Archive for January, 2009

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As much as I’d love to pick the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII solely because they feature the long snapper/placekicker combo from my college days (which goes to show you how little performance in college really matters in terms of predicting success at the pro level –  my undergraduate time in Champaign coincided with the worst four year stretch in Illini football history, including a one win season that was followed up by a winless season, yet the special teams tandem from that team are playing together for a chance at the world championship), I simply have to believe that Mike Tomlin is going to do what the Eagles should have done two weeks ago and make sure that Larry Fitgerald is covered by at least two men at all times without exception.  If Philly had used its second half zone defense for the entire length of the NFC Championship (instead of allowing three first half touchdowns by Fitzgerald), we would be looking at an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.  The bottom line is that Pittsburgh has proven from the the beginning of the season until now that it is one of the best defenses ever to play in the Super Bowl, particularly considering how much scoring is up this season.  I have faith that they will find a way to shut down Fitzgerald and, ergo, the Arizona offense in general.  At the same time, I have noticed that most of Vegas has dropped the line on the game from the Steelers being a 7-point favorite to only 6.5, which must mean that way too much money is flowing in Arizona’s direction right now.  I’ll take my chances betting against the rest of America here (and in favor of the house).  Since a single pick does not make a parlay, here’s a whole slew of sports predictions for Super Bowl Sunday (home teams in CAPS, if applicable, and all prop bets are actually offered in Vegas):

  • Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5) over Arizona Cardinals
  • Under 46.5 combined points for the Super Bowl
  • ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (-11.5) over Iowa Hawkeyes
  • LeBron James rebounds and assists (+5.5) over Arizona Cardinals points (-5.5)
  • Anquan Boldin receiving yards (+14.5) over Michigan State Spartans points (-14.5)
  • Highest scoring quarter by Steelers and Cardinals (+1.5) over Paul Pierce points (-1.5)
  • Under 38.5 for the jersey number of player to score the first touchdown

If I were anywhere near the Strip this weekend, I would be hammering those Super Bowl/basketball combo prop bets.  The long-promised Bulls midseason rant is forthcoming (it’s just going to end up being an extremely long piece).  In the meantime, enjoy the Super Bowl!

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Conference Championship Games: 1-1
Playoffs Overall: 6-3
Bears Games for the Season: 3-10-1
Overall Season: 27-25-3

(Image from Daylife)

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wrigley-field-chicago-bears-football

Believe it or not (because I’m a dork), I had been thinking over the past few weeks that a neutral site game at Soldier Field between Illinois and Northwestern would be a very positive option for the U of I football program when the Big Ten moves its final regular season games to Thanksgiving weekend starting next season (as opposed to the traditional slot of the week prior to Thanksgiving).  The main issue is that Illinois hosts the state high school football championships every year on Thanksgiving weekend at Memorial Stadium, which is an event that the athletic department doesn’t want to give up since it amounts to a campus visit to Champaign for many top in-state recruits without having to count against NCAA recruiting limits.  As a result, a great way to solve this problem is to move the Illinois-Northwestern game to a neutral site in Chicago.  The majority of Illinois students live in the Chicago area and are more likely to be home than down on campus in the first place, while also providing the school’s Chicagoland alumni an opportunity to watch the team close by every year.

Lo and behold, the front page of Saturday’s Chicago Tribune sports section splashed an article of Northwestern’s investigation of moving a game against Illinois to Wrigley Field on the heels of the success of the NHL Winter Classic.  Wrigley Field actually has a whole lot more football history than hockey as the long-time former home of the Bears from the franchise’s first season in Chicago in 1921 until 1970.  (On a side note, an oft-forgotten part of Chicago sports history was on prominent display this past weekend with the Arizona Cardinals reaching the Super Bowl, which brought up a multitude of references to the franchise’s last NFL championship in 1947 as a Chicago-based team that played at old Comiskey Park.  With the Bears having been the clear #1 team in Chicago in terms of year-in year-out fan support for quite awhile, as alluded to in this great commercial, it’s easy to forget that the old-time football fans in town lived through a time when the Bears-Cardinals rivalry mirrored the Cubs-White Sox split between the North and South Sides of the city.)

It turns out that this is purely a proposal by Northwestern to move a home game from Ryan Field at this point and it has been confirmed that the Evanston school doesn’t need the permission of Illinois to move forward.  Seeing that Illinois wouldn’t be giving up a home game in Champaign, there would likely be an incredible amount of national press coverage by playing at Wrigley, and this would likely turn what is already a “mild” road game (since the Illini usually bring a large contingent of fans to Evanston when they play there) into a neutral site game or even a real home field advantage (considering that I felt like I was back on Green Street with the number of people I ran into in Wrigleyville every weekend for the first couple of years that I was out of college), this is a fantastic opportunity for the program without having any risk.

There are a few items that would need to be cleared if Illinois were ever to agree to a permanent annual neutral site game in Chicago as opposed to just a one-time deal, though.  First and foremost, above all else, and most importantly (I can’t throw in enough emphasis on this point), the Illinois football program MUST have seven home games in Champaign every year before it should consider any type of neutral site game.  Seven home games is now the standard for any BCS program that wants to maximize its revenue and even more imperative for Illinois, which has just finished a massive renovation of Memorial Stadium.  Of course, Ron Guenther appeared to forget about this when he agreed to the series against Missouri at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis while at the same time scheduling home-and-home series against non-BCS teams.  The St. Louis games have been fine to get the border rivalry on the radar on the football side, but after a few years into the series, the neutral location is best left to the basketball side alone with the Braggin’ Rights Game.  (From a financial perspective, giving up a home basketball game has nowhere near the same impact as moving a home football game, while the Illinois-Mizzou basketball tilt is engrained as a St. Louis holiday tradition in a way that the football game probably never will be.)  Missouri would be great to keep on the schedule, yet it should be home-and-home.  The non-conference schedule after that should be filled out with three body bag home games against an assortment of MAC and Division I-AA opponents.  This is the modus operandi of essentially every power program in the country (one marquee non-conference game and then three home games against non-BCS opponents), so it would be in the best interests of Illinois to follow suit to keep up with its peers (or, more to the point, the programs that we aspire to be considered peers with).

Now, it could be argued that the Mizzou game could be kept in St. Louis with three non-conference body bag home games while the Northwestern series would continue home-and-home as it has for a century.  However, it would seem to me that it would be much more important for Illinois to have an annual presence in the Chicago market over St. Louis for numerous reasons.  I’ve already noted that the majority of U of I students and alums live in Chicagoland and even more significant is the fact that securing a place as the virtual home team in the nation’s third largest media market for marketing and recruiting purposes ought to be a no-brainer priority over the much smaller St. Louis market if it comes down to a choice between one or the other.

Finally, a one-time game at Wrigley Field is perfectly fine as a novelty for press coverage.  However, in order for an annual game in Chicago to be financially viable for Illinois, it must be played at Soldier Field.  For Northwestern, moving a game from Ryan Field (47,130 capacity), where the Wildcats almost never sell-out, to Wrigley Field (41,118 capacity), which would be a guaranteed sell-out and a premium could be charged for tickets, would likely be a net economic gain for that program.  Illinois, on the other hand, sold out Memorial Stadium (62,870 capacity) for all four of its Big Ten games last season, which means that the amount that we would get from splitting the gate at Wrigley (i.e. the equivalent of revenue from only around 20,000 seats) would not make any economic sense.  At least Soldier Field (61,500 capacity) would provide enough seats to make a neutral site move financially feasible from the Illini perspective.

Let me be clear once again – I absolutely DO NOT advocate Illinois having less than seven home games in Champaign.  As long as there’s seven home games, though, then playing neutral site games in Chicago on top of that makes a lot of sense.

(Image from Stadiums of the NFL)

jerry-wainwright-depaul-blue-demons

I was listening to Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein (for non-Chicagoans, they host the afternoon drive on WSCR 670 “The Score” and, in my opinion, have the best sports talk show in the city) last week and they had an extended conversation on the state of DePaul basketball, which was extremely unusual since I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard them discuss the Blue Demons in ten years of listening to their show.  Their main point was that DePaul doesn’t seem to know what type of program that it wants to be as of today – if the school doesn’t want to commit the resources to be competitive in the brutal Big East, then it ought to just resign itself to being a Loyola-type program.  Truer words have never been spoken.  When I wrote this high-level assessment of the DePaul program in the wake of its first Big East conference game three years ago (a victory over rival Notre Dame), I was optimistic about the school joining a conference that it felt it should have always belonged to (in the sense of being the dominant Catholic university in a major media market).  However, I also sounded the following warning:

Still, it’s not just enough for DePaul to simply join the Big East – the Demons need to establish a winning program within that conference.  Otherwise, DePaul is going to be to the Big East what Northwestern basketball is to the Big Ten: a Chicago outpost whose arena is filled up every game with fans of the opponents.

Unfortunately, it looks like the latter scenario is becoming the norm at Allstate Arena.  DePaul has lost its first five Big East games of the season, including a blowout loss at home against a horrific South Florida team.  While I knew that DePaul’s stadium situation would always put a damper on the program’s ability to draw recruits, what I didn’t expect was for the school to simply ignore the financial realities of what it takes to be able to compete in the Big East.  Let’s just put aside schools with football programs, such as Notre Dame and Syracuse, and take a look at a ranking of the 2007-08 athletic revenue and expenses of the Big East Catholic schools that don’t play Division I-A football (all of the Catholic schools except for Notre Dame):

  1. Georgetown
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,545
    Revenue: $28,956,475
    Expenses: $28,956,475
  2. St. John’s
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,567
    Revenue: $27,865,749
    Expenses: $27,750,357
  3. Villanova
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,663
    Revenue: $23,925,129
    Expenses: $23,925,129
  4. Marquette
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,482
    Revenue: $23,677,426
    Expenses: $23,677,426
  5. Seton Hall
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,577
    Revenue: $17,345,372
    Expenses: $17,345,372
  6. Providence
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,892
    Revenue: $17,314,913
    Expenses: $17,314,913
  7. DePaul
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,128
    Revenue: $14,342,873
    Expenses: $14,342,873

For some points of reference, Ohio State had the largest amount of athletic revenues in the nation last year with $117,953,712.  Among the schools in Chicago sphere of influence, Notre Dame had revenues of $83,352,439, Illinois had $57,167,843 (almost right at the median for schools with BCS football programs), and Northwestern had $41,835,733.  All information is from the fascinating institutional data site run by the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education.

The expenses number is a pretty good proxy for each school’s athletic budget since athletic departments will typically spend every penny of it (which leads to some Enron-esque accounting to meet the balanced budget mandates of most schools, so that’s why every one of the Catholic schools listed above except for St. John’s reported revenues that equaled exactly to their expenses).  As you can see from the list, it’s clear that DePaul is far behind its peers in the rest of the Big East in terms of commitment of resources to athletics.

I’m not saying that DePaul should be prioritizing athletic spending over other parts of its educational mission.  However, if DePaul wants to be part of a power conference, then it’s going to have to make the commitment that is commensurate of a power conference team or else consider moving out.  When the Blue Demons have a smaller budget than Providence and Seton Hall, which are institutions with around 4,000 undergraduates (compared to DePaul with over 11,000), much less being nearly doubled by smaller schools in smaller markets like Marquette and Villanova, it appears as though the administration just wanted to be passive part of the Big East as opposed to actually competing in it.

I completely understand that DePaul is collecting much larger checks from ESPN and other sources as a Big East member compared to, say, if it had moved to the Atlantic 10 in the same manner as St. Louis University.  There’s also a certain cachet of being in the same conference as Notre Dame, Georgetown, and other Catholic universities that DePaul wants to consider its peers.  It was obvious five years ago that the invitation to the Big East was an opportunity that the school under the El tracks in Lincoln Park couldn’t possibly pass up and I was extremely excited about the move at the time.  However, DePaul hasn’t done much over the past several years, if anything, to justify that invitation.  As of now, DePaul has an athletic budget that’s closer to Loyola than Marquette, and while that’s fine for a mid-major school, it’s simply not befitting a Big East program.  DePaul needs to figure out what it wants to be in terms of sports.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

mike-tisdale-illinois-fighting-illini

It has been a pretty good week for basketball in the world of Frank the Tank.  The Illini beat Michigan for program win number 1,600 and face the next test on their brutal start to the Big Ten season by heading to East Lansing to play Michigan State (which has improved over the past month to shape up into the conference’s one true national title contender).  Frankly, it’s a bit much to believe that Illinois will come out of there with a win, but I actually have a pretty good feeling about the game overall (particularly with how they played Purdue on the road in the Big Ten opener).  Meanwhile, the Bulls continue to confound me by beating probably the best team in the NBA in the Cavs (and without question the best player in the league in LeBron James – the man has been maniacal on the floor this year).  I’m in the process of putting together a complete analysis of the Bulls roster (hint: I like one guy a lot and the rest can pretty much suck it), so you’ll be seeing that come through over the next week.  (At least Vinny Del Negro has figured out one correct move in his player rotation, although me and 99.9% of other Bulls fans could have told him this back in training camp in October.)  In the meantime, here are some quick picks for NFL’s conference championship games (home teams in CAPS):

  • NFC Championship Game: Philadelphia Eagles (-4) over PHOENIX CARDINALS – I’ve done pretty well with the underdogs so far this postseason, but it has got to end at some point.  While I’m not enthralled at all about the prospect of taking a road favorite of over a field goal, it’s tough for me to fathom Philly handing over a multitude of turnovers and allowing Larry Fitzgerald run amok in the same manner as the Buzzsaw’s last two opponents.  The question is really whether the Eagles will provide its fans with a soul-crushing bombing this weekend or in the Super Bowl.  I’m thinking that it’s going to be the latter.
  • AFC Championship Game: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-6) over Baltimore Ravens – I have a problem with the Steelers having to lay 6 points against an all-world defense, but if the general rule of gambling is that you shouldn’t bet on an underdog that you don’t believe you can win, then I’m for Pittsburgh all the way.  If the crowd noise at Heinz Field is as loud as it appeared to be last week (even my wife mentioned how great the Steelers fans were, although I wonder if this might partially due to the sound technicians at CBS Sports since the crowd noise on their SEC telecasts seem to have the same prominence), then I have a hard time believing the Ravens will be able to do much considering that they were still in prime position to lose last week even with every single possible thing going their way.  For as great as the Ravens defense might be, I still think that the Steelers can run the ball and can open up the passing game a bit with Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.  On the other hand, the Steelers have almost as good of a defense at the Ravens and get to face a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco in a hostile environment.  I like the Steelers to cover here.

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs Overall: 5-2
Bears Games for the Season: 3-10-1
Overall Season: 26-24-3

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

demetri-mccamey-illinois-fighting-illini

As Illinois anihilated Indiana by 31 points on Sunday, I felt a certain amount of vindication with the plight of the Hoosiers.  My hatred of the Indiana Hoosiers has been well-documented on this blog over the past couple of years with the actions of Satan’s Spawn – I want these guys get pummeled more than any other team in all of sports, including the Packers and Duke.  The tough thing going forward, though, is that I have a massive amount of respect for new IU coach Tom Crean, particularly with how he was always able to produce extremely competitive teams in the Big East at a Catholic school in Marquette that doesn’t have a football program to supply loads of revenue (unlike the horrific first 4 years of DePaul in arguably the toughest basketball conference in the nation, which I’ll be writing about in a separate post shortly).  Despite that, I can guarantee you that I’ll never get over the way Indiana completely bent Illinois over in the Eric Gordon situation – when one of your biggest rivals takes steps to completely fuck over your program in the long-term, you can never forget.

Fortunately, this season for the Illini has been more than a fantastic surprise on my end.  Back in October, I was basically counting down the days until Alex Legion could be activated and looked at it as a rebuilding year overall.  In fact, I thought that Illinois would look a lot like last year’s team and be hard-pressed to receive a bid to the NIT, much less the NCAA Tournament.  Instead, the Illini have proven to be a pretty good (not great) team in a revitalized Big Ten and would easily be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.  Assuming that we don’t end up taking conference’s automatic bid in the Big Ten Tournament, winning on the road at Purdue and the blowout of Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game are already excellent entries on our NCAA Tourney resume.

There are a few key items that I’ve noticed as we get into the heart of conference play.  First and foremost, the Illini can finally score again with regularity after two straight seasons of anemic Bears-like offensive output.  Four Illinois starters are averaging double-digit scoring each game and the team’s overall free throw percentage is over 73% (compared to a Shaq-esque 60.8% last season).  Even though Illinois lost at Michigan a week ago (which will hopefully be avenged on Wednesday night in a quirk in the Big Ten schedule having to play the Wolverines twice in the first four conference games), I was actually refreshed to see the Illini keep up with the frenetic three-pointing ability of scUM up until the last few minutes of the game.  If last season’s Illinois team were on the court, Michigan would have crushed us by over 30 with that type of long-range shooting performance.

The offensive balance has impressive with Trent Meacham and Demetri McCamey both drastically improving their outside shooting and Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale becoming consistent presences in the post.  That balance was something that didn’t exist at all last year, when if the ball didn’t get into Shaun Pruitt, the Illini were pretty much dead in the water.  Just as important is that Chester Frazier has been able to finally get placed into the role that fits him, which is to concentrate on bringing defensive intensity to the floor.  He was unfairly subjected to more booing than anyone last season from the Assembly Hall crowd mostly because he was thrust into a spot where Eric Gordon should have been, meaning that Frazier was being to asked to perform tasks (particularly on the offensive end) no one should have reasonably expected.

Speaking of Frazier’s defense, the rest of the team has performed an excellent job overall on that end of the floor, as well (as characteristic of Bruce Weber-coached squads).  The one concern that I have is that we will have issues with teams that have more athleticism (as exposed by Michigan and will be seen even more so against Michigan State on Satruday) – Illinois has shown to be a better than average running team, but they are more suited to agressive half-court sets throwing down to Tisdale or Davis for short baskets or kicking out to McCamey or Meacham when the buckets in the paint aren’t there.

This year’s Illini feel like the 2005 Ohio State team that happened to upset a perfect Illinois regular season, where Buckeye fans were initially looking forward a year to the incoming Greg Oden/Mike Conley recruiting class but were pleasantly surprised by the quality play of that veteran-laden team.  Similarly, most Illinois fans (including me) were focused on the excellent recruiting classes that will be coming to Champaign over the next couple of years, yet these Illini are making everyone take notice a year ahead of time.  I’m just thrilled to see Illinois safely back on the Bracketology projections again.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Here are some quick picks for NFL’s Divisional Playoff Weekend (home teams in CAPS):

  • Baltimore Ravens (+3) over TENNESSEE TITANS
  • CAROLINA PANTHERS (-9.5) over Arizona Cardinals
  • Philadelphia Eagles (+4) over NEW YORK GIANTS
  • PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-3.5) over San Diego Chargers

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 2-2

Bears Games for the Season: 3-10-1
Overall Season: 23-23-3

ohio-state-buckeyes-texas-longhorns-fiesta-bowl

When I wrote this post on the “Conference Pride Paradox” a little over two years ago, Big Ten football was at its zenith with 2 BCS bowl victories during the prior season and its premier rivalry (which, in my opinion, is also the best rivalry in all of sports) of Ohio State vs. Michigan was being hyped for weeks as the Game of the Millennium with a #1 vs. #2 matchup for the first time.  After the Ohio State won that classic game, the national debate was centered around how Michigan deserved another shot at the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game.  Thinking back about those days that really weren’t very long ago at all, it’s amazing how far the national reputation of Big Ten football has fallen.  With Ohio State’s loss last night to Texas (albeit one that could have been prevented had the Buckeyes just kept a safety or two back in the secondary to make a tackle), the Big Ten has now lost 6 straight BCS bowl games (2 in each of the last 3 seasons).

There’s no doubt that the nation has a right to be skeptical about the prospects of the next Big Ten invitee to a National Championship Game (and frankly, no one should be surprised if Ohio State is right back in that mix next year with the players that they have coming back).  However, with Big Ten bashing becoming so fashionable among college football fans, I believe that the performances of the conference over the past 3 seasons need to be into context.  Please note that the following comments aren’t excuses – if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best at anytime anywhere, and the Big Ten teams that have gone to BCS bowls have failed miserably on that front.  It’s just that when one looks at who and where the Big Ten has played in its recent BCS matchups, it becomes apparent that the only ones that have the right to say anything are USC and the top tier of the SEC (as much as I loathe them).  Everyone else that is piling on the Big Ten (i.e. Big East, ACC, and Big 12 fans, Pac-10 schools that aren’t USC, Mountain West Conference bandwagoners riding a hot Utah team, etc.), though, need to STFU since they all likely would be in the exact same position of the power Midwestern conference if they had to play the same games.

Here are the Big Ten’s BCS opponents over the past 3 seasons:

  • USC in the last 3 Rose Bowls in Pasadena
  • Florida in the 2006 National Championship Game in Arizona
  • LSU in the 2007 National Championship Game in New Orleans
  • Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona

Look at that list of teams – it’s complete murder’s row of marquee national programs without a single breather.  The Big Ten didn’t get to play the likes of Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Hawaii, who were BCS participants in other bowls during this period.  Unlike the conferences that are participating in Thursday night’s National Championship Game, the Big Ten didn’t lose to non-BCS conference teams in the manner of the Big 12 (the Boise State-Oklahoma gem in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl) or the SEC (last week’s stunning Utah beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – there was nothing fluky about the Utes in that game).  Yet, those conferences haven’t been indicted in their entirety even though their marquee teams failed to beat smaller schools whose stadiums have fewer amenities than the average SEC weight room.

The one true horrible loss for the Big Ten was Florida’s thrashing of Ohio State in the 2006 National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes had been ranked #1 nearly the entire season and were strongly favored to win the game.  After that, though, note that two 2nd place Big Ten teams (Michigan in 2006 and my alma mater Illinois in 2007) along with this year’s Penn State team got to play USC in de facto Trojan home games right outside of Los Angeles.  How many champions from any conference, much less 2nd place teams like the Big Ten has sent, are going to beat USC head-to-head in Los Angeles?  Anyone that has even a smidgen of knowledge about college football knows that this is a monster task in a sport where home field advantage is a huge deal and nowhere near the same as playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl or Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  The Big Ten doesn’t have a Rose Bowl problem or a Pac-10 problem – it has a USC problem.  Of course, every other conference would also be “exposed” as having a USC problem if its champion or 2nd place team had to play the Trojans in LA every year.  (Please note that I wouldn’t trade the Big Ten’s relationship with the Rose Bowl for anything in world since it’s the one BCS bowl outside of the National Championship Game that people actually care about.  My trip to Pasadena following the Illini last year was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life, with the exception of that game thingy.)  If USC didn’t crush its Pac-10 competition every season (outside of the annual obligatory game where they don’t show up against a ridiculously inferior team, which ruins their national championship chances) where some other team from that conference would get to the Rose Bowl, then there likely wouldn’t be a Big Ten drought in that game.

Similar to the USC situation, LSU arguably received an even greater home field advantage with last year’s National Championship Game being played in New Orleans.  Once again, would any team from any other conference have won essentially a road game at LSU in that situation?  SEC fans have earned the right to crow here, but any other conference that throws stones at the Big Ten has to realize that if they had sent a representative to that game, they also would have been crushed.  West Virginia would have received the honors to get thrashed if they had taken care of business against a pathetic Dave Wannstedt-led Pitt team while Missouri would have been the victims if they had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on the last weekend of the regular season.  None of that happened, so Ohio State, whose resume by the end of that weekend consisted of doing to the least wrong of any of the BCS conference champions that season, backed that ass up into the right to play in the title game on the road where they were guaranteed to be huge underdogs.

Finally, Texas was heavily favored to crush Ohio State in last night’s Fiesta Bowl but the Longhorns only salvaged a win because of a Buckeye defensive meltdown in the last 2 minutes of the game.  (By the way, it was fascinating to witness Jim Tressel use the reverse-Tebow technique of using Todd Boeckman to spot Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, where the intent was actually to bring in a traditional pocket passer for one or two plays at a time in order to change the pace from having a running quarterback.  The increasing reliance on spread or spread-esque offenses isn’t necessarily the greatest trend for college football overall, particularly for young QBs that want to reach the NFL, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Once again, I’m not saying that the Big Ten’s performances in BCS bowls have been anywhere near satisfactory.  The Big Ten receives a ton of perks for having teams that draw huge television ratings (the only BCS bowls that have had over a 10.0 rating outside of the National Championship Games since the ACC-spurned conference realignment in 2003 are all of the games that have featured a Big Ten team) and the most national and wealthiest fan base of the BCS, which includes placement in the Rose Bowl (the highest profile bowl) and the other BCS bowls salivating over taking one of the conference’s other teams for an at-large bid.  With that elevated position, the Big Ten is justifiably going to receive more scrutiny when compared to USC or teams from the SEC and the conference’s teams will need to start performing.  I have faith that the Big Ten will bounce back soon enough since conference performance is cyclical, which is often hard to remember in a “What have you done for me lately?” world.  Earlier this decade, the SEC and Big 12 were the conferences being criticized as being weak and without depth.  The Big East was hailed as being back as a power conference two years ago but now is facing calls of not deserving an automatic BCS bid.  The old cliche of “what goes around comes around” is very true in college sports, so the haters out there won’t have the Big Ten to kick around much longer.

(Image from Arizona Republic)