Big Ten: Fiesta Bowl

Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
12:00
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Gol!

More on Fiesta, Iowa and Penn State

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
3:30
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Let's not kid ourselves. With only two fairly ho-hum Big Ten games on the docket Saturday, the Iowa-Penn State BCS debate is the big story in the league this week.

I've already touched on it here and here, and you can see my bowl projections here, but there were a few items that didn't make it into those posts from my conversations with Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba and athletic directors Gary Barta (Iowa) and Tim Curley (Penn State).

Fiesta Bowl official Tony Alba
  • On whether the bowl would be concerned about a negative backlash from taking Penn State over Iowa despite the head-to-head result: "I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. It’s certainly a consideration. But it happens. The only thing that we really have to worry about is, are the teams eligible? At that point, we’ve got to make a decision in terms of what’s best for the bowl. Sometimes, it does dictate taking a lower-ranked team, and I'm not saying that’s what we would do. Sometimes in doing what is best for your bowl game, you have to do something that may be somewhat unconventional or goes against the grain."
  • On Penn State's long history with the Fiesta Bowl (six appearances): "It works in their favor, but is it enough to get them over the hump? I don’t know. That’s something we’ll have to talk about. We’ve wanted Iowa for a long time. They won the game head-to-head on the field, and they’re more highly ranked, so those are all factors we’re going to have to weigh."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta
  • On the bowl selection process: "We know that head-to-head isn’t the No. 1 factor, final record isn’t the No. 1 factor. It’s certainly one of the factors. But when you take fan attendance, fan support, television ratings, we can go head-to-head with anybody on those also."
  • On Iowa's pitch to the Fiesta Bowl: "We certainly point out to the Fiesta Bowl what our Iowa numbers are in terms of alumni and Iowans in the area, and we share with them that piece of information. And then we, again, point to past history in other bowls. We convey to them that we're confident that our history at the Orange Bowl, at the Rose Bowl, at the Capital One Bowl, wherever we’ve been, will definitely transfer to Phoenix."
  • On his attitude if Penn State got the BCS berth: "I love the way Kirk [Ferentz] approaches it and I share his thoughts. And that is, we control what we can control, and Kirk and his team, I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished. So our work has already been done. The three bowls that I mentioned (Fiesta, Orange, Capital One), if we’re fortunate enough to go to one of those three, we’ve been to two of them, we’re very aware of the third, and any one of them is going to be a great experience."
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley
  • On Penn State's fan support for bowls: "We have a great fan base that buys a lot of tickets and spends a lot of money. We had about 30,000 at the Rose Bowl and about 35,000 at the Orange Bowl. The other day, I talked to our alumni association and they've already had 12,000 inquiries about the bowl game, and we don't even know where we're going. The interest is really, really strong."
  • On selling Penn State as a national program: "That’s part of the package we’re talking about, the TV interest. The national appeal we have with television ratings is very, very important in this day and age. The Eastern seaboard and the Mid-Atlantic region, we think we’re very strong, and then we think we have national appeal from a television perspective with over 500,000 living alumni."
  • On how he'd feel if Iowa got the BCS berth: "I wouldn’t want to put a descriptor on it that it’s a major disappointment. We've had a great year and we're going to play in a great bowl game, and like I said, we want to play in the best one we possibly can. We're going to go after it just as strong no matter where we end up."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Five of the Big Ten's bowl agreements expire after the 2009 season, and not surprisingly, the league has received heavy interest from possible new partners.  

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is in discussions with 11 or 12 different bowls, including the five current tie-ins -- Capital One, Outback, Valero Alamo, Champs Sports and Motor City -- that expire after the season.

"It's a great thing to have competition," Delany said. "The incumbents that we have, we have them for a reason, because they do their jobs so well. But it's really important to understand, from a television perspective and a revenue perspective ... it's got to be the right mix."

Delany identified Texas, Florida and California as three states where the Big Ten needs a strong postseason presence because of its national alumni bases. The Texas Bowl is looking to cement conference tie-ins for 2010 and beyond and would give the Big Ten a second game in the Lone Star State.  

The Big Ten's relationship with the Rose Bowl remains as strong as ever, though a change in the Rose Bowl's selection criteria could keep a Big Ten team from playing in Pasadena once every four years. The Rose Bowl is now required to take an eligible non-BCS team if it loses the Big Ten champion or Pac-10 champion to the national title game. 

The policy would only take effect once during the four-year BCS bowl cycle. 

"There was pressure on us to make that change," Delany said. "The Sugar Bowl has had a couple of [non-BCS] teams and the Fiesta Bowl has had one. We believe very strongly that the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions should always be in the Rose Bowl if they're not playing for the [national] championship. ... That opportunity is still there, but there was a desire by others to see us share that."

Most Big Ten coaches who spoke Monday advocated a longer regular season to shorten the prep time for bowl games, in which the league has struggled in recent years. While Delany reiterated his stance on expansion -- not happening any time soon -- he seemed more open to teams playing regular-season games later.

One possibility is the addition of a second open week during the season, which would push games into the first weekend of December.

"On the issue of the schedule and the bye dates and playing games that late, it's probably worth a discussion," Delany said. "We've never had that before. There's not a rule about that. People have gone to Hawaii. We've never really questioned that. There's some coaches and athletic directors who feel more strongly than others about the need to play games late in the year to stay sharp.

"It is a trend."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Rose Bowl issued a statement Tuesday regarding two violations by Penn State at last year's game against USC. Not sure why it's taken nearly four months to acknowledge these issues, but here's the full statement from Rose Bowl Director of Media Gina Chappin:

At the Rose Bowl Game held on January 1, 2009, Penn State University failed to comply with certain media rules established by the Tournament of Roses for its Rose Bowl Games. There were two non-compliance matters. One involved the failure to conduct a pregame interview with the game broadcaster, as required by contract. The other involved the failure to open its locker room to the media following the game, as required by BCS rules. In response, the Tournament of Roses met and discussed this matter with the members of the Rose Bowl Management Committee [RBMC]. Based on these discussions, the RBMC determined that these violations had occurred, and then approved appropriate responsive actions. These matters will be addressed by the Tournament of Roses with Penn State. Details of those actions will remain private.  

I'm not sure what "responsive actions" will be taken, though I highly doubt the Rose Bowl will pass on a chance to land Penn State if, say, another Big Ten team reaches the BCS title game, which also happens to be held in Pasadena this year. Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno opposes locker-room access for female reporters, so Penn State brought players outside to be interviewed. 

The Big Ten certainly didn't endear itself to BCS media officials this year, with Penn State's violations and Ohio State's refusal to bring quarterback Terrelle Pryor to Fiesta Bowl media day. The Carlisle Sentinel's Eric Thomas also recalls how Ohio State didn't bring linebacker James Laurinaitis or quarterback Todd Boeckman to assigned media days for the 2008 BCS title games. 

It's one thing to hurt your credibility by losing on the field, but the Big Ten's isn't winning many points by not complying with the rules governing all teams at BCS games. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If Ohio State had finished off the final 30 seconds of the Fiesta Bowl and knocked off Texas, Kurt Coleman might be preparing for the NFL draft right now.

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Kurt Coleman expects to take on a larger leadership role this season.

The Buckeyes safety "tossed and turned" over his stay-or-go decision before opting to remain in Columbus for his senior season. Earning his degree this fall played an important role, but Coleman also didn't want to go out a loser.

"I really wanted to leave as a winner," he said. "Last season kind of left it a little open-ended. I haven't won a bowl game yet, and I feel like this team can really make a big impact in the national football scene. This year can be our year to win it all."

College football enthusiasts have heard that line before and might be hesitant to board the Buckeye Bandwagon in 2009. Not only has Ohio State dropped three consecutive BCS bowl games, but it loses a sizable senior class filled with All-Big Ten performers.

The Buckeyes will be much younger this fall, particularly on offense, but they might be more explosive and hungrier. Only the fifth-year seniors have experienced a postseason win, and not many of them occupy top spots on the spring depth chart.

"It's so much motivation," Coleman said. "I see it in the weight room, I see it in everybody's daily routine. I can see it in their eyes that they really want to get out there and get better every day. That burns in our mind."

Coleman admits it feels odd not to see mainstays like James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman lining up with the first-team defense in spring ball. But he's excited about some of the new players in the mix for starting jobs, including safety Jermale Hines and linebackers Etienne Sabino and Austin Spitler.

The leadership load shifts this fall from linebacker to safety, and Coleman, a second-team All-Big Ten selection is 2008, is ready for it. Coleman and fellow returning starter Anderson Russell combined for 145 tackles, six interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season.

"It's really fun out there because him and I are always on the same page and we communicate so well," Coleman said of Russell. "It's going to be the secondary leading this team. We operate as one."

If there's a player as motivated as Coleman this spring, it's Russell. The safety had a brilliant Fiesta Bowl, recording nine tackles with a forced fumble and an interception, but people only remember his role on the game's deciding play.

Left alone in the defensive backfield as Ohio State blitzed and stayed in man coverage, Russell tried to swipe at a Colt McCoy pass intended for Quan Cosby. The ball made it through, and Cosby wriggled free of Russell and dashed to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. The irony is that Ohio State's defense had tackled extremely well in the game, keeping Texas' short passing attack in check.

"It was tough that night and the next day, with a lot of people trying to give him some grief," Coleman said. "But I told him, 'Hey, it could have been me, it could have been anybody. Plays like that happen.' He's a tough player, he's out here in spring practice getting after it. I don't think it's really fazed him at all."

Coleman is spending the spring polishing his game, focusing mainly on his pursuit to the ball. Though he led the team with four interceptions last season, he wants to see the total increase.

"As a senior class, it's our team to lead," he said. "It's really our team and our time, and I'm willing to step up to the challenge."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The growing contingent who question the relevancy of Big Ten football might want to take a look at the latest bowl TV ratings. 

Once again, the Big Ten's presence in a well-populated region has translated into tremendous television viewership.

The Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl, two games involving Big Ten teams (Michigan State and Wisconsin), were the highest-rated non-BCS bowls this season. Capital One eclipsed the FedEx Orange Bowl with a 6.4 rating. Champs Sports drew a 5.2 rating, making it the second highest-rated bowl ever broadcast on ESPN. 

Of the 10 highest-rated bowl games this season, five involved Big Ten teams. The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi came in at No. 2, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at No. 3, the Capital One at No. 5, the Champs Sports at No. 7 and the Valero Alamo Bowl at No. 10. 

Here's the full list. 

Top 10 Bowls By TV Ratings, 2008-09

  1. BCS Championship Game (15.8)
  2. Rose Bowl (11.7)
  3. Fiesta Bowl (10.4)
  4. Sugar Bowl (7.8)
  5. Capital One Bowl (6.4)
  6. Orange Bowl (5.4)
  7. Champs Sports Bowl (5.2)
  8. Emerald Bowl (4.6)
  9. Holiday Bowl (4.6)
  10. Alamo Bowl (4.6)

Final Big Ten power rankings

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
9:47
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As the only Big Ten team to win its bowl game, Iowa is the lone squad to make a significant move in the final edition of the power rankings. The gap narrowed between Penn State and Ohio State after the Buckeyes' solid effort in the Fiesta Bowl, but Penn State still gets the nod with a better body of work. Northwestern and Michigan State have been mirror images for much of the season and remain that way in the rankings.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and 3 TDs in the Outback Bowl.

Here's the final rundown for 2008.

1. Penn State (11-2) -- The Nittany Lions looked out of sync in Pasadena, but they faced quite possibly the nation's best team in a virtual road game. It wasn't the way a stellar senior class intended to go out, but an 11-1 regular season highlighted by a road win against Ohio State keeps Penn State atop the rankings.

2. Ohio State (10-3) -- There aren't moral victories in Columbus, but Ohio State made a national statement, even in defeat, by outplaying Texas for most of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Terrelle Pryor-led Buckeyes weren't the same team that had soiled itself against USC on Sept. 13. Ohio State played its best football down the stretch and was seconds away from a fairly substantial upset of Texas.

3. Iowa (9-4) -- Things fell into place perfectly for the Hawkeyes, who ended the season as the Big Ten's hottest team. Iowa rolled over an overmatched South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl to win six of its final seven games. Shonn Greene played a huge role, but so did a defense that led the Big Ten in takeaways (32).

T-4 Michigan State (9-4) -- The Spartans clearly peaked in late September/early October, but they continued to fight hard, especially on the defensive side. They outplayed Georgia for a half in the Capital One Bowl but couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. Though Michigan State beat Northwestern in a head-to-head matchup Oct. 11, the Wildcats played better football down the stretch. So it's a push between the teams.

T-4 Northwestern (9-4) -- Had the Wildcats finished off Missouri in the Alamo Bowl, they would have vaulted to No. 3 in the power rankings and possibly into the top 15 in the national polls. Despite being the biggest underdog in the 34 bowls, Northwestern outplayed Missouri but lost the game because of special-teams blunders. Along with Iowa and Ohio State, the Wildcats saved their best football for the end of the season.

6. Minnesota (7-6) -- The Gophers don't really deserve to move up the rankings after a 21-point loss in the Insight Bowl, but they turned in a better effort than Wisconsin, which self-destructed against Florida State. This team clearly needs some upgrades after losing five straight to close the season, but it was hard to imagine Tim Davis' power run attack clicking right away in the bowl game. There will be a lot of changes in 2009, but Minnesota returns its nucleus.

7. Wisconsin (7-6) -- Despite a win against Minnesota and a better regular-season finish, Wisconsin needed to pay the price for an embarrassing loss in the Champs Sports Bowl. An extremely disappointing season ended with a thud, as Wisconsin had three fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns. From coaching to quarterback play to intangibles, Wisconsin seemed to be missing something this fall.

8. Illinois (5-7) -- The Big Ten's bowl fortunes might have been better had the Illini found a way to sneak into the postseason. Then again, a big-play offense and loads of talent translated into only five victories this fall. Head coach Ron Zook seems intent on turning things around with some bold coaching hires. Illinois can't afford another bowl-less winter.

9. Purdue (4-8) -- The Boilermakers sent head coach Joe Tiller out on a high note with a 62-10 pasting of Indiana on Nov. 22. Head coach Danny Hope must restore Purdue's offensive swagger with a new quarterback in 2009, and the Boilers have several holes to fill on defense.

10. Michigan (3-9) -- The Big Ten sorely needs Michigan back in a bowl game in 2009, but Rich Rodriguez has another tough challenge ahead of him. Michigan must identify a capable quarterback, most likely freshman Tate Forcier, and fill gaps along the defensive line. If the offensive line improves and the running game surges behind Brandon Minor, Michigan should be in decent shape for a lower-tier bowl.

11. Indiana (3-9) -- After ending the Big Ten's longest bowl drought in 2007, Indiana slipped back to reality this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch enters 2009 on the hot seat, likely needing at least six victories to keep his job. Indiana has the talent, particularly at defensive end, and if it can stay healthy and improve on defense, a bowl run next fall isn't out of the question.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A miserable bowl season that ranked among the worst in Big Ten history underscored the biggest problem with the league this fall.

Nothing changed. 

The Big Ten entered the 2008 season hearing how bad it was, and despite ample opportunities to change its national perception, the conference only made things worse. The script played out exactly how the critics thought it would, never more so than in the postseason.

Of the seven Big Ten bowl teams, only Iowa was favored to win its contest. Though the Big Ten sent two teams to BCS games for the fourth consecutive year, co-champs Penn State and Ohio State entered the Rose and Fiesta bowls as heavy underdogs. 

Las Vegas turned out to be spot on, which meant bad news for the Big Ten. Iowa won its game, and the other six teams came up short. 

Much like Ohio State in the previous two BCS title games, Penn State fell victim to a disastrous second quarter against USC in the Rose Bowl and couldn't recover.

The league's bowl record nearly received boosts from Ohio State and Northwestern, both of whom were a play away from knocking off heavily favored Big 12 foes (Texas and Missouri). Both teams played solid defense and held acclaimed spread offenses in check, but Ohio State caved in the clutch and Northwestern committed inexcusable special-teams blunders. 

Ohio State's loss extended the Big Ten's BCS losing streak to six. Penn State's loss extended the league's Rose Bowl slide to five. Since its last winning bowl record in 2002-'03, the Big Ten has gone 15-28 in the postseason.

Is the Big Ten still relevant? From a marketing standpoint, absolutely. But after the recent on-field performances, particularly in bowls, it's a tough sell. 

Bowl locations and matchups undoubtedly make things tough, and the Big Ten could have benefited from sending only one team to a BCS bowl this year. Michigan State played hard but was overwhelmed by a superior Georgia team. Wisconsin and Minnesota looked totally overmatched against Florida State and Kansas. 

As commissioner Jim Delany said this week, "I'm not sure anybody plays up as much as we do. And we're not playing in our backyard, that's for sure."

But Delany admits those things aren't going to change.

There's an added urgency for the Big Ten to elevate its play and improve in both key nonconference games and the bowls. 

It's time for the league to change the script.

Right now, it reads like a tragedy.

Big Ten mailbag

January, 13, 2009
1/13/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Step into my office ...

Brian from Batavia, Ill., writes: Adam, I think we all need to watch out for a huge break out season from Thaddeus Gibson this next year. We saw that he has the game breaker ability when he returned a fumble this year for a touchdown! He had a solid Fiesta Bowl (even though he got flagged for personnel fouls???), but i was wondering what players also are bound to have huge breakout seasons this next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I completely agree with you on Thad Gibson. He was a force during the second half of the season and really made the Buckeyes' defensive line better. I look for huge things from him in 2009. Other guys who should step up next fall include Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman, Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, Iowa running back Jewel Hampton, Northwestern safety Brad Phillips, Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson and Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey. I could go on and on.


Rob from Seattle writes: Who do you think RichRod WILL get to fill the DC vacancy at Michigan, and who do you think he SHOULD get? I think Corwin Brown would be a great fit - he's played and coached the 3-4 and 3-3 defenses, he's got Michigan roots (which Rod could REALLY use) and he should be available, given the situation at ND.

Adam Rittenberg: That's an interesting take, Rob. I doubt Corwin would want to leave Notre Dame for another coordinator spot, but you never know. It's a bit of an odd arrangement in South Bend with Brown and Jon Tenuta, but Brown has some loyalty to Charlie Weis. I don't see him leaving unless it's a head-coaching position. The fact Rich Rodriguez hasn't promoted another assistant (Jay Hopson) suggests he'll be talking to candidates this week at the AFCA Convention. West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel would seem like a good fit, but he didn't join Rodriguez the first time around at Michigan. I think Rich wants to go with a three-man front, so he should find someone who specializes in that alignment.


Brian from New York writes: Dear Adam, Watching Terrelle Pryor in the Fiesta Bowl evade tacklers in the open field and catch that fade pass for a TD over a hapless Texas DB had me wondering. Is Terrelle Pryor in fact a better pro prospect at WR rather than QB. OSU will win more with him at QB, but if he spent the next two years learning how to run precise pass routes instead of fixing his subpar throwing mechanics (which clearly have a long way to go), he could become unstoppable in college and perhaps the next Randy Moss at the pro level with his combination of size, speed, and hand-eye coordination. Then again, he could just wait until he graduates to switch over to WR like Matt Jones or Antwan Randle El, but I'm assuming some NFL scouts have already started thinking about this possibility.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, you're not the first person to bring up the point about Pryor playing wide receiver in the NFL. But Ohio State surely will stick with him at quarterback and try to help him develop as a passer. Keep in mind that he just finished his freshman year and has time to improve his passing. After watching him repeatedly beat Texas defenders to the corner in the Fiesta Bowl, I think Pryor needs to have the ball as much as possible for the Buckeyes. He needs to run the ball as much as Tim Tebow does for Florida. Pryor still can become a top-line pro prospect at quarterback, and my sense is that's where he'll stay throughout his pro career. But Ohio State should use his talents in as many ways as possible.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The NCAA made several statistical corrections from the bowl games, including two items from the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Texas and Ohio State.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for these items:

  • Intentional grounding call against Texas originally entered as incomplete pass and 18-yard penalty instead of 18-yard sack and 0-yard penalty. This gives Colt McCoy 58 pass attempts (not 59)
  • One Ohio State pass incorrectly credited to Terrelle Pryor instead of Todd Boeckman.
Here's the updated box score from the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.

Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.

Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.

Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.

Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.

Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.

Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.

Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.

Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.

Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The polls are out, and four Big Ten teams are in the final rankings. 

As the only Big Ten team to win its bowl, Iowa finally cracked the Top 25 at No. 20 in both the Associated Press and coaches' polls. Two other Big Ten teams -- Penn State and Michigan State -- moved down the rankings, while Northwestern fell out following its overtime loss to Missouri. 

Penn State finished at No. 8 in both polls, marking the team's 22nd final top 10 ranking under head coach Joe Paterno.

Ohio State actually moved up a spot to No. 9 in the final AP Poll, a good indication of the respect the Buckeyes regained with their performance against Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes fell one spot to No. 11 in the final coaches' poll.

Michigan State finished No. 24 in both polls, dropping from No. 19 in the AP and No. 18 in the coaches'. 

I voted Penn State at No. 8, Ohio State at No. 12 and Iowa at No. 20 in my final ballot for the ESPN.com Power Rankings. I might have weighted bowl victories more than most. Both Michigan State and Northwestern dropped out of my rankings, but not by much. And because Northwestern performed better in its bowl and finished the season stronger than the Spartans, who peaked in early October, I think both teams are in the 26-30 range. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As he said last week, Chris "Beanie" Wells has unfinished business at Ohio State.

He could have won the Heisman Trophy in 2009. He could have rushed for 1,800 yards. He could have helped Ohio State win a BCS bowl or maybe even reach the national title game. He could have torched Michigan again. And he could have joined Archie and Eddie as one of the greatest running backs ever to wear Scarlet and Gray.

But in the end, business trumped unfinished business for Wells. He made a business decision Thursday to enter the NFL draft, and a very good one at that.

When you're a fail-safe first-round pick and widely projected to be one of the first two running backs selected, you turn pro and never look back. The lifespan of NFL running backs is simply too short, and Wells wouldn't have improved his pro stock much more with another year in college.

Many will point to Wells' injuries and wonder what might have been, and to a certain extent, they're right. If healthy for an entire season, Wells could put up some insane numbers. NFL personnel evaluators surely will have concerns about Wells' durability in the pros, which makes sense.

But when I watched Wells run this fall, I saw the most NFL-ready back in the country. His powerful, one-cut, downhill style will translate perfectly to the next level. Despite missing three games with a foot injury that never fully healed, Wells ranked sixth nationally in rushing average (119.7).

Ohio State will move ahead with Dan "Boom" Herron, who gained valuable experience behind Wells this fall and will enter the 2009 season as the team's featured back. Though Herron is a different type of player than Wells, he's deceptively strong and can get to the end zone, as he showed by scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter Monday night against Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Brandon Saine also will compete for carries, and Ohio State will sign standout prep running backs Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde in February.

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.

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