Big Ten football thoughts in a still-SEC world

By: Daniel Massa – Staff Writer

You will not believe what happened New Year’s Day.

I, Daniel Massa, born and raised in Indianapolis, brought up to cheer for the Indiana Hoosiers and Wisconsin Badgers and, naturally, grown to not exactly like the big state school to the east, cheered for the Ohio State University when the Buckeyes faced top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals.

And I’m not just talking about passive, “oh, that would be nice if they win” stuff. I was active, even catching myself throwing a fist pump or two whenever Ohio State would make a great play, which happened regularly throughout the Buckeyes’ comeback bid after they dug themselves a 21-6 hole about halfway through the second quarter.

I won’t go into many details of the game, as I’m sure most of you were glued to your TV like I was. Ohio State prevailed 42-35 and faced Oregon last night for the national championship.

The College Football Playoff changed how I watched bowl season this year. I never liked the Bowl Championship Series, and each year I would only watch whatever bowl game Wisconsin was in and not have much interest in watching the rest of the games. I always heard about how fans should cheer for their entire conference in the playoffs, but I never bought into that under the BCS system. Apart from the national title game, what did it matter if a team won?

But my mindset changed once the CFP was established. While I prefer an at least eight-team playoff, I was happy Division I football was finally getting a playoff. I watched both semifinal matchups, and probably had a little too much fun laughing at Jameis Winston and the hilarious memes that showed up on the Internet minutes after his flailing fumble.

Because Ohio State, a Big Ten school, was playing Alabama, the premiere SEC program, college football fans got the most coveted Big Ten-SEC postseason showdown since the 2008 national championship game when LSU defeated Ohio State 38-24.

In addition, the playoff matchup made me that much more interested in the other three Big Ten-SEC bowl matchups. To me, they served as a bit of an appetizer before the Sugar Bowl entree.

My Wisconsin Badgers beat Auburn 34-31 in overtime in the Outback Bowl, and fellow Big Ten members Iowa and Minnesota lost to Tennessee and Missouri, respectively. Michigan State had a thrilling comeback victory in the Cotton Bowl over Baylor, a Big 12 program which has basically reached SEC-type popularity ever since Robert Griffin III won the Heisman.

The two conferences also split two regular season matchups, with Wisconsin losing a tough season opener to LSU, a game I think the Badgers would have won had Heisman finalist running back Melvin Gordon not have been injured.

He went on to have only three more carries the rest of the game, and Wisconsin gave up 21 straight unanswered points to lose 28-24.

Thankfully, Indiana would pick up the conference with an impressive 31-27 road victory at Missouri a few weeks later. That makes the season/postseason series tied at three apiece.

It was a nice step forward for the Big Ten, which had posted four straight losing seasons against the SEC. However, I don’t think the Big Ten should have to be judged relative to the SEC, or any other conference for that matter.

The SEC has been the best football conference in my lifetime, and barring any seismic changes, it will in all likelihood continue to be. And that’s just fine. It doesn’t make the Big Ten bad by any stretch. The conference routinely produces successful NFL players, such as former Wisconsin Badger J.J. Watt, who has become the best defensive player in the league.

While Ohio State may have gotten the last laugh for itself and its conference against the SEC, a new season will begin in the fall. Wisconsin opens up the season facing Alabama, which will surely be seeking revenge on any Big Ten program it can get its hands on. I know I’m excited to see the Big Ten continue to evolve as a respectable football conference.