Rittenberg: Bowls offer ACC, Big Ten opportunity to salvage some good will
It makes sense that the Big Ten’s colors are black and blue. No league has been beaten up so much and for so long during the 2012 season.
More than three months have passed since quite possibly the worst regular-season Saturday in Big Ten history. Remember Week 2? Big Ten fans have omitted it from memory. The league went 6-6 in nonleague games, including three losses at Pac-12 stadiums, another at Notre Dame Stadium and a 9-6 home setback by Iowa against Iowa State.
Some perceive the Big Ten as a league that lacks speed, but it wasted no time in exiting the national title race this year. The Big Ten’s national title drought has reached a decade, while its top rival, the SEC, could hoist the crystal football for the seventh consecutive season if Alabama beats Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
The Big Ten is undoubtedly the league everyone loves to hate. The ACC, meanwhile, is the league everyone wants to love, even though history says, why bother? Celebrated on national signing day, hyped in the preseason, humbled in early January — that’s the ACC. Every. Single. Year.
Searching for its first national title since 1999, the ACC hitched its wagon to the Florida State Seminoles, the undisputed kings of the preseason poll. Florida State teased us with an impressive start and an exciting win against fellow ACC heavyweight Clemson. But two weeks later, FSU had its typical no-show against an unranked foe, falling to an NC State team that would dump its coach (Tom O’Brien) after the regular season.
The Big Ten absorbed a steady flurry of body blows in 2012. The ACC protected itself decently until Nov. 24, when two SEC teams, Florida and South Carolina, delivered the knockouts to Florida State and Clemson, respectively. The convincing losses put to rest any notion that the ACC’s best could measure up.
The beauty of bowl season is it provides every league a chance to salvage something. The Big Ten and the ACC are no exceptions. So which league is in most need of a strong postseason showing?
The Big Ten needs to change the narrative after a year of mostly negative headlines. Two of its best teams, 12-0 Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State, are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions stemming from two very different but damaging scandals. The sanctions allowed Wisconsin, which finished third in the Leaders division, to reach the league championship game, where it thumped Nebraska to become the first five-loss team to reach the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.
None of the Big Ten’s seven bowl teams are favored to win. The league annually plays by far the nation’s toughest bowl lineup, and this year’s is no exception with three top 10 opponents — No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Georgia and No. 10 South Carolina — on the slate, plus the standard smattering of high-powered Big 12 offenses (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech). The Big Ten hasn’t had a winless postseason since 1977, when it played in just three bowls (Rose, Sugar, Hall of Fame), but few would be surprised if the league went oh-fer after a season like this one.
The Big Ten could quiet its critics, if only temporarily, with a Rose Bowl win and a 2-1 or 3-0 mark against the SEC. Remember, all Big Ten bowl victories qualify as upsets, so anything close to a .500 record would help the league put a bow on a miserable season.
The ACC could use a bowl bump, as well, but it’s more important for the league to win some spotlight games. No league has performed worse in BCS bowls than the ACC, which is 2-13 after suffering two more setbacks last year — Clemson’s epic fail against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and Virginia Tech’s overtime heartbreaker against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
The ACC appears to be catching a break with its BCS bowl matchup this season as Florida State heads south to play Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl. If the talent-stocked Seminoles can’t beat a Huskies team many think has no business being in a BCS bowl, the ACC will once again bear the brunt. The sting of a loss would outweigh the gain of a win for Florida State and the ACC, but the Noles simply have to get this one. An FSU win coupled with a Clemson upset of LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would be a nice way for the ACC to end a season that began with so much promise.
But make no mistake: the Big Ten needs a face-saving bowl performance more than any other league, if only to turn down the heat a bit.
The ACC needs its best teams to step up, but it doesn’t have the same perception problem as the Big Ten.
After all, signing day is just around the corner.