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01-04-2011, 11:06 AM

The Big Ten Meets Dante's Inferno
A Hellacious Bowl Season Drops its Teams to New Depths; Spartans Take the Eighth Circle .

This was supposed to be the Big Ten's year. The year Michigan began to turn the corner, Iowa cemented itself as a top-10 power and Ohio State returned to national glory. Instead, the nation's oldest major collegiate conference has been hit with a plague for the ages.

As the Big Ten's final bowl team, Ohio State, takes on Arkansas in Tuesday's Sugar Bowl, the conference is a pathetic 2-5 in the bowl season. In one hellacious stroke of misery on New Year's Day, its teams lost all five of their bowl games by an average margin of 20.4 points. Two coaches have already been fired and another may be sacked as early as this week.

Beyond the carnage on the field, the Big Ten's image has also been scorched for matters not directly pertaining to football. Five of Ohio State's players have been suspended for the first five games next season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits from (gasp!) a tattoo parlor. The players later apologized.

The year actually looked heavenly at the outset. Last summer's addition of Nebraska will give the conference four of the top six schools on major-college football's all-time win list. Ohio State beat Miami in an early-season showdown, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was the early Heisman frontrunner and Michigan State topped Notre Dame on a faked field goal in overtime. But the suffering that has ensued since seems almost biblical in scope. It's also, quite frankfrankly, ripe for parody.

So with apologies to Dante, here's a look at the Big Ten, if its schools were committed to one of the Divine Comedy's nine circles of hell, each level reserved for a special kind of sin:

Limbo: Penn State
Near the end of the regular season, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he plans to come back next season. He said it again before the Nittany Lions' Jan. 1 loss to Florida. And he said it yet again the day after.

"There's no guarantee on anything, but I intend to be here, and I intend to work hard at recruiting," he said.

Nevertheless, Penn State football now seems to be in a permanent state of limbo because of the unending speculation about the 84-year-old coach. As long as he remains at Penn State, it appears there will be rumors that he'll soon leave. Mr. Paterno's roster may soon be one quarterback lighter, too: The father of Robert Bolden, who was the Lions' starter before losing the job midseason, was quoted recently as saying his son wants to transfer.

Lust: Minnesota

Minnesota's fans and alumni lust for a return to its former football glory. The problem is, the good ol' days for the Golden Gophers are so old, they're not even relevant.

Minnesota, which hasn't reached the Rose Bowl since the 1961 season, fired coach Tim Brewster in October, setting in motion its sixth coaching search since 1983. Mr. Brewster's predecessor, Glen Mason, actually took the Gophers to five straight bowl games, albeit minor ones, but that wasn't good enough. Compared to this season's 3-9 train wreck, an anonymous bowl played before a so-called crowd looks pretty good.

Gluttony: The Entire Conference

After starting its own TV network, gobbling up Nebraska and deciding to split into two divisions for the 2011 season (in order to stage a lucrative championship game), the Big Ten could've just kept it humble. It could've named the two divisions after conference icons or some vague geographic boundary or even just the first two letters of the alphabet.

But the conference, perhaps drunk on its own success, did what is, arguably, the last thing it should've done. It named the divisions "Leaders" and "Legends." This unprecedented bit of hagiography has been blasted for its arrogance. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said the conference may reconsider.

Greed: Indiana
Most every team in major-college football plays half its conference games at home, half on the road. Most everyone, that is, except Indiana, which moved its Nov. 20 Penn State game to FedEx Field outside of Washington in exchange for a payment of $3 million.

The Hoosiers can't match the moneymaking capabilities of the Big Ten's powerhouses. But in this era of weak nonconference scheduling, conference home games are pretty much all that fans have to look forward to. After depriving the faithful of Penn State, Indiana left them with these six home games: Towson, Akron, Michigan, Arkansas State, Northwestern and Iowa.

Anger: Nebraska

The Cornhuskers competed in the Big 12 this season but they'll take their act to the Big Ten this fall. And few acts in college football seem as angry right now as Nebraska's. The Cornhuskers went 10-4 this season, but it's fair to say the experience was anything but angelic.

The first loss was a headscratcher to the worst Texas team in over a decade. It deprived Nebraska of the vengeance it had been waiting for since its Big 12 title-game loss last season.

The second, a road loss at Texas A&M, resulted in the school's chancellor lamenting coach Bo Pelini's sideline tirades, one of which was directed at quarterback Taylor Martinez. (Mr. Pelini apologized for his behavior.) In the third loss (to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game) Nebraska
blew a 17-point lead, which led to a disappointing Holiday Bowl berth.

Loss No. 4 was a 19-7 defeat to Washington, a team Nebraska had beaten 56-21 in September. "It was just a ridiculous performance," Mr. Pelini said.

Heresy: Michigan
For the past three years, the varsity football team at Michigan has ventured onto Bo Schembechler's hallowed field with no idea how to tackle. Or play special teams. Or keep from committing turnovers. It's not a stretch to say that college football has seldom seen a more outrageous case of heresy.

Now the watch is on to see if the heretic-in-chief (Michigan's controversial third-year coach Rich Rodriguez) is cast out and a true believer (Stanford coach, former Michigan quarterback and general fair-haired boy Jim Harbaugh) is beatified.

When Mr. Rodriguez was hired, he was the first Michigan coach in four decades who had no connection to Schembechler's heavenly host.

Violence: Wisconsin
Like no team in recent memory, the Wisconsin Badgers committed violent acts of humiliation upon overmatched foes this season. Wisconsin scored 70 points against Austin Peay, a team that's ranked 113th in total defense in the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision.

The Badgers scored 83 against Indiana, which is 90th in total defense in the upper-level Football Bowl Subdivision. Then the Badgers scored 70 against Northwestern (they rank 97th). Tremendous feats to be proud of, to be sure.

But in the Rose Bowl against Texas Christian—the No. 1-ranked defense in major-college football—Wisconsin had a bit more trouble. The team reached the end zone just twice. TCU became the first Rose Bowl champion from outside the sport's six current major conferences to win the Rose Bowl since 1934.

Fraud: Michigan St.
Before this game, the Michigan State faithful made it very clear that they believed their team deserved to be anointed the Big Ten's true champions. After all, they beat Wisconsin, the team that received the conference's Rose Bowl berth.

No. 15 Alabama was, at most, the Southeastern Conference's fourth-best team (three others had outdone the Crimson Tide's 5-3 conference record). Bowl pairings are sometimes unfair because there's a disparity between where the teams finished in their respective conferences, but this wasn't one such case.

What resulted: a diabolical 49-7 demolition. At least coach Mark Dantonio didn't make excuses after the game. "Do we belong [in the top 10] based on this football game? No," he said.

Treachery: Ohio St.
Nothing is more important to a Buckeye than beating that school up north. Second on the priority list is winning the Big Ten championship.

So the news that five Buckeyes, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor sold memorabilia including Big Ten championship rings and a "Gold Pants" award for beating Michigan was disappointing to Ohio State supporters, to say the least. It was the sort of thing that would have made Dante's day.

This guy deserves the Pullitzer. :rotf:

01-04-2011, 11:46 AM
thanks Herchel, good read there.

01-04-2011, 12:00 PM
La Divinia Commedia. :rotf: