Big Ten: B1G bowl primer 12

B1G bowl primer: Gator Bowl

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team wraps up with ...

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL

Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)

Where: EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Jan. 1, noon ET

TV: ESPN2

About Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald's squad was one of few true bright spots in a mostly miserable Big Ten this season. Pegged by most to win no more than seven games before the season, a young Wildcats team blossomed to match its highest win total in Fitzgerald's tenure. Although blown leads against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan kept Northwestern from reaching the Big Ten championship game, the Wildcats never dropped consecutive games and saw improvement in all three phases. Junior running back Venric Mark provided the rushing threat Northwestern has lacked along with quarterback Kain Colter, and a physical offensive line helped Northwestern rank 14th nationally in rushing (230.9 ypg). The defense had some rough moments but no longer was a major liability and received strong performances from underclassmen like cornerback Nick VanHoose and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo. Northwestern now tries to eliminate one of the final negatives surrounding its program and win a bowl game for the first time since the 1949 Rose.

About Mississippi State: The Bulldogs stormed out of the gate, winning their first seven games for the first time since they started 8-0 in 1999. But reality arrived in the form of the Alabama Crimson Tide, which pummeled Mississippi State 38-7 on Oct. 27. The Bulldogs fell to two more SEC West heavyweights (LSU and Texas A&M), briefly righted the ship against Arkansas before dropping the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss. Mississippi State lacks a signature win and beat four of the five worst teams in the SEC (Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas). This is a disciplined team that ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin (plus-1.42) and performs well on special teams. Quarterback Tyler Russell triggers the passing game, and Mississippi State boasts arguably the nation's top cornerback tandem in Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay.

Key players, Northwestern: Mark earned All-America recognition from several outlets for his exploits both as a runner (1,315 rush yards, 11 TDs) and as a return man (20.1 yard per punt return, 2 TDs). He leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th nationally in all-purpose yards (170.7 ypg). Colter also triggers Northwestern's zone-option game, racking up 820 rush yards and 12 touchdowns. VanHoose and sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell (85 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 12 passes defended) anchor the secondary, while junior defensive end Tyler Scott racked up seven sacks and Ariguzo contributed 10.5 tackles for loss and four fumble recoveries. Kicker Jeff Budzien earned All-Big Ten honors after converting 17 of 18 attempts.

Key players, Mississippi State: Opposing quarterbacks must be wary of Banks and Slay on the edges. They've combined for nine interceptions -- five for Slay, four for Banks -- and 22 passes defended. Linebacker Cameron Lawrence also earned All-SEC honors after recording a team-high 111 tackles, including 10 for loss, and two forced fumbles. Russell ranks 44th nationally in pass efficiency (140.4 rating) with 2,791 pass yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Junior LaDarius Perkins (940 rush yards, 8 TDs) runs behind a line anchored by second-team All-SEC selection Gabe Jackson.

Did you know: Mississippi State is playing in its third consecutive bowl for only the second time in school history (1998-2000). The Bulldogs have won five straight bowl games dating back to 1999. ... Fitzgerald enters bowl season needing one victory to become the winningest head coach in Northwestern football history. Fitzgerald’s next head coaching win will be his 50th, one better than Lynn Waldorf's record of 49 set from 1936-45. ... The game marks the first-ever meeting between the schools. ... While Mississippi State is just two years removed from its last Gator Bowl appearance, Northwestern plays in the bowl for the first time. The Wildcats play their third bowl against an SEC team after dropping games to Auburn (2010 Outback) and Tennessee (1997 Citrus).

Big Ten bowl primers

B1G bowl primer: Outback Bowl

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
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Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

OUTBACK BOWL

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Michigan: After an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl championship in coach Brady Hoke's first season, Michigan entered the fall pegged for even bigger things. But a blowout loss to Alabama in the season opener indicated the Wolverines would have a rougher time in Hoke's second go-round. If teams were ranked based on the quality of their losses, Michigan would be up there as its only setbacks came against the nation's two undefeated teams -- Notre Dame and Ohio State -- Alabama and Legends Division champion Nebraska. The flip side is the Wolverines lack many quality wins and nearly fell to a good Northwestern team and in-state rival Michigan State. Quarterback Denard Robinson struggled early, surged early in Big Ten play and then suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. Devin Gardner sparked the offense late, while the defense had another strong season (11th nationally) despite some youth and depth questions.

About South Carolina: Like Michigan, South Carolina entered the season with expectations to challenge for a league title and maybe more. After a shaky opener against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks surged to a 6-0 start punctuated by a dominating performance against Georgia. But the schedule didn't let up and South Carolina dropped consecutive road contests against LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title race (and, as it turned out, the SEC East division race). Although the slide ended Oct. 27 against Tennessee, South Carolina lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury. The Gamecocks finished strong, though, beating in-state rival Clemson to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jadeveon Clowney triggers a fast and physical unit that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss.

Key players, Michigan: Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue and should be a factor as a ball-carrier, but Gardner should be the primary signal caller after moving the offense well at quarterback until the second half of the Ohio State game. Gardner fired eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in the final four games after taking over as the starter. He got receivers like senior Roy Roundtree much more involved in the offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, has the daunting dask of dealing with Clowney. Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan triggers the defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, and senior safety Jordan Kovacs leads a secondary that will be without top cornerback J.T. Floyd (suspended) in the bowl.

Key players, South Carolina: Clowney is the headliner for South Carolina, a freakishly athletic sophomore who could play in the NFL right now. He ranks second nationally in both sacks per game (1.18) and tackles for loss per game (1.95), and has two forced fumbles. Safety D.J. Swearinger is a second-team All-SEC selection who had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw is healthy after missing the Clemson game, and Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders form a nice combo at receiver. Sanders also is one of the nation's elite punt returners, ranking fourth nationally in average (14.5 ypr).

Did you know: Michigan and South Carolina have met twice before. The Gamecocks beat the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium in 1980, and Michigan registered a 34-3 win at South Carolina in 1985. ... This will be Michigan's fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl. Michigan is 3-1 in the Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl, beating Alabama (28-24) in the 1988 game, North Carolina State (42-7) in the 1994 contest and Florida (38-30) in the 2003 game. The lone setback came against Alabama (17-14) in the 1997 game. ... The Gamecocks are bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season under coach Steve Spurrier, who has taken South Carolina to six bowl games. No other coach in school history has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowl games (Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison). Spurrier, who faces Michigan for the first time in his career, is 2-4 in bowl games at South Carolina. ... The Gamecocks are 2-1 in the Outback Bowl with a 24-7 win over Ohio State in 2001 as well as a 31-28 victory over the Buckeyes in 2002. In the program's last appearance, South Carolina fell to Iowa 31-10 in 2009.

 
Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL

Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

When: Noon ET, 11 a.m. CT

TV: ESPNU

About Purdue: The Boilers returned more starters (18) than any other Big Ten team, and fourth-year coach Danny Hope told anyone who listened that he'd have his best squad in West Lafayette. Purdue looked decent through the first four games, but things felt apart once Big Ten play kicked off. Blowout home losses against Michigan (44-13) and Wisconsin (38-13) led to a five-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play. Purdue lost an overtime heartbreaker to Ohio State in a game it controlled most of the way. To the Boilers' credit, they didn't quit and won their final three games to become bowl eligible. Hard-luck quarterback Robert Marve played despite a torn ACL and revived the offense down the stretch. A 6-6 record wasn't enough to save Hope, however, and Purdue dismissed the coach on Nov. 25. Wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins will led Purdue in the bowl game.

About Oklahoma State: It's a surprise to see Oklahoma State in this game as the Pokes figured to end up a little higher on the Big 12's bowl pecking order. Still, Mike Gundy's team dropped its final two games and three of its final five to finish 7-5. Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon from the 2011 team, Oklahoma State displayed its typical offensive prowess, finishing fourth nationally in scoring (44.7 ppg), fifth in total offense (548.9 ypg) and seventh in passing (333.4 ypg). The Cowboys scored fewer than 30 points in just one game and eclipsed 50 points four times. Quarterback J.W. Walsh and receiver Josh Stewart spark the passing game, but Oklahoma State also can run the ball with Joseph Randle. The Cowboys struggle against the pass (112th nationally) and generated only 17 takeaways this season.

Key players, Purdue: Marve has been fairly effective even with the ACL injury, firing 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has several weapons to attack Oklahoma State's secondary in veteran receivers Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross and Gary Bush. Akeem Shavers is the Boilers' featured back, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Purdue's best player is senior defensive tackle Kawann Short, a potential first-round draft pick who recorded 14.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four blocked kicks this season. The Boilers also boast playmakers at cornerback in Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen.

Key players, Oklahoma State: The Pokes have no shortage of playmakers on offense, and it all starts with Walsh, who ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency (165.7 rating). Stewart ranks seventh nationally in receptions (8 rpg) and 17th in receiving yards average (96.2 ypg). Randle led the Big 12 in rush yards (1,351) and ranks 18th nationally in rushing average (112.6 ypg). Senior linebacker Alex Elkins leads the team in tackles. Oklahoma State boasts an All-America kicker/punter in Quinn Sharp.

Did you know: The teams have met just once before in the 1997 Alamo Bowl, a 33-20 Purdue victory under first-year coach Joe Tiller. Purdue quarterback Billy Dicken passed for 325 yards as Purdue overcame a 13-10 deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter to secure the win. ... Purdue will play in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2006 and 2007. ... Oklahoma State appears in a record seventh consecutive bowl game under Gundy, who has a 4-2 record in the postseason.

B1G bowl primer: Meineke Car Care Bowl

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
10:00
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Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continue.

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Where: Houston, Reliant Stadium

When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT)

TV: ESPN

About Minnesota: The Gophers return to a bowl game for the first time since the 2009 season after doubling their wins total from 2011 in coach Jerry Kill's second year. Thanks to an improved defense, Minnesota surged to a 4-0 start before struggling in Big Ten play. Injuries forced Minnesota to use three different starting quarterbacks: senior MarQueis Gray, sophomore Max Shortell and freshman Philip Nelson, who lost his redshirt midway through the season and started the final six contests. The Gophers finished 11th nationally in pass defense and bolstered their pass rush behind senior end D.L. Wilhite and junior tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Nelson showed some flashes of potential in a home victory against Purdue, but injuries piled up for the Gophers' offense, which scored just 54 points in the final four games.

About Texas Tech: Like Minnesota, the Red Raiders saw most of their gains in the first half of the season. They won their first four games and six of their first seven before dropping four of their final five. The poor finish combined with mounting criticism led to the somewhat surprising departure of coach Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati following the regular season. Texas Tech acted quickly in naming rising star Kliff Kingsbury as head coach, although offensive line Chris Thomsen will coach the Red Raiders in the bowl. The passing tradition at Tech is alive and well as Seth Doege triggers the nation's No. 2 pass offense (361.9 yards per game), and the Red Raiders also rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring and total offense. The defense performed well through the first half, shutting down then-Heisman Trophy favorite Geno Smith and West Virginia, but the unit struggled late, surrendering more than 50 points in four of the final six contests.

Key players, Minnesota: Gray is set to play his final game in a Gophers uniform, and as has been the case for much of his career, his position is somewhat of a mystery. Gray started at quarterback last season and opened this fall as the team's top signal-caller, but knee and ankle injuries forced him to wide receiver. The extended break before the bowl has allowed Gray to get healthy, and both he and Nelson are practicing at quarterback. Although running back Donnell Kirkwood has been good at times, Minnesota lacks offensive playmakers. Senior cornerback Michael Carter headlines the secondary after recording two interceptions and 14 pass breakups this fall. Wilhite tied for second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.

Key players, Texas Tech: Doege ranks 14th nationally in pass efficiency (156.6 rating) and ninth in total offense (331.1 ypg), having eclipsed 300 pass yards in nine of 12 games with a 499-yard effort against West Virginia and a 476-yard performance against Kansas. He has two excellent targets in wide receivers Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, both of whom rank in the top 20 nationally in receptions and in the top 30 nationally in receiving yards. Junior defensive end Kerry Hyder triggers Texas Tech's pass rush with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Senior safety Cody Davis leads the unit in tackles (91) and interceptions (3), and ranks second in pass breakups (7).

Did you know: The teams' only previous meeting was a memorable one, as Texas Tech made a huge comeback to force overtime and eventually beat Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl. The blown lead led to Minnesota's firing of longtime coach Glen Mason two days later. ... Texas Tech is bowl-eligible for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. ... Minnesota will be looking for its first bowl win since the 2004 Music City Bowl, when it defeated Alabama 20-16. ... Minnesota is 5-9 all-time in bowls and has dropped four straight. ... Texas Tech makes its third appearance in what's now known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Texas Tech played in the inaugural game in 2000 (then named the galleryfurniture.com Bowl) at the Astrodome and again in 2003 (then named the EV1.net Houston Bowl) at Reliant Stadium. Texas Tech's last appearance resulted in a 38-14 win over Navy on Dec. 30, 2003.

B1G bowl primer: Capital One Bowl

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
2:00
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Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continues.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) vs. No. 7 Georgia (11-2)

Where: Orlando, Fla.; Florida Citrus Bowl

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

About Nebraska: The Huskers won the Legends Division title in their second year in the Big Ten, saw tangible strides from junior quarterback Taylor Martinez and overcame the absence of star running back Rex Burkhead for most of the season. But many of the good things Nebraska did were overshadowed by two implosions on big stages, first on Oct. 6 against Ohio State in Columbus and then Dec. 1 in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. The Huskers surrendered 133 points in the losses, had damaging turnovers and fell apart defensively midway through both games. Primed to win their first league title since 1999, Nebraska fell flat in Indy and instead plays in the Capital One Bowl for the second straight year. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in offense (462.2) and boasts a nice collection of backs, receivers and tight ends. The Huskers lead the nation in pass defense (148.2 ypg). They rank 105th nationally in turnover margin.

About Georgia: Like Nebraska, Georgia heads to Orlando a bit glum after falling short in its league championship game. Unlike Nebraska, Mark Richt's team showed up in its title contest, only to fall late to No. 2 Alabama. The Bulldogs took care of Florida to win the SEC East division and benefited from a regular-season schedule that didn't include Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. After a blowout loss against South Carolina and a near letdown the following week against Kentucky, Georgia really buckled down on defense, surrendering just 43 points during a five-game stretch. All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones leads a unit that ranks 17th nationally in points allowed (18.8 ppg). Like Nebraska, Georgia is very good against the pass (eighth nationally). Junior quarterback Aaron Murray leads an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (37.2 ppg) and does a much better job of taking care of the football than Nebraska.

Key players, Nebraska: Martinez had a mostly excellent season for Nebraska, racking up 2,667 pass yards, 973 rush yards and 31 touchdowns. He has plenty of help in the backfield in Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, the team's featured back for most of the season who had 1,089 rush yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell emerged as Martinez's top target this season. Nickel back Ciante Evans and safety Daimion Stafford headline the secondary, while linebacker Will Compton anchors the middle and Eric Martin triggers the Huskers' spotty pass rush with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Key players, Georgia: It all starts with the strong-armed Murray, who ranks second nationally in pass efficiency (172.4 rating) and 45th in total offense (261.1 ypg). He has two big-play targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King, while dynamic freshman Todd Gurley triggers the rushing attack. Although Notre Dame's Manti Te'o received more recognition, many think Jones is the best defender in college football. His stats are staggering: 22.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 33 quarterback hurries and an interception. Mercy. Don't forget about freshman linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who boasts four sacks and seven tackles for loss. Safety Bacarri Rambo leads the secondary with three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

Did you know: This marks only the second time Georgia and Nebraska have squared off. Nebraska defeated the Bulldogs 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl. ... Nebraska makes its third trip to the Orlando bowl, having lost to Georgia Tech after the 1990 season before the South Carolina loss in the 2012 game. ... The Bulldogs are 3-1-1 in previous trips to the Capital One/Citrus/Tangerine Bowl, with all three wins coming against Big Ten teams (Ohio State in 1993, Purdue in 2004 and Michigan State in 2009). ... Nebraska makes its 49th bowl appearance, which is tied with USC and Tennessee for the third-most in the nation. The Huskers are 24-24 all time in bowls. ... Georgia makes its 48th bowl appearance, tied for sixth most in the FBS. The Bulldogs are 26-18-3 in bowls.
Taking a page from our friends at the Pac-12 blog, we're taking a snapshot of each bowl matchup featuring a Big Ten team.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL

Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)

Where: Tempe, Ariz., Sun Devil Stadium

When: Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET (7:15 p.m. PT)

TV: ESPN

About Michigan State: After back-to-back 11-win seasons and the first bowl win under coach Mark Dantonio, Michigan State entered the season with lofty expectations, picked by many to win the Big Ten and reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century. A talented defense lived up to the hype, ranking in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense. But the personnel losses on offense from the 2011 team proved costly as Michigan State struggled in the pass game and in the red zone. The Spartans lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home, where they had been perfect the previous two seasons.

About TCU: Like Michigan State, TCU entered the season ranked and with big goals in its first Big 12 go-round. But the season hit a snag in early October when troubled starting quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested for drunken driving. After a 4-0 start, TCU dropped three of its next four games. The Frogs played four consecutive ranked opponents to finish the season and split the games. Like Michigan State, TCU excelled on defense, ranking 10th nationally in rush yards allowed and 18th nationally in total yards allowed. Freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin emerged down the stretch a bit, but TCU's offense was mediocre in a league filled with high-powered attacks.

Key players, Michigan State: The Spartans defense lacks many true superstars, although junior linebacker Max Bullough is the unit's undisputed leader. Bullough, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, leads Michigan State with 102 tackles, including 12 for loss. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a terrific season for Michigan State, and gifted defensive end William Gholston had his best performance in the Outback Bowl. On offense, it's all about junior running back Le'Veon Bell, who leads the nation in carries (350) and ranks third in rushing average (133.3 ypg).

Key players, TCU: There's a lot of excitement about TCU's future with so many dynamic young players. Frogs freshman defensive end Devonte Fields earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors from the media, while cornerback Jason Verrett earned All-America recognition after recording six interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Boykin had some expected ups and downs as a freshman but has the ability to attack defenses with his arm. Receiver/return specialist Skye Dawson ranks 27th nationally in punt returns and

Did you know: Neither team won a conference home game this season. Michigan State lost its four Big Ten home contests by a total of 11 points, while TCU fell in three overtimes against Texas Tech and dropped its regular-season finale against Oklahoma. ... Michigan State is making its 23rd postseason bowl appearance overall, including its first-ever trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans are 8-14 (.364) in bowl games. ... MSU has compiled an 18-2-1 record (.881) against current members of the Big 12 Conference (1-0 vs. Baylor, 2-0 vs. Iowa State, 5-1 vs. Kansas, 5-0-1 vs. Kansas State, 1-0 vs. TCU, 0-1 vs. Texas Tech and 4-0 vs. West Virginia). ... TCU makes a school-record eighth straight bowl appearance and is one of just 10 programs to play in a bowl game in 14 of the last 15 seasons. ... The Frogs are 6-1 in bowl games since 2005. ... TCU ties for the national lead in most true freshmen (16) and total freshmen (28) seeing action this season.

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