Making sense of the B1G's big bowl-season letdown
An opportunity was missed.
For the first time in recent memory, the B1G had a prime chance to capitalize on a historic regular season and prove to the college football world that it was the new power conference. That’s what happens when you have four of the top eight teams. Expectations are high.
The downside of that means that the fall is greater.
That proved to be true. The B1G was an easy target after a 3-7 postseason. By posting the worst bowl record among the Power Five conferences, the B1G lost any chance of becoming the undisputed power conference in college football.
That became clear after Ohio State was shut out by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Back-to-back years of scoreless College Football Playoff appearances won’t bode well for the strength of the conference moving forward.
The question now is what does this mean for the conference? Does it change anything? Should expectations be tempered?
Well, that’s complicated.
Just to make this clear, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin are exempt from this whole letdown conversation. They’ll be clumped together by pundits, but they did their part. Shoot, Minnesota and Northwestern were more than one-touchdown underdogs and they still got it done.
All three of the B1G bowl winners were from the West. Meanwhile, the B1G East suffered an 0-5 bowl season after looking like the best division in America during the regular season.
Yeah, that hurts.
But here’s the thing — will it really impact the way we feel about the B1G East in 2016? The division could easily have three teams ranked in the preseason top 10. Ohio State and Penn State were two of the youngest teams in America in 2016 and Jim Harbaugh still has a wealth of talent to work with.
It wouldn’t be crazy to imagine this becoming a yearly debate with these three teams. And if the regular season dictates it, we’ll again wonder if the B1G East is really the best division in college football.
The regular season doesn’t misconstrue how good or bad teams really are. Everybody wants to say that Ohio State had no business being in the College Football Playoff and that Michigan had a soft start to its season.
Did everyone forget entering the postseason, they were the only two teams in the country with three wins against current top-10 teams? And it wasn’t just beating up on B1G teams. Ohio State’s Oklahoma win was impressive and Michigan’s late surge against Colorado helped, too.
Each B1G East power deserved to be where it was. For various reasons, it didn’t work out for any of them in one postseason game against a top-10 opponent. It happens.
By kickoff, Michigan was actually the only one of that group that was favored. Believe it or not, the B1G was actually favored in just three of its 10 matchups. So basically, it would’ve been a disappointment by national standards if the B1G didn’t pull off at least four upsets.
Maybe the B1G was destined to fail this postseason. Here’s something that nobody was talking about entering bowl season:
Michigan lost to FSU in Florida
Nebraska lost to Tennessee in Tennessee
Iowa lost to Florida in Florida
Penn State lost to USC in Cali
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 3, 2017
As Fornelli said, it’s not an excuse, but it does suggest a less-than-neutral-site matchup. All four of those fanbases travel well, too. Still, all sounded like road games.
But that’s never going to change. There’s a reason that not everyone followed in the Quick Lane Bowl’s footsteps and played late-December games in Detroit. As long as the B1G schools range from the Midwest to the East Coast, the possibility of playing in essentially neutral-site road games will always be there. This year just happened to be more evident of that than usual.
Could that be a reason why the B1G has three winning records in postseason play in the 21st century? Sure, but it isn’t the only reason.
The reality was, the B1G was 0-3 in games decided by three points or less. Two of those games were New Year’s Six games. A 6-4 overall record and a 3-1 New Year’s Six record would’ve been solid, but it wouldn’t have screamed “BEST CONFERENCE IN AMERICA.”
What would have? Taking down Alabama. Scoring points in a College Football Playoff game.
Getting shut out in back-to-back semifinal games was what hurt the B1G’s conference-strength argument more than anything.
You can speculate all you want and say that Penn State would’ve given Clemson a better fight. Let’s not forget that Penn State would’ve actually been the No. 4 seed and faced Alabama in Atlanta. There’s no guarantee it would’ve gone much better for the Lions than it did for the Buckeyes.
I can play around with the matchups and the scores until I’m blue in the face, but the results are the same. A 3-7 mark will represent a missed opportunity.
Does that mean the B1G will never be able to get over the hump? Of course not. Unless you can pull out a time machine, take me to the future and show me many more years of B1G bowl struggles, I won’t believe it until I see it.
In 2014-15, the B1G surpassed postseason expectations after a weak regular season. The 2016-17 season was the inverse of that.
One of these years, it’ll all come together.