Maybe the Big Ten isn’t so bad

Coming into the bowl season, the general consensus among college football fans was that the Big Ten couldn’t hang with the speed and athleticism that the SEC and Pac-10 brought to the table.

And who could blame them based on the results of previous bowl games?

But this season has been different. Ohio State shut down Oregon’s explosive offense in the Rose Bowl, Penn State went toe-to-toe with a physical LSU squad in the Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin dismantled Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl and Iowa shocked many people by dominating Georgia Tech in its 24-14 win in last night’s Orange Bowl.

Even in defeat, the Big Ten had a great showing this year, as Northwestern lost a wild, back-and-forth overtime affair to Auburn in the Outback Bowl and a heavily depleted Michigan State program gave Texas Tech all it could handle in the Alamo Bowl (which was essentially a home game for Tech) before losing at the very end.

Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa showed the strength of the conference in their wins: Physical play. Both the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes proved how good their front sevens were by shutting down offensive attacks that otherwise appeared unstoppable. The great equalizer in sports is when one team has the ability to generate pressure using just its front four, which is exactly what the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes did in their victories.

On the other side of the ball, OSU and Iowa were able to grind out the clock by using their big offensive lines to wear opponents down late in the fourth quarter. The Pac-10 might have loads of speed, but they’re at a disadvantage against the Big Ten late in games when they’re behind because their front sevens are relatively small. They’re just not built to line up and go mano a mano late in games.

What Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State were able to accomplish this bowl season doesn’t erase the years of futility that the conference has endured. But maybe the Big Ten can build off their programs’ success this season and use it as a stepping-stone for years to come.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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