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Big Ten teams all underdogs in bowl season

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Big Ten teams all underdogs in bowl season

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) The Big Ten spent much of the year as a national punch line.

It might get worse during bowl season.

The Big Ten could only fill seven of its eight predetermined bowl slots - and each of those bowl-bound teams is currently an underdog.

From the five-loss Wisconsin team that still wound up in the Rose Bowl to the 6-6 Purdue squad that fired its coach, the beleaguered Big Ten isn't expected to do much of anything in the postseason.

The league went just 1-6 in bowl games in 2008. According to odds makers, things could go even worse in 2012.

``I'm not apologizing for us to go to the Rose Bowl with five losses,'' Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said during his press conference to announce he would coach the Badgers in that game. ``I didn't have anything to do with two teams being ineligible in our division. That allowed us to play in that championship game, and we soundly defeated the champion from the other side.''

That they did, thumping Nebraska 70-31.

Still, the current symbol for the league's plight has to be Badgers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten).

They finished four games behind Ohio State and one behind Penn State in the Leaders Division. But the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions weren't eligible for the Big Ten title game, and the Badgers made the most of their lucky break.

Wisconsin is currently in upheaval after Bret Bielema stunned nearly everyone by bolting for Arkansas a few weeks ago. Alvarez will lead the Badgers in their third straight Rose Bowl, where they're about a touchdown underdog to 11-2 Stanford. Afterward, he'll resume his search for a new coach.

``It will be a great challenge for us, but I think it's a good matchup. I think it's a great bowl matchup. The game hasn't changed,'' Alvarez said.

The way Wisconsin manhandled the Huskers also took some buzz out of the Capital One Bowl.

Nebraska (10-3, 7-1) fell to the game in Orlando following their loss to the Badgers. The Huskers face Georgia (11-2) in a matchup that would have looked like good on paper - in mid-November.

While the Bulldogs were within about 5 yards of beating Alabama and earning a shot at Notre Dame in the BCS national championship, the Huskers were embarrassed by the five-loss Badgers a few hours later.

Georgia is a 10-point favorite over the seemingly reeling Huskers.

``They're resilient,'' Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ``They look forward to going out and playing again. They were hurting, but you know what, they are grown men. You move on. That's what you have to do. We'll be ready to go.''

Perhaps no bowl matchup epitomizes the current gap between the Big Ten and the powerhouse Big 12 and SEC more than Purdue-Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Even though the Boilermakers fired coach Danny Hope, they're still on a three-game winning streak. Yet the Cowboys, who at 7-5 are just a game better than Purdue, are an 18-point favorite.

That's the biggest line of the postseason - bigger than even Florida State over MAC champs Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

Minnesota (6-6, 2-6) is also a heavy underdog in its matchup with Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, even though the Red Raiders (7-5) lost coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati.

Even with all those apparent mismatches, going 0-7 is probably a long shot for the Big Ten.

Michigan (8-4, 6-2) and South Carolina should make for an entertaining Outback Bowl. Few would be surprised if the Wolverines won their second straight bowl game under coach Brady Hoke.

Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) can reach the 10-win plateau for just the third time with a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

The Wildcats, who were perhaps the only Big Ten team that can claim they were underrated in 2012, are just a 2-point underdog.

``Our guys are hungry. This is an opportunity for 10 wins for this ball club and to potentially be ranked in the top 15 in the country. That's an unbelievable foundation of success that this senior class will have laid. Ten wins makes a good season great,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

Michigan State and TCU are also a virtual toss-up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

The Spartans were one of the nation's most disappointing teams, but five of their six losses were by four points or less.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is hoping his team can finally catch a few break.

His Big Ten colleagues might be thinking along those same lines.

``One play here, one play there, we're a different football team. But you have to play what you've got. We want to point our compass north. I believe the glass is half full, not half empty,'' Dantonio said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

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USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Receiver Willie Snead has bid farewell to the Saints, which means New Orleans apparently won't match the contract the Baltimore Ravens offered the restricted free agent.

Eager to add a target for quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens on Friday offered Snead a two-year, $10.4 million contract. The Saints had five days to match the deal. Snead indicated Monday on Twitter that he's headed out of New Orleans.

Snead tweeted: "What I'm going to miss most is the men in the locker room & the coaches."

He added: "Even though I'm sad to go, I'm even more excited for the next chapter in my life. I can't wait to strap it on as a Baltimore Raven."

Hampered by a three-game suspension and a hamstring injury, Snead was limited to eight catches for 92 yards last year.

In 2015, he had 69 receptions for 984 yards. He caught 72 passes for 895 yards in 2016.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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