Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.