At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Which conference has the most to prove during the postseason?
Olin Buchanan's answer:
The Big East might be the easy answer, but my feeling is the Big Ten has even more to prove. In the past five seasons, the Big Ten is 13-23 in bowls, and since the inception of the BCS in 1998, the league hasn't fared well in the high-profile BCS bowl games. Ohio State's win over Oregon in last season's Rose Bowl helped, but there are still doubters who view the Big Ten as a league of slow plodders. Having three teams that finished 11-1 certainly boosted the conference's reputation. But detractors can ask about impressive non-conference victories. Ohio State over Miami? The Hurricanes finished 7-5. Wisconsin over Arizona State? The Sun Devils didn't qualify for a bowl game. Michigan State and Michigan over Notre Dame? The Irish lost to Tulsa. The Big Ten has an opportunity to answer a lot of critics, especially from SEC country, with Ohio State facing Arkansas and Michigan State playing Alabama. But if they lose ? . In addition, the Rose Bowl is big for the conference's image. If Wisconsin falls to TCU (even though the Horned Frogs are favored), the Big Ten will be open to even more criticism and jabs. And those lofty records at the top of the Big Ten standings will look like a product of easy non-conference scheduling and playing in a weak league.
Tom Dienhart's answer:
This is the time of the season when leagues are judged, and the Big Ten is on the spot. Again. Yes, the conference went 4-3 in bowls last season, the league's first winning postseason since 2002. But the six postseasons before that were disappointments: 3-5 in 2003, 3-3 in 2004, 3-4 in 2005, 2-5 in 2006, 3-5 in 2007 and 1-6 in 2008. And the Big Ten still is stained by Ohio State's losses in the BCS title games after the 2006 and '07 seasons. This postseason offers ample opportunities for the Big Ten, with the marquee/judgment games coming in the Rose Bowl (Wisconsin-TCU), Sugar Bowl (Ohio State-Arkansas), Capital One Bowl (Michigan State-Alabama), Outback Bowl (Penn State-Florida) and Gator Bowl (Michigan-Mississippi State).
David Fox's answer:
I know many are going to say the Big East has the most to prove after a dismal season. But I don't see anything in that bowl lineup that's going to change the perception of the Big East this season, other than Connecticut upsetting Oklahoma. Instead, the Big Ten is the conference with the most to prove. The Big Ten reversed its BCS fortunes last season with Iowa defeating Georgia Tech by 10 in the Orange Bowl and Ohio State beating Oregon 26-17 in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State is back in the BCS, against an SEC foe in the Sugar Bowl, so the Buckeyes have bragging rights at stake. The Big Ten-SEC matchups as a whole usually are the most intriguing grudge matches of bowl season, and that should continue to be the case this season: Michigan State-Alabama, Penn State-Florida, Michigan-Mississippi State and Ohio State-Arkansas. All could be major statements if Big Ten teams win. But if Big Ten teams lose, I can hear the criticism already.
Mike Huguenin's answer:
The Big Ten is under the gun. The league has three teams in the top 10, with two of those in the BCS and the other playing the defending national champion in the Capital One Bowl. But for all the hosannas thrown the way of the tri-champs (Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are a combined 33-3), the rest of the league teams have been criticized more than they've been praised. And the league doesn't have the greatest bowl matchups. Outside of the tri-champs and their tough opponents. Northwestern and Illinois are playing Texas-based schools in Texas, and Northwestern is without its quarterback. Iowa is without its leading rusher and its best receiver, and is playing a Missouri team that is upset it fell down the Big 12 bowl pecking order. Penn State is playing Florida in the last game for Gators coach Urban Meyer. The job status of Michigan's coach remains a mystery. This could be a tough postseason for the Big Ten.
Steve Megargee's answer:
The Big East has been the butt of jokes all season, but this is the time of year when the Big East often redeems itself. As we reported earlier this week, the Big East has the best bowl winning percentage of any existing conference during the BCS era. And the Big East has plenty of favorable matchups again this postseason. Connecticut is a 17-point underdog against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Big East has a decent shot at winning each of its other five bowls. Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are favored in their bowl games. Syracuse's Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Kansas State is a toss-up. USF heads into the Meineke Car Care Bowl as an underdog, but it's playing a .500 Clemson team that's coming off a 22-point loss to its biggest rival. The Big East ought to go at least .500 in its six bowl games and has a good chance to finish 4-2. If the Big East fails to win at least half of its bowl games, the conference deserves all the criticism it has received this season.