Bucks Carry Weight of Conference Image into Sugar Bowl
By Brandon Castel
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Jim Tressel wants no part of the pressure that comes with carrying the Big Ten banner into tonight’s Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas.
He’s got it all the same.
If it wasn’t enough that the Buckeyes themselves were trying to break an 0-9 bowl streak against the SEC, now Ohio State is also the last hope for a conference that got emasculated on New Years Day.
“Does it add something more to our challenge? I don't think so. Arkansas is enough of a challenge of its own,” Tressel said Monday.
“What someone else did or didn't do is probably going to have very little effect on how we do against Arkansas. And our guys have been preparing hard to compete against a great team, which happens to be from the SEC.”
The Big Ten faced off against three SEC teams on Saturday and the results were devastating for Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and his conference. They were outscored 138-45 in those three games, including two blowout losses by Michigan and Michigan State.
“I think one of the big thrills about playing in the Big Ten is that we know our Bowl alliances and the games where we have a chance to compete against the SEC and other conferences and so forth,” said Tressel, who is 0-3 against the SEC in bowl games during his tenure at Ohio State.
“And to me that's one of the bonuses about playing in our league.”
After starting the bowl season with two quality wins over Big 12 opponents, the Big Ten was walloped on New Years Day with losses in all five of their bowl matchups. Penn State, Northwestern and Wisconsin all gave valiant efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overshadow the devastating results from the other two games.
“We always say if you ever want to become the best, you play against the best,” Tressel said.
“And I didn't really see many of the games. I got back to see the later games that day. Obviously I saw the results.”
Called the second-best conference in college football all season long, the Big Ten sits at 2-5 this bowl season—2-6 if we include Nebraska, who will join the conference next year after losing their final game as members of the Big 12)—and only Tressel’s Buckeyes stand between them and relentless ridicule.
Ohio State has been far-and-away the most successful team in the conference during Tressel’s decade in Columbus, but even they had their face-planting moments on the big stage. The first came during the 2006 season, when the high-powered Buckeyes went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country during the regular season.
They were promptly stomped 41-14 by Florida in the BCS National Title game. The Buckeyes made it back to the championship game a year later, but couldn’t overcome their own mistakes in an ugly loss to LSU.
Those two games alone were like punches to the face for the Big Ten, and they left a pair of black eyes that only recently started to fade away.
Ohio State’s 26-17 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl gave the conference its first winning bowl season since 2002, when the Buckeyes captured the Big Ten’s only national championship of the BCS era. They have a chance to make amends for those losses in 2007-08 with a big win in this year’s Sugar Bowl, but they’ll have to beat a very good Arkansas team to do it.
“We know we're playing against a wonderful football team,” Tressel said.
“If you're fortunate enough to be at games like this, you know that your opponent is going to be extraordinary. And Arkansas is just that.”
Only a handful of these Buckeyes were around for those losses to the SEC, but even they aren’t concerned about an SEC jinx haunting them against the Razorbacks.
“You don’t let it bother you. I know a lot of these guys haven’t been in an SEC game. Some of the older guys have, but we are just excited for the challenge,” OSU fullback Zach Boren said.
“Arkansas is a great team and we’re excited to just go out there and play. We know we just have to go out and play our game and whatever happens, happens.”
If the Buckeyes win, much of what happened in the massacre on New Years Day will be forgotten. If they don’t, it could set the conference back another 2-3 years in terms of public opinion.
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