Commentary

Buckeyes carry Big Ten flag

Originally Published: December 31, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Another year. Another Rose Bowl. Another Big Ten debacle.

[+] EnlargeOhio State
Steve Grayson/WireImage/Getty ImagesOhio State's last BCS victory was against Notre Dame in th 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

C'mon, you know you think it. All of us think it. The statistics are what they are. Ohio State has lost three consecutive BCS games. The league is 4-11 in BCS games in this decade.

Hence the official Big Ten motto: Thank God for the ACC (it's 1-8 in the 2000s).

All No. 7 Oregon has to do Friday is get its first Rose Bowl win since 1917, when Woodrow Wilson was president and Joe Paterno was in his third year as a head coach.

You call that a burden? The No. 8 Buckeyes are responsible for global warming, the spread of H1N1 and Kanye West's outburst against Taylor Swift. You don't need to see "Avatar" to learn the value of unobtainium. It's the respect that the Big Ten will get when Ohio State wins a BCS game.

The Buckeyes have to redeem themselves and 10 more schools to boot. It may be difficult to block the Ducks while carrying the flag and the reputation of the entire Big Ten.

"Every school is playing for the conference, especially us," left offensive tackle Jim Cordle said. "The past couple of years, the record hasn't been good."

Free safety Anderson Russell took the blame for the smudges on the Big Ten's cape.

"We haven't won the big game since 2006 when we beat Texas [24-7, in the second game of the season]," Russell said.

That's not exactly true. That 42-39 victory over No. 2 Michigan at the end of the 2006 season still seems pretty important. The fact is, as with all stereotypes, Ohio State's starring as the January flop in the BCS school play isn't exactly accurate.

• The Rose Bowl is Ohio State's eighth appearance in the BCS, the most of any school in the nation (USC and Oklahoma have seven apiece).

• The Buckeyes are 4-3 in the BCS. In this decade, they preceded the three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak. That makes the rest of the Big Ten 1-8 in this decade. (New Big Ten motto: Let's Not Bring Up the ACC After All.)

Ohio State's failures in the BCS Championship Games for the 2006 and 2007 seasons, followed by the 24-21 loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl a year ago, made the Buckeyes a target.

When Ohio State lost to Purdue and fell to 5-2, 3-1 in the Big Ten, the nation focused its Big Ten attention span on Iowa. When the Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern 17-10 on the same day that Ohio State defeated Penn State 24-7, all of a sudden the Buckeyes needed only to defeat Iowa the following week to win the conference.

Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, sly grin beneath his mustache, described the national reaction: "There they are again. Those same jerks again."

On the other sideline is Oregon. The Pac-10 is 9-2 in the BCS this decade. Lest you think that's all USC, the Trojans went 6-1 in the BCS. The other schools in the league went 3-1 from 2000-02.

[+] EnlargeQuan Cosby
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes had a good showing last season against Texas, but fell short in the end.

Oregon and Ohio State arrived en masse at the Los Angeles Marriott on Wednesday for media day. The size of the Buckeyes made the Ducks look small in comparison. It feeds into another stereotype, the one about the speed and quickness of the Pac-10 proving too much for the power and bulk of the Big Ten.

That may come true Friday. But it's hard to apply it to the rest of this decade. The two leagues' champions have played each other in the Rose Bowl only three times in the previous nine years. Washington beat Purdue 34-24 in the 2000 season. USC beat Michigan 28-14 in the 2003 season, and USC beat Penn State 38-24 a year ago.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who stays in the moment better than any 10 yoga instructors, dismissed the whole notion of past being prologue.

"I've always felt that each season is its own season," Kelly said. "What happened last year has no effect on this year. ... We're such a young team that a lot of our young guys haven't ever played in a bowl. People put too much into what happened in the past. It's all about what will happen Friday."

It is true that the Buckeyes' defensive front is bigger than any that the Ducks have seen this season. It is true that Oregon spreads the field better than any team that Ohio State has faced.

In the end, the Rose Bowl will decide which team is better, not which conference. But don't tell that to the Buckeyes. They are playing for 11 teams at once.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com