Commentary

Big Ten's hopes rest with OSU

Updated: December 28, 2009, 6:10 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Before each season, every Big Ten coach talks about only one destination: Pasadena.

The Rose Bowl remains the holy grail in a league that unabashedly puts its traditional Jan. 1 matchup against the Pac-10 on a pedestal. The Big Ten's bond with the Rose Bowl runs deep, and it's felt from Iowa City to State College, from Columbus to Madison.

No one takes it lightly.

"It's something that if you coach in the Big Ten or the Pac-10, it's certainly in front of you every day," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "It's a goal that you want to be a part of the Rose Bowl."

The connection also draws criticism in college football circles. The Big Ten has been called arrogant, stubborn and detrimental to the greater good of the game for clinging to its Rose Bowl tie-in.

Any list of top opponents to a college football playoff system starts with the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl.

All of our players, all of our teams, would love to win a national championship, but to be honest with you, if the price were giving up the Rose Bowl, it's probably not a price we'd want to pay.

-- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany

The Big Ten, quite frankly, doesn't care.

"That's who we are," commissioner Jim Delany said. "It's where we've been for the last six decades. It's probably the most important external relationship we have. All of our players, all of our teams, would love to win a national championship, but to be honest with you, if the price were giving up the Rose Bowl, it's probably not a price we'd want to pay."

But the Big Ten has paid a heavy price at the Rose Bowl in recent years. The league has dropped six straight in its signature game, five by 10 points or more.

While Ohio State's back-to-back blowout defeats in the national title game caused the most damage to the league's national reputation, the annual Rose Bowl flops aren't helping, either.

The Big Ten's path to Pasadena is filled with potholes right now. But has the league truly put its best foot forward?

Of all the Big Ten explanations for recent Rose Bowl futility -- the virtual road-game environment, the extra-long layoff before the postseason, having to play USC during its peak years -- one seems to hold the most water.

[+] EnlargeJoe Germaine
Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty ImagesIt's been nearly 13 years since Ohio State last played in the Rose Bowl. Back in 1997, QB Joe Germaine led the Buckeyes to a dramatic victory over Arizona State.

The Big Ten's team of the decade hasn't played in the Rose Bowl even once this decade.

Ohio State has won or shared six Big Ten championships since 2002, including a current streak of five straight titles. The Buckeyes own a 59-13 record in conference play (.819) since Tressel arrived as coach before the 2001 season. And yet they haven't been to the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1997.

The last time a team dominated the Big Ten the way Ohio State has, Michigan won or shared five consecutive league titles from 1988 to 1992. The Wolverines also went to the Rose Bowl in four of those five years.

But that was before the BCS, which has repeatedly sent Ohio State elsewhere for its bowl games -- until now. The Buckeyes finally get to represent the league they've dominated on Jan. 1 against Oregon at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

It seems like an eternity since the Buckeyes last played in Pasadena. Nearly 13 years ago, quarterback Joe Germaine led the Scarlet and Gray on a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Jake Plummer and Arizona State.

Germaine's heroics sparked a four-game win streak for the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. But since Wisconsin beat Stanford on Jan. 1, 2000, the Big Ten has whiffed in Pasadena.

Ohio State wants to change that against Oregon. Fairly or unfairly, the Buckeyes receive the brunt of the blame for the Big Ten's damaged national rep. The league owns a six-game losing streak in BCS bowls, and Ohio State is responsible for half of those losses.

There are those both inside and outside the Ohio State program who believe the responsibility of fixing the Big Ten falls squarely upon the Buckeyes.

"We talked about that during the summer when we were working out, how our class hasn't won a bowl game," senior safety Anderson Russell said. "We definitely want to do that, and what better opponent to do it against than Oregon?"

And what better stage to do it on than the Rose Bowl?

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.