Big Ten really needs Penn State to perform well against USC
The Big Ten is close to getting unofficially blackballed from the title game
There is no shortage of evidence to suggest that Penn State can in fact beat USC
If PSU does pull off the upset, it will exponentially elevate the Big Ten's perception
LOS ANGELES -- As if Penn State's coaches and players won't have enough on their hands against No. 5 USC in Thursday's 95th Rose Bowl Game, there's this added little burden.
The Nittany Lions' conference really needs them to play well against the Trojans. Seriously. The Big Ten is about one more 41-14 or 49-17 BCS drubbing from getting unofficially blackballed from the national championship game.
Not that Penn State is in any way responsible for the Big Ten's recently blemished reputation -- that would be the doings of Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois -- but still, Jim Delany and his minions could really use your help, JoePa.
"That's a tough load to carry if you're carrying the whole conference," said Penn State's 82-year-old patriarch. "I don't look at it quite the same way."
Of course you don't, Joe. You're a coach. You know better than to make sweeping generalizations about conferences based off one game here or there. That's the role of the media and the public.
Rightly or wrongly, Ohio State's national-title routs at the hands of Florida and LSU the past two seasons, along with USC's recent drubbings of Michigan (2007 Rose Bowl), Illinois (2008 Rose Bowl) and Ohio State (last September) have created the following, near-universal perceptions.
The Big Ten is slow.
The Big Ten is weak.
The Big Ten is overrated. (Though at this point, I'm not sure it could be "rated" much lower.)
So virulent was the backlash that you could sense a tangible wave of relief around the country when the then-undefeated Nittany Lions lost to Iowa on Nov. 8, thus sparing the nation of another Big Ten title berth.
"Obviously we want the Big Ten to have a better name," said Penn State receiver Deon Butler, "because we feel it's a better conference than it's given credit."
The only way to do that is to beat premier teams from other, more respected conferences, and there's no greater window of opportunity than bowl season. Unfortunately, the prognosticators aren't too confident in the conference's chances -- only one of the Big Ten's seven bowl teams (Iowa) was favored to win its game, and the first two, Wisconsin and Northwestern, have already lost.
Both Penn State (against USC) and Ohio State (against Texas) are listed as eight-to-10-point underdogs.
"Once again, we're in a game where we're being counted out," said Nittany Lions QB Daryll Clark, whose 11-1 team was initially picked to finish third or fourth in the Big Ten. "I think we can handle the whole underdog thing. I feel very confident that we can win the game."
There is no shortage of evidence to suggest that Penn State can in fact beat the 11-1 Trojans.
For one thing, the two combatants played two common opponents, Oregon State and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions crushed the Beavers, which subsequently handed 'SC its only loss. And while the Trojans destroyed the Buckeyes 35-3, Penn State also held them without a touchdown in a 13-6 win in Columbus. Unlike USC, the Nittany Lions did so with OSU star Beanie Wells in the lineup.