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Big Ten pride at stake for Ohio State
SEC's Arkansas is Sugar Bowl foe

NEW ORLEANS — Jim Tressel and Bobby Petrino dutifully posed in front of the Sugar Bowl trophy yesterday, forcing smiles and mumbling a few pleasantries to each other while the cameras clicked away.

Surely there was no mention of what happened on New Year's Day.

That would have wiped the grin right off Tressel's face.

The Big Ten Conference is still stinging from an embarrassing performance on the first day of 2011, when its teams went 0-5 in bowl games. Making matter worse, three of those defeats came against the Southeastern Conference, the other half of that perennial debate over where they play the best college football: the North or the South?

No. 6 Ohio State can soothe some of the sting by winning tonight's Sugar Bowl against No. 8 Arkansas in yet another Big Ten-SEC matchup.

Tressel would prefer not to put the entire conference on his team's back, especially since the Buckeyes (11-1) haven't won a bowl game against an SEC team in nine previous tries.

"We always say if you ever want to become the best, you play against the best,'' said Tressel, who has an 0-3 bowl record against the SEC in his decade as Ohio State's coach — including back-to-back losses in the national championship game.

There's little doubt the Big Ten is feeling a bit of inferiority complex against the SEC, which already has claimed an unprecedented four straight national titles and has shot at making it five when Auburn faces Oregon in the BCS championship game next week.

They are the two richest football-playing leagues, rolling in dough from lucrative television deals. For at least the past two decades, they've ranked 1-2 in attendance, so there's clearly no lack of passion on either side. And, of course, the regional debate over who's the best has raged for much longer than that, a latter-day civil war played out every Saturday from Ann Arbor to Tuscaloosa.

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Around the nation

*Randy Edsall, who enjoyed unprecedented success during his 12 years at Connecticut, beat out former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and several other applicants for the head coaching position at Maryland.

*A magistrate in Indiana has entered a not guilty plea on a felony domestic violence charge for former Pittsburgh coach Mike Haywood. He faces six months to three years in prison if convicted of domestic battery in the presence of a minor.

*Florida confirmed that former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis will be Will Muschamp's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Missouri junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert has elected to make himself available for the NFL draft. Gabbert has started the last two seasons, and is coming off a standout performance in the Insight Bowl, when he was 41 of 57 for 434 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Iowa.

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