I hope everyone had a great holiday season! Let’s get 2013 started right with the year’s first edition of Random Hash!

Bowl Season

Well, college football’s bowl season ends tonight with the BCS national title game.  The Big Ten sent seven teams to bowl games, and with two of the league’s top teams – Ohio State and Penn State – on probation and ineligible for bowls, the league was at a severe disadvantage.  All seven Big Ten bowl teams entered their games as underdogs.  Yet the Big Ten held its own during bowl season, winning two games and coming up just short in four others. The usual cadre of Big Ten critics are railing on the conference’s 2-5 bowl record, but considering the matchups and the absence of the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, this record was entirely expected.

Here’s the thing about the Big Ten’s bowl games. Jim Delany has used his considerable power as the conference commissioner to negotiate the most lucrative slate of tie-ins of any conference in the country. It seems like every year, Big Ten teams are routinely playing opponents in bowl games that are higher ranked and that have far better records. That’s no accident. In an effort to maximize revenue, Delany has wiggled Big Ten teams into high paying bowl games, which means “playing up” and taking on higher ranked foes. Vegas recognizes this, which is the reason why Big Ten teams routinely enter their bowl games as underdogs.

In addition, the SEC has been the king of the college football world for several years running now, and the Big Ten plays a disproportionate number of bowl games against that league.  A few years back, the Big Ten traded their tie-in with the Champs Sports Bowl (against an ACC opponent) for the higher-paying Gator Bowl (against an SEC foe). That’s the third January 1 bowl game – along with the Capital One and Outback bowls – where the Big Ten faces off with the SEC. Again, that makes for a lot of revenue but some pretty tough matchups.

The criticism of the Big Ten’s bowl record sure doesn’t bother Delany, whose primary interest is in getting the Big Ten their best bowl matchups possible. Delany would much rather have the Big Ten make a ton of money and go 2-5 against high profile opponents than go 5-2 against lesser foes while making less money.  I agree with that philosophy…bowl wins may be harder to come by that way, but at least they mean something when you get them, because you’re always playing the best opponent you can get. It beats getting drilled in a bowl game by a Conference USA team.

And on that note, congratulations to the Cyclones on their third straight losing season. At least Iowa going 4-8 has allowed Ames fans to change the subject when someone points out that their team hasn’t won a conference title in 100 years and hasn’t been competitive in their league in over three decades. Nope, the diehards can keep on believing their program is on the upswing, despite the senior-laden Cyclones getting housed by the Golden Hurricane in the Big XII’s #9 bowl game.

NFL Playoffs

It was a fun weekend watching the NFL playoffs, with Hawkeyes in action in two of this weekend’s four games.  The Green Bay-Minnesota game was a good one.  Chad Greenway was a tackling machine for the Vikings as usual, and Christian Ballard got a sack of Aaron Rodgers, too.  But their seasons ended at the hands of the Packers, who look to be one of the favorites in the NFC.  Although Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the season with a hip injury, defensive end Mike Daniels gets some time as a reserve lineman for the Packers, and it will be fun to see if they can make it to the NFC title game next week by beating the 49ers next week.

It was the same story in the Baltimore-Indianapolis game.  Pat Angerer recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter to keep the Colts in the game, but the Ravens pulled away in the final period.  Baltimore is loaded with Hawkeyes, including Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda and safety Sean Considine. Also, former Hawk Jim Caldwell is the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, and the victory had to be sweet for the former Colts head coach.  They’ll have a big task on their hands next week, however, trying to keep up with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

The Atlanta Falcons and former Hawkeye defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux had the weekend off thanks to a first-round bye, but they resume action next weekend when they host the Seattle Seahawks.  Unfortunately, next weekend’s New England-Houston game won’t be too interesting from a Hawkeye perspective.  But I’ll be rooting for the Packers, Ravens, and Falcons to take another step toward the Super Bowl next week!

Random Hash

  • Tough start to the Big Ten season for the Hawkeye men’s basketball team.  After dropping a tough game to #5 Indiana, Iowa was blown out by #2 Michigan.  Despite the 0-2 start, if they can continue to play for the rest of the year the way they did against the Hoosiers, Iowa will be a strong NCAA Tournament contender.
  • On the other hand, congrats to the Hawkeye women’s basketball team for their upset of #20 Texas, 86-63.  It’s looking like a good year for the Hawks on the hardwood – both men and women.
  • Speaking of female athletes, I was astounded like many others at the double life led by former Wisconsin runner Suzy Favor Hamilton. Hamilton is the namesake of the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year Award (the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year is named after Jesse Owens).  Suzy Favor Hamilton recently admitted that she has been working as a Vegas escort for the last several years.  Frankly, except for the fact that she has a husband and young child and the fact that it’s probably illegal, I really don’t care what she does with her free time.  But it’s a good example of why it’s generally not a good idea to name a trophy after a young living former athlete whose life story isn’t close to being fully written.
  • While we’re on the subject, I can’t stand the Big Ten’s football award names.  It seems spineless to name every award after two people, like they’re trying too hard to include everyone. It makes the names way too cumbersome. I mean, congrats to Micah Hyde for winning the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Award, but that’s a lousy award name.
  • It’s not like picking two names for every trophy eliminates any of the controversy anyway.  No offense to Dike Eddleman and Brandon Fields, but there has never been a better punter in Big Ten history than Reggie Roby, let alone two.
  • Big news on the Duke Slater front!  An article I wrote about Slater is featured as the cover story of the latest edition of Coffin Corner.  The Coffin Corner newsletter is put out by the Pro Football Researchers Association, a great group of fans who love football history.  Also, the price of my book on Duke Slater has been reduced to $30 (with all taxes and shipping included).  It’s a great story, so check it out!
  • Finally, in previous posts, I have mentioned how big of a fan I am of Ron Gonder’s radio podcast, Footprints From the Big Shoe.  Well, if you’re late to following this show, you’re in luck.  23 of the best moments from the show are featured on a new CD to benefit the Eastern Iowa Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  You can purchase the CD by mail for $17 ($15 plus $2 shipping) by sending a check to: Eastern Iowa FCA, 1800 46th Street NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402.  For more information, visit the Eastern Iowa FCA‘s website.

That’s all, folks!  Have a fantastic week!

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