Big Ten: Bryce Petty


Here’s what you need to know when Baylor and Michigan State square off Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) in Arlington, Texas:

1. Motivation: The more motivated team usually has the edge during bowl season, so who will be more motivated in Arlington? Baylor was not happy about being left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff despite going 11-1 and landing the best win of any playoff contender by defeating sixth-ranked TCU. Coach Art Briles even called for a reallocation of playoff committee members to include more “Southerners.” Will the Bears still be reeling from that playoff snub? Or will they be determined to show they were deserving of a spot? Baylor should be motivated alone by the egg the team laid during a 52-42 loss to UCF in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. The Spartans, meanwhile, also have plenty to prove after getting routed by playoff participants Oregon and Ohio State during the regular season.

2. Strength on strength: This matchup has given us one of the best offenses in the country against one of the best defenses. Baylor leads the nation in scoring with 48.8 points per game. The Bears also topped the FBS with 61 touchdown drives in two minutes or less, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Michigan State, meanwhile, ranks fifth nationally in total defense, and is averaging 12 pressures (sacks, hurries or knockdowns) per game, which ranks second among Power 5 schools. The key in this game will be whether the Spartans can get to quarterback Bryce Petty, and prevent him from getting off the deep ball, which the Bears excel at completing. In its two losses, Michigan State allowed the Ducks and Buckeyes to complete 67 percent of their passes of 15 yards or more. The rest of the season, Michigan State allowed just 25 percent on such throws.

3. 2015 springboards: Though neither of these teams made the playoff this year, both could be factors in the national championship chase next season. The Spartans expect to return quarterback Connor Cook and a host of starters on both sides of the ball. The Bears will graduate Petty, but All-America offensive tackle Spencer Drango and All-Big 12 defensive end Shawn Oakman announced this week they’re returning for their senior years. All told, Baylor could return up to 17 starters. Neither team can win the 2015 national championship by winning this game. But a bowl victory would give either a significant springboard heading into next season.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Baylor ranks No. 1 in the nation in total offense. Michigan State ranks No. 1 in total defense since 2013. AT&T Stadium is in for one heck of a best vs. best battle on New Year's Day when the Bears and Spartans face off in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Thursday (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Max Olson break down the matchup:

How Michigan State can control the game: Baylor is going to score and put up big plays; that's pretty much a given. Michigan State's defense got gashed by the two other high-octane offenses it played this year, Oregon and Ohio State, so it's unrealistic to think the Spartans will shut down this one. But Michigan State's best defense might be its own high-powered offense, which can give the Bears problems with the power running game behind Jeremy Langford and the arm of quarterback Connor Cook. Michigan State might have to beat Baylor at its own game by lighting up the scoreboard. -- Bennett

How Baylor can control the game: Michigan State should expect gunslinger Bryce Petty and his limitless number of speedy receivers to do some damage, sure. But Sparty coaches who've been prepping for a month know by now the Bears win in lots of ways. Devin Chafin (elbow) is back and gives Baylor a three-headed monster at running back. Those backs will pound and bruise to set up the air show. Three-and-outs are the key on D, and Baylor forced more this season than MSU did. -- Olson

Michigan State's X factor: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun is likely playing his final game in the green and white, as he's widely expected to go to the NFL. He got off to a little bit of a slow start and whiffed on an important would-be sack of Marcus Mariota in the Oregon loss. But he bounced back strong and finished with 6.5 sacks. The Spartans need him to harass Petty and throw off the timing of the Baylor offense. -- Bennett

Baylor's X factor: Motivation. Even when Art Briles was irate about being left out of the College Football Playoff, he was quick to point out he hasn't forgiven or forgotten last year. Baylor laid an egg at the Fiesta Bowl -- a 52-42 loss to UCF -- but gets a redo this week: another chance for the first 12-win season in school history. Can the Bears channel their anger from the CFP snub and let loose against an even better opponent? -- Olson

What a win would mean for Michigan State: The Spartans are 10-2 but lost the only two marquee matchups on their schedule. So beating Baylor and claiming a New Year's Six bowl would add further validation to this season and make this a highly successful follow-up to last year's Rose Bowl championship season. With Ohio State surging and Michigan feeling the buzz of the Jim Harbaugh hire, Mark Dantonio's team can remind everyone that there's still a Big Ten East Division superpower in East Lansing. -- Bennett

What a win would mean for Baylor: In addition to those aforementioned incentives, the Bears are looking for a proper send-off for Petty, Bryce Hager, Antwan Goodley and the seniors who helped build up this program into a national title contender. Spencer Drango and Shawn Oakman made a major statement this week in electing to pass up the NFL for another run at the playoff. Baylor can make its own statement Thursday that, for a third straight year, this will be the team to beat in the Big 12. -- Olson

Ohio State's Braxton Miller back for 2014

August, 5, 2014
8/05/14
1:33
PM ET
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller could become Ohio State's all-time leader in wins.
The 2014 college football season has the potential to showcase one of the most talented groups of quarterbacks in recent memory. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty are all being talked about as potential first-round NFL draft picks, while Braxton Miller and Everett Golson have the chance to solidify their place in their respective school’s storied histories.

In preparation for the 2014 season and in conjunction with interviews conducted by ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN Stats & Info will take a deeper look at the top QBs entering the fall. Today, we take a look at Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.


A look back at 2013
Braxton Miller had an outstanding junior season, becoming the first player in Big Ten history (since 1990 when the award was first given) to win the Offensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons. He was the only Power Five conference quarterback to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last year. If Miller can accomplish that feat again, he will join Colin Kaepernick and become the second FBS quarterback in the past 10 years to reach those thresholds in three seasons.

Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 games since the start of 2011, second most among FBS quarterbacks. He had five such games last season, which tied for fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Miller has always been a prolific rusher, but he’s also improved as a passer every year at Ohio State. Miller’s completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns have increased every season.

He was more willing to operate from the pocket last year. He attempted 85 percent of his passes from the pocket, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 2012. His 19 touchdown passes from inside the pocket were tied for the most in the Big Ten with Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.

A look ahead to 2014
With another 11-win season, Miller will pass Art Schlichter for the most wins in school history (36). Assuming Miller stays healthy, he has a good chance of passing Schlichter.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Ohio State has the best chance (41 percent) of winning the Big Ten, nearly 20 percentage points better than Wisconsin, and is projected for between 10 and 11 wins heading into bowl season. The Buckeyes have won 24 consecutive regular-season games, four shy of tying the Big Ten conference record.

The Buckeyes have big shoes to fill. They must replace six of 11 starters on offense, including league-leading rusher Carlos Hyde and four starters from an offensive line that combined for 135 starts.

Miller might have to shoulder more of the load. In the past, he has stepped up when his team needed him. Miller enters 2014 with six career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three last season. The six career game-winning drives are the most among returning FBS quarterbacks and five more than any other returning quarterback in the Big Ten.

One area in which Miller needs to get better is on third down. He ranked in the bottom third of the FBS in Total QBR (47.1) and completion percentage (50.9) on third down. Only Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Purdue’s Danny Etling were sacked more on third down than Miller (12) among Big Ten quarterbacks. Only two of the past 10 national championship quarterbacks have had a third-down QBR less than 70 in the season they won the title.
You can argue over who's the best running back in college football, but there's little doubt who the two most efficient runners are.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk are essentially picking up a first down on every rush attempt. Gordon is averaging 9.46 yards per carry, while Seastrunk is at 9.16. Those are the top two yards per carry averages by running backs in the FBS and trail only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota among all players. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter discuss what makes both runners so dynamic and try to figure out whether they should be touching the ball even more.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the Badgers' seven games this season.
Brian Bennett: Jake, let's start with Seastrunk. We all know Baylor's offense is an astronomical phenomenon. How big a part of that is Seastrunk, and what makes him special in that offense?

Jake Trotter: He's a huge part. There's a reason why receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Sure, those guys are blazing fast. But defenses are so concerned about Seastrunk running wild on them, that Reese and Goodley end up in one-on-one situations downfield.

What about Gordon, Brian?

BB: Gordon is incredibly talented, so much so that Montee Ball said before Gordon ever took the field that he might be the most talented Wisconsin back ever. That's saying something. At 6-foot-1, Gordon gobbles up the field with his long-striding form and is almost impossible to catch once he finds a seam. He has touchdown runs of 70, 71 and 80 yards this season. The Badgers also know just how to use him right. He not only lines up in conventional positions, but he is often employed on jet sweeps where he can get a full head of steam as he heads out to the perimeter.

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line, which is once again stacked with massive human beings who create gaping holes for their backs. That's a major reason for the program's tradition of star tailbacks, and it undoubtedly contributes to Gordon's success, though I think he'd be wildly effective in any system. Which leads me to my question for you: how much of Seastrunk's stats stem from Baylor's system, and how much is just on his own talent? In other words, do you think he'd have the same type of numbers if he and Gordon switched places tomorrow?

JT: The system is a big part of it. Coach Art Briles' track record dating back to the Robert Griffin III years speaks for itself. But the supporting cast is a big part, too. Guard Cyril Richardson leads an offensive line that excels at paving running lanes. The threat of Bryce Petty throwing the ball downfield to Reese and Goodley means defenses can't even think about loading the box. Seastrunk also has a capable wingman in Glasco Martin, who takes some of the rushing load off Seastrunk's shoulders. This Baylor offense is awesome, and Seastrunk is just one part of it. That is a big reason why he's such an efficient runner. He plays on a great offense.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks' Lache Seastrunk
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesBaylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon, already has three more rushing touchdowns (10) than he had all of last season.
That takes away from his carries. But he doesn't need a lot of carries to be effective. What about Gordon?

BB: Yeah, Seastrunk is averaging a little under 14 carries per game, while Gordon is getting just a little more than 15 rushing attempts per game. In Gordon's case, Wisconsin has another stud running back in senior James White, who ranks No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards and who has over 3,200 career rushing yards. Four times already this season, Gordon and White have gone over 100 yards in the same game, and White came within two yards last week at Illinois of making it five times. Coach Gary Andersen has basically split the carries between the two, which keeps them both fresh, and I think he feels a little more comfortable with the veteran White in there for pass protection purposes.

But it makes you wonder what kind of numbers Gordon could put up if he got a steady 20-to-25 carries per game. What do you think Seastrunk could do with a heavier workload, and do you think the lack of carries will hurt either back when it comes to major awards like the Doak Walker or All-America honors?

JT: I don't think it will hurt Seastrunk in either category as long as Baylor keeps winning. The key stat with Seastrunk is yards per carry. He is averaging a whopping 9.16 per rush. As long as he keeps that up, Baylor keeps pouring on points and the Bears keep winning, he'll remain at the forefront of the Doak Walker and All-American candidacies. Seastrunk, however, probably has almost no shot at the Heisman. Petty has divided the Baylor vote, and in many ways overshadowed the running back by leading the nation in Total QBR through the midway point of the season. If Petty keeps putting up monster numbers, he -- not Seastrunk -- will likely emerge as the Baylor candidate for the Heisman.

SPONSORED HEADLINES