How's Ken O'Keefe look to you now?
The Rose Bowl for years has been, and continues to be, the most essential bowl game in shaping public perception of the B1G TEN's place on the college football landscape. After an awful day of lead-in games with four B1G TEN teams losing (two from the state of Michican't losing in humiliating fashion no less) just in time for the Rose Bowl kickoff, the Grandaddy seemed to take on even greater importance for the conference. As you all know by now Wisconsin lost and watching the game reminded me that perhaps Iowa has the best big game offensive coordinator in the conference. But I will get to that later.
Today the B1G TEN will, predictably, be painted as a laughingstock--after having four teams ranked in the Top 10 at some point during the course of the regular season the conference found a way to erase any and all prior success by losing a mind-numbing five bowl games in the span of a little over 8 hours. Sure, not one of the teams who played yesterday was a clear-cut favorite to win and all might have technically been a Vegas underdog. But Jim Delany in his infinite wisdom envisioned this New Year's Day as a morning to night infomercial for the B1G TEN. He was correct. Like most products advertised in that fashion, the B1G TEN showed itself to be a specious product of inflated value and mass produced. As a product, it now rivals the Thighmaster, Chia Pet and Flowbee as arguably the most worthless collection of crap shilled on the boob tube in the past 30 years. I half expected David Hasselhoff to walk onto the screen at the conclusion of the day to declare, "But wait, that's not all! Watch the B1G TEN play on January 4th and we'll throw in the Buckeye! The football team that doubles as a wallet! Imagine all the money you can slide into one of these babies!"
(more after the jump)
I won't recap each game here because my frustration is not with any individual program per se, although watching Wisconsin pretend it was the Green Bay Packers was infuriating. I am growing tired of watching the B1G TEN Conference money grab that masquerades as bowl seeding. No conference benefits more from the Bowl System than the B1G TEN. They annually rake in an enormous amount of cash that is unrivaled by other conferences thanks to their inequitable approach; they do so at a cost to conference dignity. This all too may be an unavoidable by-product of the current tie-in system, but it continues to come at a cost to the conference's reputation. And it sucks.
Yesterday's match-ups were a classic example. While Penn State was a vastly improved team from the start of the season, they had no business getting the so-called #4 seed. They luckily drew an unusually awful Florida team but found a way to squander the beneficial match-up. Michigan was hilariously ranked as the #5 seed and had no business playing in a bowl game at all. Finally, Michigan State and Northwestern both proved what they always prove; they are incredibly overrated at the end of the season. Neither has played a bowl game in which anyone thought they would win it, including their fan base, in years. Northwestern has perfected the "down by three scores going into the 4th quarter only to lose by 7 points" routine, also known as its annual "gutty loss." Michigan State has proved that they can no longer be trusted after December 1st to do anything, anywhere, ever again. At the end of the day there was Wisconsin, a surprising 3-point underdog.
If you were like me you thought, how could they be an underdog? What do the sharks in Vegas see that I do not? Well, now we know. The wise guys understand all too well that when B1G TEN teams travel to Pasadena they more often than not act like zombies--dead bodies that return to earth as detached, automatons incapable of thought or emotion, also known as the walking dead. Although in this year's version the bodies are not evil, it is their controlling forces that deserve all that credit. In all seriousness, Paul Jesus H. Chryst deserves a lion's share of the blame for Wisconsin's loss. How he went from the guy who brilliantly called the Iowa game for the Badgers and became a "candidate" for every upper-Midwest coaching job to the guy I saw yesterday is a mystery that I care not to solve. Watching yesterday's Rose Bowl led me to a thought that will not be popular around here: Ken O'Keefe might be the best post-season OC in the conference right now.
Think about it, if Ken O'Keefe isn't the number one offensive coordinator in the B1G TEN, then he's at least tied for it. Penn State has a very good bowl record under Joe Pa but, I'm sorry, five interceptions wipes that all away. Gone. We'll see what Sweater Vest and Jim Bollman cook up on Tuesday night, but if they bland Ohio State into the kind of disgraceful implosion we saw in Pasadena yesterday then O'Keefe becomes the best of the worst. The role of a post-season game plan is to do what you do best. Be who you are with a handful of key adjustments that account for your opponent. Of course, with all that preparation time the OC needs to have a Plan B and even a Plan C in case your true offensive identity is more problem than solution. Never have I seen more incompetence in one day from five OCs than I saw yesterday--and that includes the two Michigan schools, both of who chose not to play more than 5 downs of defense. Wisconsin was the worst though. Ken O'Keefe, with that offensive personnel, would have won that game yesterday and probably in an Iowa blowout (meaning by a margin of more than one score). There is no question in my mind.
Sure, we have all watched O'Keefe and Ferentz ignore the obvious only to lose a very winnable game. But those are the regular season antics of those two, where they have less prep time and seem to default to panicked paralysis. Watching Marcus Coker run roughshod over Ohio State earlier this season, only to be shuttled to the sidelines at crunch time being a very obvious example. However, during bowl season O'Keefe has put together a very "true to identity" game plan in the last three, and really all of Iowa's bowl games during the Ferentz era. Norm Parker has often been deemed the hero of most of Kirk's bowl victories, and rightfully so, but you have to score to win and now KOK and KF are 6-3 in bowl games with only one bad half of football under their belt. With KOK at the helm, Iowa has won games in which they were favorites and games where they have been decided underdogs, and they have won in the eastern and western halves of the U.S. as well as having beaten teams from the SEC, Big 12, and ACC--in fact, they are 3-1 against the SEC under Ferentz with the lone loss being tainted by a botched offsides penalty that derailed what seemed like an inevitable comeback.
It's hard to gauge just how important coming out of your bowl game with a victory really is to the perception of a program. What everyone seems to agree upon is that losing the last game you play leaves your program feeling inadequate and depressed for months. The impact on recruiting might be significant since signing day proceeds the Bowl Season. What we can safely assume is this though, if Ohio State loses to Arkansas, and that seems more possible than at any time during the lead-up to that game, Iowa will become the de facto conference leader going into the off-season, followed closely by Illinois. Right? Right?