Big Ten: Derek Nicholson

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.

Here they are.

Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.

Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.

Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.

Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.

Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.

Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.

Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.

Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.

Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.

Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.

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.

Ranking the Big Ten bowls

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
3:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten wants more respect after being skewered nationally for much of the season. An exciting bowl lineup gives the conference a chance to get its wish.

In addition to having two BCS entries for the fourth straight year, the Big Ten faces the preseason No. 1 (Georgia), a preseason national title contender (Missouri) and two of the more successful head coaches in the southeast (Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier).

To piggyback off Mark Schlabach's national list, it's time to rank the Big Ten bowls.

1. Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi
No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC, 4:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ABC): Two powerhouse programs, a legendary head coach (Joe Paterno) and another well on his way there (Pete Carroll), and one of college football's greatest settings make the Rose Bowl a must-see. Both of these teams easily could have been in Miami on Jan. 8, and a win will only strengthen their arguments. It will be fun to watch the Spread HD offense match up with a ferocious USC defense.
2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Texas, 8 p.m. ET, Jan. 5 (Fox): The teams clashed in 2005 and 2006 but have never met in the postseason. It will be fascinating to see how Texas responds from its BCS title game snub. Heisman Trophy candidate Colt McCoy will go against the best defense he's faced this season in Ohio State, which ranks seventh nationally in points allowed (13.1 ppg). The Buckeyes need a win to restore their national reputation and will need strong performances from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.
3. Capital One Bowl
No. 15 Georgia vs. No. 18 Michigan State, 1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ABC): Forget about those Big 12 quarterbacks and that Tebow fellow. This game is all about the running backs, as Doak Walker Award finalists Javon Ringer and Knowshon Moreno match up. Ringer has carried Michigan State to this point and could capitalize on a suspect Georgia defense, while Moreno is one of the nation's most exciting running backs and takes on a Michigan State defense that struggles to stop elite players.
4. Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, Dec. 29 (ESPN): An insane number of sports journalists will be tuning in for this one, and you should, too. Missouri boasts one of the nation's most dynamic passing combinations in quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Northwestern counters with a sack-happy defense led by end Corey Wootton. If Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher discovers his 2007 form against a woeful Mizzou secondary, this could become a shootout.
5. Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Florida State, 4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 27 (ESPN): Both of these teams underachieved to a certain degree this fall, but the bowl game will provide an interesting match-up of power (Wisconsin) vs. speed (Florida State). The Wisconsin rushing attack came together late in the season, but P.J. Hill and John Clay face a tough task in a Florida State defense led by superstar end Everette Brown and linebacker Derek Nicholson.
6. Outback Bowl
South Carolina vs. Iowa, 11 a.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ESPN): I can't get enough of Shonn Greene, but aside from the powerful Iowa running back, this game doesn't provide many reasons to shake-off the New Year's Eve hangover. Iowa played excellent football down the stretch, and it will be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes match-up with an SEC team. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier returns to Florida amid increasing criticism. He needs to win this game.
7. Insight Bowl
Kansas vs. Minnesota, 5:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31 (NFL Network): If Minnesota can get back to the disciplined and opportunistic play that spurred its 7-1 start, this game will be worth watching. But the Gophers didn't look like the same team down the stretch, and they'll need to make some major upgrades in the next few weeks to keep pace with a more experienced Kansas team led by quarterback Todd Reesing.

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