Big Ten: Connor Shaw

Final Big Ten Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
PM ET
Before we close the book on the 2013 season, here's the final version of the Big Ten power rankings. Bowl performances were factored in, as well as how teams finished the season, although there aren't too many changes from the previous version of the power rankings.

Let's get started ...

1. Michigan State (13-1, previously: 1): The Spartans rallied to beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO to record their team-record 13th victory. Thanks to stifling defense and improved quarterback play, Michigan State had its best season since the mid-1960s. The Spartans return QB Connor Cook and most of the skill players on offense, but must replace a lot of production on defense.

2. Ohio State (12-2, previously: 2): After winning 24 consecutive games to open the Urban Meyer era, Ohio State dropped consecutive games on big stages. The Buckeyes' defense couldn't slow down Clemson's pass game in the Discover Orange Bowl, and turnovers doomed Ohio State in the second half. Meyer's defensive staff will have a different look with new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson.

3. Wisconsin (9-4, previously: 3): Like Ohio State, Wisconsin ended its season with a thud and a sloppy bowl performance against South Carolina. The Badgers received big performances from running backs Melvin Gordon and James White but couldn't stop South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw or hang on to the football.

4. Nebraska (9-4, previously: 6): All roads lead to 9-4 for Bo Pelini's team, but the Huskers are much happier to be there after an upset victory over Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. An improved defense did a nice job of keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone, and seniors such as wide receiver Quincy Enunwa stepped up in their final college game.

5. Iowa (8-5, previously: 4): A stout Hawkeyes defense kept the team in the Outback Bowl, but the offense never truly got going and lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock to injury. Iowa had its chances for a quality bowl win, but has to settle for a strong regular-season improvement and raised expectations entering the 2014 season.

6. Penn State (7-5, previously: 7): An impressive victory at Wisconsin marked the final game of the Bill O'Brien era. New coach James Franklin has brought a lot of enthusiasm to Happy Valley and should sparkle on the recruiting trail. His management of talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and an undermanned defense will loom large this fall.

7. Minnesota (8-5, previously: 5): The Gophers had by far the most favorable bowl matchup but didn't reach the end zone for more than three quarters against Syracuse. Although a special-teams play ultimately doomed Minnesota, the Gophers' inability to establish a better passing game was a key element in a very disappointing loss. Minnesota should expect more in 2014.

8. Michigan (7-6, previously: 8): You knew it would be tough for Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl when quarterback Devin Gardner hobbled off of the plane on crutches. But the Wolverines never gave themselves a chance in the game, caving defensively against Kansas State's Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett. A blowout loss ended Michigan's highly disappointing season and marked the end for offensive coordinator Al Borges. Can coach Brady Hoke get things turned around in 2014?

9. Northwestern (5-7, previously: 9): Northwestern is awaiting confirmation that running back Venric Mark can return for a fifth season, and should get it in the next few weeks. Mark will help an offense that never truly got on track last fall and might need to be more of a pass-first unit if Trevor Siemian remains the starting quarterback. The defense returns nine starters.

10. Indiana (5-7, previously: 10): It took a little longer than expected, but coach Kevin Wilson fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory last week as Indiana again will try to upgrade a perennially porous unit. The Hoosiers will be more experienced throughout the roster this fall, but the defense must change the script under new leadership as they enter the brutal East Division.

11. Illinois (4-8, previously: 11): While Wilson made a change at defensive coordinator, coach Tim Beckman is sticking with Tim Banks and the rest of his staff for a pivotal 2014 season. Like Indiana, Illinois will be more experienced on defense but must replace Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. A favorable schedule gives Illinois a chance to make a bowl game.

12. Purdue (1-11, previously: 12): No Big Ten team is more excited to start working this offseason than the Boilers, who are rebuilding through the quarterback spot with Danny Etling and early enrollee David Blough, who officially arrived this week. Purdue must improve along both lines and replace veteran defenders such as cornerback Ricardo Allen and tackle Bruce Gaston Jr.
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A late surge gave South Carolina another 11-win season, as the Gamecocks defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl.

This marked a program-best third consecutive season that South Carolina won a bowl game. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Freshman linebacker Skai Moore intercepted a Wisconsin pass in the end zone with 3:14 remaining. Badgers backup quarterback Curt Phillips threw a 16-yard pass into heavy coverage, and Moore made an athletic pick to ice the game.

Game ball goes to: South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. The performance of Shaw against Wisconsin (9-4) cannot be understated. Stats usually don't tell the whole story, but these numbers should definitely give you a good idea of his efficiency: 22-of-25, 312 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions. Wisconsin's secondary struggled against Shaw and the South Carolina receivers all day, and Shaw made the Badgers' defense pay in other ways, too. He caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, ran for a 1-yard touchdown and even rushed for 47 yards. Shaw did anything and everything for the Gamecocks.

Stat of the game: 88 percent. That's the completion rate for the Gamecocks, between Shaw's 22-of-25 passing and wide receiver Bruce Ellington's 1-of-1 stat line. South Carolina threw just three incompletions in 60 minutes and never threw more than one incompletion in a quarter.

Unsung hero: Ellington. Not only did he account for more than 40 percent of his team's yards through the air and catch two touchdown passes, he also threw a 9-yard TD pass on a double-reverse pass play. Ellington finished with six catches for 140 yards and he came up big when the Gamecocks needed it. On a key fourth-and-7 play in the second half, Ellington kept the drive alive by making an acrobatic catch after tipping the pass -- one that's sure to be a "SportsCenter" highlight. He made a tough 22-yard TD catch one play later to give his team a 20-17 lead.

What it means: This punctuated what looks like the golden age of Gamecocks football. Steve Spurrier's team has finished the last three seasons with the same record (11-2) and ended each season with a bowl victory. That's never been done before in school history. Before this three-year streak, the Gamecocks had won just four bowl games and hadn't had a 10-win season since 1984.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Capital One Bowl, click here.

Capital One Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
9:00
AM ET
Wisconsin is hoping to change the Big Ten's fortunes with a win in the Capital One Bowl, while South Carolina is on the verge of clinching a program-best third straight season with a bowl win.

The two teams will face each other at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday (ABC). Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Wisconsin LB Chris Borland. This will be the last college game for both players, and you can bet they'll want to end their respective careers on a high note. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will almost certainly call Clowney's name within the first five picks of the draft, and Borland was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Clowney has dealt with injuries and more double-teams this season, so his stats are down -- but, when he's on, he's one of the most exciting players in college to watch. Borland led his team with 102 tackles -- 40 more stops than the No. 2 tackler -- and has been the heartbeat of Wisconsin's defense. Both of these defensive players have the uncanny ability to take control of a game.

What to watch: Wisconsin's run game. It's no secret that if the Badgers are going to win, then they're going to have to run the ball. That's been the staple of their offense. Wisconsin is the only team in the FBS with two running backs, James White and Melvin Gordon, who both average more than 100 rushing yards a game. And the Badgers are second in the FBS by averaging 6.61 yards per carry. On the flip side, South Carolina's defensive line will be a huge test for this rushing attack. DT Kelcy Quarles has been compared to Warren Sapp and currently has 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with 9.5 sacks. Then, of course, there's Clowney. Wisconsin's success rushing the ball could march hand in hand with its overall success in this game.

Why to watch: This game features some of the best defensive players either conference has to offer, three all-conference tailbacks will be showcased, and then there's South Carolina QB Connor Shaw (21 TDs, 1 INT) and Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis (73 catches, 1,051 yards). What's not to love? Outside of that, this is the first-ever matchup of these two teams, and the Badgers are trying to rebound from an upset to Penn State. Both teams weren't that far off from BCS bowls, so this is a strong matchup for the Capital One Bowl.

Prediction: South Carolina 28, Wisconsin 24.
Ryan Groy and his Wisconsin classmates aren't in a reflective mode, and might not be for a while.

When you're in your early twenties, you tend to live in the moment. The Badgers' seniors know what's behind them, the Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl appearances, the coaching changes, the milestones and the adversity. But they're savoring their final days of game prep together, and looking forward to their final game, which carries plenty of meaning.

"It'll cap off our legacy," said Groy, Wisconsin's left guard. "It's very important. Obviously, it's the last game of our senior career. We're focusing on that."

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIFor all the success he's had over his career, Wisconsin RB James White has come up short in bowl games. He's hoping to change that when the Badgers play South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
A win against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl would give the seniors 40 victories since the start of the 2010 team, tying them with the 2012 and 2007 Wisconsin seniors for the most in a four-year span. But other than linebacker Chris Borland, none of the seniors have been part of a bowl win.

Borland played as a true freshman in 2009, earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors and starting at outside linebacker in the Champs Sports Bowl, as Wisconsin beat Miami 20-14 (he redshirted the 2010 season after a shoulder injury). The Badgers reached greater heights the next three seasons with Rose Bowl appearances, but lost all three games by single digits.

"It really feels a lot better to end the season on a high note," Borland said. "We've had a few conversations in smaller circles and it's not a bad idea to talk to the whole team, but I think our guys are hungry to win regardless.

"They've been preparing the right way so far."

The Rose Bowl setbacks are in the seniors' minds as they prepare for their final postseason appearance. Running back James White, who has 3,908 career rush yards and 45 touchdowns, had three forgettable outings in Pasadena: eight carries for 23 yards against TCU, eight carries for 30 yards against Oregon and six carries for four yards against Stanford, including a fourth-and-goal stall on the Stanford 1-yard line and dropped pass on a well-designed screen on third-and-10.

"I haven't had much of an impact in the bowl games," White said, "so I definitely want to go out here my last season and have an impactful game and get a win."

Win or lose, Wisconsin's seniors will be remembered as one of the more accomplished groups in program history. Arguably their most significant achievement is the way they handled coaching changes, especially the surprising departure of head coach Bret Bielema after the 2012 Big Ten championship game.

The team hit surprisingly few speed bumps during the transition to Gary Andersen, surging to a 9-2 record before a surprising loss to Penn State on Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We just stuck together and were tight-knit during all those times of adversity and change," nose tackle Beau Allen said. "We really bought into this program and did everything that we could to make sure we handled that right.

"It paid off in the end."

Allen admits that the Capital One Bowl "might not be the same stage or setting as Pasadena," but Wisconsin's opponent matches up with the ones it faced in the Rose Bowl. South Carolina began the season ranked No. 6 nationally and has been in the top 15 in all but one week, rising to No. 9 in the final BCS standings.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the headliner, but quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis form a dangerous backfield combination. Borland sees similarities between South Carolina and Ohio State, one of few offenses to move the ball effectively against the nation's No. 6 defense.

As it turned out, Wisconsin's loss to Penn State didn't cost the team a BCS at-large berth after Michigan State upset Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But there's still a sense of unfinished business for the Badgers, especially those taking the field for the last time.

"We're incredibly motivated," Allen said. "I don't think there's anything else that we want more. We haven't won a game in the postseason, so those three Rose Bowl losses, that's not something you take lightly. We're just going to do everything in our power to prepare right for this game and make sure that we come out on top."

B1G bowl opponent primer: South Carolina

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
3:30
PM ET
This week, we’re taking a closer look at each of the Big Ten’s bowl opponents. Up next: the South Carolina Gamecocks, who will face Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

Let's begin ...

CAPITAL ONE BOWL
No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3)
Orlando, Fla., 1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1, ABC


South Carolina Gamecocks

Coach: Steve Spurrier (76-39, ninth year with South Carolina; 218-79-2 overall)
Combined FBS opponents' record: 74-59 (seven bowl-bound teams)
Common opponents: None
Best wins: Central Florida, Clemson, Missouri
Worst loss: Tennessee
Record vs. Wisconsin: Never before met
Top passer: Connor Shaw (2,135 yards, 21 TDs, 1 INT)
Top rusher: Mike Davis (1,134 yards, 11 TDs)
Top defenders: Jadeveon Clowney (10.5 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks, 8 QB hurries), Kelcy Quarles (13.5 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks), Sharrod Golightly (44 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, 2 fumble recoveries), Victor Hampton (45 tackles, 3 INTs, 9 pass breakups)

What to know: The Gamecocks outlasted Missouri, 27-24, in double overtime -- and they were one more Mizzou loss away from a spot in the SEC title game. Spurrier is also now just one bowl win away from his third straight 11-win season so it's pretty clear this team doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. It runs a balanced offense, doesn't turn the ball over often (turnover margin: +11) and boasts the No. 18 defense in total yards allowed. It's above average in nearly every statistical category, and it very nearly won the SEC East. Tennessee upset South Carolina, 23-21, in a game that featured an injury to Shaw with about five minutes left and a last-second game-winning field goal. If South Carolina had won that game, it might be looking at a BCS bowl right now. The Gamecocks don't make a lot of mistakes and, in their past four games, haven't committed a single turnover. It's difficult to find an Achilles' heel on this team.

Key matchups: The battle in the trenches should be critical in this game. Clowney and Quarles have combined for 24 stops in the backfield and, when the defensive line plays well, South Carolina is difficult to stop. Wisconsin loves to bounce outside the tackles and averages an FBS-high 8.3 yards per carry on such runs so the ends' ability to contain those plays will be a top priority. On the flip side, Shaw performs at his best when he's given time in the pocket so Wisconsin's front seven needs to get pressure on him. Heading into the Clemson game, Shaw was completing 67.4 percent of his passes -- with 14 TDs and no INTs -- on passes inside the pocket. When he's forced to throw outside? Try 39.1 percent with six TDs and one pick. Whichever team gets the better push up front likely has the better chance to end its season with a win.

Big Ten predictions: Bowl picks

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
10:00
AM ET
Big Ten bowl season officially arrives tomorrow night when Minnesota kicks off the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Texas Tech.

Heavens knows I need a new season to begin after a horrible showing in the regular season, when I finished a full five games behind Rittenberg. My pride suffered, and so did my bank account when I was forced to pick up his steak at St. Elmo's in Indy.

But bowl season offers a chance at redemption, not just for me but for the Big Ten as a whole after the league took some beatings in the fall. Here are our picks for the seven bowl games involving conference teams:

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

MINNESOTA vs. TEXAS TECH (Dec. 28)

Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ... Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Philip Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU vs. MICHIGAN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: This figures to be a close, low-scoring game that likely comes down to how much progress Michigan State's offense has made in the past month or so. TCU is loaded with young talent and could contend for the Big 12 title next year, but I saw the Frogs' regular-season finale against Oklahoma and wasn't overly impressed. A heavy dose of Le'Veon Bell combined with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell to Dion Sims gives Michigan State just enough, as the Spartans' defense rises to the occasion once more. ... Michigan State 21, TCU 17


Brian Bennett: I've been wrong about Michigan State most of the year, so what's one more? The extra 15 practices must have helped the Spartans' sluggish passing game at least a little bit, and TCU will have to adapt to a more physical style of play than it saw in the Big 12. Johnny Adams' turf toe injury worries me, but I like Bell to rush for 150 yards in probably his final college game, while Maxwell provides optimism for 2013 with 200 yards passing. Max Bullough makes a defensive stop at the end of the game to seal it. ... Michigan State 20, TCU 16


Heart of Dallas Bowl

PURDUE vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: There's a reason why the Boilers were the biggest underdog on the board in bowl season. They've got an interim coach in Patrick Higgins and have been exposed by some of the better offenses on their schedule, which is a frightening prospect against the high-flying Cowboys. I believe a healthier defensive line will give Purdue a chance in this one, and Oklahoma State is not going to be really pumped up to be in this game a year after playing in a BCS bowl. Robert Marve tosses a couple of scores and Akeem Shavers runs for 135 yards. But in the end, the Pokes -- led by 175 receiving yards from Josh Stewart -- have a little too much for Purdue in a wild one. ... Oklahoma State 31, Purdue 27


Adam Rittenberg: Again, the Big Ten team might be more motivated than the Big 12 squad, but can Purdue keep up on the scoreboard? I don't think so. Although cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen give the Boilers' a chance against the pass-happy Pokes, Purdue isn't consistent enough or dangerous enough on offense to pace Oklahoma State. I agree Marve has a nice performance in his final college game and Antavian Edison scores twice, but Purdue will be playing catch up after a rough first half and falls short. ... Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28


TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 20 NORTHWESTERN (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: Is this the year Northwestern ends the bowl losing streak? I think it is for several reasons. Northwestern has its most complete team under coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats can run the ball effectively and perform well for the most part on special teams. Plus, they ended the season playing better than Mississippi State. Northwestern never makes it easy and will have some tense moments in this one, but Venric Mark and Kain Colter will find room, combining for 175 rush yards and two scores. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian comes in to throw a third-quarter touchdown and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo seals the win with an interception. ... Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 24


Brian Bennett: No more monkeying around. Northwestern finally has a more manageable bowl matchup, though it's certainly still not an easy assignment. The month off should help refresh the legs of Colter and Mark, who work their option magic against a mediocre Mississippi State run defense. Mark scores twice on the ground and also returns a punt for a touchdown. The Bulldogs' Tyler Russell shreds the Northwestern defense for 300 passing yards, but Jeff Budzien hits a game-winning field goal with no time left. Fitzgerald and his players party like it's 1949. ... Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 27


Outback Bowl

No. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA vs. No. 18 MICHIGAN (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: I like this matchup a lot and think Michigan can get some things done on offense with a month to prep the Devin Gardner/Denard Robinson combo. But South Carolina's fearsome defense has shut down better attacks in wins against Clemson and Georgia this season and will soon enough figure out Al Borges' bag of tricks. Michigan jumps ahead early on a long Robinson run and a Gardner touchdown pass. Jadeveon Clowney & Co. lock things down in the second half, and Connor Shaw runs for a pair of scores for the Gamecocks. ... South Carolina 24, Michigan 17


Adam Rittenberg: It'll be a lot of fun to watch Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan match up against Clowney. Two potential first-round draft picks going at it. I agree Borges will get really creative in this one, but Michigan's offensive line won't be able to stop the Gamecocks for four quarters. The Wolverines make a nice rally in the third quarter as Gardner finds Robinson on a touchdown strike, but South Carolina controls the ball and the clock in the fourth. ... South Carolina 21, Michigan 16


Capital One Bowl

No. 7 GEORGIA vs. No. 16 NEBRASKA (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: It's hard to have much faith in Nebraska after what we witnessed in Indianapolis. Great teams don't let down on defense like the Huskers did. Great teams don't play such a chaotic brand of football with so many turnovers. Maybe the Huskers face a napping Bulldogs team, jump ahead behind their dynamic offense and hold on for the win. But I don't see it. Georgia will be sluggish early, but I get the sense Aaron Murray wants to make a statement after the way the SEC championship game ended. Murray and the Bulldogs light up the Huskers in the second half, while Taylor Martinez commits two costly turnovers. ... Georgia 38, Nebraska 23

Brian Bennett: Does either team want to be here? Can either defense stop the other? Those are the main questions leading into this game. I'm not too worried about the disappointment angle but am concerned about Nebraska's ability to slow down Murray, Todd Gurley and a well-balanced Bulldogs offense. The Huskers and Taylor Martinez absolutely must hang onto the football in this one, but I see Jarvis Jones forcing a couple of costly turnovers. Nebraska will do a good job against the pass but will give up too much in the running game, as Gurley goes for 150 and a pair of scores. Martinez compiles 300 total yards but is pressured more often than he's used to and forces a couple of bad throws. Georgia owns the fourth quarter. ... Georgia 35, Nebraska 24.


Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO

WISCONSIN vs. No. 6 STANFORD (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: These two teams share a lot of similar traits, as Stanford is the most Big Ten-like Pac-12 team imaginable. The line of scrimmage will be for grown men only. I'd like Wisconsin's chances a lot better if the team didn't have to deal with the distraction of the coaching turmoil. No matter what the Badgers say, that had to hurt their preparation at least a little bit. Plus, the Cardinal seem a little better equipped to throw the ball if the rushing game gets stuffed, while Wisconsin is a little more one-dimensional and will face one of the best run defenses in America. Never count out Barry Alvarez in Pasadena, but I think Montee Ball will have to work a little too hard for his yards in this one. Stanford beats the Badgers at their own game, running the clock out late with a physical rushing attack as Wisconsin goes 0-for-Pasathreena. ... Stanford 24, Wisconsin 21.


Adam Rittenberg: We can't agree on every pick, can we? Nah. Barry's back and I'm a believer. Stanford's defense is as good as advertised, but the Badgers' offense is confident after the Big Ten title game and once again will empty the playbook. The Badgers score early on some razzle-dazzle, and receive a strong performance from Ball (150 rush yards, 2 TDs) in his final collegiate game. Stanford's pressure forces a turnover in the third quarter that changes momentum, but Wisconsin's underrated defense will be the difference, as Chris Borland forces a Stepfan Taylor fumble in crunch time. Alvarez improves to 4-0 in the Rose. ... Wisconsin 24, Stanford 23


Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 76-21 (.784)
Brian Bennett: 71-26 (.732)

B1G bowl primer: Outback Bowl

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
2:00
PM ET
Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

OUTBACK BOWL

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

About Michigan: After an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl championship in coach Brady Hoke's first season, Michigan entered the fall pegged for even bigger things. But a blowout loss to Alabama in the season opener indicated the Wolverines would have a rougher time in Hoke's second go-round. If teams were ranked based on the quality of their losses, Michigan would be up there as its only setbacks came against the nation's two undefeated teams -- Notre Dame and Ohio State -- Alabama and Legends Division champion Nebraska. The flip side is the Wolverines lack many quality wins and nearly fell to a good Northwestern team and in-state rival Michigan State. Quarterback Denard Robinson struggled early, surged early in Big Ten play and then suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. Devin Gardner sparked the offense late, while the defense had another strong season (11th nationally) despite some youth and depth questions.

About South Carolina: Like Michigan, South Carolina entered the season with expectations to challenge for a league title and maybe more. After a shaky opener against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks surged to a 6-0 start punctuated by a dominating performance against Georgia. But the schedule didn't let up and South Carolina dropped consecutive road contests against LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title race (and, as it turned out, the SEC East division race). Although the slide ended Oct. 27 against Tennessee, South Carolina lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury. The Gamecocks finished strong, though, beating in-state rival Clemson to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jadeveon Clowney triggers a fast and physical unit that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss.

Key players, Michigan: Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue and should be a factor as a ball-carrier, but Gardner should be the primary signal caller after moving the offense well at quarterback until the second half of the Ohio State game. Gardner fired eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in the final four games after taking over as the starter. He got receivers like senior Roy Roundtree much more involved in the offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, has the daunting dask of dealing with Clowney. Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan triggers the defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, and senior safety Jordan Kovacs leads a secondary that will be without top cornerback J.T. Floyd (suspended) in the bowl.

Key players, South Carolina: Clowney is the headliner for South Carolina, a freakishly athletic sophomore who could play in the NFL right now. He ranks second nationally in both sacks per game (1.18) and tackles for loss per game (1.95), and has two forced fumbles. Safety D.J. Swearinger is a second-team All-SEC selection who had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw is healthy after missing the Clemson game, and Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders form a nice combo at receiver. Sanders also is one of the nation's elite punt returners, ranking fourth nationally in average (14.5 ypr).

Did you know: Michigan and South Carolina have met twice before. The Gamecocks beat the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium in 1980, and Michigan registered a 34-3 win at South Carolina in 1985. ... This will be Michigan's fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl. Michigan is 3-1 in the Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl, beating Alabama (28-24) in the 1988 game, North Carolina State (42-7) in the 1994 contest and Florida (38-30) in the 2003 game. The lone setback came against Alabama (17-14) in the 1997 game. ... The Gamecocks are bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season under coach Steve Spurrier, who has taken South Carolina to six bowl games. No other coach in school history has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowl games (Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison). Spurrier, who faces Michigan for the first time in his career, is 2-4 in bowl games at South Carolina. ... The Gamecocks are 2-1 in the Outback Bowl with a 24-7 win over Ohio State in 2001 as well as a 31-28 victory over the Buckeyes in 2002. In the program's last appearance, South Carolina fell to Iowa 31-10 in 2009.

 

South Carolina stopped a three-game losing streak in bowl games Monday with a 30-13 victory against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: South Carolina’s defense clamped down in the second half. In fact, Nebraska went scoreless the last three quarters after putting up 13 points in the first quarter. South Carolina was able to run it just enough (121 yards) to keep the Nebraska defense honest, and sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw kept the Huskers off balance with his ability to run. The Gamecocks also didn't turn it over, while the Huskers had two turnovers.

Turning point: The Gamecocks looked like they had mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, leaving Shaw with just one play. He heaved it toward the end zone, and the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Alshon Jeffery went up over everybody to catch it and lunge across the goal line for a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. So instead of going into the locker room trailing 13-9, the Gamecocks went in with a 16-13 lead and all the momentum.

Turning point II: The Huskers took the second-half kickoff and drove the ball down to the Gamecocks’ 8-yard line and had it first-and-goal. A motion penalty and a couple of big plays by South Carolina’s defense forced Nebraska to kick a field goal, and Brett Maher’s 35-yard attempt was no good.

Player of the game: Shaw finished 11-of-17 for 230 yards passing with a pair of touchdown passes, and he also rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Unsung hero: Despite being kicked out of the game in the third quarter for fighting with Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Jeffery caught four passes for 148 yards, including the 51-yard touchdown pass right before the half, in what was likely his final game in a South Carolina uniform. He’s expected to enter the NFL draft.

Stat of the game: Nebraska was held to minus-15 yards in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game II: South Carolina sacked Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez six times, and four of those sacks came in the fourth quarter.

Record performance: Jeffery had his 12th 100-yard receiving game, breaking the South Carolina school record. He also caught his 23rd career touchdown pass, tying Sidney Rice’s school record.

What it means: South Carolina (11-2) won 11 games in a season for the first time in school history and will likely be a top 10 or top 15 team nationally to start next season. Nebraska (9-4) ended the season by losing three of its last five games. It was also the Huskers’ second straight bowl loss.
Halftime has arrived in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.

Let's take a look at how the Big Ten teams are faring in the Florida bowls so far.

Nebraska-South Carolina, Capital One: A really good half for Nebraska ended in disaster, as the Huskers allowed a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery on the final play. Rather than leading 13-9, the Huskers go to the locker room down 16-13 -- and Bo Pelini has to be beside himself. His defense simply couldn't let a star like Jeffery get in position to make a play. Nebraska should have been leading by more had Ameer Abdullah not fumbled in the South Carolina red zone. Credit Nebraska's defense for preventing disaster after a long Jeffery reception set South Carolina up to completely change the game. The Huskers' defense forced a field goal try inside their own 10-yard line, and South Carolina missed. The offense has been balanced so far and has found some room against a very good South Carolina defense. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead both are making plays, and until the final seconds, the Blackshirts did a decent job against Connor Shaw and the Gamecocks' passing attack.

Michigan State-Georgia, Outback: The Spartans' defense actually played a phenomenal half but had little to show for it, as an anemic offense has hurt Michigan State against an SEC opponent in a bowl for the second straight year. A special-teams breakdown capped a horrendous second quarter, as Georgia leads 16-0 at the break. Michigan State fell behind 2-0 after a questionable swing pass from inside its own end zone resulted in a safety. The defense kept the score that way until late in the half, when Georgia's Tavarres King beat Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson for an 80-yard touchdown. After the offense stalled yet again, Michigan State allowed a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kirk Cousins and the Spartans' offense must get something going soon after recording only two first downs and 72 total yards in the opening half. Georgia's defense looks faster and more physical, and Michigan State's play calling has been unimpressive. The Spartans are staring at another humbling bowl performance.

Ohio State-Florida, TaxSlayer.com Gator: Buckeyes fans won't be sorry to see offensive coordinator Jim Bollman go. Ohio State didn't pass the ball in the first quarter -- it took one sack -- even though freshman quarterback Braxton Miller threw the ball well in a Nov. 26 loss at Michigan. Things opened up a bit in the second quarter, and Miller finished the half 4-for-6 passing for 53 yards and a touchdown. Florida leads 14-10 thanks to a 99-yard kick return touchdown by Andre Debose. Ohio State entered the game ranked 10th nationally in kick coverage. The Buckeyes' defense has been so-so, letting Florida quarterback John Brantley get a bit too comfortable but forcing a pair of turnovers. Ohio State must get better on third down, as Florida has converted 4 of 6 opportunities. These teams are evenly matched, and Ohio State should have a shot to win if it can limit the major breakdowns.
Let's look at three keys for Nebraska as it takes on South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.

1. Establish tempo on offense: When Nebraska's offense operates in high tempo, it's extremely tough to stop. The key is finding that rhythm, and the Huskers will need to be effective with first- and second-down runs. Junior I-back Rex Burkhead needs to pick up positive yards to prevent obvious passing situations, when Gamecocks standout pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney can pin their ears back and go. South Carolina's defense is outstanding against the pass, but the Huskers can attack the Gamecocks on the ground with Burkhead, quarterback Taylor Martinez and others. Nebraska's offensive line has dealt with inexperience and injuries all season. This is the time for the unit to step up.

2. Alfonzo Dennard vs. Alshon Jeffery: The game's best one-on-one matchup pits Nebraska's top cornerback (Dennard) against South Carolina's star wideout (Jeffery). Dennard has shut down standout receivers like Iowa's Marvin McNutt, and he'll need a strong effort against another NFL prospect in Jeffery, who holds South Carolina's career receiving record. Opposing teams often shy away from throwing in Dennard's direction, but South Carolina's Connor Shaw will be looking for Jeffery on Monday. Which Nebraska defense shows up will go a long way toward determining the game's outcome, and the Huskers will lean heavily on Dennard.

3. Win the turnover battle: South Carolina has struggled with giveaways in its bowl losses, while Nebraska committed eight turnovers in its three defeats and just nine others in its other nine contests. If the Huskers can hang onto the football and force a mistake or two from Shaw and the Gamecocks' ball-carriers, they'll be in good shape to pull off the victory. Nebraska senior linebacker Lavonte David has been the defense's top playmaker, recording two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Look for David to set the tone and have a strong performance in his final game as a Husker.
Anytime the SEC and the Big Ten square off, conference pride is at stake. Most of those matchups usually occur in bowl season, and this year is no different. The two leagues will face each other in three Jan. 2 bowls, with South Carolina playing Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State taking on Georgia in the Outback Bowl and Florida and Ohio State staging a 2007 national title game rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

So which league will come out on top this year? SEC blogger Chris Low and Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett debate that topic:

Brian Bennett: Well, Chris, it's bowl season again, which means some more SEC vs. Big Ten showdowns. I think I read somewhere that the SEC has had a little bit of success in the postseason, especially against the Big Ten. So I suppose you want to brag a little bit about your league. Let's go ahead and get that out of the way first, shall we?

Chris Low: Brag? Coming from SEC Country? We don't need to brag. We just flash our jewelry in these parts, and that usually suffices. Sure, it's been another banner year in the SEC with Alabama and LSU set to play for the BCS national championship and three other SEC teams ranked among the top 16 in the final BCS standings. But you've got to prove it every year, and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all have tough matchups with Big Ten teams in the bowls. Speaking of the three bowl showdowns matching the SEC and Big Ten, which one do you think is the worst matchup for the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWill Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez be able to run the ball effectively against South Carolina's speedy defense in the Capital One Bowl?
BB: Very restrained of you not to bring up last New Year's Day, Chris. I actually think all three Big Ten/SEC showdowns this year are good matchups that could go either way. If I had to pick the toughest one for the Big Ten, I'd probably go with the Capital One Bowl. While Nebraska had a nice season at 9-3, it has a challenging assignment in trying to solve South Carolina's defense. Especially up front, the Gamecocks can cause serious problems for the Huskers' run game, and I don't think the option is going to work well against all that speed. Taylor Martinez will have to have one of his best games, and when Nebraska has to rely on the pass, it doesn't always look pretty. Then again, South Carolina isn't exactly a juggernaut of an offensive club, either.

What's your take on that one?

CL: Couldn't agree more about South Carolina's defensive line. Those guys have played lights-out all season, and you're going to see three or four of them playing in the NFL at some point. They've made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks this season, and other than the Arkansas game, didn't give up much of anything the last nine games of the season. They're not the kind of dynamic pocket passing team you're used to seeing under Steve Spurrier, but sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw is tough as nails and isn't afraid to take off and run. They'll also run the zone read play with him. Honestly, the big concern with the Gamecocks is that they've been so wretched in bowl games. They've lost their past three and haven't played well in any of them. I want to see them break that drought before I get too high about their chances in the postseason.

Speaking of poor bowl performances, can Michigan State rebound from last year's debacle?

BB: I think so. The Spartans ran into an Alabama buzz saw last year, and I don't see Georgia being nearly as talented or as angry as the Crimson Tide were a year ago. This Michigan State team was playing extremely well down the stretch and came within a play or two of going to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans can dominate defensively, especially up front with All-America tackle Jerel Worthy, and they can knock a quarterback off his rhythm with their blitz schemes. But I think the biggest difference between this year's Michigan State and the one that got manhandled last year is a more productive, diverse offense. Kirk Cousins was very sharp in the second half of the season, and the offensive line continued to improve. Both teams have top-five defenses, but Georgia may have a harder time scoring.

Motivation will be a key for both teams, though, as they each lost in their conference title game. How good are these Dawgs, really?

[+] EnlargeMurray
Dale Zanine/US PresswireGeorgia's Aaron Murray should get a stiff test from Michigan State's defense in the Outback Bowl.
CL: Motivation shouldn't be a problem for Georgia. At least, it better not be. The Bulldogs have a chance to win 11 games and really set themselves up nicely going into next season. Georgia has a chance to be a top-10 team in 2012 and build the kind of momentum this program hasn't had in the offseason since its Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii to cap the 2007 season. How good are these Dawgs? They're a good team, not a great team. Defensively, they should be the best test the Spartans have faced all season. Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are an exceptional linebacker tandem. Jones was the SEC's best big-play defender this season, and the Bulldogs didn't give up much in the secondary, either. I wouldn't underestimate Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. He spreads the ball around and threw 33 touchdown passes this season.

What's your take on the Urban Meyer Bowl?

BB: The Meyer angle adds intrigue, but I'd be more interested to see these teams play next season. As is, we have a pair of 6-6 teams who had all kinds of offensive issues this year. Ohio State lost its final three games after looking like it might have turned things around. But at least the Buckeyes will be motivated to audition for Meyer, and they're a young team that should benefit from the extra bowl practices. Plus, the Buckeyes have a blossoming star at quarterback in freshman Braxton Miller. Maybe a new offensive coordinator can jump-start the Gators' attack, but we could be looking at a low-scoring game in Jacksonville. A 6-6 tie in regulation seems appropriate.

Can Florida finally put it all together?

CL: Florida could use anything remotely resembling a quality win this season. Of course, I don't know that you could call Ohio State a quality win. One of these days, the Buckeyes are going to beat an SEC team in a bowl game and have that win stick. The win over Arkansas last season was vacated thanks to tattoo-gate, so technically Ohio State is still 0-9 against the SEC. The Gators were hard to watch on offense this season, and there's no reason to think they will be significantly better in the bowl game. I agree that a 6-6 tie sounds about right with somebody winning in overtime on a field goal. The Gators are good enough on defense to get it done, so I'm predicting an SEC sweep.

That's right, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida will all come out victorious. And not only that, but something tells me the SEC stands a pretty good chance of winning the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, too. Call it a hunch.

BB: OK, so Ohio State's win over Arkansas may not count, but I was there and I know it did happen. So the Big Ten can actually beat the big boys from the SEC. I may be naive, but I think the Big Ten gets a little revenge this bowl season. All three games are winnable, and I predict the league I cover takes two out of three from your southern friends. And maybe someday soon the Big Ten will be back in the national championship debate.

Capital One Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:34
PM ET
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)

Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Nebraska take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After having very different results in the same bowl (Holiday) the past two seasons, Nebraska heads to a new destination looking for its 10th victory.

The Big Ten’s newest member endured some ups and downs in its first season in the conference. Nebraska had two really bad days, getting blown out by both Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, but the Huskers also crushed Legends Division champion Michigan State and looked good in their regular-season finale against Iowa. In many ways, Nebraska has been two different teams in 2011.

If the defense plays to its potential, Nebraska is very tough to beat. Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are two of the best in the country at their respective positions. But depth has been an issue at times, and Nebraska struggled to contain Big Ten offensive stars like Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson. The Blackshirts will need a strong effort against a South Carolina team that plays a little defense of its own.

Nebraska’s young offensive line will be tested by Gamecocks star defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, although a run-heavy scheme will limit their pass-rushing prowess. While South Carolina ranks fourth nationally in total defense, it ranks just 45th nationally against the run, an area Nebraska will try to exploit with junior I-back Rex Burkhead, one of the nation’s most consistent ball carriers, and sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.

A victory gives Nebraska its third consecutive 10-win season, something the Huskers haven’t done since 1999-2001.


South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: The Gamecocks and bowl games have historically not mixed very well. They’ve lost four of their past five bowl games, including their past three. They’re just 4-12 all time in bowl games.

This season, though, South Carolina heads into the postseason with some real momentum. They ended the regular season winning six of their final seven games and saved their most complete performance for the finale, a 34-13 beatdown of archrival Clemson.

It’s a season that could have easily gone the other way when you consider that star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game and fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted from the team a couple of weeks earlier.

The Gamecocks, though, persevered, and won 10 games for only the second time in school history. They were edged out by Georgia for the Eastern Division championship.

Sophomore Connor Shaw took over at quarterback in Week 6, and South Carolina adjusted its offense to Shaw’s dual-purpose talents. The defense has been a force for most of the season. The Gamecocks are ranked fourth nationally in total defense, holding opponents to an average of 268.9 yards per game, and gave up more than 13 points only twice in their final nine contests.

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