It's only two games but beating the SEC still matters for the B1G this bowl season
For once, it’s not the B1G that’s entering bowl season with a chip on its shoulder.
Over the course of 14 weeks, it proved itself to be the best conference in football. With four teams ranked in the top eight spots of the final College Football Playoff rankings, the B1G was the nation’s undisputed champion, snatching the title from the hands of the SEC.
Relevancy has been restored in the Midwest. Finally, the B1G isn’t relying on a miraculous postseason outing against the SEC to salvage its dignity.
Those roles have been reversed.
This is a new perspective. The B1G is the conference everyone’s been lauding over all season while the SEC is hearing the “what is happening” question. But this paradigm shift hasn’t come without some old responsibilities for college football’s new king. The B1G still has some unfinished business to address this postseason.
Fair or not, the B1G’s 2016 season is going to be defined by how it fares in bowl games. And, unfortunately, if the conference doesn’t live up to some fairly high expectations, this year is going to be labeled as a disappointment.
Winning postseason games this year might be more important than it has been at any time. In the past, bowl victories have implied that the conference maybe wasn’t as bad as it was perceived. This year, though, a strong showing proves that the conference was just as good as everyone thought.
The four teams that earned bids to the New Years Six games — Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin – are going to be under the biggest microscope. Winning those games would validate the strength of the conference. Losing would rekindle the “overrated” discussions.
But the B1G has a few other important games this bowl season outside the New Years Six. A pair of B1G-SEC matchups that could further authenticate the B1G’s belonging atop the college football mountain.
On paper, those don’t appear to be significant matchups. Both games feature B1G West and SEC East teams, the weaker divisions of the two conferences. Iowa, Florida and Tennessee finished with four losses. Nebraska ended the year dropping three of its final five games.
From the surface, the Outback Bowl and the Music City Bowl don’t appear to have much national intrigue.
Rest assured, though, those games still go a long way in proving how far the B1G has come. It’s important for the conference to not just win one of those games, but to go 2-o against its rival league.
Since 2007, the B1G has been scrambling to share the national stage with the SEC, mostly falling short. The two conferences have squared off 26 times in the postseason in the last 10 years, with the SEC owning an 18-11 record. The last time the B1G was on the winning side of that battle (2006), it finished the postseason with an abysmal 2-5 mark.
Last year, the B1G was 1-3 with Michigan’s victory over Florida in the Citrus Bowl being the sole keepsake from those four contests. Alabama rocked Michigan State and Tennessee pummeled Northwestern. Georgia squeaked out a win over Penn State.
In 2014, the bowl season ended with the two teams tying at 2-2. While Ohio State flexed its muscle and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl before eventually winning the national title, the B1G still didn’t receive the praise it felt it deserved.
That could happen again if it doesn’t perform well against the conference that’s been there and done that.
If Florida and Tennessee take victories in those games, those same “they ain’t played nobody,” and “we got better depth” arguments are going to resurface. That would be a narrative for a conference that won seven-straight national titles.
Relevant or irrelevant, that’s just the way it is. If the B1G doesn’t settle an old score, it’s going to continue to live in the shadow of the SEC.
There’s the possibility for one more B1G-SEC battle and what could be a heavyweight bout for conference supremacy. If both Alabama and Ohio State win in the semifinal round, we’ll have a 2014 rematch with a championship on the line. In a lot of ways, that would be the ultimate proving ground.
An Alabama-Ohio State title game would at least pit the two best teams from each conference’s top division. That might be a better indicator than watching two games featuring middle-of-the-road squads from the weaker divisions. It would also give one conference ultimate bragging rights for the next year.
Regardless of what happened the rest of the bowl season, either conference would claim that game as the deciding factor.
But there’s no guarantee we’ll get that matchup. And the SEC wants to prove its more than Alabama just as the B1G wants to prove its more than Ohio State.
All season long that’s a battle the B1G has won.
It’s going to have to do it again in bowl season to receive the respect it deserves.