Mailbag: How will Big Ten fare against SEC?

The regular season has ended, but the cards and letters keep coming in. The bowl matchups have been set. Yes, the Big Ten has two teams in BCS bowls. But many eyes will focus on the Big Ten vs. SEC matchups, which always receive a lot of scrutiny.

I address that and other letters in this edition of the mail bag.

The Big Ten had been very ineffective in bowl games, particularly vs. the SEC. Do you see any improvement this season? – Nigel Sigman

It has a chance, but the Big Ten may not stack up with the SEC this year. The matchups: Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin vs. South Carolina; Outback: Iowa vs. LSU; Gator Bowl, Nebraska vs. Georgia. I think Wisconsin and Nebraska have good chances to win their matchups. Iowa probably will lose to LSU. Recent history tells us a 1-2 mark is about par for the course for the Big Ten vs. the SEC.

Here is a look at the Big Ten’s recent record vs. the SEC in bowls since the 2005 season. Over that span, the Big Ten is 8-13 vs. the SEC.

  • 2012 season: 1-2 (Northwestern beat Mississippi State in Gator; Michigan lost to South Carolina in Outback; Nebraska lost to Georgia in Capital One.)
  • 2011 season: 1-2 (Ohio State lost to Florida in the Gator; Michigan State beat Georgia in the Outback; Nebraska lost to South Carolina in the Capital One.)
  • 2010 season: 0-3 (Michigan State lost to Alabama in the Capital One; Penn State lost to Florida in the Outback; Michigan lost to Mississippi State in the Gator.)
  • 2009 season: 1-1 (Northwestern lost to Auburn in the Outback; Penn State beat LSU in the Capital One.)
  • 2008 season: 1-1 (Iowa beat South Carolina in the Outback; Michigan State lost to Georgia in the Capital One.)
  • 2007: 1-2 (Ohio State to LSU in BCS title game; Wisconsin lost to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl; Michigan beat Florida in the Capital One.)
  • 2006: 2-1 (Penn State beat Tennessee in the Outback; Wisconsin beat Arkansas in the Capital One; Ohio State lost to Florida in the BCS title game.)
  • 2005: 1-1 (Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Capital One; Iowa lost to Florida in the Outback.)

Had Penn State been bowl eligible this year, where do you think it would have landed? – John Thierwechter

The Nittany Lions finished 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. I think Penn State would have had a good chance to land in the Outback Bowl in Tampa vs. LSU. If not there, then maybe the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Phoenix vs. Kansas State. PSU wouldn’t have fallen any farther than the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, where it would have taken on Georgia. Any three of those clashes would have been fun.

Michigan did not have a bowl-type season. I recommend that our guys stay home, rest up, study, save the parents and university some money and enjoy the holidays watching bowl like we do. – Dave Scheide

Some other Michigan fans may agree with you. No doubt, a 7-5 mark was disappointing. And the Wolverines limped across the finish line with a 1-4 record in November. Still, the chance to go through bowl practices will make this relatively young team better as it gears and preps for 2014. Better days appear to be ahead in Ann Arbor—or at least that’s the hope.

If Minnesota has a better record than Michigan (8-4/7-5), why does Michigan have a better bowl game (Buffalo Wild Wings/Texas)? – Nabil

As long as a team’s record is within one loss of another team’s record, a bowl can take the squad with the worse record. So, for example, a 7-5 team can’t be taken over a 9-3 team. But a 7-5 team can be tabbed over an 8-4 club. The bowls aren’t about fairness. They are about selling tickets/making money. Bowls take the teams they think make the most business sense for them. Period. End of story. Equality isn’t even in the equation.

Now will you give the Spartans some respect? You picked the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten title game, oh ye of little faith beyond the safe picks. – Bob Lang

I always have had respect for Michigan State. What Mark Dantonio has done in seven seasons in East Lansing is impressive. This is a program on solid footing, built around a strong defense and tough, physical offense sprinkled with some playmakers. Dantonio continues to take this program to another level, pushing it to double-digit wins for the third time in four seasons and to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. Plus, MSU has owned Michigan under Dantonio, who is 5-2 vs. the Wolverines.

Do you feel Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickel is doing a good job? Is he getting a free pass for OSU’s porous defense? Our zone defense turns average quarterbacks into All-Americans.- Rusty Taylor

No doubt, Fickel has come under scrutiny and criticism this season. The Buckeyes are No. 4 in the Big Ten in total defense (362.2 ypg) and No. 3 in rushing defense (102.6 ypg), but it’s the pass defense that has many OSU fans upset. The Buckeyes are No. 11 in the Big Ten vs. the pass (259.5 ypg), allowing 26 touchdown passes. Only Indiana is worse (290.2 ypg). The secondary misses safety Christian Bryant’s skill and leadership. But the schemes also may need to be altered. It will be interesting to see how Urban Meyer handles things in the offseason. Bottom line: stay tuned.

You think LSU will be the best team Iowa has faced this season when they meet in the Outback Bowl? I think LSU will be the FOURTH-best team Iowa has played this season. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all are better. Not saying Iowa will win, but it won’t be overwhelmed. – Scott Hakes

Yes, this statement I made seems to have rankled many people. But I still think LSU is better than Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, especially if the teams meet on a neutral field. I think the Bayou Bengals are without a doubt more battle-tested than any Big Ten team. And from 1-85, LSU has more talent than any Big Ten team. The Tigers will be without quarterback Zach Mettenberger (injury) but sill will be formidable.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

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Easter Lake Hawk on 12/9/2013 @ 6:56pm EST Said:

Tom…there is no better motivator than when you speak and make Iowa sound like the underdog….we have been the underdog for most of my 50 years…and we like it that way….Iowa vs LSU as the biggest challenge for the Big Ten….Wow…I know you were put on the spot …but I would like to see data to support your theory.

Easter Lake Hawk

Grant on 12/10/2013 @ 10:50am EST Said:

Come on Tom, just because LSU is in the SEC does not mean they are more battle tested or better. Lets see… TCU(4-8), UAB, KentSt, Auburn(12-1), UGA(8-4), MissSt(6-6), FLA(4-8), Miss(7-5), Furman, Alabama(11-1), TexasA&M(8-4), Ark(3-9). With losses to UGA, Miss, and Alabama. So 2 wins over quality opponents with over .500 records. I dont really want to go through Iowas schedule, but I bet it looks pretty similar.