’s kick the Big Ten out of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club and erase all of its top scores in Donkey Kong.

I grew up in Illinois and played high school football for a tiny program downstate. Our “reward” at the end of each season was to go to Champagne and watch the annual, Big Ten pillow fight between Illinois and Purdue or some other stiff from the league.

Then again, my high school team was so bad maybe the Illinois game was punishment, not a reward.

I mean we were bad. I once heard a coach tell our special teams players they “would have to study to be stupid.”

When I was growing up, most Big Ten seasons were all about Michigan and Ohio State. The rest of the conference was just filler, as we say in the newspaper business when we’re looking for stuff to help take up space, like this column, for example.

I remember the one year Illinois was good, when it won the conference at 9-0 in 1983, went to the Rose Bowl and had its pants taken down 45-9 by UCLA.

Those were the days.

I later learned the Big Ten has a reputation for being somewhat snobbish. “They’ll big time you in the Big Ten,” I remember an editor of mine once saying.

It turned out to be true when I called Illinois for some advance stuff on the Fighting Illini’s 2002 game with Arkansas State and was told to get canned material from the athletic Web site.

The sports information department didn’t even bother to pretend it was trying to put me in touch with the coaching staff.

I suppose being the oldest major-college football conference, founded in 1896, and having a spot reserved in the Rose Bowl — “The Granddaddy of Them All” — each year will go to a league’s head.

So despite my roots as a Yankee, I don’t have a problem with all this Big Ten bashing. But let’s be fair; the conference wasn’t entirely skunked during bowl season.

Illinois beat Baylor 38-14 in the Texas Bowl and Iowa beat No. 14 Missouri 27-24 in the Insight Bowl. But those were hardly marquee bowl games, and it was on New Year’s Day, a Saturday, when the nation really had time to watch — and see the Big Ten lay an egg.

Most of my buddies around here naturally happen to be Arkansas fans, so there was a sense of knife sharpening in all the Big Ten putdowns I was hearing over the weekend. And maybe an element of hope, especially after the SEC went 3-0 against the Big Ten on Jan. 1.

The hope, of course, was that the Big Ten would continue to stink it up when its ethically challenged representative Ohio State lined up against SEC member Arkansas for Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

By the time you read this, the final score will be in the books and Hogs fans will hopefully be driving back from New Orleans happily hung over.

Most Razorbacks fans root for the SEC in the postseason (unless Houston Nutt is coaching) so they can claim the Hogs play in the toughest conference in football.

But in their first BCS bowl game Tuesday night, against a team from an inferior league, the Hogs had a chance to affect the debate.