I am truly sickened by what I’m about to write. Usually, my sports writing flows smoothly from my brain to my fingers to the screen. But not this. No, this is rising like the bile after New Years. Burns like it, too. I’m choking back these words, hoping that if I resist long enough they’ll subside like a Nicotine addiction. Nope, not working.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but here goes: I’m rooting for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Mom and Dad, please don’t write me out of the will!
But before people start soaking me in Badgers blood, please understand the context. The Big Ten has gotten its ass kicked this bowl season. They have the single worst record of any conference (2-5), and even if the Buckeyes win, they’ll still likely wind up with the worst winning percentage of any BCS conference (only the SEC and Pac-10 can finish the bowl season with lower winning percentages, and the SEC would have go 0-4 in their last four games to do it). In their seven games so far, the Big Ten has been outscored 242-167. In their five losses, they’ve been doubled up, 204-102. The only organization who has been creamed worse recently on the national scene than the Big Ten is the Democratic Party.
The two conference wins- Illinois and Iowa- haven’t been exactly legendary either. Illinois’ victory- the only truly convincing victory- was against Baylor in the Texas Bowl, not exactly a football powerhouse or an iconic bowl. Iowa’s victory was the Big Ten’s lone success against a ranked opponent, #12 Missouri at the Insight Bowl (whose older name, the Copper Bowl, was far superior). But the Hawkeyes aren’t exactly the team anyone wants representing the Big Ten. This is the team, after all, whose star running back was just booted off the team for marijuana possession. And both teams went just 4-4 in the Big Ten regular season.
The Big Ten needs a win, especially when you consider the standard practice of splitting Bowl earnings between all teams in a conference. Problem is, #8 Ohio State may not be the team to do it. The Buckeyes are 0-9 against the SEC in bowl games, and they’re facing #6 Arkansas. And four of their players, including “golden boy” quarterback Terrelle Pryor, just got suspended for the Buckeyes’ first five games of the 2011 season (and another was suspended for the opener) for essentially being dumbasses (selling championship paraphernalia and accepting improper gifts). But if the Buckeyes can win, it will be a silver lining to a bowl season in which the Big Ten has been summarily embarrassed. The Buckeyes tied for the Big Ten title and, no matter how dumb some of their players might be, a Sugar Bowl win would show that the best the Big Ten has to offer can still compete against the best of the other BCS conferences.
So I’m voting for the Buckeyes. God, I feel dirty. This is like rooting for the Yankees, Colts, Lakers, or USSR in the Miracle on Ice.
This is the last year of the Big Ten’s current format. Next year it will expand to 12 teams with the addition of the #18 Nebraska Cornhuskers (who also lost their bowl game… to an un-ranked opponent). There won’t be any more ties for the Big Ten title, no more controversy over who should represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. One conference will split in two, with new divisions and moderately self-gratifying names. An extra game will be created to pit the best of each division against each other, and out of that championship will emerge the conference’s Rose Bowl representative (unless they go to the BCS Championship).
The sun will set on the current Big Ten with tonight’s Sugar Bowl, and I don’t want to see it limp off into a corner to die. I want it to go out with a bang. For the conference to retain any national credibility whatsoever (especially after Gordon Gee’s idiotic anti-TCU comments a month ago), Ohio State needs a Sugar Bowl victory. So tonight I’ll be donning gray and red, singing “Hang on Sloopy” and eating a buckeye (or wearing one, or whatever the hell you do with the stupid things).
Then I will spend several hours in the tub in a vain attempt to feel clean ever again in my lifetime.