WHEN INFORMED that he was speaking to a reporter from a South Carolina newspaper, Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward made it clear from the get-go that he would not provide bulletin board material.
Besides, what could he possibly say to make anyone believe the reality of the situation Wisconsin faces in Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl against South Carolina? He could not say Big Ten football is ready to overtake the SEC for supremacy. He could not say that the Big Ten gets a bad rap in college football circles. He certainly could not say the SEC is overrated.
All Southward could say is that it is time for the Big Ten to produce.
“If you want to change the image, you have to win the games,” Southward said. “It’s as simple as that. Anything less than a win, no matter if you play them all the way to the final whistle and lose, a loss is a loss.”
Wisconsin and its Big Ten brethren know all about losing, particularly in bowl games. The Badgers have lost each of the past three Rose Bowls, two against Pac-12 opponents and the other against a then-Mountain West team.
Wisconsin is not alone in recent woeful bowl results by Big Ten programs. Just about any way you break it down, the Big Ten annually tucks its tail between its collective legs and hobbles home to try to repair its image as a bad football conference.
Over the past 10 seasons, Big Ten teams are 28-47 in bowl games, including 17-28 in major bowl games played on New Year’s Day or later. Since 2000, the conference that annually sends a representative to the Rose Bowl almost every year has won that game three times.
Since the beginning of the BCS structure in college football in 1998, only the Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference have worse bowl winning percentages than the .433 (47-59) of the Big Ten. By comparison, the SEC has gone 73-50 (.593) over the same span.
Only the Big 12 and ACC have showed worse in BCS bowls all-time. The Big Ten comes in with a 12-14 record, well off the pace of the SEC at 17-8, Pac-12 at 13-7 and even the Big East at 8-7.
Even in its rare — three times in 15 seasons — appearances in the BCS national championship game, the Big Ten has not fared so well. Ohio State defeated Miami to win the 2002 national title, but the Buckeyes lost to Florida and LSU of the SEC in the 2006 and 2007 games.
Ohio State appeared to position itself well to wave the Big Ten banner in the BCS title game this season. But the undefeated Buckeyes stumbled against Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and were relegated to the Orange Bowl.
Add it all up, and the answer to the question of why the Big Ten does not fare well in postseason play becomes clear: Football in the conference is inferior to other leagues, particularly the SEC.
So, maybe this is the year where the Big Ten reverses fortunes and begins to establish some respectability in bowl games. Then again, maybe not.
The bowl season has not started out well for the Big Ten with Minnesota losing to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl and Michigan falling to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Even the league’s two newcomers for next season — Maryland and Rutgers — lost in the Military and Pinstripe bowls, respectively.
Still, the Big Ten could take a major step to saving face on New Year’s Day with four bowl games, including a trio against SEC opponents. In addition to Michigan State playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl, Nebraska faces Georgia in the Gator Bowl, Iowa goes against LSU in the Outback Bowl and, of course, Wisconsin tangles with USC in the Capital One Bowl.
“When you just look at the numbers, no one plays well (against the SEC),” Southward said. “If you look over the course of the years, there have been very few games that were blowouts. A lot of people were playing them really tough, but not closing the deal.
“That’s exactly what we have to do, close the deal. It’s exactly what every other Big Ten team that’s getting that opportunity has to do. If not, it will be just more SEC dominance.”
And more bashing of the Big Ten.