It's not exactly a government secret: The Big Ten, despite being a historic and well-regarded football conference for much of its existence, now resides somewhere just below the Pac-10, and just above the ACC, on the annual list of "best college football conferences." That list would probably start with the SEC or Big 12, and work its way down. Wherever it starts, it isn't with the Big Ten. Not anymore.
Why is that? The answer's simple. The Big Ten can't win a bowl game. They've won only sporadically in the past few years, including 2008-09, in which they've gone 1-5 in bowl appearances. The conference has also lost five straight BCS bowl games. It's hard to imply some sort of strength at the bottom or top of the conference, either; it's pretty obvious that for whatever reason the Big Ten just doesn't play very good football anymore. The country has passed it by.
But! Tonight the conference gets one more chance. Ohio State plays Texas tonight in the BCS Something Something Kind Of Not The National Championship Corporate Sponsor Bowl. For the Buckeyes, it's a chance to redeem their recent BCS appearances. For Delaney, it's the chance to prove, if only for a night, the Big Ten doesn't totally suck:
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany isn't dreaming of a 40-point Ohio State victory in the Fiesta Bowl. "What about Ohio State 2, Texas 0?" he said in a telephone interview. "I'd be happy with that. I'm just looking for a win."
He called Penn State's loss to USC in the Rose Bowl "disappointing … not depressing." "You look at it and ask: Did the players play hard, and were they prepared?" Delany asked. "Yes and yes. You know what? SC's a better football team. In all of the [bowl] games I've watched, I'm seeing us get beat by better teams. Then you say: Why is that? I don't have a great answer other than to say that these things tend to be cyclical."
The stereotype, for a while, was that the SEC was the better conference than the Big Ten because it recruited all the speed in the country. This assumes that all the speed in the country comes from the south, or something. But what of the notion that the SEC -- and the Pac-10, and the Big 12 -- are just recruiting better players? Or maybe they have better coaches? Or better facilities? Or all of the above?
Whatever the case, tonight is Delaney's bailout game. Big Ten fans, take heed.