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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Bowl pox: Big Ten perfectly awful to start new year


They tell us these bowl trends are random, cyclical, which in the aftermath of the Big Ten's Black Saturday reminds us that so are shingles.

In both cases you get over it, but it takes a long time, and it's painful as hell.

During Sunday's lull in the college football season, it was good to know the Big Ten couldn't lose -- because there weren't any bowl games. The league had a chance to assess the damage from one of the darkest days in its football history. That point cannot be understated. In a space of less than 10 hours Saturday, the Big Ten went 0-5 in its bowl games. Good news for those who revel in the fall of the rich and powerful. Bad news for those who fancy themselves leaders and legends.

Three of the losses were by at least 13 points. Three came at the hands of the SEC. One came in the conference's ancestral postseason home, the Rose Bowl. The pain, though, was centered in the state of Michigan. The Wolverines and Spartans were outscored by their opponents 101-21, suffering the two most lopsided losses of the bowl season. It's hard to tell which team was least motivated. Michigan State had an excuse. It lost to a name team -- Alabama, the fourth-place team in the SEC West. The Tide rolled up 546 yards in a 49-7 victory. But Michigan endured its worst bowl loss ever, 52-14 to Mississippi State. That's a 38-point loss to the fifth-place team in the SEC West.

After leaning on its ground game all season, Wisconsin gets smacked down when it goes to the air in the Rose Bowl. (Getty Images)  
After leaning on its ground game all season, Wisconsin gets smacked down when it goes to the air in the Rose Bowl. (Getty Images)  
In Tampa, Florida intercepted five Penn State passes in the Nittany Lions' 37-24 loss. Joe Paterno moved on to his 46th year as a head coach. Urban Meyer called it quits, for now, after 46 years of life.

Northwestern probably has the biggest excuse. It was without its inspirational leader and arguably the league's best quarterback, injured Dan Persa. Still, the Wildcats lost a 45-38 shootout to Texas Tech.

The embarrassment factor peaked (for now) when Wisconsin lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers were Big Ten tri-champs, having gotten to Pasadena thanks to BCS math. They had scored at least 70 points three times. The last time they'd scored 70 at all was 1915. Quarterback Scott Tolzien had given balance to the Badgers' battering running game. John Clay, the third-string tailback, was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back.

That's power. That's also why the 21-19 loss was so stunning. Wisconsin did its thing, holding the ball for 36½ minutes and pounding the smaller TCU defense. But when it came time to tie the game, coach Bret Bielema went with a pass on the deciding two-point conversion. Reaction from Fort Worth: Thank you.

To be fair, all five teams were underdogs going into Saturday. Still, for the first time since 2002, a Big Ten team did not win on New Year's Day. Next order of business for powerful commissioner Jim Delany: Move the Rose Bowl off New Year's Day.

And it could get worse.

Don't forget Ohio State and the Buckeye Five against Arkansas in Tuesday's Sugar Bowl. A program of now boasting one Pryor and several priors is 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games.

It's easy to take shots simply because the Big Ten fancies itself as elite. Last bowl season, it won four games against top 15 teams. It had never been done before, we were told. Great. But if this stuff is cyclical, then what happened Saturday is just as bad -- or worse -- than what was good last year.

The Big Ten likes to trumpet the fact it has played in more BCS games than any other conference -- 23 and counting. It doesn't like telling you that in the history of that same BCS, the Big East has a better winning percentage (.461-.454).

Maybe it's time for the Big Ten get a little something for what's itching.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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