Down in Florida on Tuesday, three Big Ten/SEC bowl matchups convene. If you can keep them straight, you've got an organized mind.
Nebraska-Georgia in the Capital One, Michigan-South Carolina in the Outback and Northwestern-Mississippi State in the Gator. Sounds like a recipe for a bitter Big Ten day. The stately Big Ten has had a rough year – even commissioner Jim Delany said his football teams had not played up to par – and this bowl season doesn't offer much consolation.
The Big Ten is off to a 1-1 start – Michigan State beat TCU, but Texas Tech beat Minnesota – and the five Big Ten teams playing on New Year's Day are underdogs, all but Northwestern decided underdogs.
“It's an opportunity to represent your conference and put it in the right light, and we hopefully will do that,” said interim Purdue coach Patrick Higgins, whose team plays Oklahoma State on Tuesday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. “It's important for us that we represent the Big Ten in a quality fashion.”
But despite the SEC's national dominance (six straight national titles), the Big Ten has not been a walkover in those Florida bowls.
The last 10 years, the Big Ten is 5-5 vs. the SEC in both the Outback and Capital One bowls. In the Cap One, Penn State beat LSU after the 2009 season, Michigan beat Florida (2007), Wisconsin beat Arkansas (2006) and Auburn (2006), and Iowa beat LSU (2004). In the Outback, Michigan State beat Georgia (2011), Iowa beat South Carolina (2008), Penn State beat Tennessee (2006), Iowa beat Florida (2003) and Michigan beat Florida (2002).
The Big Ten this season went 5-9 against fellow major-conference opponents, and that includes three victories from Northwestern (over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College).
The bowls offer the Big Ten a chance at absolution. Recent history suggests the Big Ten at least has a fighting chance.