In some ways, the Big Ten made some strides during the college football bowl season.
Michigan downed Virginia Tech in OT in the Sugar Bowl, while Michigan State needed three OTs to defeat Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
But in some others, it was also business as usual for the conference.
The Big Ten put 10 of its 12 teams in postseason games for the first time ever. The conference teams combined for a 4-6 record, marking just the second time since 2002 where league teams had won four bowl games. (The Big Ten posted a 4-3 mark in 2009, while the Big Ten was 5-2 in 2002.)
The conference also held its own in Bowl Championship Series games, earning a split as Michigan downed Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl after Oregon defeated Wisconsin in the Rose. Over the last three years, the Big Ten is a combined 4-2 in BCS bowls. In 14 years of the BCS format, the Big Ten has a record of 12-13. Only the SEC (16-7) has more wins.
On the downside, the Big Ten only won one of its five games on Jan. 2 (this year’s equivalent to New Years’ Day) and only won one of its three match-ups against SEC teams. That win happened in the same game as Michigan State outlasted Georgia 33-30 in triple overtime in the Outback Bowl.
The Big Ten is just 1-9 on Jan. 1-2 over the last two years. The 1-2 mark against the SEC dropped the conference to 5-9 against the SEC in bowls over the last five years and 17-22 over the last 15 seasons. The Big Ten has not posted multiple wins against SEC bowl opponents since it went 2-1 in 2006.
The 2011-12 bowl season did mark the seventh straight season that seven or more Big Ten programs have earned postseason berths, continuing the longest streak in conference history.
The Big Ten was well represented in the final college football polls for 2011. The top five in both the AP and USA Today coaches polls were identical with Alabama No. 1, followed by LSU, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Arkansas.
Wisconsin was 10th in the AP poll and 11th in the coaches poll. Michigan State was 11th in the AP poll and 10th in the coaches poll. Michigan was 12th in the AP poll and ninth in the coaches poll. Nebraska was 24th in both polls.
With the bowl season over, we thought this would be a good time to put a bow on the Big Ten’s participation and take a quick glance at what lies ahead for these 10 programs. The game day rankings of the teams are in parentheses. Here we go:
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
* Final Score: Purdue 37, Western Michigan 32
* Line: Purdue favored by 2-1/2 points.
* My Pick: Purdue 33-27
* What Happened: The Boilermakers (7-6) as much as survived as anything in turning back the Broncos (7-6). Purdue benefitted from six WMU turnovers and also had a 99-yard kick return touchdown by Raheem Mostert. RB Akeem Shavers filled in for the injured Ralph Bolden and had 149 yards on 22 carries. Purdue won despite surrendering 413 yards passing and three TDs to WMU QB Alex Carder. But Carder also had four interceptions (two by Gerald Gooden) and had a pair of fumbles as well.
* What We Learned: Purdue coach Danny Hope received a two-year extension (through 2016) in the days leading up to the game and his players backed him up. Purdue secured its first bowl win since 2007 … Hope, emboldened by his contract extension, pulled out all the stops. His Boilers went for and recovered a pair of onside kicks … Purdue won despite allowing WMU WR Jordan White to catch 13 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown … After a 4-5 start, Purdue won three of its last four games to gain momentum going into the off-season.
* Looking To 2012: There is plenty to like in West Lafayette. QB Caleb TerBush (101 yards passing, 1 TD in splitting time with outgoing senior Robert Marve) is back for his senior year and Shavers looks like a keeper at tailback. He and Bolden should form a good tandem next year … Mostert will be back for his sophomore year and could become one of the league’s most explosive players … The one lingering question is DT Kawaan Short, who was still debating a possible early jump to the NFL … However, top tackler MLB Dwayne Beckford should be back in the fold. He missed the bowl game after a DUI arrest.
* Final Score: Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14
* Line: Oklahoma favored by 14 points.
* My Pick: Oklahoma 35-28
* What Happened: The Sooners (10-3), the preseason No. 1 team, jumped out to a 21-0 third-quarter lead and held on after a second-half charge by the game Hawkeyes (7-6). Iowa QB James Vandenberg completed 23 of 44 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns with an interception as Iowa got the lead down to 21-14 with 6:56 left in the game. But Oklahoma tacked on a field goal and a touchdown to put it away.
In what was thankfully a harmless moment, ESPN’s overhead camera crashed to the Sun Devil Stadium turf – right near Iowa WR Marvin McNutt – with just over two minutes left in the game. Nobody was hurt and the game had to be delayed as technicians removed the camera and its wiring.
* What We Learned: Iowa’s three-game bowl winning streak was snapped and the Hawkeyes fell to 6-4 in bowl games under Kirk Ferentz … The Hawkeyes played without suspended RB Marcus Coker … This was the last game for retiring defensive coordinator Norm Parker.
* Looking To 2012: Iowa lost standout OL Riley Reiff early to the NFL. The Hawkeyes figure to lose four other starters on offense, including the dynamic McNutt at wideout … Coker figures to return after rushing for 1,384 yards and 15 TDs. He and Vandenberg should help Iowa improve from its mark of 23 points per game (eighth in the Big Ten) this past year … RB Mika’il McCall will not return in 2012. The good news is Iowa got a verbal from 2012 Pennsylvania standout RB Greg Garmon … In addition to Parker as the DC, Iowa loses six starters on that side of the ball. Safety Micah Hyde will be the top returnee.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Iowa coverage at Voice Of The Hawkeyes.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
* Final Score: Texas A&M 33, Northwestern 22
* Line: Texas A&M favored by 10 points.
* My Pick: Texas A&M 37-34
* What Happened: The Aggies (7-6), playing without fired coach Mike Sherman, leaped out to a 30-7 third quarter lead before the Wildcats (6-7) made it interesting with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. A&M rolled up 409 yards total offense, including 329 passing by standout QB Ryan Tannehill.
Kain Colter ran for a touchdown and threw for a score for Northwestern, which got the A&M lead down to 30-22 with 5:22 left. But the Wildcats could not get a needed stop and surrendered a field goal in the final minute to seal it for the Aggies.
* What We Learned: Northwestern reached a bowl game for a school-record fourth straight year. But the Wildcats also lost their ninth straight bowl game and saw their bowl winning drought extend to 63 years. In honor of that drought, the Wildcats had a stuffed monkey on their sideline. It looks like he’ll be on their back a while longer … Northwestern QB Dan Persa completed 25 of 37 passes for 213 yards, allowing him to his career as the NCAA’s all-time completion percentage leader at 72.7 percent. He beat the record of former Hawaii QB Colt Brennan (70.4 percent) … The roof at Houston’s Reliant Stadium was closed, allowing noise from the heavily partisan A&M crowd to resonate even louder.
* Looking To 2012: Colter figures to replace Persa as the full-time quarterback after starring as a runner, thrower and receiver this season … NU may have found a big play guy in receiver Venric Mark. The soph had a touchdown run and a 47-yard punt return in the bowl game … NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has long-term stability at his alma mater but he faces a heavy reloading task with just four starters back on both sides of the ball … But Fitzgerald just secured one of the biggest verbals in school history in Ohio OLB Ifeadi Odenigbo (ranked 149th nationally by 247Sports.com).
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
* Final Score: Illinois 20, UCLA 14
* Line: Illinois favored by 3 points.
* My Pick: Illinois 25-17
* What Happened: Illinois (7-6) had not won a game since an Oct. 8 win over Indiana. But the Illini, playing without fired coach Ron Zook, rallied from a 7-3 halftime deficit to get the win over the Bruins (6-8) in San Francisco.
Illinois corner Terry Hawthorne returned an interception 39 yards for a score in the third quarter to give the Illini the lead. QB Nathan Scheelhaase then hit outgoing senior A.J. Jenkins with a clinching 60-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.
* What We Learned: Illinois won the bowl game for interim coach Vic Koenning, who has since moved on to be the co-defensive coordinator at North Carolina … Scheelhaase accounted for 249 yards total offense with 139 (and a touchdown) passing and 110 yards on 22 carries … Only 29,678 showed up for this match-up of six-win teams at AT&T Park … Illinois won bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history … Illinois evened its bowl game record with UCLA at 2-2.
* Looking To 2012: Illinois hired Toledo coach Tim Beckman as its new head coach in December. Beckman, a former assistant at Ohio State and Oklahoma State, was 21-16 in three seasons at Toledo … The bowl win and the energetic Beckman’s hiring should be a nice lift for the Illini, who will have Scheelhaase back for his third year as the starting quarterback … But Illinois will be without national sack leader DE Whitney Mercilus, who opted to leave school a year early for the NFL. Hawthorne and LB Jonathan Brown will be back to key the defense … Beckman had renowned defensive assistant Jon Tenuta hired for one day. But Tenuta cited family concerns in wanting to stay put at N.C. State, where his son will play baseball.
* Final Score: Houston (20) 30, Penn State (24) 14
* Line: Houston favored by 7 points.
* My Pick: Houston 27-17
* What Happened: The Cougars (13-1) got out to a 17-0 lead and rolled to the win over the Nittany Lions (9-4). PSU, racked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Joe Paterno’s late-season firing, did not play anywhere up to its standards. The Lions had allowed opponents 309 yards total offense on average during the regular season. Houston rolled up 600 yards, including 532 (and three touchdowns) passing by UH QB Case Keenum.
Penn State never got it going as it played without QB Matt McGloin, who suffered a head injury during a mid-December altercation at the team’s practice facility. Rob Bolden was 7 of 26 passing for 137 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
* What We Learned: The fears that Houston’s offense, averaging a nation’s best 50.8 points per game, would overwhelm the Penn State defense were more than realized … Penn State ended up just 1-3 for popular assistant Tom Bradley, who stepped in as the interim head coach after Paterno’s messy ouster … Penn State managed 169 yards rushing with Stephfon Green supplying a 6-yard TD run. But the early deficit led the Lions to abandon the run.
* Looking To 2012: Penn State has hired New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien as the permanent successor to Paterno, PSU’s head coach since 1966. The 42-year-old O’Brien received a five-year contract beginning at $2.3 million per year. The hiring was not greeted with much fanfare in State College by PSU fans or former players. But given the circumstances, O’Brien seems like a decent candidate … O’Brien has already retained defensive line coach Larry Johnson (an ace recruiter) and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. He has also hired former Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof … Penn State loses Big Ten defensive player of the year DE Devon Still, but DT Jordan Hill has already said he will return … A healthy McGloin and 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd should key the offense.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Penn State coverage at Lions247.
* Final Score: Florida 24, Ohio State 17
* Line: Florida favored by 2 points.
* My Pick: Ohio State 23-18
* What Happened: The Gators (7-6) had a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown by Andre Debose and also blocked a punt for a touchdown in handing the Buckeyes (6-7) the defeat. The loss gave OSU its first seven-loss season since 1897 (1-7-1) and its first losing season since 1988 (4-6-1).
Freshman QB Braxton Miller was 18 of 23 passing for 162 yards and two TDs for the Buckeyes, who outgained the Gators 299-263.
* What We Learned: Taking last year’s Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas (vacated by NCAA sanctions) out of the equation, Ohio State dropped to 0-10 all-time against SEC teams in bowl games. That includes 0-2 against Florida, which also beat OSU in the 2007 BCS national title game … RB Boom Herron had 82 yards rushing and WR DeVier Posey caught a touchdown pass. But the two seniors – each ensnared in the NCAA violations that helped lead to coach Jim Tressel’s resignation and a bowl ban for next season – each lost critical fumbles … The OSU defense, keyed by 10 tackles from freshman LB Ryan Shazier, a forced fumble by DE John Simon and an interception by DB Tyler Moeller, held Florida’s offense to 10 points … OSU ended up 6-7 for coach Luke Fickell, who will return to his role as an assistant under new coach Urban Meyer … OSU lost 24-6 at Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 17. The six losses after that were by a combined 32 points (5.3 points per loss) … Florida won its bowl game for the sixth time in seven years … OSU is now 0-2 all-time at the Gator Bowl with a loss as well to Clemson in 1978.
* Looking To 2012: Because of the bowl ban and having no championships to contend for, Meyer can ease back into coaching at Ohio State. The former Florida coach could have as many as nine starters back on both sides of the ball … It seems that talented seniors like Simon and TE Jake Stoneburner will stick around despite the bowl ban … Miller was the Big Ten freshman of the year. He threw for 1,359 yards with 13 TDs and four INTs and also led the team with 715 yards and seven TDs rushing. He was just 4-6 as the starter, though, as the Buckeyes struggled to find viable receiving threats.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Ohio State coverage at Bucknuts.com.
* Final Score: Michigan State (12) 33, Georgia (18) 30, 3 OT
* Line: Georgia favored by 3-1/2 points.
* My Pick: Michigan State 31-27
* What Happened: The Spartans (11-3) rallied from a 16-0 halftime deficit to force overtime and then blocked a field goal in the third overtime to turn back the Bulldogs (10-4). MSU’s Le’Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard run to tie the game at 27-27 with 14 seconds left, forcing overtime. Neither team scored in the first OT and they traded field goals in the second extra period.
Dan Conroy hit a 28-yard field goal in the third overtime. Georgia attempted a 47-yard field goal to try and send it to a fourth OT. But the kick was blocked, giving MSU the win and snapping a five-game bowl losing streak.
* What We Learned: MSU QB Kirk Cousins completed 27 of 50 passes for 300 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Cousins piloted the final scoring drive to tie the game. He leaves with 27 wins – the most for a starting QB in MSU history. The MSU seniors set a record with 37 wins in their career … MSU soph Darqueze Dennard had a pair of interceptions for the Spartans, including one he returned 38 yards for a touchdown … This was MSU’s first bowl win since beating Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl … MSU reached 11 wins for the second year in a row for the first time in school history … MSU got its first win over Georgia in three bowl games vs. the Bulldogs.
* Looking To 2012: Cousins turns the reins at QB over to junior-to-be Andrew Maxwell, who attempted 26 passes as a soph … MSU loses two players early to the NFL in RB Edwin Baker and DT Jerel Worthy. But Bell (948 yards, 13 TDs this year) will return … Coach Mark Dantonio was able to hold on to valued defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was sought hard by new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin … The defense should excel again with DE William Gholston, LB Denicos Allen, CB Johnny Adams and freshman All-American DE Marcus Rush all back … MSU loses Cunningham at receiver, but could get Michigan native DeAnthony Arnett active right away. He is transferring from Tennessee and is seeking a hardship waiver because of his ailing father.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Michigan State coverage at Spartan Tailgate.
Capital One Bowl
* Final Score: South Carolina (10) 30, Nebraska (21) 13
* Line: South Carolina favored by 2-1/2 points.
* My Pick: South Carolina 27-22
* What Happened: The Gamecocks (11-2) got 230 yards passing and two touchdowns from QB Connor Shaw. One of those TDs was a 51-yarder to standout WR Alshon Jeffery on a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half to put USC up 16-13 at the break. The Huskers (9-4) could not mount a second-half touchdown.
Nebraska managed just 253 yards total offense. The Huskers also lost the turnover battle 2-0, gave up six sacks and committed 10 penalties.
* What We Learned: It was a struggle to establish the run against South Carolina’s rugged defense. Nebraska averaged 223.9 yards per game rushing during the regular season and only got 137 yards on 46 attempts (3.0 average). Rex Burkhead ended up with 89 yards on 23 carries … One bright spot was freshman WR Kenny Bell, who had a 30-yard TD catch for Nebraska ... The Huskers missed out on a third straight 10-win season.
* Looking To 2012: The good news is that Burkhead and QB Taylor Martinez will be back and that should be enough for Nebraska to again put up 30 or more points a game in the Big Ten … The Huskers should also be strong on both lines … But the NU defense loses two stars in LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Nebraska coverage at Huskers Illustrated.
* Final Score: Oregon (6) 45, Wisconsin (9) 38
* Line: Oregon favored by 5-1/2 points.
* My Pick: Wisconsin 41-38
* What Happened: The Ducks (12-2) outlasted the Badgers (11-3) in an offensive onslaught that saw the teams combine for 1,129 yards and a Rose Bowl-record 83 points. Wisconsin was driving for a game-tying score when receiver Jared Abbrederis lost a fumble with 4:04 left. The Badgers got the ball back with 16 seconds left and got as close as the Oregon 25-yard line, but ran out of time.
Oregon rolled up 621 yards. De’Anthony Thomas had TD runs of 91 and 64 yards for the Ducks, who also had scoring plays of 54 and 41 yards.
* What We Learned: Wisconsin dropped to 1-4 in its last five bowl games, 2-2 in BCS games (since 1998) and 2-5 all-time in the Rose Bowl. UW dropped the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row … UW fans decried the Badgers’ poor clock management as they used timeouts early and didn’t have any for the comeback at the end … Wilson ended up as the NCAA single-season passing efficiency record holder at 191.8 rating points, eclipsing the old mark of 186.0 by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan.
* Looking To 2012: It has already been a turbulent off-season for UW. Coach Bret Bielema has lost five of his nine assistants with four of them going to Pittsburgh after offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was named as the new Pitt head coach … Wilson leaves after one year as the starting quarterback. WR Nick Toon and three OL are also gone, including center Peter Konz who opted to leave early for the NFL … The best news is that Ball will return after rushing for 1,923 yards and an NCAA record-tying 39 touchdowns. Abbrederis will take over as the lead receiver … With Ohio State ineligible to win the Legends Division and Penn State in transition, that division is Wisconsin’s to lose in 2012.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Wisconsin coverage at Badger247.
* Final Score: Michigan (13) 23, Virginia Tech (17) 20, OT
* Line: Michigan favored by 2-1/2 points.
* My Pick: Michigan 35-30
* What Happened: The Wolverines (11-2) completed an amazing first year for coach Brady Hoke with a dramatic overtime win over the Hokies (11-3) in the Sugar Bowl. Brendan Gibbons gave UM the win with a 37-yard field goal. Michigan won despite getting outgained 377-181 in total yardage.
QB Denard Robinson threw for 117 yards and two TDs, but was limited to 13 yards on 13 carries.
* What We Learned: Virginia Tech was in the red zone five times and came away with one touchdown … The Wolverines benefitted from an ill-fated VT fake punt near midfield with just over seven minutes to go in the game … Michigan improved to 2-3 all-time in BCS games and this was reminiscent of the Wolverines’ other BCS win. UM won the 2000 Orange Bowl over Alabama 35-34 in overtime when Alabama missed an extra point in OT to lose the game. Tech’s Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime, opening the door for UM to win it.
* Looking To 2012: Michigan found a running mate for Robinson in RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who went for 1,041 yards and nine TDs. They will be back to put up big numbers … But Michigan loses All-American center David Molk and receiver Junior Hemingway … UM must regroup up front on defense after losing DTs Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen … The season opener against newly crowned national champion Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Texas looms extremely large … But the Legends Division title could come down to the match-up with Michigan State in Ann Arbor.
* Our 247Sports.com Site: Click here for complete Michigan coverage at Wolverines 247.
My Picks Wrap-Up
With Alabama’s 21-0 win over LSU (yawn) in Monday’s BCS National Championship Game, I was 3-1 straight-up and 2-2 against-the-spread in the last four bowl games. (I had Alabama winning 20-17 with the line as a virtual pick’em.)
For the entire bowl schedule, I was 23-12 straight-up and 17-18 ATS. In the 10 Big Ten bowl games, I was 8-2 straight-up (with losses on Ohio State and Wisconsin picks) and 6-4 against-the spread.
So, for the year I ended up 279-85 straight-up and 188-160-4 against-the-spread.
The next game I will pick will be on Thurs., Aug. 30, and I know I can’t wait.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will look at the Big Ten teams on paper for 2012. Plus, we will assess the three new coach hirings. And we’ll have an early look at a national top 25 for 2012.