By Brad Spencer
A strange college football season 'twas, even if there are still 35 college bowl games to be played.
Where to start?
Let's stick with the Big Ten, which will soon add two more teams, Rutgers and Maryland, making for 14 total in a league that has been misnamed since 1990. Rutgers and Maryland don't belong in the Big Ten. Distance is a factor. Student athletes shouldn't be jet-setting across the country to play sports. The Big Ten was once a conference reserved only for teams located in the Midwest. Penn State and Nebraska were tolerable acquisitions, but that's where the line should have been drawn. Adding schools located on the east coast is overindulgent for a league that already has plenty of fan base and plenty of revenue.
Wisconsin played in the second annual Big Ten championship, blowing out Legends Division leader Nebraska 70-31. The Badgers (4-4), who, with the win, earned advancement to the Rose Bowl to take on Stanford, were only playing in the conference title game due to sanctions handed down by the NCAA against both Ohio State and Penn State, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams, respectively, in the Leaders Division.
It was disheartening to see these two Big Ten teams have successful seasons only to miss playing in a conference title game and a bowl game. Undefeated — but for all intents and purposes defeated — Ohio State would have played for the BCS championship against Notre Dame. And the Buckeyes, no doubt, would have blown the gold off the Fightin' Irish's helmets.
Yep, a Big Ten team could have been hoisting the national title trophy. Instead, the Buckeyes will have to wait until next year to play in the postseason.
Penn State, on the other hand, is serving the first of four seasons of ineligibility for a conference title or a bowl game — sanctions imposed after an alleged cover-up was discovered involving child sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. You have to feel for the freshmen Nittany Lion, who, despite having nothing to do with the appalling actions of Sandusky or the cover-up, will never play in the college postseason no matter how his team does the next three seasons.
While Big Ten woes have rivaled those of Illinois politicians, a local feel-good story has emerged in the form of NIU, a football program that, let's face it, wasn't on anyone's radar for much of the season. The Huskies will take on Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1.
So there is reason to settle into the barcalounger. Along with Wisconsin, other Big Ten teams to zero in on include Minnesota (Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas), Michigan State (Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), Purdue (Cotton Bowl), Northwestern (TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl), Nebraska (Capital One Citrus Bowl) and Michigan (Outback Bowl).
And the best thing about it is, that leaves 28 other bowls for you to consume.