Miller: Big Ten Bowls and a Long Off Season

10 Big Ten teams were eligible for bowl games this year, including the Iowa Hawkeyes. Eight teams heard their names called on Saturday, but the Hawks were left out in the cold. The final chapter of the 2007 Iowa football season was written on Sunday, and Jon Miller talks about that, in addition to a look at each one of the Big Ten's bowl match ups.

Below is a look at the eight teams from the Big Ten and their bowl destination, plus some commentary and analysis that will be featured in RED. There are some facts and figures that have been provided by the Big Ten office as well as it relates to the conference and bowl games.

The Big Ten office announced the bowl destinations for six more conference football programs tonight, including sending a pair of teams to Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games for the seventh time in the system's 10 years. Big Ten Champion Ohio State will make a second straight trip to the BCS National Championship game while Illinois will take part in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1984. In addition, Michigan was selected for the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State will travel to the Champs Sports Bowl, Indiana will compete in the Insight Bowl and Purdue was chosen for the Motor City Bowl. Last week, Wisconsin was announced as the Big Ten's Outback Bowl representative while Penn State was picked to take part in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Big Ten will send two schools to BCS games for the seventh time in the 10-year history of the system and the fifth time in the last six seasons. Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, the Big Ten has qualified 17 teams for BCS bowls, more than any other conference. The SEC ranks second with 15 BCS appearances followed by the Big 12 (14), Pac-10 (12), ACC (10) and Big East (10). The Big Ten also sent a pair of squads to BCS games after the following seasons – 1998 (Ohio State, Wisconsin), 1999 (Michigan, Wisconsin), 2002 (Iowa, Ohio State), 2003 (Michigan, Ohio State), 2005 (Ohio State, Penn State) and 2006 (Michigan, Ohio State). The Big Ten has won eight BCS games to rate second behind the SEC (9 victories) and ahead of the Pac-10 (7), Big 12 (5) and Big East (5).

The Big Ten's eight bowl berths in 2007 matches the conference record set following the 2003 campaign. The conference qualified seven schools for postseason play after the 1993, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2006 seasons. The Big Ten is sending six or more teams to bowl games for the ninth straight year and 16th time overall. Including the upcoming bowl season, conference programs will have made 67 bowl appearances over the last decade (1998-2007) and 234 appearances all-time. Ohio State (11-1 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten) advances to the BCS National Championship game for the second straight year and the third time in the last six seasons. The Buckeyes completed a perfect 14-0 season by knocking off top-ranked Miami (Fla.) in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to win the national championship before falling to Florida in last year's national title match.

Ohio State will face SEC Champion Louisiana State (11-2, 6-2 SEC) in the 2008 BCS National Championship game which will be played on Monday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET in New Orleans, La. The Buckeyes are looking for their eighth national title and 34th championship for the Big Ten. OSU returns to New Orleans for postseason action for the first time since taking part in back-to-back Sugar Bowls following the 1997 and 1998 campaigns. The Big Ten Champions are making their eighth consecutive bowl excursion, including seven straight under head coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes mentor has won four of his last five bowl games overall, including BCS triumphs in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Ohio State will be playing in its 39th bowl, which is tied with Michigan for the conference lead, and holds an 18-20 record in postseason play.

JM: Ohio State has a pretty tough draw here, but hey, this ain't intramurals, brother; it's for the national championship, so they shouldn't expect a walk in the park. That is especially the case with this year's Ohio State team. They are a good football team, but they are not a great football team. In fact, there are no great football teams in the country this year, which made for the most exciting and unpredictable regular season in college football history.

Having to play LSU in New Orleans is a tough draw for anyone, just ask Charlie Weiss. Last year's LSU team buried the Irish in the Big Easy, but that was a much better football team than this year's LSU club, in my opinion. And to think that Jemarcus Russell could have been under center for LSU this year…they would have been playing in the same bowl and location, it's just that they would have gone undefeated and would probably be a double-digit favorite against Ohio State. As it stands, they will probably be a three to six point favorite, marking the second consecutive ‘game week' where the #1 team in the nation will be an underdog. LSU's two losses came in triple overtime games this year, so as Les Miles has said, no one has beaten the Bayou Bengals in regulation this year. So they have that going for them. LSU wins this game, wins the national title, and the Buckeyes are bridesmaids again.

But it's not a horrible consolation prize; no one but the Scarlet and Gray kool aid drinkers felt that OSU would get back to the title game this year. This was a bit of a reloading year for Ohio State. The 2008 regular season was going to be the year they took aim at another national title run. This is some pretty good tasting gravy.

And how hard is it to be an Ohio State fan right now? Back to back trips to the football championship game, in addition to a trip to last year's NCAA basketball title game.

Illinois (9-3, 6-2) returns to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1984 and will battle Pac-10 Champion Southern California (10-2, 7-2 Pac-10) on Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET in Pasadena, Calif. Big Ten Coach of the Year Ron Zook will look to lead the Fighting Illini to their first 10-win season since 2001 after the program collected only eight victories the last four seasons combined. Illinois has played in the "granddaddy of all bowl games" on four occasions with a 3-1 mark, including triumphs following the 1946, 1951 and 1963 campaigns. The Illini will be making their 15th bowl trip overall and first since playing in the 2002 Sugar Bowl. The school has posted a 6-8 record in postseason play, including victories in two of its last three appearances. The Big Ten has produced a 29-31 record in the Rose Bowl including a mark of 29-30 against the Pac-10.

JM: I respect the job that Ron Zook has done in Champaign. He is on a similar path taken by Kirk Ferentz. Both Kirk and The Zooker went 4-19 in their first two years as Big Ten head coaches. Kirk took Iowa to a 6-5 regular season record in year three and an Alamo Bowl appearance, then to a BCS game in year four. Zook has guided the Illini to a BCS bowl in year three, with a record of 9-3. Illinois might be the weakest or most unlikely BCS team in history. That's not to say they don't have a good football team, because they do. But seeing Ron Zook get to Pasadena with a 9-3 record in this BCS era, it just doesn't seem right. It also turns my stomach, but that's more personal than anything else. I don't dislike the Zooker, I just dislike Illinois' athletic teams. But they are playing hardnosed football, and it has been an impressive turnaround. So hats off.

Enjoy it while you can, Illini fans; a beat down is coming at the hands of USC in their backyard. This is old hat for USC. They will be sleeping in their own beds, the pomp and circumstance of the Rose Bowl is nothing big for them. The Illini will be in awe of the Granddaddy of them All, which is understandable. They will have lost the game before they even take the field.

Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will play in the Capital One Bowl for the first time since 2002 in what will be the final game in the storied career of head coach Lloyd Carr, who announced his retirement following the regular-season finale. The Wolverines will be challenged by the SEC's Florida (9-3, 5-3 SEC) on Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET in Orlando, Fla. Michigan made three trips to Orlando over a four-year stretch following the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons to play in this event, which was then known as the Citrus Bowl. The school boasts a 2-1 mark in this bowl, including triumphs after the 1998 and 2000 campaigns. Michigan will take part in a bowl game for the 33rd straight season, which currently ranks as the longest active streak of bowl appearances in the country. The Wolverines' 39 bowl bids are tied for the conference lead with Ohio State. Michigan is 18-20 overall in bowl games, including a mark of 5-7 under Carr, who has led the team to postseason play in each of his 13 seasons. Big Ten squads maintain a 9-8 mark in the Capital One Bowl, including victories in each of the last three years by Iowa (in 2005) and Wisconsin (in 2006 and 2007).

JM: When you look at Michigan's first two losses this year, mobile/athletic quarterbacks were their undoing. They will face Tim Tebow in the Cap One, the likely Heisman Trophy winner, the only player in college football history to run and throw for 20 or more touchdowns in the same season, and they will be facing a team that has just as good if not better talent than they do. They will be facing a team that is more athletic than they are, and a team that will probably enter next season as either the #1 or #2 football team in all the land. To say that this is a bad draw for the Wolverines would be an understatement. Lloyd Carr will probably go out in defeat, and it could get ugly. The highlight of the next 35 days for the Michigan program will be its coaching search…or at least, Michigan fans hope so.

Michigan State (7-5, 3-5) returns to postseason action for the first time since 2003 and has been selected to play in the Champs Sports Bowl, which means both teams from the state of Michigan will be playing bowl games in Orlando, Fla. The Spartans will kick off a week-long celebration of Big Ten football in Orlando when they square off against the ACC's Boston College (10-3, 6-2 ACC) on Friday, Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. ET. MSU has made one prior trip to Orlando, edging Florida in what was then known as the Citrus Bowl following the 1999 season. The school has posted an overall record of 7-10 in bowl games with a mark of 7-9 since joining the Big Ten, including victories in two of its last three appearances. In his first year as the Spartans mentor, Mark Dantonio is looking to improve to 2-0 in postseason action after leading Cincinnati to a Fort Worth Bowl victory following the 2004 campaign. The Big Ten has produced a record of 1-2 in this bowl, including a victory by Illinois in 1999 when it was known as the Micronpc.com Bowl.

JM: One thing Dantonio has done this year is make you wonder if a new era of Michigan State football is around the corner. The Spartans appeared to be following the same late-season train wreck track they have taken so many times in recent past. But this year, they didn't go in the tank after losing a gut-wrenching game against Michigan. They actually stepped up and showed some intestinal fortitude and closed out strong…at least for Michigan State. Boston College will have some time to heal the bruised bodies and egos from their ACC title game loss to Virginia Tech from the weekend. BC will be the favorite, but this might be one of the best chances the Big Ten has at a bowl win, though I don't think it will happen.

Indiana (7-5, 3-5) ends the Big Ten's longest active bowl drought by earning a berth in the Insight Bowl for the program's first postseason appearance since 1993. The Hoosiers will challenge the Big 12's Oklahoma State (6-6, 4-4 Big 12) on Monday, Dec. 31 at 5:30 p.m. ET in Tempe, Ariz. Head coach Bill Lynch has boosted Indiana to its first bowl trip since taking part in the 1993 Independence Bowl. The Hoosiers have produced a 3-5 mark in eight postseason games, including a victory in this same event in 1991 when it was known as the Copper Bowl. Big Ten teams are 2-1 in the Insight/Copper Bowl, including a triumph by Wisconsin in 1996.

JM: The Hoosiers left a few wins on the table this year, in my opinion. But they also overcame some significant adversity in dealing with the death of Terry Hoeppner. This is a bowl slot that Iowa fans were hoping for before Western Michigan's offense tore Iowa apart in the season finale. Oklahoma State has been a hit or miss team this year as well, and their head coach is not necessarily stable, though he ‘is a man'. The Hoosiers have a shot in this one, but the Cowboys are more battle tested, having played superior conference competition this year.

Purdue (7-5, 3-5) will become the second Big Ten team take part in the Motor City Bowl and will face MAC Champion Central Michigan (8-5, 6-1 MAC) in a rematch of a game earlier this season won by the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind. The two teams will square off again on Wednesday, Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit, Mich. Purdue will make its second straight postseason appearance and 10th in 11 seasons under head coach Joe Tiller, after taking part in only five bowl games prior to his arrival. The Boilermakers are 7-7 all-time in postseason action and join Northwestern as Motor City Bowl participants from the Big Ten, after the Wildcats were chosen to play in the 2003 event.

JM: Nothing like having a bowl rematch of an early season blowout. Purdue beat Central Michigan 45-22 on September 15th. The Boilermakers racked up 583 total yards in that game and won by 23 points despite turning the ball over five times. CMU had three turnovers, but the Boilers were still -2 in that department on the day, which kept them from pushing the 700 yard mark on offense. And can you imagine the throngs of Boilermaker fans that will make the trip to Detroit for this rematch which will take place the day after Christmas? Me neither. This is one of those bowl games where the 15 extra practices are about the lone benefit. Well, Dan McCarney would say add that you get a chance to be a Bowl Champion, too. But you also risk getting some players seriously hurt for the 2008 season. But the Big Ten gets a win in this game, which will be one of the few they see this bowl season.

The bowl destinations for both Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3) and Penn State (8-4, 4-4) were announced last week and their opponents were revealed tonight, with the Badgers facing the SEC's Tennessee (9-4, 6-2 SEC) in the Outback Bowl and the Nittany Lions battling the Big 12's Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4 Big 12) in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

JM: Wisconsin against Tennesee might be the most interesting bowl game for the league, on paper. It just feels about right, two teams that might be a good match for one another. Penn State against Texas A&M feels the same way…both of these games could be wins for the league, or losses for the league. At least the matchups are intriguing.

JM: Iowa and Northwestern were bowl eligible, but did not get an invitation. So Iowa's 2007 season comes to a close with a record of 6-6. On the bright side, the Hawks cannot finish below .500 and the coaching staff can focus squarely on recruiting for the next 30 days. During the dead recruiting periods, they can also focus on what buttons need to be pushed, what tweaks need to be made, to be more competitive next season.

This is going to be one of the longest off seasons in recent Iowa football history, for fans, players and coaches alike. An optimist can look at that and say that it's what the program needs right now, and that everyone involved with the program will be champing at the bit to get back on the football field next fall.

But the 272 days before we ‘hear the boom' again are going to creep by.

Everyone will be ready for some Iowa football by then, that is for certain.


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