But the more important countdown begins after Saturday night's game when the Big Ten finally can get the team it really wants on this stage — the Buckeyes.
They didn't qualify last season because of the immediate mess Tressel left behind. They couldn't qualify this year despite a 12-0 record in Urban Meyer's inaugural season because the university opted for a one-year bowl ban as part of its self-inflicted NCAA punishment.
But the Buckeyes will enter next season as one of the early favorites for a berth in the last BCS championship game — which incidentally will be held at the Rose Bowl. Don't forget that the underlying motivation for creating this conference championship — aside from the financial benefits — was improving the conference's chances of winning late voting and computer support for a BCS title game invitation.
Next year, the Big Ten gets back the program that's perfectly comfortable with the ethical flexibility required for teams that simply don't want national titles, but need them for their own validation. Michigan and Michigan State aren't those programs. Both have had their issues, but to their credit neither egregiously blurs the line between what's right and what's expedient.
But in the future, they'll continually beat each other up in the Legends Division along with the Cornhuskers and Iowa. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes will have a relatively easy path to the excellent record mandated for a top-four finish and qualification for the new playoff that begins in 2014 — a road that becomes even easier for Ohio State if newcomers Maryland and Rutgers join the Leaders Division.
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