Big Ten: Bowl-overview-2013
December, 8, 2013
Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1)
Jan. 3, TBD, Miami (ESPN)
CLEMSON TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Despite its third straight season with at least 10 wins, Clemson ended the regular season by extending its sour streak with a fifth straight losses to rival South Carolina and once again looking up at Florida State in the Atlantic Division standings.
The Tigers were picked by the media in July to win the ACC, but they fell flat in their two most important games of the season -- against the Seminoles and against South Carolina. They also happened to be the two worst performances of the season for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who has since fallen out of the Heisman conversation.
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd and the Tigers committed six turnovers in their regular season finale at South Carolina. Can Clemson redeem itself in its bowl game?
It wasn’t just that the Tigers lost those games; it was the fact that they lost them in embarrassing fashion. Florida State rolled Clemson in Death Valley on Oct. 19, quieting the crowd with a 51-14 romp. In a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks, Clemson turned it over six times, each gaff seemingly more unbelievable than the last. Clemson’s only two losses, though, were to top-10 opponents. Clemson committed 10 turnovers versus FSU and South Carolina and was outscored 45-0 in points off turnovers in those games.
Still, the Tigers will bring one of the country’s most productive offenses, led by Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, who has 224 career receptions and will need nine catches in the bowl game to break Aaron Kelly’s school career record of 232. The defense, led by Vic Beasley, has also shown significant improvement in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables. -- Heather Dinich
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES BREAKDOWN
The flawless, fairytale run wasn’t going to last forever, but Ohio State surely wasn’t planning on trying to start a new winning streak in its bowl game.
Undefeated under Urban Meyer until Saturday night’s loss in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, “The Chase” the Buckeyes have been on for a national championship came up one game short. Their defense struggled to get off the field against the Spartans, and their powerful rushing attack was unable to get the yards that counted most.
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller will be a tough duo to handle in the Buckeyes' bowl game.
But the combined star power of Meyer, quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and linebacker Ryan Shazier still made Ohio State plenty attractive for a BCS bowl, and it will have a marquee opportunity to post an impressive victory and cap what has still been a record-setting season for the program.
Few teams have been as explosive as the Buckeyes offensively, with both Miller and Hyde rushing for more than 1,000 yards and causing defenses fits with the zone-option attack. And while the passing game has regressed during the final month of the season, Miller has still come a long way as a passer, which has helped receivers Philly Brown and Devin Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman find the end zone a combined 21 times.
The defense hasn’t been quite as consistent, particularly since the loss of stabilizing senior safety Christian Bryant in late September to a fractured ankle, but more often than not, it has made the plays needed to rack up wins. Typically, it has been Shazier doing the most damage, as the junior has routinely stuffed the stats sheet while leading the Big Ten in three different individual categories.
Neither side of the ball did quite enough to push the Buckeyes into the bowl they really had their eye on. But there was a nice consolation prize waiting for them, and a big opportunity to start over with, as well. -- Austin Ward
December, 8, 2013
Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Michigan State Spartans (12-1)
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)
STANFORD CARDINAL BREAKDOWN
Before last season, Stanford had never been to bowl games in four consecutive seasons. Following its dominant effort against Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship, the Cardinal is not only on its way to a fifth straight bowl but a fourth straight BCS game and second straight Rose Bowl.
Waiting in Pasadena for the 100th edition of the “Granddaddy” will be Michigan State. Winners of nine straight, including a 34-24 win against previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, the Spartans haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, when they beat USC 20-17.
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe downhill style of Tyler Gaffney and the Michigan State defense are on a collision course.
The first thing that jumps out about this matchup is the similar styles. As was the case in Stanford’s 20-14 win against Wisconsin last year, points could be at a premium. Both Stanford (18.6 ppg) and Michigan State (12.7) allow fewer than 20 points per game, and the Spartans lead the nation in total defense. Neither team has allowed more than 28 points in a game this year; both allowed 28 on two occasions.
Considering how well Arizona State had been playing, Stanford’s 38-14 win in the Pac-12 championship might have been its most complete win of the season. Just as it did at home against the Sun Devils early in the year, it jumped out to a big first-half lead. This time, however, Stanford extended the lead after halftime to win going away. Running back Tyler Gaffney earned the game’s MVP honors and now has 1,618 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the season.
The teams’ only common opponent is Notre Dame. The Irish handed Michigan State its only loss of the season, 17-13 on Sept. 21., but fell 27-20 at Stanford on Nov. 30. Stanford has won its last 10 games against ranked opponents, with the last loss coming two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State.
Stanford is 6-7 all time in the Rose Bowl, while Michigan State is 3-1. -- Kyle Bonagura
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS BREAKDOWN
As they’ve done after every win, the Michigan State Spartans held a Saturday night dance party in their locker room after upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Noticeably absent from the hip-hop playlist: “Going back to Cali.” The Spartans are going back to California to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. After a disappointing 2012 campaign filled with close losses -- MSU dropped five Big Ten contests by a combined 13 points -- Mark Dantonio’s team made up the inches and became a complete team that won all nine of its Big Ten contests by 10 points or more this season.
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDarqueze Dennard leads Michigan State to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987.
“Pasadena, here we come,” said Spartans senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti, a Lakewood, Calif., native. “I’ve got to show them In-N-Out [Burger], it’s a West Coast staple, Animal Style and all that. I’m excited.”
The nation’s No. 1 defense propelled Michigan State for most of the season and will be featured in Pasadena alongside Stanford’s equally hard-hitting crew. The 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO boasts a traditional matchup of teams rooted in physical defense, the power run and solid special teams play.
Michigan State leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (248.2 ypg), rush yards allowed (80.8 ypg) and third-down conversions allowed (27.7 percent), and ranks second in pass efficiency defense and fourth in points allowed. Pat Narduzzi coordinates a unit featuring six All-Big Ten players, including an All-America candidate in senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Elite defense is nothing new at MSU, but the team needed a complementary piece on offense and found one during Big Ten play. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook came out of nowhere to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors, throw 20 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and win MVP honors in the Big Ten championship game. Cook and dynamic running back Jeremy Langford play behind a much-improved line that will be tested by Shayne Skov and Stanford. -- Adam Rittenberg
December, 8, 2013
Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) vs. LSU Tigers (9-3)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Tampa, Fla. (ESPN)
IOWA HAWKEYES BREAKDOWN
Reports of Iowa's demise were premature.
After a dismal 4-8 season in 2012, many wrote off Kirk Ferentz's team before this season began. But the Hawkeyes managed a complete turnaround while embracing classic Ferentz traits like stout defensive play and a strong rushing attack. Iowa's 8-4 campaign looks even more impressive when considering that its four losses all came to ranked teams -- Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- and that it finished the year with back-to-back wins over Michigan and Nebraska.
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallAnthony Hitchens was one-third of Iowa's outstanding senior linebacking group.
The Hawkeyes' success starts on defense, where they ranked in the top 20 nationally against both the pass and the run. Everything revolves around a standout trio of senior linebackers in James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey, who combined for nearly 300 tackles and more than 30 tackles for loss.
The offense isn't explosive, but a veteran offensive line led by junior left tackle and future NFL draft pick Brandon Scherff sets the tone for a physical attack. Mark Weisman, a 235-pound former fullback, rushed for 938 yards this year and seems to get stronger as games wear on. Iowa also can mix things up with shiftier backs in Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri.
First-year starter Jake Rudock completed 60 percent of his passes and showed the ability to extend plays with his legs. The Hawkeyes don't stretch the field as much as they grind out yards the old-fashioned way. And that way was good enough to get Iowa back to a nice bowl game. -- Brian Bennett
LSU TIGERS BREAKDOWN
Unfortunately for LSU, it won't be able to send out senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger with one last win. Mettenberger tore his ACL while taking a hit in the pocket after delivering a pass to Jarvis Landry during the Tigers' season-ending 31-27 win against Arkansas.
Mettenberger (3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions), Landry (75 catches, 1,172 yards, 10 TDs) and Odell Beckham (57-1,117, 8 TDs) worked with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to restore an aerial aspect to LSU's offense, which had become a bit stale with its ground-heavy mentality over the past few years. The Tigers can still run the ball with the best -- Jeremy Hill rushed for 1,185 yards and 14 scores and Terrence Magee added 207 yards and three TDs in the last two games -- but it was Mettenberger and the star wideouts who made LSU's offense explosive again.
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertLSU wideout Odell Beckham helped lead the young Tigers to a 9-3 record.
Mettenberger's backup, freshman Anthony Jennings, completed the Tigers' comeback against Arkansas with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Travin Dural with 1:15 to play, and he should gain some valuable experience for 2014 with a start in the bowl game.
It will be interesting to see how John Chavis' young defense performs in its final outing of the season. LSU ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense at 349.7 yards per game and sixth in scoring defense at 22.7 points per game, which was a step backward after ranking among the nation's best over the past few years. Shutting down Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a 34-10 win on Nov. 23 might be a sign of positive things to come for Chavis' bunch, however. -- David Ching
December, 8, 2013
Wisconsin Badgers (9-3) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla. (ABC)
WISCONSIN BADGERS BREAKDOWN
The Badgers' streak of three straight Rose Bowls has come to an end. That doesn't mean, however, that Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a failure. Wisconsin actually added one more win to its total compared to a season ago, when it went 8-6.
Wisconsin's rushing attack ensured Andersen would find success this season, as Melvin Gordon and James White combined to form the No. 8 run game (283 YPG) in the nation. The speedy duo helped the Badgers average an FBS-best 8.3 yards per carry outside the tackles, and both rushed for more than 1,300 yards.
AP Photo/Morry GashJames White (left) and Melvin Gordon powered a Wisconsin run game that was among the best in the country.
Wisconsin's new 3-4 defense also helped it move up nine spots from last season's 15th-ranked defense. But that doesn't mean the Badgers didn't have their weaknesses. Besides the passing game (and lack of weapons outside of Jared Abbrederis), inconsistency plagued Wisconsin.
The Badgers allowed the opposition to score more than 30 points in just four games -- and three of those games wound up as losses. Wisconsin suffered a controversial ending against Arizona State, fell by a touchdown vs. the Buckeyes ... and then was somehow upset by a sanctions-depleted Penn State squad. Wisconsin is obviously hoping to bounce back after PSU's huge upset, and it should be ready for this bowl game. It can actually improve on last year's record despite playing one fewer game. -- Josh Moyer
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS BREAKDOWN
Quietly, Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to yet another 10-win season. A postseason victory, and South Carolina would have its third straight 11-win season under Spurrier.
It's been a fun season for the Gamecocks, who started it with a loss to Georgia but were on the heels of their second SEC Eastern Division crown after upsetting Missouri in double overtime on the road. But they just fell short of their goal to return to Atlanta after Mizzou won out after losing to the Gamecocks.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesConnor Shaw battled injury but South Carolina has finished strong.
The game that will really have this team kicking itself is that 23-21 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville. South Carolina turned it over twice and lost starting quarterback Connor Shaw to a knee injury but was clearly the more talented team. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, that was their final stumble. They won their last five games by a combined 181-81 margin, including a 31-17 win over Clemson that made it five in a row for South Carolina over the Tigers.
The star of the show for the Gamecocks was supposed to be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Nagging injuries and constant double-teams left him with a pedestrian three sacks, but he did have 10.5 tackles for loss.
The top performers for South Carolina were Shaw and bell cow running back Mike Davis.
Shaw continued to show the country why he's one of the toughest players. His knee sprain sidelined him only briefly, as he returned in the fourth quarter against Mizzou only to throw for 201 yards and three touchdowns to erase a 17-point deficit. Shaw finished the year with 2,135 yards with 21 touchdowns to just one interception.
Helping Shaw along the way was Davis, who made a strong case for the title of the SEC's top running back. Davis, who was a home run threat and a legitimate between-the-tackles bruiser, rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. -- Edward Aschoff
December, 8, 2013
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (8-4)
Jan. 1, noon ET, Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN2)
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS BREAKDOWN
Nebraska enters the bowl season with a chance to finish 9-4 for the third time under coach Bo Pelini. In the other three seasons, it finished 10-4.
This year, though, classifies as anything but routine.
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJunior college transfer Randy Gregory anchored Nebraska's defense in his first season in Lincoln.
The Huskers lost record-setting senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to a foot injury that limited him to just one appearance in Big Ten play.
Right guard Spencer Long, their best offensive lineman, went down with a season-ending knee injury in early October. A devastating string of injuries along the line followed, transforming the offense from this team's strength in September to a liability by November.
If not for a 49-yard Hail Mary completion by third-string quarterback Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp against Northwestern, Nebraska would have lost its final three home games.
Harrowing wins at Michigan, featuring heroics by freshman QB Tommy Armstrong, and in overtime at Penn State allowed the Huskers to stay afloat. The young defense matured behind breakout star Randy Gregory, but a five-turnover day against Michigan State eliminated the Huskers from league-title contention on Nov. 16 -- earlier than at any time previously under Pelini.
Nebraska finished minus-12 for the year in turnover margin, better than only three teams nationally. Repeated punt-return miscues also proved costly.
Throw in a loss to UCLA (in which the Bruins scored the final 38 points), the unearthing of an unpleasant two-year-old Pelini audio tape and a meltdown by the coach during and after a post-Thanksgiving home loss to Iowa, and you've got a season that was anything but normal in Lincoln. -- Mitch Sherman
Mark Richt's Bulldogs recovered from an injury-induced midseason lull by winning four of their final five games -- with the one loss coming in heartbreaking fashion, when Auburn's Ricardo Louis caught a deflected pass for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
Georgia started the season as a top-five club, but its enormous expectations crumbled after a Week 1 loss to Clemson and a spate of injuries hit key players like receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall early in the season. The Bulldogs lost twice -- to Missouri and Vanderbilt -- in the middle of the season while many of their most valuable offensive players were sidelined, but recovered a bit once Gurley returned for the Florida game.
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley rushed for 903 yards and 10 TDs this season despite missing three games due to injury.
Georgia averaged 41.2 points per game once Gurley returned to the lineup, completing the season with a comeback, overtime win over Georgia Tech where Gurley scored four touchdowns even without SEC career passing leader Aaron Murray leading the offense.
Murray will miss the bowl game because of a torn ACL he suffered against Kentucky on senior night, so Hutson Mason will once again be under center for the Bulldogs. He has performed well thus far, going 46-for-71 for 648 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Georgia's young defense has one more opportunity to develop some continuity heading into 2014. The Bulldogs surrendered a whopping 29.4 points and 381.2 yards per game, although they have generally started slowly and played better as games progressed in the second half of the season. -- David Ching
December, 8, 2013
Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5)
Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz.(ESPN)
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
The Wildcats were left for dead. KSU sat at 2-4 including a loss to FCS power North Dakota State and 2012 breakout star Collin Klein was no longer in the quarterbacks meeting room. Time to start thinking about 2014, right?
Bill Snyder and company didn’t get the message. Instead, they reeled off wins in five of their last six Big 12 games to finish 7-5 and earn a berth in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. After sputtering early, the Wildcats’ two-quarterback system with Daniel Sams and Jake Waters worked seamlessly during the final half of the season, helping K-State average 36.7 points per game in its final six games. KSU’s 6.54 yards per play during that span led the Big 12, even better than the headline-making crew from Baylor.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe versatile Daniel Sams has accounted for 15 touchdowns this season.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller led the way for the K-State defense, terrorizing Big 12 quarterbacks and running backs in route to 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The Wildcats’ fundamentally sound defense looked similar to the squad that earned a Fiesta Bowl berth a year ago, leading the Big 12 with 4.73 yards per play allowed in the final six-game stretch.
Now Michigan, who lost four of its last five games, awaits and the Wildcats return to Arizona for the second straight year in a bowl matchup will be a battle of two teams who finished the season on opposite sides of the spectrum. -- Brandon Chatmon
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES BREAKDOWN
The Wolverines had an up-and-down season and eventually finished 7-5. While they were just two or three plays away from being 9-3, they were also -- quite realistically -- two or three plays away from being 5-7.
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner has been productive on those rare occasions when he has had time in the pocket.
Early on, Michigan almost dropped games to Akron and Connecticut, while struggling to find any kind of an offensive identity, despite returning key playmakers. Quarterback Devin Gardner took a beating from opposing defenses through the middle of the season (enduring 17 sacks in three games) and while he found a way to make it to the Ohio State game in one piece, he ended the year far from 100 percent.
But after 10 games, the Michigan coaching staff finally found its best offensive line combination and when they did -- and when that group really worked together -- the Wolverines found a run game and managed to give Gardner enough time in the pocket for the plays to develop down field.
Defensively, it was a very different feel all season. The Wolverine defense employed a bend-but-don’t-break mentality and were a bright point for a sputtering team at many times. But near the end of the season, it gave up huge plays and went through major breakdowns in decisive games to end the year with Iowa and Ohio State. -- Chantel Jennings
December, 8, 2013
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4) vs. Syracuse Orange (6-6)
Dec. 27, 6 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS BREAKDOWN
The Gophers were the surprise team in the Big Ten this year, as they overcame low expectations and fought through uncertainty surrounding coach Jerry Kill to clinch their first eight-win season in a decade.
Kill suffered his fifth game-day seizure on Oct. 5, took medical leave and began resuming some coaching duties a little more than three weeks later. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has taken over as needed, but the Gophers haven't missed a beat.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsBehind dominating defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, the Gophers won eight games and are heading to a bowl.
It's not as though this team is loaded with stars. Only one player -- DT Ra'Shede Hageman -- was a unanimous selection on the All-Big Ten team. But, week after week, the Gophers relied on a bend-but-don't-break defense (No. 17 in the nation in the red zone) and a run-heavy offense (200.9 ypg) to find a way to win.
Their bread and butter has been the run game, but the Gophers have played their best football when they have struck a balance. During their key four-game winning streak during the conference season -- against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State -- the Gophers averaged 182.5 passing yards per game compared to 121.5 yards outside of that streak.
Minnesota is still not one of the best teams in the Big Ten, as it lost to both Wisconsin and Michigan State. But, behind quarterback Philip Nelson and tailback David Cobb, the Gophers have taken a step forward -- and are now hoping for their first bowl win since 2004. -- Josh Moyer
SYRACUSE ORANGE BREAKDOWN
The Orange not only had key personnel losses to fill when the season started, they also had a new head coach and a new conference to call home. Doubters wondered how Syracuse would get back to a bowl game given all the questions.
Well, it took nearly every second of the season, but Syracuse got the job done. The Orange became bowl eligible on the final weekend of the regular season with a 34-31 win over Boston College, securing the victory on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Terrel Hunt to Josh Parris with 6 seconds remaining. This is the first time since 1998-1999 Syracuse is going to consecutive bowl games.
Kellen Micah/Icon SMITerrel Hunt delivered Syracuse past Boston College to make the Orange bowl eligible.
It was not pretty at times. Drew Allen started the season at quarterback but threw too many interceptions and was benched after three starts. Hunt was better, but he was nowhere near elite. He didn’t throw his first touchdown pass in league play until the second-to-last game of the season. There were ugly losses to Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech, too.
But first-year coach Scott Shafer was able to keep his team together. What got his team four ACC wins was its physical play. Jerome Smith had 840 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, and the rushing defense played inspired. In three of those wins, Syracuse held its opponents to a combined 13 points.
In addition, Jay Bromley posted nine sacks and forced three fumbles to lead the defense. The Orange ended up in a tie for third in the Atlantic Division. Certainly not a bad way to open Year 1 in the ACC.
-- Andrea Adelson