Penn State is A Big Ten Bowl Outlier
After the College Football Playoff Semifinals the narrative of the Big Ten as the toughest conference is in doubt as the conference’s combined bowl record stood at 2-5. A three game sweep on January 2nd could help restore some of the conference’s pride.
But should those results concern Penn State fans headed into the Rose Bowl Game today?
In 1992 after Penn State lost the Blockbuster Bowl to Stanford there was a column in the Chicago Tribune stating that Penn State’s woeful bowl result would help them fit right in to the Big Ten when they joined the conference for football in 1993.
Well Penn State wasn’t buying any of that. Joe Paterno led his team to a 10-4 Bowl Record (including 7-3 against current SEC Teams) after joining the Big Ten (PSU was 24-12-1 overall in Bowl Games under Joe Paterno). Penn State has gone 11-6 All-Time in bowls as a Big Ten Member.
With an all-time 28-16-2 Bowl record Penn State was and remains an outlier in Big Ten Bowl Performance. The other 13 Big Ten teams have a bowl record of 154-185-4.
To be fair the Big Ten usually plays up—for example the conference always has/had extra teams in the BCS or New Year’s Six so Big Ten teams slide up the bowl pecking order and play better competition. This year Minnesota moved up and played Washington State (and won) Northwestern moved up and played #23 Pitt (and won) and Indiana played #19 Utah (and almost won).
Also the Bowl Games are often road games for Big Ten Teams. This year 4 of the 10 Big Ten Bowl teams played opponents in that team’s home state—Michigan played Florida State in Miami, Nebraska played Tennessee in Nashville, Penn State is playing USC in Pasadena and Iowa is playing Florida in Tampa (4 of the Big Ten’s 10 bowl games). Today will mark the 7th time in Penn State’s 18 Bowl games as a Big Ten member that they will play a team in their home state. In fact roughly 32% of all Big Ten Bowl games were played in an opponent’s home state.
Heading into today's games, the Big Ten has won 45.5% of the Bowl’s in an opponent’s home state and 48.5% of the other bowls—so there is a drag there.
So maybe the Big Ten wasn’t the Nation’s best conference in 2016—but who was?
After the playoff semifinals the ACC looks like the best conference. Lest anyone from the SEC argue, the trend lines for the SEC/ACC argument favors the ACC. In the last week of the regular season the ACC went 3-1 in games against SEC opponents (FSU over Florida, Ga Tech over Georgia, Clemson over South Carolina and Louisville lost to Kentucky). In the Bowl games the ACC is once again 3-1 against the SEC (NC State over Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech over Arkansas, Georgia Tech over Kentucky and Louisville lost to LSU).
With one game to play the ACC is 8-3 in Bowl games, while the SEC is 5-5 with the Sugar Bowl (Auburn versus Oklahoma) and the National Championship Game left.
So do not be surprised if Clemson beats Alabama next Monday. They should have the confidence of the ACC’s Bowl performance and the confidence of having gone toe to toe with Alabama last year and losing by just 5 points.
As for the Big Ten? The conference looks to be even stronger in 2017. Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin—three New Year’s Six Bowl teams return successful starting QBs and huge numbers of starters. In fact they are all among the youngest teams in the country-so the days ahead will be brighter.