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"The Illini Barged down the Mississippi, and Sank"

©02 the media desk

Apologies to the review of a stage production of Anthony and Cleopatra
by Mr. John Mason Brown, 1932 (and oft-quoted since)

        Yes the Desk will apologize to the classic Theater review and its author, but not to the team from Cham-bana.
        In fact, only two of the Big Ten's SIX Bowl Teams won their games. And those were in 'the what? Bowl' games. In the Big Ones, they went zero for four. And one of the minor bowl wins was a three point squeaker.

        What is WRONG with the Big Ten in Bowl Games?
        Did they go into Tampa and El Paso and party hardy? Did Michigan paint Orlando every color of the rainbow New Years Eve instead of getting a good night's sleep? Evidently Illinois spent the night in the gutters of the French Quarter by the way they played.
        This seems to be the way it goes when the Best of the Big Ten go to a Bowl Game. They become whipping boys for whoever the other team is. Something like being booked into playing somebody's homecoming. Ohio State tried to pull it out of the fire, but even after scoring at will in the second half, they managed to turn to mush against South Carolina as the clock ran out and gave it up with two minutes to go to join their homeboys in the also-ran list. The players see the national TV cameras and get all worried about which picture will be used on their NFL trading cards and forget that the best way to go high in the draft is to be the MVP of the winning team of a major New Years Bowl. After the Desk sat through five of the Big Ten's Bowl Appearances, the only conclusion that it could draw is that when the Midwesterners get down in the warmer climes they go out and get stupid and forget they are there to carry the honor of their school and state into a National Platform to display their mettle to the world. It's damned hard to play football on two hours of sleep and while you are still drunk from the night before. Illinois's hangovers didn't even kick in until the second half.
        That's the only explanation. Bad coaching, bad play making, bad everything but the mascot.
        Michigan had a better team than that, OK Tennessee was awesome, but Michigan didn't even break a sweat. Same with Illinois. Ohio State had been hot and cold all year and that's the way they played that game, the final interception that led to the winning kick just kind of iced the way the whole day had gone.
        But let's not take everything away from their opponents. Face it LSU's QB and receivers were hotter than the gumbo they had for lunch. Washington State did everything they wanted to do against Purdue. South Carolina's Gamecocks might as well have gone in with ten points on the board, that's what Lou Holtz is worth on the sidelines in a Big Game.
        Not every Big Ten team turns into stumbling winos when they see the bowl logo sticker on their helmet. Michigan State bucked the trend against Fresno this year. Even though the Dogs had a better record going in, State had something to prove, and they proved it. It was the day to have a career game, and several of the Spartans did. It was a day for the Juniors and other underclassmen to show what next year will be, and they did. From this season's bowl games the flavor of the 2002 Big Ten season will be dictated by the school in East Lansing instead of Champaign or Columbus.
        Isn't it supposed to be the Defending Big Ten Champion that is the Team to Beat?
        Supposed to be, yes. But the stink Illinois put up in the Sugar Bowl doesn't bode well for the upcoming year. Yes they made a valiant attempt at a comeback late in the third quarter, but it was way too little and way too late. If this is the tone they wanted to set for their defense of the Old Conference Crown... forgetaboutit.
        Maybe the Second Place team should carry the mantle for the coming year.
        Oh, that'd be good. Depending on how you figure things that would be either Michigan or Ohio State. So far we are 0-3 for the top three team's Bowl Records.
        Fourth Place was Iowa. And they did win their Bowl. 16 - 13 over Texas Tech. A field goal with 44 seconds to go against a team that was .500 in their conference and barely made it to a bowl at all. Not a real ringing endorsement but it may have to do.
        In the conference rankings, Purdue finished ahead of Michigan State, but we've already discussed what the Cougars did to them in their bowl game. The Boilermakers were lucky to get out of Texas with their own cheerleaders, they left their Self Respect at the Alamo. The score wasn't as close as the numbers on the board imply. By the fourth quarter Washington State had the locker room towel guy and the trombone section of the band in the game.
        So it seems it will have to be the Sixth Place conference team. They finished half and half in the conference, but they also finished the year on the upswing. The Desk will say it now. Next year, the road to the Big Ten Title runs into the parking lot at Spartan Stadium, and it may not come out.
        State hasn't been a force in the Big Ten in recent memory. In fact, for the last few years they played like the other teams did in the holiday bowls this year. If they can put something of a shadow of the team that played in the Silicon Valley Bowl for the 2002 campaign, they will be a force.
        And if not. The Big Ten will probably continue to be the rest of the country's weak sister when it comes to the Bowls for New Years 2003.
        Given their track record... maybe we shouldn't expect anything else.


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