The Big Ten is renowned as a league where it's tough to go into a hostile arena and come out with a win. That wasn't the case when conference play kicked off, as road teams won the four games played this week.
Illinois & Michigan can each be thankful there's other sports dotting the front pages right now. The Wolverines were beaten at home by Wisconsin and scored only 18 points in the first half. The Badgers beat UM on the boards 32-24, and freshman forward Jon Leuer made his first splash of the season off the bench, with 25 points. At least the Michigan basketball team has the distraction created by the Capital One Bowl win and rumors of Ryan Mallett's impending transfer to give them some cover.
The Illini fell apart in the second half against Ohio State, with Buckeye guard Jamar Butler knocking down 32 points. OSU has struggled themselves, as Thad Matta gets a young team rolling, but it seems not to matter when anyone plays Illinois. It's a good thing Bruce Weber has the distraction created by the Rose Bowl post-mortems and the White Sox big trade for Nick Swisher yesterday because the cup looks half-empty in Champaign.
Penn State's basketball team always has a hard time breaking into the headlines, and normally that's nothing to complain about. But it was this week, as the Nittany Lions won at Northwestern. They have two potential All-Conference players in Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley, both of whom registered double-doubles. Although over at the blog Black Shoes Diaries, a post on football concerns for 2008 drew more attention then the hoops victory.
One place the basketball team never gets pushed off the front page is Indiana. The Hoosiers won in Iowa City behind their dynamic duo of Eric Gordon in the backcourt and D.J. White up front. Gordon knocked down 25 points, while White had 16 points and 15 boards. IU had to survive a furious rally, as Hawkeye guard Justin Johnson scored an astonishing nineteen points in the last two minutes, and the Hoosiers just hung on to a 79-76 win. Jamarcus Ellis, the man guarding Johnson is relieved his team survived.
The major bowls came to a conclusion with the Fiesta and Orange Bowls the last two nights. West Virginia delivered its second surprise BCS win in three years, while sending Okahoma to its second straight surprise Fiesta defeat. The 48-28 game continued the trend of BCS blowouts. Viewers got a good game last night in the Orange, as Kansas upset Virginia Tech 24-21.
The Jayhawk win shows the need for modest reform in the BCS selection process. It's time to drop the rule that a conference can get only one at-large bid. Kansas was chosen for the Orange over Missouri, a team they had lost to and finished behind in the Big 12 North. In the wake of last night, the airwaves are filled with the usual comments about Kansas "proving they belonged." Maybe so, but the time to prove they were better then Mizzou was when the teams actually played. A better solution would have been to drop the conference limit, and Missouri could have gone to either the Rose Bowl in place of Illinois, or to the Sugar Bowl in place of Hawaii. Either game would have been a good test for the 12-1 Tigers and produced a better game for the viewers.