Big Ten: Auburn Tigers
And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.
Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!
Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?
Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.
That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?
Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.
Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.
Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.
While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?
The former NC State star quarterback, currently playing baseball for the Class A Asheville Tourists, seems genuinely torn about what to do. By all accounts, he had successful visits to both Auburn and Wisconsin. Yet despite some struggles in the minors, he doesn't want to give up on baseball.
Angst-ridden Wisconsin fans won't have to wait too much longer to learn whether they gain a potential centerpiece for the offense.
From The Asheville Citizen-Times:
"I have to make a decision on what I'm going to do, and I hope to do that no later than July 1," said Wilson, who confirmed publicly for the first time that he will choose either Auburn or Wisconsin if the decision is football.
The Colorado Rockies, who selected Wilson in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, want him to remain with Asheville through the season and then possibly go to an instructional league in the fall. Wilson played rookie league ball last summer but left early to begin preparations for football at NC State.
Through Saturday, Wilson was hitting .228 with three home runs and 15 RBI, and an on-base percentage of .366.
Colorado director of player development Marc Gustafson said in an earlier interview that it would be "very difficult" for Wilson to return to baseball if he left early this season.
That's a bit surprising. The Rockies understandably want a firm commitment from Wilson, but would they give up on him if he played football this fall but chose not to pursue an NFL career?
Not long ago, it appeared like Wilson would almost certainly play football in the fall. Now his decision really seems to be baseball vs. football.
If he chooses football, my sense is he'll end up at Wisconsin. The schematic adjustment on offense won't be nearly as dramatic, and Wisconsin's pro-style offense can help prepare Wilson for the NFL. The Badgers' supporting cast at running back and offensive line doesn't hurt, either.
Auburn is an excellent option as well, but Wisconsin could have a higher ceiling this season.
"Personally, I would like to see him stay and work on baseball and so would all the people in our organization, but he has a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to a school and compete for a national championship in football," said Asheville manager Joe Mikulik. "It's a tough decision, but it's a choice he has to make on his own."
And a choice he'll be making soon.
For the second straight year, Northwestern went to overtime in its bowl game. And once again, the Wildcats came out on the short end of a wacky contest with Auburn. NU made two amazing comebacks and received one of the truly unique performances from senior quarterback Mike Kafka, but special teams once again hauntSteed the Wildcats, as Stefan Demos missed two field goals.
The Wildcats seriously might be cursed in the postseason.
The Big Ten falls to 1-2 in bowls.
How the game was won: Both teams committed costly mistakes, combining for nine turnovers. Northwestern made a furious rally in the final minutes, scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:20 and getting the ball back with a chance to win at the end of regulation. But Demos hooked a 44-yard field goal, while Auburn's Wes Byrum converted a chip shot in overtime. Demos missed a 37-yard attempt in overtime but was roughed, giving Northwestern new life. The Wildcats couldn't get into the end zone and tried a fake field goal for the win, but Zeke Marskhausen was brought down short of the goal line.
Stat of the game: Kafka's stat line qualifies here. He went 47 of 78 passing for 532 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had 20 rushes for 29 yards and a score. Northwestern outgained Auburn 619-425.
Player of the game: It's got to be Kafka. Sure, his interceptions put Northwestern in a big hole early, but he proved to be extremely clutch on both comeback attempts. The Wildcats had no run game today, so everything fell on Kafka's shoulders, and he made a ton of big throws. A team rarely has a chance to win when its quarterback throws five picks, but Kafka and an opportunistic defense kept NU in the game.
Second guessing: Northwestern's offense was in a nice rhythm at the end of regulation, but the Wildcats went deep on second-and-long when they might have been able to set up a shorter field-goal try. I didn't mind the fake field-goal attempt for the win in overtime, but the Wildcats should have thrown to the end zone at least once after the gift roughing-the-kicker penalty set up first-and-goal from the Auburn 9.
Unsung heroes of the game: So many to name for Northwestern. Wide receiver Andrew Brewer and tight end Drake Dunsmore combined for 16 receptions, 247 yards and three touchdowns. Cornerback Sherrick McManis had an incredible interception and a fumble recovery at the end of regulation. Auburn's Walter McFaden (2 INTs, 1 returned for TD) also deserves a mention.
What it means: Northwestern's bowl losing streak continues, and this one will be very hard to swallow. Until special teams no longer becomes a liability, it's hard to see the Wildcats winning in the postseason. But they never give up, as they showed today and for much of the season. The program might not truly gain national respect until it wins a bowl game, but there was some measure gained today against Auburn. Northwestern loses several standout seniors but should be in decent shape for a third consecutive bowl run in 2010.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is known for his innovative approach and extensive playbook, but he sets everything up by running a ton of pre-snap motion to throw off the opposing defense. For defenders, a misstep before the snap can lead to disastrous results after it.
Smith and his fellow defenders have spent the past few weeks studying Auburn's pre-snap motion so they can recognize it in the Outback Bowl and not get sucked in. They've seen Auburn shuffle a ton of personnel before the snap, only to run a simple inside zone play to running back Ben Tate.
The solution to contain Auburn? Just do your job.
"They take advantage of the mental mistakes on defense," Smith said. "As long as we play one team, Auburn, we have a great chance of winning."
Northwestern will rely heavily on Smith and fellow safety Brad Phillips, another senior, to direct others on Auburn's pre-snap motion.
"Sometimes, we could say, 'Play it! Play it! Play it!'" Smith said. "Other times, we'll have to check and get us into something else. That's all dependent on the pre-call. But a lot of the looks will get us into our base [defense]."
Like Auburn, Northwestern runs a no-huddle spread offense that should help the NU defenders prepare for the Tigers' up-tempo pace. Though the Wildcats usually don't run as much pre-snap motion as Auburn, they can execute plays like rapid fire, keeping the defense on its heels.
With three weeks to practice against their own offense and examine Auburn's, the Wildcats defenders feel ready.
"The biggest thing is studying their tendencies," defensive end Corey Wootton said of Auburn. "Certain formations, certain sets they're in, it's pretty predictable what they're doing."
WHO TO WATCH: Mike Kafka. Few Big Ten players proved more valuable to their teams this fall than Kafka, who ended the season playing his best football. He complemented an efficient short passing attack with more downfield shots to receivers Andrew Brewer and Zeke Markshausen. Kafka faces an Auburn defense that defends the pass well (28th nationally) but has struggled with depth problems for most of the fall. You figure Auburn's high-powered offense will hit on some big plays against the Wildcats, so Kafka will be called upon to answer. If he plays like he did Nov. 21 against Wisconsin, Northwestern should be in good shape.
WHAT TO WATCH: The chess match between Mike Hankwitz and Gus Mulzahn. Hankwitz, the Northwestern defensive coordinator, has seen it all in two plus decades running defenses. But Mulzahn's innovative offense, which employs a huge playbook and a ton of motion before the snap, will test Hankwitz's scheming skills. Northwestern's defense got healthier and improved its tackling as the season went on, but the Wildcats have been gashed for big plays at times. Hankwitz had an excellent game plan against Missouri's high-powered offense last year in the Valero Alamo Bowl, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with after nearly a month to prepare for Malzahn and Auburn.
WHY WATCH: Northwestern finished the season as one of the nation's hottest teams, going 3-0 in November with two wins against ranked opponents (Iowa and Wisconsin). After a lengthy layoff, the Wildcats play on New Year's Day for the first time in 13 years and search for their first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. It's also the Big Ten's first crack at the SEC, regarded as the nation's premier conference in large part because of its BCS title game wins against Ohio State. Northwestern still struggles to shake its miserable pre-1995 history, and a win against Auburn would go a long way toward erasing the program's poor past.
PREDICTION: The Wildcats are the hotter team, as Auburn dropped five of its final seven contests, but the Tigers are feeling good about themselves after taking No. 1 Alabama to the wire in the Iron Bowl. Both teams are excited to be here, and both boast strong offenses. Auburn takes an early lead behind big plays from quarterback Chris Todd and running back Ben Tate, but Northwestern once again rallies, as it has all season. The Wildcats win this one, 31-28.
But players like quarterback Mike Kafka and cornerback Sherrick McManis have a little extra incentive Jan. 1 against Auburn (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET). Kafka is one of the 12 fifth-year seniors who played at Northwestern under the late head coach Randy Walker. McManis, a fourth-year senior, was part of Walker's final recruiting class to NU.
Walker died suddenly from a heart attack on June 29, 2006, less than two months before the start of preseason camp.
"Coach Walk's always been a part of our program," Kafka said, "and he always will be."
Walker certainly will be in the players' thoughts as they take the field against Auburn. They mentioned him during the team banquet and spoke about how a victory against the Tigers would be the perfect way to honor the coach who brought stability to the program, especially in his final three seasons.
"It would be tremendous, and it would make a statement," McManis said. "Coach Walker was a great coach, and we take pride in being one of the last classes he did recruit. We definitely want to win this game for Coach Walker, the coaches, ourselves and this program."
McManis had concerns about how the program would respond after Walker's passing, and the first season under new head coach Pat Fitzgerald wasn't pretty, as the team tumbled to 4-8. But since then, Northwestern has gone 23-14 and will head to a New Year's Day bowl for the first time since 1997.
"It's kind of come full circle," Kafka said. "As far as our senior leadership, we've all stepped up. We've all had to take our game up another level to be where we're at."
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
After being snubbed by the Outback Bowl for Iowa last year, Northwestern received a somewhat surprising invitation to the Tampa game, as it makes its first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since 1997.
The Wildcats now look for the same result as the Hawkeyes, who last year crushed South Carolina in the Outback to claim the Big Ten's only bowl victory. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose.
The game pits two teams (Northwestern and Auburn) that have never played, as well as two potentially explosive spread offenses. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, leads a Wildcats attack that settled into a rhythm in its final two games. Kafka will need to be sharp against an Auburn defense that ranks 28th nationally against the pass, though there could be some running room for a Wildcats rushing attack that has struggled to get on track.
Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a key part of Northwestern's surge the last two seasons, but he will be tested against Auburn and spread guru Gus Malzahn. The Tigers will try just about anything on offense and boast the nation's No. 12 rushing unit, led by senior running back Ben Tate. The game features two efficient passers in Kafka and Tigers senior Chris Todd, who ranks 21st nationally in passer rating.
Northwestern comes in very hot, having gone 3-0 in November with two wins against top 20 opponents. Auburn started 5-0 before dropping five of its final seven contests, though the Tigers did give No. 1 Alabama all it could handle.
The Wildcats have been selected to the Outback Bowl, where they will face Auburn on Jan. 1 (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET). It marks Northwestern's first New Year's Day bowl appearance since 1997, when it faced Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, and the school's first in the Outback Bowl.
The selection comes as a bit of a surprise, as Wisconsin finished with a better overall record (9-3 vs. 8-4) and crushed Hawaii 51-10 on Saturday night. But the Badgers' blowout win clearly had no bearing on the decision, while their 33-31 loss to Northwestern on Nov. 21 played a bigger factor.
Last year, the Outback Bowl passed over Northwestern for Iowa, a team that had a worse record and had lost to the Wildcats in Iowa City. Northwestern also was passed over by the Outback in 2000, when it shared the Big Ten title.
Wisconsin will be going to the Champs Sports Bowl for the second consecutive year.
This is a major score for Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who told me in a text message earlier today that he was "working nonstop" for the team's bowl selection.
"We know what we're doing on the SEC side," McVay told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning. "I'm assuming, like everybody else, that Alabama and Florida are going to be in BCS bowls. And if that happens, we're going to take Auburn."
The other half of the bowl picture, the part involving the Big Ten, remains a bit hazy right now.
Wisconsin and Northwestern are the two Big Ten squads getting the most attention from McVay and his fellow committee members. The Big Ten likely will get two teams into BCS bowls, with both Iowa and Penn State in the mix for an at-large berth. The team that doesn't get the at-large berth almost certainly will go to the Capital One Bowl, leaving the Badgers and Wildcats as chief contenders for the Outback.
There are some interesting dynamics involving Wisconsin and Northwestern:
- Wisconsin still has a game to play Saturday night at Hawaii (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET), and McVay and his staff fully intend on staying up late to watch the Badgers' performance. A Badgers win gives them a better overall record than Northwestern (9-3 vs. 8-4).
- Northwestern holds a head-to-head victory against Wisconsin on Nov. 21 and finished the year with three consecutive victories, two against ranked opponents.
- Wisconsin has appeared in the Outback Bowl four times, most recently in 2007. Badgers fans travel extremely well, and Wisconsin has a larger alumni base than Northwestern.
- Wisconsin has been to Florida bowls in each of the past five years. Plus, Badgers fans making the trip to Hawaii might not hit the road again in four weeks for a bowl.
- The Outback Bowl twice has bypassed Northwestern for lesser teams in the bowl selection process. Last year, the Outback selected Iowa, a team that finished with a worse overall record than Northwestern (9-3 vs. 8-4) and had lost its head-to-head meeting with the Wildcats. Northwestern also was leapfrogged by Ohio State in 2000 when the Wildcats shared the Big Ten title with both Purdue and Michigan.
"We love them both," McVay said of Wisconsin and Northwestern. "We'll take either one of them right now. Northwestern beat Wisconsin. Wisconsin should end up 9-3. Wisconsin's a big, strong, physical team, with a heck of a running back [John Clay]. Northwestern's got a heck of a quarterback [Mike Kafka]. Both schools would be very excited about being in Tampa on New Year's Day."
McVay believes the same number of fans would come to Tampa regardless of who is selected. This might surprise some, as Wisconsin ranks 15th nationally in average home attendance (80,109), while Northwestern ranks 83rd (24,190).
But Northwestern has a scattered alumni base that is very willing to travel for bowl games, as evidenced by recent turnouts at the 2008 Alamo Bowl and 2005 Sun Bowl.
"We've noticed that," McVay said. "Wisconsin's good [with travel]. We have not had Northwestern. That's one of our discussion points."
McVay said the bowl's SEC selection has no bearing on who it picks from the Big Ten. Neither does the fact that the Outback bypassed Northwestern for Iowa last year.
"We have not decided," he said. "We've talked about it and gone to games and all those things. We just haven't forced ourselves to decide yet because no one's asked us to decide. It could be either one of those guys, and we will be very happy with either one, believe me.
"Those are two really good football teams."
Rather than selecting Tennessee, the team widely projected to end up in Tampa, the Outback Bowl is expected to pick Auburn as its SEC representative. If the SEC selections went in traditional order, Tennessee would get the nod over Auburn because of its second-place finish in the SEC East.
This is hardly unusual for the Outback, which picked Iowa over Northwestern last year even though the Wildcats had a better overall record (9-3 vs. 8-4) and owned a head-to-head victory against the Hawkeyes.
With the Big Ten likely sending two teams to BCS bowls, Wisconsin and Northwestern would be the top two contenders for the Outback Bowl. Northwestern owns the head-to-head victory Nov. 21, but Wisconsin can finish with a better overall record if it beats Hawaii on Saturday (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET). Wisconsin went to the Outback Bowl two years ago, but the Outback twice has passed over Northwestern since 2000.
Wisconsin has faced Auburn three times, most recently in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, which the Badgers won, 24-10. Auburn beat Wisconsin in the 2003 Music City Bowl, and the teams tied back in 1931.
Northwestern and Auburn never have played.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Seems like this little rant struck quite the chord.
Jack from Midwest City, Okla., writes: Adam what have you been drinking. USC got beat by an 0-12 team! OSU could've beaten SC if they had a QB. OU is playing with a backup QB. This will all be disspelled after the Miami-OU game. If the backup QB (Landry Jones) goes into Miami and wins, then watch out! I think you media guys are the ones that set the tone! Just like the FSU-BYU game Saturday it reminds me of the OU-TTU game last year I think the best teams won but it is certainly not indicative of the difference in the two teams. Sometimes teams get on a roll and that's called college football!
Adam Rittenberg: Well, we can agree on that last sentence, Jack, but let's explore your logic. USC didn't get beat by an 0-12 team. USC got beat by a 1-1 team that gave LSU a game and has its standout quarterback (Jake Locker) back on the field. The Trojans also played with their backup quarterback (Aaron Corp). Now I agree if Jones goes into Miami and beats the surging Canes, Oklahoma should definitely get the nod over Ohio State. But to this point in the season, before conference play begins, Ohio State has a better resume than the Sooners. The BYU loss looks worse than the USC loss because of what BYU did against Florida State.
Donovan Clark from Tulsa, Okla., writes: Adam, i know you are a Big 10 homer - but seriously, were there tears in your eyes when you wrote this awful story about how OSU doesnt get ragged on like OU? Listen, OU plays in a very good conference - the same can NOT be said about OSU. Yes, yes, yes i know about the BCS bowl losses, but hey, who wouldnt want to get to 4 (count em 4!) national championship games in 10 years? And OU won one of them!! Every team would love that to be at that level. Stop crying. OU lost their QB and the best tight end in the country, and lost to a good team on a neutral site - by 1 freaking point. Dude, are you blind?? Do you not realize that OSU barely beat Navy at home at full strength?? Come on man, you are so biased, it's shameful. Your momma ought to slap you. Anyway, i have left my real name and real email address in the fields to the left. So please reply anytime. Big 10 = weak; Big IX = strong
Adam Rittenberg: Don't be talkin' bout my momma. You know the funny thing, Donovan? Your comment about national championship games and "every team would love to be at that level" sounds awfully familiar. I hear it all the time from Ohio State fans because they can make the same case as Oklahoma fans. Yet their team regularly gets trashed while Oklahoma gets a pass. Ohio State's win against Navy certainly wasn't impressive, but BYU lost a ton of credibility by performing like it did against Florida State. And what's the Big IX? Is that a new conference?
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota has hired Kevin Cosgrove as co-defensive coordinator and promoted defensive backs coach Ronnie Lee to co-coordinator.
Cosgrove and Lee take over the Gophers' defense after coordinator Ted Roof left Tuesday for the same post at Auburn.
Head coach Tim Brewster planned to move quickly with this hire, and Cosgrove emerged as the favorite. Cosgrove served as Nebraska's defensive coordinator from 2004-07 after overseeing Wisconsin's defense from 1995-2003.
Both Cosgrove and Lee have extensive experience in the Big Ten, with Lee making previous stops at both Michigan and Wisconsin. Lee and Cosgrove worked together in Madison for Cosgrove's final year there (2003).
"Coach Cosgrove brings a wealth of experience in the Big Ten as both a coach and recruiter," Brewster said in a statement. "Plus, he possesses a long track record of developing outstanding defenses. But, perhaps more importantly, Kevin is a great person and an outstanding fit on our staff. ... Ronnie Lee has done a tremendous job since joining our staff here at Minnesota.
"I'm very pleased to reward him with this promotion. Ronnie has proven himself to be an excellent coach and recruiter."
Recruiting certainly was a big factor in this move. Several incoming Gophers recruits seemed surprised by Roof's departure, and having Lee move into a bigger role creates continuity. Lee's secondary keyed a defense that led the Big Ten with 30 takeaways this fall.
Cosgrove's defenses got progressively worse at Nebraska, bottoming out with a unit that finished 112th nationally in 2007 (476.8 ypg allowed). His hiring likely will create mixed emotions among Gophers fans, but the guy can recruit and had a lot of success at Wisconsin and early on at Nebraska.
Roof did an excellent job helping the nation's worst defense in 2007 become respectable this fall. It's up to Cosgrove and Lee to take the unit one step further.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota lost both of its coordinators in a matter of hours today, as Mike Dunbar (offense) and Ted Roof (defense) resigned from the school.
Head coach Tim Brewster announced Roof's resignation this afternoon. Roof, the former Duke head coach who spent one season in Minneapolis, will become defensive coordinator on Gene Chizik's staff at Auburn. Dunbar will pursue other career opportunities.
I've been in touch with Brewster and he doesn't seem too concerned about having to replace two coordinators. Expect replacements to be named very soon, possibly as early as Wednesday.
Minnesota clearly is going in a new direction on offense, and Dunbar's system may no longer be the best fit. Roof looks like the bigger loss given what he did with a defense that ranked last nationally in 2007, but Minnesota has enough talent returning on that side of the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Friday mailbag is back, thanks to a little later departure time today as I head back to Mad-town for Penn State-Wisconsin.
It's time to check the pulse of Big Ten Nation.
Nick from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, writes: Adam, I know I'm getting way ahead of this, but this question came up today. If Penn State loses to Ohio State, and the Buckeyes lose to Illinois, assuming all three teams win their remaining games, who gets the Rose Bowl berth? Thanks for the answer in advance.
Adam Rittenberg: It's never too early to think ahead, Nick. Looking at the Big Ten tiebreaker rules, all three teams played one FCS school (Youngstown State, Coastal Carolina and Eastern Illinois), so we'd have to go down overall winning percentage. Because both Illinois and Ohio State would have one more loss (Missouri and USC), Penn State would go to the Rose Bowl.
Dan from Houston writes: How do you like the Big Ten's chances to get 2 teams into the BCS bowls? Of the four extra spots, I assume two will go to the SEC/Big 12, and one will go to the non-BCS (#9 Utah, for now). Current contenders for the final spot (unofficial BCS rankings): #12 BYU, #13 Ohio State, #14 Boise State, #18 Northwestern. What happens if Penn State beats Ohio State? Vice versa?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't love the Big Ten's chances to get two BCS entrants for the fourth consecutive year, but a lot could still change. Obviously, the best-case scenario for the Big Ten involves getting a team, most likely Penn State, into the BCS national championship game. That would free up the Rose Bowl to take another Big Ten squad, and most likely infuriate a lot of pepole outside the Big Ten footprint. Because Northwestern and Penn State don't play one another, it's possible that both teams could go undefeated, though it's highly unlikely. If Penn State runs the table, I'm fairly certain the Lions will be in Miami. A lot would then depend on games like Ohio State-Illinois, Michigan State-Ohio State, Northwestern-Ohio State, Illinois-Northwestern. You get the point.
Marques from Pennsylvania writes: Adam, love the blog but my question for you is about two rising star linebackers in Josh Hull from Penn State and Matt Mayberry from Indiana. They both where the number 43, which 43 would you want on your team? I know Hull has been taking a lot of criticism but I havent been one of them thats for sure! He might not have the NFL potential as Mayberry but I really like Hull.
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Marques. I'll probably have a better answer for you after watching Hull play live on Saturday night, but I love the way he responded to the criticism last week with 11 solo tackles against Purdue. In terms of a game-changing player, I would have to take Mayberry -- much to the delight of his adoring masses who read the blog -- because of his superior speed and athleticism. As you note, both players are developing nicely, but only one of them (Hull) is on a winning team.