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What to watch in the final four Big Ten bowls

12/31/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final 2008 edition of What to Watch examines the four remaining Big Ten bowl games: Outback, Capital One, Rose and Fiesta. The Big Ten is winless so far in the bowl season and is favored in only one bowl (Iowa, Outback).

Here are some subplots to watch as you watch the games (in order of kickoff time).

1. Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Big Ten fans should be somewhat familiar with Greene, but most of the country will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes' superstar on Thursday against South Carolina. The Doak Walker Award winner has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games but faces a stout South Carolina defense. This likely will be Greene's final collegiate game, so get a good look while you can.

2. The Hawkeyes' back seven vs. Stephen Garcia -- Garcia gets the start at quarterback for South Carolina and hopes to provide some stability under center. The redshirt freshman has six touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season, and he'll need to limit mistakes against an Iowa defense that forces plenty of them. Iowa led the Big Ten with 20 interceptions, with five players collecting multiple picks.

3. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer -- His last bowl appearance was a disaster, as he committed five turnovers (4 INTs, fumble) in a loss to Boston College. Georgia undoubtedly will load up to stop Javon Ringer and make Hoyer win the game for Michigan State. Though Hoyer's numbers this season won't blow anyone away, he has made clutch throws and found ways to win games. If he can stretch the field with Blair White, rushing lanes should open for Ringer.

4. Michigan State's defensive line vs. Georgia's offensive line -- If the Spartans manage to slow down Georgia, it has to start up front. Michigan State's defensive line has more experience and must find ways to exploit Georgia's front five. Rush end Trevor Anderson finished the year with eight sacks and Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw combined for seven more. If Matthew Stafford has time in the pocket, Michigan State will be in big trouble.

5. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- It doesn't really matter where Paterno watches the Rose Bowl, but his potential return to the sideline after seven consecutive games in the press box might give Penn State an emotional lift. Paterno admits he sees the field better from up top, but the 82-year-old is itching to get back to where he belongs. His location likely will be a game-time decision, and the officiating crew better be on its toes if JoePa returns to the sideline.

6. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Penn State's offensive strategy -- Clark got his swagger back in the regular-season finale against Michigan State and enters the Rose Bowl stocked with confidence. But he goes up against quite possibly the best defense in recent college history. Though Clark has been smart and efficient all season (four interceptions in 285 pass attempts), Penn State likely needs to challenge USC down the field. A passive approach simply won't work in this game, and play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to go right at USC's strength.

7. Penn State's special teams -- These two defenses could easily cancel one another out -- Penn State can play some 'D', too -- and the Rose Bowl might come down to special teams. Penn State senior return man Derrick Williams has been outstanding this season and needs another huge performance against USC. If Williams can give Penn State short fields and Kevin Kelly converts his field goal attempts, the Lions could outlast the Trojans. Punter Jeremy Boone also could play a big role in this one, and Penn State must contain the Johnsons (Ronald and Stafon) on USC's returns.

8. Ohio State's Pryor-Wells backfield combo -- If the Buckeyes' much-maligned offensive line steps up to create rushing lanes and time in the pocket, Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells should do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Pryor has shown beyond-his-years poise this season, but the national spotlight gets brighter for the true freshman quarterback Jan. 5. The game likely will be Wells' last in a Buckeyes' uniform, and he'll want to go out with a huge performance after a season that began with Heisman Trophy hopes.   9. Buckeyes senior stars vs. Colt McCoy -- Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will go down as two of the best ever to play their positions at Ohio State. They don't want to finish their careers with a third consecutive postseason loss, one that would only ramp up criticism of the Ohio State program. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy provides a formidable final challenge, but Ohio State's defense played its best football in the second half of the season. The Buckeyes need their senior stars to make game-changing plays, and Laurinaitis and Jenkins need a win to cement their legacy outside of Columbus and the Big Ten.   10. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel -- He's about as far away from the hot seat as a FBS head coach can get, but Tressel and his program really could use a win in the desert. Ohio State hasn't won a national showcase game outside of the Big Ten since 2006 (Texas), and despite the team's obvious improvement in November, the USC disaster remains the lasting image of the Buckeyes' season. Tressel has drawn criticism for what some feel is a stale offense. If he pulls the right strings with some more creative play calling, Ohio State could pull off the upset.