As soon as the calendar turned from 2014 into 2015, the entire B1G was riding a wave of optimism and positive accolades. Rutgers defeated North Carolina 40-21 in the Zaxby’s Heart Of Dallas Bowl. Penn State had defeated Boston College 31-30 in an overtime victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Michigan State had defeated Baylor, a team many thought could have been a worthy College Football Playoff participant, 42-41 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Wisconsin defeated Auburn 34-31 in overtime in the Outback Bowl. Of course, Ohio State delivered the most emphatic statement, beating SEC and perennial college football bully Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl 42-35, en route to winning the inaugural College Football Playoff championship over Oregon 42-20.
Even though That Team Up North had not qualified for a bowl, praise was showered for the arrival of Jim Harbaugh as the new Wolverines head coach for the 2015 season. Talented coaches such as Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio, James Franklin, and Urban Meyer all were admired for making The B1G East Division such a competitive division, worthy of whispering in the same category as the mighty SEC West Division.
Going into the 2015 bowl season, optimistic thoughts were rampant for fans of The B1G. Indiana would lead off the B1G bowl game slate against Duke in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on December 26th. Michigan State had been able to outlast Iowa in The B1G Championship, carrying The B1G banner into the College Football Playoff against Alabama, again in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Iowa would battle Stanford in The Rose Bowl, in a traditional B1G/Pac-12 matchup. Ohio State, smarting from a three point defeat at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans, would have an opportunity to showcase their talent against Notre Dame, another team who came tantalizingly close to a College Football Playoff spot, like the Buckeyes. Other B1G teams, such as That Team Up North, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern would all have opportunities to battle SEC opponents, while Nebraska and Minnesota were both awarded bowl berths, despite finishing their respective seasons with 5-7 records.
We all know how this turned out ~ Indiana lost on a disputed field goal in overtime. Michigan State and Iowa? Both were beaten like Rocky Balboa in his first bout against Clubber Lang; actually, it was worse, as Rocky at least seemed to get some decent shots in at the onset of his fight – Michigan State and Iowa never knew what hit them. Penn State made it worthwhile, but was being embarrassed by a Georgia team that was essentially without a coaching staff; Penn State lost 24-17. At least Penn State made it somewhat competitive against its SEC opponent; Northwestern was whupped soundly by Tennessee 45-6 as 2016 began. Of the ten B1G bowl teams, only Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and yes, That Team Up North, came out on the winning side of the ledger.
If you have not done so, do yourself a favor and listen to this Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody episode, with @ramzy from elevenwarriors.com. Listen to Ramzy Nasrallah’s typically astute analysis of where things stand as they relate to teams within The B1G.
When one takes a discerning look at the victories, it is painful to remember that both Nebraska and Minnesota were 5-7, and essentially gifted into their respective bowl appearances. Wisconsin won over USC, yet has lost its well-respected defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU. That Team Up North won handily over Florida, a team that was offensively challenged throughout the latter portion of the 2015 season. You know who that leaves to carry The B1G mantle into the 2016 season, against the ESPN talking heads, Paul Finebaum-types, when they chatter on about the big, bad SEC?
Yep. You guessed it. The Ohio State Buckeyes.
You are probably saying, “Hey Chip – The B1G had only five bowl wins after last season. Why are you sounding so glum and pessimistic?”. Fair point. Here is why – the bigger the stage, the more important it is to represent your team, and conference, well. Last season, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State truly seized the moment, in front of the national college football fans’ television audience.
This year? Go back up a little in this piece, in case you have forgotten how everything turned out on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, with the exception of the Buckeyes and That Team Up North.
William Shakespeare once wrote, “Uneasy is the head that wears a crown…”. In 2016, Shakespeare could possibly be making that same comment, albeit about the young men who wear a football helmet adorned with Buckeye leaves, as it relates to upholding The B1G Conference’s reputation and standing.