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Sandbagging Is Not The Answer

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News Flash: The Big Ten is not considered the hottest conference right now.  Sagarin has the league ranked 5th, ahead of only the Pac-10 amongst BCS conferences.  Public perception ranges all over the place, but you would be hard pressed to find a pundant or water cooler expert put them anywhere but a very distant third (or, of course, much lower than that depending on geographical location).

The problem has always been, though, that the Big Ten has the best bowl matchups, very often resulting in the midwest team not only being outmatched, but usually playing what amounts to a road game down south.

It shows this season, as only Iowa is considered a Vegas favorite.  Your average Big Ten team is a full touchdown underdog.

Adam Rittenberg wonders if the Big Ten might have been better off with just one BCS bid, giving us these projected matchups:

Rose: Penn State vs. Oregon State

Capital One: Ohio State vs. Georgia

Outback: Michigan State vs. South Carolina

Alamo: Iowa vs. Missouri

Champs Sports: Northwestern vs. Florida State

Insight: Wisconsin vs. Kansas

Motor City: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

[I'm not sure why he decided to put Oregon State in the Rose Bowl instead of USC, for the rest of this post I'm going to correct that unless someone can point out why this particular matchup was downgraded.]

[I've been edumacated, and the story goes "Oregon State didn't lose to Oregon". I'm still sticking with USC if for no other reason than a PSU-OSU re-match is a lose-lose-lose (if we win we lose, if we lose we lose, and either way the fans lose because rematches are no fun when the first game was a blowout).  A second PSU win over Or St doesn't do anything to help the Big Ten's image.]

He says the Big Ten would be favored in three, maybe four of those matchups.  Let's look a little closer.

Game Sagarin Prediction
Rose: Penn State vs. USC USC -5.5
Capital One: Ohio State vs. Georgia OSU -6.5
Outback: Michigan State vs. South Carolina MSU -2
Alamo: Iowa vs. Missouri Iowa -2
Champs Sports: Northwestern vs. Florida State FSU -5.5
Insight: Wisconsin vs. Kansas Kansas -5.5
Motor City: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan Minn -4.5

So it's a little better on the surface; the Big Ten is favored in four of the seven.  The problem, though, is that two of those lines are within two points, and when you consider the Outback is in SEC country (against an SEC team) and the Alamo is in Big XII country (against a Big XII team), home field is bound to make those closer to picks. 
Also, from a PR standpoint, everything after the Outback, and really the Capital One, doesn't even register.  Public perception is made on the BCS stage, and only if the other bowls confirm the results are they even mentioned.  Don't believe me?  Ohio State losing to Florida in 2006 was SEC dominance, even though Penn State and Wisconsin won the Capital One and Outback bowls.  Similar story last year, when Michigan beat heavily favored Florida. 

The best way for the Big Ten to look good is to win games they shouldn't, and, more importantly, go at least 1-1 in the BCS this year.  If the conference sandbags it only improves the record, but also gives more reasons to dismiss it.  Right or wrong, if your top two or three teams don't compete with the rest of the top leagues, the rest doesn't matter.
Rather than think of this as the Big Ten drawing a bad lot, it makes more sense to consider this an opportunity to stop the insanity.  Besides, it's not like the conference has much to lose.