Big Ten: Bowl-overview-2012

Capital One Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:58
PM ET
Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla. (ABC)

Georgia take by DawgNation's David Ching: Shortly after watching his team survive Georgia’s last-ditch effort to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds of Saturday’s SEC championship game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it would be a “crying shame” if the Bulldogs (11-2) didn’t play in a BCS bowl.

The 32-28 win by Saban’s Crimson Tide ensured that would not be the case, however, spoiling Georgia’s BCS championship hopes in soul-crushing fashion. The Bulldogs no doubt think it’s a shame, as well, after falling 5 yards short of the winning score and a chance to play Notre Dame for a national title. Instead, Georgia will attempt to put the finishing touches on what could become the best season in a decade by winning its bowl. A bowl victory would give Georgia its third 12-win season in school history.

The Bulldogs got to this point by playing stout defense in the second half of the season -- starting with a 17-9 win against then-No. 2 Florida -- to go along with a balanced offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley. They swept rivals Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech for the second straight season and rallied from the lone blemish in the regular season, a 35-7 loss at South Carolina, in impressive fashion.

The Bulldogs will naturally ask what if for months after Saturday’s crushing loss, but Georgia’s back-to-back SEC East championships and the near-miss against Alabama indicate that the Bulldogs are once again major players on the national scene.




Nebraska take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Bo Pelini’s Huskers head to the Capital One Bowl for the second straight season, and this time they do so with an extremely sour taste in their mouths. Nebraska was on the cusp of its first conference championship since 1999 after a resilient performance down the stretch in Big Ten play. Needing only to beat a Wisconsin team it defeated Sept. 29, Nebraska imploded in the Big Ten title game, surrendering 70 points and 539 rushing yards, the most rushing yards it has ever allowed.

How will the Huskers respond? Until Saturday night, their resiliency had been their hallmark, as they erased double-digit, second-half deficits in four Big Ten games (versus Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State) to win the Legends Division. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez made significant strides from 2011, completing 62.2 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He shares the backfield with an outstanding group of ball carriers, led by senior Rex Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, who filled in admirably for Burkhead during most of the season. The Huskers' offense can strike quickly and often, but it also is too prone to mistakes with 32 turnovers, the sixth most in the FBS.

Nebraska’s defense truly has been a mixed bag this season. The Huskers improved down the stretch in Big Ten play but fell apart in losses to UCLA (653 yards allowed), Ohio State (498 yards allowed) and Wisconsin (640 yards allowed). The Blackshirts will need to rebound in a big way against quarterback Aaron Murray and Georgia.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:58
PM ET
Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET, Dallas (ESPNU)

Purdue take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Purdue will be playing in its second straight postseason when it kicks off the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but that wasn't enough to save head coach Danny Hope's job. Hope was fired on Nov. 25 after a 6-6 season, and assistant Patrick Higgins will serve as interim coach for this game.

Hope was confident this would be his best team at Purdue, and the Boilers got off to a decent 3-1 start that included a close loss at Notre Dame. But with an excellent opportunity to make noise in a probation-ravaged Big Ten Leaders Division, the Boilermakers lost their first five conference games, including multi-touchdown losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State.

The team did rally to win its final three games to salvage a bowl trip, sparked by Robert Marve returning as the starting quarterback. Fans had been calling for that move for weeks, and Marve delivered despite tearing his ACL in the second week of the season and eschewing surgery.

Hope did make some inroads in increasing the overall team speed, and the offense boasts some exciting playmakers such as running backs Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt and receiver Antavian Edison. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a potential first-round NFL pick, and Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson form one of the Big Ten's top cornerback tandems -- and they will be needed against Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game.

This team was talented enough to push Ohio State to the absolute brink in Columbus yet unfocused enough to fall behind 44-7 at Minnesota. How the Boilermakers respond and play against the Cowboys without their head coach is anyone's guess.




Oklahoma State take from SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon: OSU coach Mike Gundy has done one of the best coaching jobs of his career as the Cowboys made Big 12 history with three quarterbacks throwing for 1,000 yards or more. Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf each had their moments this season as the starting quarterback for the Pokes and each signal-caller led OSU to a double-digit win over a Big 12 opponent.

The constant in the Cowboys’ offensive attack is running back Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher with 1,351 rushing yards. His toughness, versatility and playmaking set the tone for OSU’s offense. It could be the final game for the junior, who may elect to leave early for the NFL after three seasons as a key member of OSU’s offense.

OSU’s defense had an up-and-down season, holding four Big 12 opponents to 21 points or fewer before allowing more than 600 yards of total offense to Oklahoma and Baylor in its final two games. Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have been the tone-setters for the Cowboys' defense. When they play well, OSU’s defense is noticeably better.

Keep an eye on the Cowboys' defense on third down. In the losses to OU and Baylor, the Cowboys allowed more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted.

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:55
PM ET
Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3)

Jan. 1, noon ET, Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN2)

Mississippi State take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: What started as a possible dream season for the Bulldogs, quickly turned ugly when the month of November rolled around.

The Bulldogs started off the season 7-0 and rose as high as 11 in the BCS rankings. While the early part of the schedule was very favorable to Mississippi State, this team showed a ton of promise with how balanced it was on offense and how much its secondary frustrated opposing offenses.

Through the first seven games of the season, the Bulldogs allowed an average of 327 yards. The 95 points allowed by their defense was the lowest total through the first seven contests for the Bulldogs since the 1999 team held opponents to 74 points.

Quarterback Tyler Russell was also one of the nation’s most efficient passers and was one of just three quarterbacks with 15-plus touchdowns and just one interception through seven games.

But after being blown out by 31 against Alabama and setting foot in November, the Bulldogs fell apart. The lack of a consistent pass rush and execution issues on offense set the Bulldogs back, as they went 1-4 in their past five games and were outscored by 93 in the process.

The season ended with a 41-24 loss to archrival Ole Miss in Oxford. It was the Bulldogs’ first loss to the Rebels since 2008.

Even though the regular season ended in a very unflattering way, the Bulldogs could still finish the year with nine wins for the second time in four years.




Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern not only reversed the recent trend of declining wins totals this season, but it left its fans wanting more. The Wildcats went 9-3 to match their best regular-season record under seventh-year coach Pat Fitzgerald, and they were a play or two away from winning the Legends Division. If they had held onto late leads against both Nebraska and Michigan, the purple could be heading back to Pasadena.

Although finishing games was a struggle at times, Northwestern exceeded almost all expectations with a young roster. After finishing no better than 45th nationally in rushing during Fitzgerald’s first six years, the Wildcats’ ground game surged this season (14th nationally, third in the Big Ten). Junior running back Venric Mark blossomed in his first season as the starter, and, along with quarterback Kain Colter, formed one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous backfield tandems. Northwestern used both Colter and sophomore Trevor Siemian at quarterback and went from a pass-first offense to a run-driven attack, as Mark earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and finished ninth nationally in all-purpose yards (170.7 ypg).

A much-maligned defense had some hiccups along the way but made obvious strides, too. Linebacker David Nwabuisi saved his best season for last, and younger players like safety Ibraheim Campbell, cornerback Nick VanHoose and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo stepped up.

The next step is obvious: winning a bowl game for the first time since the 1949 Rose. Although Northwestern moved down a few spots in the selection order after being pegged for Capital One on Saturday night, the Wildcats have a winnable game against struggling Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:49
PM ET
TCU Horned Frogs (7-5) vs. Michigan State Spartans (6-6)

Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)

TCU take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Horned Frogs brought a new style of football in their first year in the Big 12, forcing the rest of the league to get used to more low-scoring games decided in the running game. The Frogs won four games this year with 27 points or less and scored fewer than 20 points in two more, while holding opponents to less than 30. The Frogs season turned when it lost Casey Pachall, who left school to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to learn on the job. He’s been up and down, but the Frogs live to run the ball and play defense.

They’ll face a Michigan State team which loves to do the exact same. Expect another game won by the team that wins the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. The Spartans are fourth nationally in total defense, and the Frogs led the Big 12 in the stat by more than 35 yards per game.

TCU clinched its eighth consecutive bowl bid with a banged-up season in the Big 12, playing with a team that was made up of 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, by far the youngest team coach Gary Patterson had ever fielded. Still, in their first year in a tougher league, the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth and won seven games despite missing more than 20 players that it expected to have when 2011 ended. Top running back Waymon James suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Matthew Tucker as the lone returnee from a trio of running backs that rushed for at least 700 yards last season. Ed Wesley left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft after spring practice. It was a season full of difficult circumstances for the Frogs, but they perservered and will try to get a jump on a promising 2013 season with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.




Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The bar had been raised for Michigan State entering the fall after the Spartans recorded a team-record 11 victories in each of the past two seasons. Many pegged Mark Dantonio’s squad to reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century and continue to establish itself as a new power in the Big Ten. Things didn’t work out that way, as the Spartans repeatedly came up short, struggled at home and needed a Week 13 win just to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year, a team record.

A talent-stocked Spartans defense did its part, finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense (fourth), scoring defense (10th), rushing defense (eighth) and pass defense (ninth). Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are among the standouts on a unit that allowed fewer than 20 points in eight games.

Most of Michigan State’s problems came on offense, as the Spartans struggled to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and his top three receivers. Junior signal caller Andrew Maxwell had mixed results in his first year as the starter, and while a young receiving corps improved, there was little continuity in the pass game. Running back Le'Veon Bell did his share, taking the ball more times (350) than any other FBS player and recording 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the unit struggled to turn yards into points and lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home.

Bowl practices should help the young offense, but Michigan State’s defense likely will need a big effort against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to secure the team’s second straight postseason win.

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:47
PM ET
Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)

Minnesota take by Big 12 blogger Brian Bennett: Few teams would be as thrilled to accept a Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas invite as Minnesota is. The Gophers are going bowling for the first time since the 2009 season and have made steady progress in Year 2 under head coach Jerry Kill, doubling their win total from three to six.

Kill made the bold decision midway through the year to take the redshirt off true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and thrust him into the starting role, switching banged up senior MarQueis Gray to receiver. It paid off as the precocious Nelson guided the team to two Big Ten victories, which was just enough for bowl eligibility after a 4-0 nonconference mark.

Minnesota badly needs the month off between games to get healthy, as injuries really started to take a toll on an already young and thin team down the stretch. The Gophers got blown out in their last two games and mustered only 96 yards in their finale at home against Michigan State.

Texas Tech can relate after having lost four of its final five. Minnesota will have to hope its No. 11 pass defense can slow down the Red Raiders' No. 2 passing attack, but Kill's limited offense faces a tremendous challenge in trying to score enough points to win. Regardless, just getting to this bowl game will stand as a major stepping stone for the Gophers.




Texas Tech take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Just like last year, Texas Tech stumbled to the finish after a big win over a top five team, but this time, the late struggles weren’t enough to prevent Texas Tech from making a bowl game.

The 7-5 Red Raiders lost four of their final five games, with the only win coming against 1-11 Kansas at home in overtime, and two losses coming by more than 30 points. Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville began the season on the hot seat after going just 5-7 a year ago, but coached his team to a 6-1 start and a big win over then-No. 5 West Virginia. Despite the late-season struggles, Texas Tech does boast quarterback Seth Doege, who is second nationally with 38 touchdown passes and sixth nationally with 3,934 passing yards. The only problem? That’s fourth in the pass-happy Big 12.

The Red Raiders will be a tough matchup for Minnesota, who went just 2-6 in a weak Big Ten and lost three of their final four games, never topping more than 17 points in that rough stretch. They’ll need to hang a lot more points to keep up with Texas Tech, who scored more than 20 points in every game this season and was held below 41 points on just four occasions. The Red Raiders will also commemorate a memorable Insight Bowl matchup against Minnesota in which Tech rallied from a 31-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Golden Gophers in overtime and clinch the biggest comeback in FBS history.

Outback Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:16
PM ET
South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (8-4)

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Tampa, Fla. (ESPN)

South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: All you really need to know about South Carolina’s program right now is that the Gamecocks are one win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl away from having their second straight 11-win season. Until last year, they’d never won 11 games in a season in their history.

Steve Spurrier has the Gamecocks rocking along, and they were close to making it back to the SEC championship game this season for the second time in the past three years. They had a brutal three-game stretch against Georgia, LSU and Florida and wound up losing to both the Tigers and Gators on the road after routing the Bulldogs by four touchdowns at home. Still, the Gamecocks head into the postseason on a four-game winning streak and capped the regular season with a 27-17 win over Clemson, which was South Carolina’s fourth straight in the series. It’s the first time since 1951-54 that the Gamecocks have won four in a row over their bitter in-state rivals.

They boast one of the most explosive defensive players in the country in sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who leads the SEC with 13 sacks. Good luck in trying to block him one-on-one. South Carolina is ranked 12th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. The Gamecocks held opponents to 20 or fewer points in nine of their 12 games this season. For the second straight year, they were forced to finish the season without star tailback Marcus Lattimore, who suffered yet another serious knee injury. South Carolina beat Clemson with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. But starter Connor Shaw, who missed the Clemson game with a foot injury, should be back for the bowl.




Michigan take from WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein: The biggest question for Michigan in its bowl game is where senior Denard Robinson will line up.

Will he be at quarterback? Running back? Slot receiver? Kick returner? All of these are possible in the finale for one of college football’s most exciting players. Robinson also has a shot at breaking former West Virginia quarterback Pat White’s FBS quarterback rushing record of 4,480 yards. Robinson has 4,395 career yards.

The success or failure of Michigan’s team, though, lies not with Robinson but with its defense. The Wolverines have one of the best linebacking units in the Big Ten, led by redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan, who is the team leader in tackles (84), tackles for loss (14.5), forced fumbles (four), quarterback hurries (two) and is tied with Craig Roh for the team lead in sacks (four).

Michigan’s pass defense, ranked highly this season, is not quite as good as the numbers indicate. The Wolverines are ranked in the 30s in pass-efficiency defense, and have been adept in not allowing big plays this season.

When Michigan has the ball, it will look to a combination of Robinson and junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner has been the quarterback the past four games and has helped in a renaissance with senior receiver Roy Roundtree, who has 378 yards in his past four games.

It will still all come down to Michigan’s quarterback play and defense, though, which has been the theme for the Wolverines the past three seasons.
Wisconsin Badgers (8-5) vs. Stanford Cardinal (11-2)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)

Wisconsin take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: In its 98 previous installments, the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio has never had a team quite like Wisconsin. The Badgers will be the first five-loss team to play in the Grandaddy, and they finished only third in their own division with a 4-4 Big Ten record.

Yet this isn't some fluky, out-of-nowhere program, as Wisconsin is playing in its third straight Rose Bowl and its fifth since 1999. While this year's team underachieved by going 7-5, it lost three games in overtime and two others by a field goal. The Badgers saved their best game for last, blowing the doors off Nebraska with a 70-31 rout in the Big Ten championship game.

The Badgers might have gotten to that title game only because of the NCAA probation at Ohio State and Penn State, but they seized the opportunity by running for 539 yards against the Huskers. With an offensive line that has steadily improved after some early-season struggles, the most prolific scoring running back in FBS history in Montee Ball and an underrated defense, Wisconsin is as dangerous a five-loss team as you'll ever see.

Bret Bielema will seek to capture his first Rose Bowl after falling short each of the past two years, and Stanford -- which plays a similar rugged style -- could prove a more favorable matchup than TCU or Oregon were. The Badgers are already a unique kind of Rose Bowl team; they might just end up being the strangest Rose Bowl champs.




Stanford take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't. Andrew Luck graduated -- along with high draft picks Coby Fleener, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin -- and Stanford was supposed to take a step back. It didn't.

Now, here the Cardinal are, back in a BCS bowl game for the third straight year and playing some of the best football in the country.

The Rose Bowl matchup with Wisconsin feels very much like a Big Ten-Big Ten showdown, because the Cardinal don't play stereotypical Pac-12 football. Stanford will pound away on the ground, take the occasional calculated risk downfield, and has no reservations sending its defense back on the field to get the ball back.

As has been the case the past few years, it starts with defense for the Cardinal -- who are first in the country in tackles for loss, first in the country in sacks and third nationally against the run. And those numbers include games against four of the top 27 rushing offenses in the country (Oregon, Arizona, UCLA and Notre Dame). Linebackers Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas, along with defensive end Ben Gardner, are among the best in the country at getting penetration and tackles for loss. Safety Ed Reynolds ranks in the top 10 nationally with six interceptions.

But the boost Stanford needed on offense came in November when head coach David Shaw (two-time Pac-12 coach of the year) swapped out redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan at quarterback for the struggling and inconsistent Josh Nunes. Since taking over, Hogan is 4-0 as a starter -- including wins at Oregon and at UCLA.

But Stanford's offense is built on the power running game of Stepfan Taylor. He's a three-time 1,000-yard rusher and has totaled 1,442 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. Look for him to continue to be a major contributor in the passing game as well. He has caught 38 balls for 270 yards and two scores.

The Cardinal are going to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year -- a first in school history. Stanford lost in the Sun Bowl in 2009, won the Orange Bowl in 2010 and fell in the Fiesta in 2011. This is Stanford's first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1999.

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