For the veiwing pleasure of college football, especially Big 10 fans. First off, let us contemplate the last three years. The Big 10 is 4-4 against the SEC in bowls, yet, regardless of what happened in games between teams from other conferencese, it is considered an inferior conference. Two of those losses, came unfortunately in the national title games of the previous two Big 10 champions, Ohio State. I would like to point out some of the key regular season matchups that present an opportunity for the member teams of the Big 10, in which could once again establish the Big 10 as an elite conference in all of college football.
ILL vs. Missouri - Just last year, we had a thrilling game between these two teams. At first, it seemed that the Tigers would sail to an easy win, but the Fighting Illini made a comeback and the game became very interesting, despite their turnover problems. It started with the blocked punt which ended in a touchdown. Late in the 4th quarter, with starting QB Williams injured, McGee threw a bad pass which ended a possible game winning drive for the Illini. Now that the Illini know they can matchup well with teams like the Tigers, they will try to play this game with a determination to win. If they can pull it off, they can return to national prominence and be among the top 10 in the rankings. It will help the image of the Big 10 as well.
Michigan vs. Utah - The Utah Utes are considered a team that could crash the BCS once again, like they did a few years ago under Urban Meyer. The Michigan offense is rebuilding under Coach Rodrigeuz, but the defense looks to be stout. Wins against mid-major conference teams do not really given much regard, but this team it will be given some regard if the Wolverines can win this game.
Michigan St. at California - The California Bears were as high as #2 in the national rankings and looked to be national title contenders until they fell apart. Michigan State ended their bowl drought with Mark Dantonio leading the way. Both teams possibly could start the season in the Top 25 and this game will draw some attention. A win by the Spartans would do well for them and their conference by beating a good Pac 10 team.
Penn State vs. Oregon State - The Beavers have been pretty solid the last couple years, and if the Nittany Lions beat them good it will show some more of the solid strength of Big 10 Teams. As they had shown against USC two years and against California just last year, the Beavers are a team not to be taken lightly. They are solid team, and Penn State could have the beginning of a fantastic year if they win this game.
Northwestern vs. Duke - A revenge game for the loss last year. If the Wildcats won this game, they also would have gone bowling. The loss last year hurt them and the image Big 10.
Ohio State vs. USC - Well, yes, you know it. The biggest game of the regular season, and perhaps a national semi-final game. The winner of this game gets a huge boost towards their goal of a national title game berth. For Ohio State, this is an all-important game, for the pundits do not believe Ohio State cannot beat an elite team from other conferences. They would sway the voters in their favor should they win this game. This is the most difficult game for any of the national title contenders, and winner would be on the fast track towards the national title game. As you know, this is also the biggest game for the Big 10 conference as well.
Wisconsin at Fresno State - The Bulldogs have snipped as powerhouse programs for some time, and they almost beat USC in 2005. This team looks almost as strong as that one as 17 starters return with 51 lettermen. So yes, a win over Fresno State would be pretty good for the Badgers, and also for the face of the Big Ten. Wisconsin must replace their QB, but a solid game here would be a good start for whoever replaces Tyler Donovan.
Iowa vs. Iowa State - The Cyclones have been a pain in the neck for Hawkeyes. It is a rivalry, so it must be put here, because it is still important for Iowa to win if they want return to their former glory.
Michigan at Notre Dame - Since Notre Dame seems highly regarded this year by a number of preseason analyists, it would help the Michigan Wolverines greatly by winning this game, for their confidence and the image of the Big 10 conference.
Purdue vs. Oregon - Since Oregon looks like a Top 25 team in the Pac 10, Joe Tiller should get his team ready for this. It would help greatly if his team beat the Ducks, for that would be his first high quality in awhile. Joe Tiller likely is retiring after this year, so to start it with a bang, his team must beat the Ducks if he plans to go bowling in January.
Michigan State vs. Notre Dame - Two years ago, Notre Dame made a second half comeback to win in East Lansing. Coach Dantonio and the Spartanis yearns to make that a distant memory by defending their home field against the Fighting Irish.
Iowa at Pittsburgh - The Panthers look stronger this year, and some have them as a Big East contender. Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are in for a challenge, and they better be prepared for this game if they plan on getting anywhere this year.
Purdue at Notre Dame - Notre Dame's offense was looking pretty darn bad last year, but they showed some flash in the second half, so if the Boilermakers want to weather the storm this year, they must be prepared to play a full 60 minutes. As before, this game also has some significance for the face of the Big 10 conference.
The Post Season
Each and every bowl game holds some significance for the team that plays them and the conference they represent. The Big 10 has gone a fairly disappointing 5-10 in the last two years in bowl games, and the Big 10 BCS members that have participated in BCS bowl games have been shut out, allowing the pundits to attack the Big 10 conference and questioning their strength as a BCS conference. It seems they have one more shot this year to silence those critics, as Ohio State is a prime national title contender this year, being last year in a rebuilding season. They overacheived by reaching the national title game for a second straight year, much less even winning the Big 10, for many did not believe they would win even that. Illinois earned their first bowl bid since 2001, getting a surprising bid to the Rose Bowl. It was a rather astonishing acheivement, and their opponent was mighty USC. On the scoreboard, it wouldn't seem they were any match for the Trojans, but anyone who watched the game saw a surge in the 2nd half, which was interrupted by handful of turnovers which they could not overcome.
Michigan overcame a -4 TO ratio to defeat 2 TD favorite Florida Gators. It did silence some critics for a few night, until the national title game when a young and scrappy Ohio State squad would face a very veteran and talented LSU Tiger team. Things looked well for the Buckeyes after the 1st quarter, but after a dropped reception that was a sure TD, LSU blocked the ensuing FG attempt and everything starting going wrong for the Buckeyes. Still, they managed to get some life back after a 4th down TD in the 3rd quarter, and looked like they could get within 7 midway through the 4th quarter until the QB was sacked and forced fumble ensued, which ended their rally. I'm sure they would like another chance to redeem themselves now that they are an experienced team. Already, critics are saying they are tired of seeing Ohio State in the title game. All Ohio State has to do is go undefeated and they will be there again. Perhaps easier said than done, but still a simple concept.
As significant as each bowl game is, it would serve well for all the Big 10 teams participating in January bowl games to win them all. For their sake, that would mean four wins, as in the Outback Bowl, Capital One, Rose Bowl, and the the national title game should any Big 10 team get there. Even if they lost the pre-January games, it would still look good if all the January games were won. A 4-4 record is not too bad, especially if all those wins were in January and included a national title game win by a Big 10 member. Yet, of course, a winning record would be better.