Big Ten bowls & Illini ankles
Out with the old, in with the new. . .
BOWLED OVER AGAIN: Michigan's overtime victory vs. Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl gave the Big Ten a 4-6 mark this bowl season. It's the eighth time in nine years the league has not had a winning post-season record.
One explanation: Because the Big Ten has had an at-large BCS team eight times over that span, its teams have been moving up, and often facing more difficult matchups. That's especially true at the high end. The league is 1-9 in Jan. 1 bowls (played on Jan. 2 as an NFL courtesy this year) the last two years, including a 1-4 mark this season, with Michigan State posting the lone victory, an overtime win vs. Georgia.
The most disappointing setback was probably Northwestern's 33-22 loss to interim-coached Texas A&M. It was the ninth straight bowl loss for NU, which hasn't won a post-season game since the 1948 (season) Rose Bowl
The only Big Ten team, surprisingly, that has emerged smiling from the last two bowl seasons? Illinois, which followed up last year's rout of Baylor and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III with a 20-14 defeat of UCLA in this year's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. It was a much-needed bit of healing for a program changing coaches after ending its season with a six-game losing streak.
MERCILUS GOOD TO GO: Smart move by Whitney Mercilus to declare for the NFL draft. After leading the nation in sacks, Illinois' junior defensive end can't make himself more attractive. The loss will hurt, but Illinois has some good candidates to become formidable defenders, including Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan.
SAM THE MAN: Of all the little items that have been surfacing on the college beat the last few days, one that grabs my attention is the nagging ankle injury of Illini point guard Sam Maniscalco.
The fifth-year transfer from Bradley has been a great addition at Illinois--a leader and a competitor as well as a steadying influence and a productive clutch scorer. Those are all especially important commodoties to a young Illini team.
Maniscalco, whose pre-season playing time was shortened because of his surgically repaired ankle, has limitations even when the ankle isn't bothering him. He's going to have issues against athletic guards.
But with all that pre-season chatter about Illinois' depth failing to materialize, the Illini's path to a quality season would become much more difficult if Maniscalco's ankle prevents him from continuing the important all-around contribution he's been making so far.
HOOPS HICCUPS: In its second week, the Big Ten basketball race looks a lot murkier than it did before the games began.
But Ohio State is still the team to beat. And Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin are still the next tier.
Wisconsin's little lull--back-to-back home losses--ought to be a concern to Cheeseheads. But the Badgers are young in places, especially upfront. And while Bo Ryan is a maestro, some of his previous teams have hit sour notes early in the Big Ten season, then bounced back well.
Indiana continues to be the most surprising Big Ten squad, especially considering that IU has been over-achieving without Maurice Creek, a potential leading scorer who went down with another season-ending injury.
NU'S ONE-TWO PUNCH: I knew Bill Carmody had a great place to start with John Shurna (18.6 points a game ) and Drew Crawford (17.9). Didn't know they'd be the top two scorers in the Big Ten, though.
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