Big Ten: Christian Ponder

Big Ten mailbag

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
11:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day late, but better than not at all ...

Krag from Phoenix writes: I was at the Fiesta Bowl, so I saw this live and was wondering if you could clear something up for me. On Texas' final drive, on the first-down immediately before the touchdown throw, the clock didn't stop. Why? I thought the clock stopped after EVERY first down. At first, I thought it was going to be bad for Texas (not having enough time to score) and then it hurt the Buckeyes since there was :16 seconds left, rather than the :20-:25 there might have been had it stopped. Any explanation would be helpful. Maybe I'm missing something here.

Adam Rittenberg: The clock stops so the officials can reset the chains, but then it winds again. Ohio State took a timeout with 38 seconds left. Texas then completed a 14-yard pass to the Buckeyes' 26, setting up the final play. Though the clock stopped around 25-27 seconds, it moved after the chains were reset. I was a little surprised Texas didn't take a timeout, but the Longhorns ended up managing the clock perfectly.


Ryan from Waukee, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam! Enjoyed reading the blogs all season long and looking forward to next season. As the season is now ever so close to wrapping up, I am looking forward to the 2009 season. I think the Big Ten has a lot to prove next season (where have I heard that before?) and think it could be strong even with some of the big names leaving. Clearly, OSU will be favorite but who could contend with them next season? I don't want to sound biased but Iowa should be a team to look out for. I know Greene, Olsen, Kroul, King and Fletcher leave but we have a lot of young talent with quality PT and a decent group of recruits that will fill in nicely. What do you think about Iowa next season? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State could enter 2009 ranked higher than Ohio State and likely will be tabbed the Big Ten preseason favorite. Your Hawkeyes will be right there as well. Shonn Greene is a big loss, but I really liked what I saw from Jewel Hampton. The bigger losses, honestly, are Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa usually has good defensive linemen, but it will be impossible to replace what King and Kroul brought to the table. I project Iowa at 8-10 wins in 2009. If the road schedule wasn't so difficult, I'd put the Hawkeyes in the league title mix, though they could get there with a few breaks.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Rob Carr
 Wisconsin's Dustin Sherer, shown here getting sacked by Florida State's Toddrick Verdell, struggled in the Badgers' 42-13 Bowl loss on Saturday.

The Champs Sports Bowl marked Wisconsin's final chance to take the sting off an extremely disappointing season.

After a 42-13 loss to Florida State, the Badgers' pain won't go away for some time.

As expected, Florida State was the faster and more athletic team. But speed wasn't the main reason why Wisconsin got torched in Orlando, Fla.

The quarterback position plagued the Badgers all season, and Dustin Sherer's struggles Saturday encapsulated the inconsistency under center. Sherer looked overmatched against Florida State's defense, and his two fumbles that led to Seminoles touchdowns prevented Wisconsin from hanging around. It wasn't all Sherer's fault, but the offense couldn't sustain drives despite gashing Florida State for several big plays.

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst must do a better job of identifying a capable quarterback in the offseason. The answer might very well be Sherer, but other players certainly deserve a look. Quarterback simply cannot be a liability for a team that shapes its identity around the run game.

Special teams also doomed Wisconsin, thanks to Florida State superstar kicker/punter Graham Gano, who pinned the Badgers back deep throughout the first half. Wisconsin couldn't do much about Gano, but special teams must be upgraded going into 2009.

The Badgers' defense put pressure on Christian Ponder in the first half but didn't make any game-changing plays.

You would never know by the final score, but Wisconsin actually played a pretty good first half. P.J. Hill found running room and Florida State's offense couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. The Badgers moved the ball well despite not fully committing to the run. But Derek Nicholson's head's-up play to return a Sherer lateral for a touchdown combined with Wisconsin's inability to manage the clock led to a 14-3 Florida State lead at the break.

I actually picked Wisconsin to win (head banging against wall), but when a team has been disappointing for the better part of 12 games, things usually don't change in a bowl.

This is a significant blow for Wisconsin, a senior-laden team which entered the season with BCS aspirations after four straight January bowl appearances. The Badgers had more than their share of injuries, but they looked poorly coached at times and seemed to lose confidence in a hurry. Head coach Bret Bielema needs to rebound in 2009.

Wisconsin's loss won't change many opinions about the Big Ten. Six games remain, but if the Champs Sports Bowl is any indication, it could be a rough postseason for Big Ten teams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to forecast the first three Big Ten bowl games. I finished the regular season with a record of 71-17 (80.7 percent), but the bowls provide a much tougher challenge.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL -- Wisconsin 27, Florida State 25

This would constitute an upset, given Florida State's purported edge in speed and the game's Seminole-friendly location (Orlando, Fla.). Wisconsin will have its hands full trying to contain dominant pass rusher Everette Brown, star safety Myron Rolle and the Seminoles defense, and the Badgers' offensive line needs to play its best game of the season. But I liked the way Wisconsin's offense played down the stretch behind quarterback Dustin Sherer, and running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay could wear down Florida State. It certainly could go the other way, but I'm not sold on Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder. The Badgers' secondary can make plays, and Ponder commits a key turnover that lifts Wisconsin to a much needed win.

VALERO ALAMO BOWL -- Missouri 38, Northwestern 27

Northwestern ended the season playing its best football and continued to make major strides on defense. But this just isn't a good matchup for the Wildcats, who haven't faced an offense resembling the high-powered unit led by Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman. Now there is a legitimate question about Missouri's mind-set. How motivated will the Tigers be after a fairly disappointing regular season? Northwestern will be prepared and if the Wildcats have the mental edge, they could pull off a significant upset. Senior quarterback C.J. Bacher has one final chance to recapture the form he showed midway through the 2007 season, when he racked up 990 passing yards in a two-week stretch against Michigan State and Minnesota. Missouri's secondary is a joke, but Bacher won't be able to avoid interceptions. The Wildcats come up short despite the return of running back Tyrell Sutton.

INSIGHT BOWL -- Kansas 41, Minnesota 24

Teams certainly can make progess during bowl preparation, but Minnesota will have to take a major leap forward after dropping its final four regular-season games. Wide receiver Eric Decker returns to the mix after knee surgery and will provide a nice boost, but Minnesota won't be able to mask its problems against a more experienced Kansas team. It'll be interesting to see how the offensive line responds to new coach Tim Davis, but Minnesota's inability to run the ball and its over-reliance on quarterback Adam Decker make it tough to see the Gophers keeping up with the Jayhawks. Minnesota's upset hopes hinge on a defense that led the Big Ten in takeaways (30). If a Gophers secondary filled with playmakers causes Todd Reesing to make mistakes, Minnesota should hang around in this one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Both of these teams will have an eye toward the future when they clash Dec. 27 at Citrus Bowl Stadium.

Wisconsin's BCS bowl dreams have long since vanished, but it recovered from a miserable four-week stretch to close the regular season with three consecutive wins. The Badgers seemed to establish an identity on offense after junior quarterback Dustin Sherer replaced Allan Evridge, and they finally started to utilize the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack.

Quarterback Christian Ponder is Florida State's future, but like the team this season, the sophomore had mixed results. The same can be said for Wisconsin's veteran defense, which will need to contain Ponder and running back Antone Smith.

Defense and special teams are Florida State's strengths, and Wisconsin must wear down the Seminoles with running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay, who were used effectively in the final four games. Sherer won't have many opportunities to attack the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense, but Florida State struggled to stop the run against Georgia Tech and Florida and could be vulnerable against the ground game.

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