Big Ten: Georgia Bulldogs

Position U: Kicker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:30
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Kicker U” for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (80 points): The Buckeyes placed first among place-kickers and tied for ninth at punter thanks to an award winner in each category. The high-point man who helped Ohio State win the “Kicker U” label was Mike Nugent, who won the Lou Groza Award, was a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten pick and was picked in the second round of the 2005 draft. Punter B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and was drafted in the third round before enjoying a short career with the Green Bay Packers.

Award winners: B.J. Sander, Guy (2003); Mike Nugent, Groza (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Nugent (2002, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Dan Stultz (2000), Adam Groom (2002), Mike Nugent (2002, 2004), B.J. Sander (2003), Josh Huston (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: B.J. Sander (Round 3, 2004), Mike Nugent (Round 2, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

2. UCLA (72 points): A pair of consensus All-Americans (Justin Medlock and Kai Forbath) and a Lou Groza Award (which Forbath won in 2009) helped UCLA push toward the top of the rankings. Medlock was also drafted in 2007 and has spent portions of several seasons on NFL rosters, while also kicking at times in the CFL.

Award winners: Kai Forbath, Groza (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Justin Medlock (2006), Kai Forbath (2009).
First-team all-conference: Nate Fikse (2001, 2002), Justin Medlock (2004, 2006), Aaron Perez (2008), Kai Forbath (2009), Jeff Locke (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Justin Medlock (Round 5, 2007), Jeff Locke (Round 5, 2013).

3. Colorado (64 points): Three-time all-conference pick Mason Crosby -- also a consensus All-American in 2005 -- accounted for nearly all of Colorado’s point production at place-kicker. He went on to become a sixth-round draft pick and has set several franchise records as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Mariscal also added some points by winning the Ray Guy Award and becoming an All-American and all-conference selection in 2002.

Award winners: Mark Mariscal, Guy (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2005).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Flores (2001), Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2004, 2005, 2006), John Torp (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mason Crosby (Round 6, 2007).

4. Michigan State (62 points): With six first-team All-Big Ten selections -- including three-time honoree Brandon Fields, who was also a consensus All-American in 2004 -- Michigan State takes the No. 3 spot. The Spartans have also had two punters drafted since 2001, which is a rare feat for a college program, as well as kickers Dave Rayner and Craig Jarrett.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Brandon Fields (2004).
First-team all-conference: Brandon Fields (2003, 2004, 2006), Brett Swenson (2009), Aaron Bates (2010), Dan Conroy (2010), Mike Sadler (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Jarrett (Round 6, 2002), Dave Rayner (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Fields (Round 7, 2007).

T-5. Baylor (56 points): Baylor places almost solely because of one player: mid-2000s standout Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner scored 44 points by himself, which is greater than the score for every other program in the punter rankings except one (No. 2 Michigan State, which had 48).

Award winners: Daniel Sepulveda, Guy (2004, 2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Sepulveda (2006).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Sepulveda (2004, 2006), Derek Epperson (2009), Spencer Roth (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Daniel Sepulveda (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

T-5. Oklahoma State (56 points): Between Quinn Sharp’s three all-conference selections at punter and two at place-kicker, Dan Bailey's 2010 Groza Award and Matt Fodge’s 2008 Guy Award, Oklahoma State fared well at both kicking positions.

Award winners: Matt Fodge, Guy (2008); Dan Bailey, Groza (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dan Bailey (2010), Quinn Sharp (2010, 2011, 2012 at punter; 2011, 2012 at place-kicker).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

7. Florida State (54 points): A pair of Groza Award wins (by Graham Gano and last season by Roberto Aguayo) helped Florida State place third solely among place-kickers and sixth overall. Aguayo helped extend the Seminoles’ streak of first-team All-ACC place-kickers to three consecutive years after Dustin Hopkins earned the honor in 2011 and 2012. Since Aguayo was only a redshirt freshman last fall, there is a good chance the streak will continue. Punter Shawn Powell was the Seminoles' only All-American during this stretch.

Award winners: Graham Gano, Groza (2008); Roberto Aguayo, Groza (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Shawn Powell (2011).
First-team all-conference: Dustin Hopkins (2011, 2012), Shawn Powell (2011), Roberto Aguayo (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dustin Hopkins (Round 6, 2013).

8. Georgia (52 points): Give Mark Richt credit: In his 13-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has rarely been without a consistent place-kicker. Players like Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, Billy Bennett and most recently Marshall Morgan have given Georgia a consistent scoring threat in the kicking game. And Drew Butler had one of the best seasons by any punter in SEC history when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009.

Award winners: Drew Butler, Guy (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Drew Butler (2009).
First-team all-conference: Billy Bennett (2002), Brandon Coutu (2005), Drew Butler (2009), Blair Walsh (2010), Marshall Morgan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Brandon Coutu (Round 7, 2008), Blair Walsh (Round 6, 2012).

8. Miami (52 points): Another program with two punters who were drafted (Matt Bosher and Pat O’Donnell, both in the sixth round), Miami hasn’t had a punter win the Ray Guy Award or earn an All-America nod, but the Hurricanes do boast four all-conference punters since the turn of the century. Bosher was also an all-conference place-kicker in 2010.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Freddie Capshaw (2000, 2001), Todd Sievers (2001, 2002), Jon Peattie (2003), Matt Bosher (2009 at place-kicker, 2010 at punter), Pat O’Donnell (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Matt Bosher (Round 6, 2011), Pat O’Donnell (Round 6, 2014).

10. Florida (48 points): Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award and was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2010, accounted for 24 of Florida’s 30 points at punter. The Gators also had a pair of place-kickers (Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis, a two-time all-conference pick) drafted.

Award winners: Chas Henry, Guy (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Chas Henry (2010).
First-team all-conference: Chas Henry (2010), Caleb Sturgis (2011, 2012), Kyle Christy (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jeff Chandler (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Caleb Sturgis (Round 5, 2013).

REST OF “KICKER U” RANKINGS
46 – California; 44 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Wake Forest; 42 – Georgia Tech; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 34 – Iowa, Louisville, Maryland; 32 – BYU, Texas A&M, TCU, Wisconsin; 28 – LSU, Michigan, Oregon State; 26 – USC, Virginia Tech; 22 – Arizona State; 16 – Ole Miss; 14 – Arizona, Penn State, Texas; 12 – Alabama, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Kentucky, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington State; 8 – Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College; 6 – Indiana, Oregon, Rutgers, Stanford; 2 – Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt; 0 – Clemson, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Washington.

Position U: Tight ends

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:30
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Tight End U” for the 2000s?

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

2. Iowa (66 points): Dallas Clark leads the way thanks to a 2002 season after which he won the John Mackey Award and was a consensus All-American. But Iowa had a consistent run of tight ends in the 2000s, with first-round pick Clark and five others getting drafted -- most recently third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was the fifth tight end selected this year.

Award winners: Dallas Clark, Mackey (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Dallas Clark (2002).
First-team all-conference: Dallas Clark (2002), Brandon Myers (2008), Tony Moeaki (2009), C.J. Fiedorowicz (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dallas Clark (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Scott Chandler (Round 4, 2007), Tony Moeaki (Round 3, 2010), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Erik Jensen (Round 7, 2004), Brandon Myers (Round 6, 2009).

3. Missouri (64 points): Missouri hasn’t had as much success placing tight ends in the pros as some of the other top programs on this list, but the Tigers have an award winner (Chase Coffman won the 2008 Mackey Award) and three consensus All-American tight ends (Coffman, Martin Rucker and Michael Egnew) since 2000. Not too shabby.

Award winners: Chase Coffman, Mackey (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Martin Rucker (2007), Chase Coffman (2008), Michael Egnew (2010).
First-team all-conference: Martin Rucker (2006), Michael Egnew (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Rucker (Round 4, 2008), Chase Coffman (Round 3, 2009), Michael Egnew (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


4. Wisconsin (64 points): One All-American (Lance Kendricks in 2010, when he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches), six first-team All-Big Ten picks (Kendricks, Garrett Graham twice, Mark Anelli, Travis Beckum and Jacob Pedersen) and six drafted players helped Wisconsin nearly earn the runner-up spot in the tight end rankings.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Lance Kendricks (2010).
First-team all-conference: Mark Anelli (2001), Travis Beckum (2007), Garrett Graham (2008, 2009), Lance Kendricks (2010), Jacob Pedersen (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Owen Daniels (Round 4, 2006), Travis Beckum (Round 3, 2009), Garrett Graham (Round 4, 2010), Lance Kendricks (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mark Anelli (Round 6, 2002), Jason Pociask (Round 5, 2006).

5. Georgia (62 points): It doesn’t have the national awards to show for it, but Georgia seems to boast an outstanding tight end nearly every season. The best example of that is how the Bulldogs keep placing tight ends in the pros – starting with Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope and leading all the way up to Arthur Lynch, who just went to the Miami Dolphins in the most recent draft. The Bulldogs have built an impressive legacy at the position that looks to continue.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Randy McMichael (2001), Leonard Pope (2004, 2005), Martrez Milner (2006), Orson Charles (2011), Arthur Lynch (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ben Watson (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Randy McMichael (Round 4, 2002), Leonard Pope (Round 3, 2006), Martrez Milner (Round 4, 2007), Orson Charles (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Arthur Lynch (Round 5, 2014).

6. BYU (56 points): Independents Notre Dame and BYU are hurt in these position rankings by not being members of a conference -- thus they couldn’t earn points for all-conference selections, although BYU did as a member of the Mountain West up through 2010. In fact, the Cougars earned 36 of their 56 points by having six tight ends named to the All-MWC team between 2001 and 2009. Notre Dame certainly belongs higher on the list, considering that it has had nine tight ends drafted, including first-round pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Dennis Pitta (2009).
First-team all-conference: Doug Jolley (2001), Jonny Harline (2005, 2006), Dennis Pitta (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Doug Jolley (Round 2, 2002), Dennis Pitta (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tevita Ofahengaue (Round 7, 2001), Spencer Nead (Round 7, 2003).

7. Virginia (54 points): Heath Miller is a one-man wrecking crew here, single-handedly accounting for 38 of Virginia’s 54 points thanks to a Mackey Award-winning season in 2004 when he was a consensus All-American and went on to become a first-round draft pick. Miller also won All-ACC honors in 2003.

Award winners: Heath Miller, Mackey (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Heath Miller (2004).
First-team all-conference: Heath Miller (2003, 2004), John Phillips (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Heath Miller (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Luzar (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Billy Baber (Round 5, 2001), Tom Santi (Round 6, 2008), John Phillips (Round 6, 2009).

8. Stanford (48 points): Stanford is arguably the top program for tight ends right now, but that’s a fairly recent development. Of the six Cardinal tight ends drafted since 2001, four have been since 2010, led by second-round picks Coby Fleener and 2012 All-American Zach Ertz. Stanford posted a rare double in 2013 when Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both picked in the draft’s first four rounds.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Zach Ertz (2012).
First-team all-conference: Alex Smith (2004), Coby Fleener (2011), Zach Ertz (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Teyo Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Alex Smith (Round 3, 2005), Coby Fleener (Round 2, 2012), Zach Ertz (Round 2, 2013), Levine Toilolo (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jim Dray (Round 7, 2010),

9. Colorado (46 points): Colorado hasn’t had much to brag about on the football field over the last several years, but the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the tight end rankings. Daniel Graham’s outstanding 2001 season (including a Mackey Award and a consensus All-America designation prior to becoming a first-round draft pick) is a big reason why Colorado makes the top 10.

Award winners: Daniel Graham, Mackey (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Graham (2001).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Graham (2001), Joe Klopfenstein (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Daniel Graham (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Joe Klopfenstein (Round 2, 2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Quinn Sypniewski (Round 5, 2006), Nick Kasa, Round 6, 2013).

10. UCLA (46 points): As with its fellow No. 9 on the list, Colorado, UCLA can thank a single player for its spot in the top 10. Marcedes Lewis accumulated 32 of the Bruins’ 46 points with a 2005 season when he won the Mackey Award, was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 pick and then went on to become a 2006 first-round draft selection.

Award winners: Marcedes Lewis, Mackey (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Marcedes Lewis (2005).
First-team all-conference: Mike Seidman (2002), Marcedes Lewis (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Marcedes Lewis (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Mike Seidman (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jeff Grau (Round 7, 2002), Bryan Fletcher (Round 6, 2002).

REST OF “TIGHT END U” RANKINGS
44 – Notre Dame; 40 – Clemson; 38 – Arizona State, Florida, Louisville; 34 – Oregon, USC; 32 – Minnesota, North Carolina, Purdue, Rutgers; 28 – Tennessee; 26 – Oklahoma; 24 – N.C. State; 22 – Kentucky, Washington; 20 – Arkansas, Maryland; 18 – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech; 16 – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas; 14 – Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State; 12 – South Carolina; 10 – California, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon State; 8 – Boston College, Northwestern; 6 – TCU, Utah, Duke, Syracuse; 4 – Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech; 2 – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Mississippi State; 0 – Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, West Virginia
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.
New Year’s Day is near, along with the end to long layoffs for No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman and David Ching come together for a final discussion on the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, set for Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2:

How motivated is Georgia to win this game and why?

Ching: That's the big question entering this game, isn't it? It doesn't feel like either fan base is particularly jazzed about this matchup since these teams just played in a bowl a year ago. It wouldn't be a surprise if the teams deal with the same problem. Georgia seems like the more talented team here, but the coaches have to convince the Bulldogs that this is a game worth playing their best.

Sherman: I don’t expect motivation to be a problem for Nebraska. The Huskers don’t want their streak of nine-win seasons -- a point of much discussion and pride -- to end. A victory over an SEC opponent would serve as boost for Bo Pelini’s program and the Big Ten. Moreover, it has been a long, trying season in Lincoln; playing well in the Gator Bowl could change the narrative and allow the Huskers and their fans to focus on positives.

What do you expect out of the quarterback position?

Ching: Hutson Mason has the benefit of already making one start in a huge game. He started slowly against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, but helped the Bulldogs rally for a double-overtime win. Nebraska has a talented secondary that will test him, but I expect Mason to perform well. He has waited his turn behind Aaron Murray, but is well prepared to become a solid performer as a senior in 2014.

Sherman: We saw at the Big House in November that Tommy Armstrong has a knack for playing well under the spotlight. And for a redshirt freshman with seven starts under his belt, New Year’s Day is big. Armstrong is motivated. His linemen are healthier than at any point since late October. His receivers are healed up, and while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa won’t surprise Georgia with their athleticism after last year, look for the Huskers to make plays in the passing game.

Who holds the edge when Nebraska has the football?

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley has been effective since returning for injury, rushing for six touchdowns in his last five games.
Ching: Probably Nebraska. I know the Huskers have struggled on offense for most of the season without Taylor Martinez, but Georgia's defense has only dominated against the least of its competition this season. I expect Nebraska to produce decent yardage and point totals against the Bulldogs, considering how half of their opponents this season generated at least 400 yards of offense and eight scored at least 30 points.

Sherman: If we’re answering based off the second half of the season, it’s Georgia, despite its defensive injuries and propensity to allow chunks of yardage. Offensively, Nebraska simply hit a wall after mid-October, with the exception of the Michigan State game. The Huskers didn’t once scored 30 points after all-conference guard Spencer Long went down on Oct. 12 at Purdue. Injuries are the wild card, though. Long remains out, but most of the others who missed time are back. If Nebraska creates some momentum early, it could top 400 yards for the first time in five games.

Who holds the edge when UGA has the football?

Ching: Georgia. The Huskers haven't defended the run particularly well -- they're 60th nationally at 161.2 yards per game -- and that doesn't bode well for stopping Todd Gurley after he's had a month to allow his injured ankle to heal. Nebraska's defense has been fairly average in every way, so even with someone other than Murray at the helm, I expect Georgia's high-scoring offense to keep rolling in Jacksonville.

Sherman: Season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story of this Nebraska defense. The Blackshirts are much improved from September, when they were trampled in the opening quarter by an FCS-level foe. Since Nov. 1, the Huskers rank among the top 20 defensive units nationally. They’re especially strong against the pass. And with time to prepare, Pelini will devise a scheme to test Mason. As for Gurley, well, he could pose a problem. The Huskers will miss defensive end Avery Moss. And Big Ten results so far this bowl season don’t bode well for Nebraska.
Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez, the shelved senior quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska, started 95 college games.

They won 67.4 percent.

Bet you thought that rate was higher.

Seems we’ve watched these two operate forever. In the past four years, Murray and Martinez meant something important to college football. They tormented defensive coordinators and served as the poster boys for a pair of proud programs, trying -- desperately close at times -- to break through.

It’s not going to happen in their time.

Despite 64 victories between them (35 for Murray, 29 for Martinez), neither won a conference title. At Georgia and Nebraska, a conference title, at minimum, is the standard of success.

Yet as Murray and Martinez depart the college game in sadly anticlimactic fashion as the Bulldogs (8-4) and Huskers (8-4) meet for a New Year’s Day rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, they leave a record of greatness.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Josh Wolfe/Icon SMITaylor Martinez's final season didn't go as planned, but he'll be remembered in Lincoln.
Murray’s senior season was nearly doomed from the start. Injuries to running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, several top receivers and playmakers on defense contributed heavily to four Georgia losses.

The QB persevered until Nov. 23, when he suffered an ACL tear in a 59-17 victory over Kentucky. Murray played through the injury for one series but couldn't fight the pain any further.

In similar fashion, Martinez battled for two weeks through a foot injury, suffered in the Huskers’ season opener.

He led the Huskers to a 21-3 edge over UCLA in the second quarter on Sept 14, but any thoughts of a storybook ending to his career crashed to a halt in the second half. The Bruins scored 38 consecutive points. Martinez clearly wasn’t himself, unable use his usually dangerous feet to stem momentum.

A one-game comeback fell flat at Minnesota in October. Martinez was finished. He lost his final two starts and an opportunity to join Colin Kaepernick as the only players in FBS history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000. He finished with 7,258 passing yards and 2,975 rushing yards.

He lost his chance to win a conference title, a hope so promising back in 2010, when Martinez led Nebraska to a 17-point lead over Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game as a freshman.

Martinez never broke through.

“It’s been hard,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “This whole season’s been hard on him. It’s not the way you want to see him go out.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt said the same thing about Murray. Richt visited a hospitalized Murray after he underwent surgery on the damaged knee. Richt said he wanted to feel sorry for his quarterback, but Murray wouldn’t let him.

His positivity is relentless. And that’s part of Murray’s legacy, alongside the 13,166 passing yards and 121 touchdown passes.

No Southeastern Conference quarterback before Murray threw for 3,000 yards in three seasons. Murray did it four times. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s SEC record for touchdown passes and Tim Tebow’s record for total yardage.

But, like Martinez, his teams never broke through.

Murray’s best chance fell 5 yards short last year against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He targeted Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone, a shot within reach to win an SEC title as the clock ticked away. Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass to Georgia receiver Chris Conley. Conley slid to the turf, surrounded by defenders. Time expired on Murray’s best opportunity.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Aaron Murray
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Murray's place in Georgia and SEC football history is secure.
Instead of a shot to play for the national title, Georgia beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl as Murray threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns, both career-best marks.

It all felt anticlimactic for Murray, though nothing like this year.

“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” Murray said recently.

This wasn’t it.

“It’s almost like I didn't say goodbye,” he said, “which, I guess, is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog. I'll always be a Bulldog, and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.”

Murray is eloquent and charismatic. Martinez is quite the opposite.

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, the Nebraska quarterback hasn’t spoken to the media since the Minnesota game.

But Martinez appears to be at peace. He has remained at the side of teammates through conditioning drills and practices this month. Those close to him, though, say he’s devastated by the injury.

A generation from now, Murray and Martinez will be remembered not for this anticlimactic ending or their inability to break through and win a championship.

Time will heal their wounds. History will reflect well on their legacies. College football will remember them.

Chance to move forward excites Huskers

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
11:00
AM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. -- The last time we saw Jeremiah Sirles before Wednesday, the Nebraska senior emptied his heart in support of coach Bo Pelini, embroiled in controversy after the Huskers’ Nov. 29 loss to Iowa to end the regular season.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Sirles
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJeremiah Sirles and his teammates are glad Nebraska's focus is back on football.
Sirles, a four-year starter at offensive tackle, and several teammates spoke passionately about Pelini and his staff, yet it appeared to many observers that the sixth-year coach may not survive the weekend at Nebraska.

Well, he did.

And the program lunged forward. The Huskers received a break from the game to rest and prepare for final exams. Pelini and his staff gained momentum on the recruiting trail. The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, in a move unexpected before the final hours on Sunday, paired Nebraska with Georgia for a New Year’s Day rematch of the Capital One Bowl from last season.

As the team readies to get back to practice this weekend, the air around Memorial Stadium appears free of the toxicity from two weeks ago.

Count Sirles among those relieved that Nebraska football has moved past a November dominated by questions about the job security of its coach.

“It’s hard to have all these unanswered questions around this place because it always seems like there [are] these unanswered questions," Sirles said Wednesday, as a group of Huskers met with the media for the first time since the regular-season finale. "Being able to have answers to all that and being able to have a stable base for going into the bowl game and even going to next year, I think, is huge.”

About 19 hours after Iowa cemented its 38-17 win in Lincoln, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini.

Sirles said he was “proud” of the administration for its decision.

“Every word that I said was 100 percent from the heart and 100 percent true,” Sirles said. ‘I hope that people around the stadium could really tell that we really love and we care for our coaches, and that they love and care for us.”

Fellow senior lineman Brent Qvale said he understood the sentiment from some Nebraska fans that an 8-4 regular season fell short of expectations.

Still, the coaches don’t deserve blame, he said.

“It’s just a culture around Nebraska that championships are expected,” Qvale said. “And it should be. You play this game to win championships.”

Senior receiver Quincy Enunwa said he stayed away from listening to the media speculation and criticism of November.

“We know what’s going on inside the program,” Enunwa said. “We know that we have our coaches back. We believe that we’re a good team; there have just been a lot of setbacks for us this year.”

That said, the Huskers are excited about the opportunity to finish strong.

Several Nebraska players interviewed on Wednesday said they were excited to face Georgia again.

“It might be frustration if we just blew them out last year,” Enunwa said, “but we lost.”

Said defensive back Josh Mitchell: “I didn’t really have much of a reaction. It’s just another game to me. We just need to get another win.”

The Bulldogs beat Nebraska 45-31 to end last season in Orlando. Georgia scored the final 22 points behind a prolific performance from quarterback Aaron Murray, who’s out for the Gator Bowl with a knee injury.

“We felt like we had a good chance of beating these guys last year,” Sirles said. “We kind of let it slip through our fingers a little bit. It’s almost a good chance to get back and get a little redemption.”

Sirles and Enunwa were among a long list of Huskers slowed by injuries this fall. They said they’ll be healthy for the Gator Bowl.

The Huskers, in fact, should field a team in Jacksonville, Fla., that's healthier than at any point since early October. Of the key contributors who went down, only guard Spencer Long is ruled out.

“I’m ready to play a game where most of our offense is healthy,” Enunwa said.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who played in just one game after the Huskers’ Sept. 14 loss to UCLA, continues to rehabilitate a foot injury. His availability for the Gator Bowl looks unlikely.

Sirles said many Huskers have “lived in the treatment room” since the regular season concluded. With most of the coaches away, the players participated in a few conditioning drills last week.

The tempo increased this week. The full group was at work, without pads, inside the Hawks Championship Center, on Wednesday afternoon.

Pelini and Georgia coach Mark Richt are set to meet in Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon to officially accept the Gator Bowl invitations.

Then it’s back to work.

“We’re going to come back healthy,” Sirles said. “We’re anxious to get back on the practice field and start banging again.”

Video: Capital One Bowl -- Georgia-Neb.

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
3:00
PM ET

Georgia and Nebraska square off in a top-16 matchup between the Big Ten and SEC (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET -- ABC).
Let's take a look at three keys for Michigan State in its Outback Bowl game against Georgia:

1. Establish a running game: The Spartans averaged 38.6 points in their final five games. Why was the offense clicking so well? "I think it was because we were running the ball well," receiver B.J. Cunningham said. "That opens up the pass for us. When we get our running game going, I feel like we can't be stopped." He's right. With Le'Veon Bell coming on strong at tailback and an improved offensive line, Michigan State had a balanced attack that kept defenses on their heels. They'll need to do the same against Georgia, which won't be easy since the Bulldogs ranked ninth in rushing defense this season. But if the Spartans can make Georgia respect the run, Kirk Cousins will have a lot more time and options in the passing game. They certainly can't do any worse than last year's bowl game, when they finished with minus-48 rushing yards in a 49-7 loss to Alabama.

2. Jerel Worthy vs. Ben Jones: The best one-on-one matchup in this game will happen right in the middle of the trenches. Michigan State defensive tackle Worthy and Georgia center Jones are both All-Americans, and it will be fun to see who wins those individual battles. Whether Worthy can get penetration or just occupy Jones and his helpers, the Spartans need to put pressure on Dawgs quarterback Aaron Murray. Michigan State loves to blitz and bring heat from all angles, including cornerback Johnny Adams flying in off the edge. That will be big in this game, as Murray has the ability to carve up a defense if he can feel comfortable in the pocket.

3. Win special teams: With two of the nation's top five defenses squaring off, this could be a low-scoring contest. That makes special teams even more important, and Michigan State's big wins often include at least one crucial play in the kicking game. Maybe it's the Spartans blocking a kick or a punt, as they did in the first meeting with Wisconsin this season, or maybe it's Keshawn Martin bringing back a punt return. Punter Mike Sadler will be key in the field-position battle. And of course, you always have to be on the lookout for fakes and trick plays from Mark Dantonio's team. The Spartans may need a big play in that area to get over the hump and finally win a bowl game.
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.
After a wild night of rumors and negotiations, Illinois got the man it wanted to run its defense.

[+] EnlargeVic Koenning
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIVic Koenning left Kansas State to take a similar position at Illinois.
Illinois officially named Vic Koenning its new defensive coordinator at a news conference today in Champaign. Koenning, who previously served as Kansas State's co-defensive coordinator, replaces Dan Disch and Curt Mallory, who were demoted to position coaches.

"I’m ready to jump in there with coach [Ron] Zook, start to watch some recruiting tape, start to watch some games and get going," Koenning said Friday. "I couldn’t be more excited to be here. In so many things in life, timing is everything, and the timing has worked out fantastic."

Illinois' hiring of Koenning had been expected for several days, but things got interesting Thursday night as Georgia re-entered the mix for his services. Koenning recalled how Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder came into his office several days ago and asked where Koenning was headed.

Ultimately, Koenning settled on Illinois, calling it a "much-needed change."

"There was some dialogue [with Georgia]," Koenning said. "It made for an interesting last 16, 18 hours, but when push comes to shove, the character and the drive and the enthusiasm that coach Zook exhibited made sure there was no doubt in the outcome."

A week after dismissing four assistant coaches and demoting two others, Zook has filled all four positions and has his staff in place for a make-or-break 2010 season. We can certainly debate whether Zook should still be at Illinois and whether the fired assistants were scapegoats for a miserable season, but you've got to give the team credit for its bold approach to finding replacements.

Time will tell if these hires can turn things around, but the early returns are favorable.

New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has been around great offenses for some time, and he seems excited about the chance to break away from his brother Bobby and call his own plays. Petrino and new offensive assistants Jeff Brohm (quarterbacks) and Greg Nord (tight ends) were all at Louisville when the Cardinals lit up the scoreboard from 2003-06.

Koenning spent only one year at Kansas State, which ranks 40th nationally in total defense and 16th against the run. He built his reputation as a strong defensive coordinator at Clemson, which finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring, total defense, and pass efficiency defense in each of his four seasons there (2005-08).

Koenning had never been to Champaign and arrived "in the dark of night" early Friday.

"There may be some dark circles under my eyes," he said. "But you have an adrenaline rush when you come into a place like this. We're ready to go."

While I was away ...

July, 7, 2009
7/07/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

So, did you miss me? By the look of several e-mails, the answer is yes. Anyway, I'm back and ready to blog after a week in the Caribbean island of Curacao, where I got plenty of sun, dined on iguana and ran across a floating bridge. Good times, except for when I turned into a lobster for a few days (my Midwestern pasty skin didn't fare well in the sun). Not much of a Big Ten presence there, though I did spot a Penn State hat and an Ohio State hat on my trip. 

Many thanks to my blog colleagues for filling in during my absence. Let's take a look at what went on in the Big Ten while I was away. I'll catch up on recruiting news a little later today with an updated scorecard.

  • Iowa continued to dominate the offseason headlines. The team announced Monday that reserve linebacker Jacody Coleman has left the program, a move that had been rumored for some time. Coleman, who appeared in every game last season and recorded 28 tackles, will head to his home state of Texas and play for Lamar University. Iowa also announced that offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde had surgery for an undisclosed injury and could miss time early in the season. Vandervelde started nine games at guard last season.
"We were hopeful that Julian's injury could be healed through normal rehab, but it became apparent surgical repair was the best path to take," head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. "Julian may miss some playing time, but we are optimistic he will return to full strength very early in the season."
  • Hawkeyes fans are also waiting for an update on running back Jewel Hampton, who reportedly sustained a knee injury Friday. Hampton is expected to take over for Shonn Greene as the starter after racking up 463 rush yards and seven touchdowns last year as a true freshman.
  • Good news for Ohio State recruit Jaamal Berry, who had his drug possession charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. Berry wouldn't have been allowed to play with a pending felony case, while his fate now lies in the hands of the Buckeyes coaches. He reported for summer school at Ohio State and is enrolled at the school.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent is out of jail after serving time for drunken driving, though his playing status hasn't been determined. Brent, who was indefinitely suspended following his arrest, should be back with the team soon. 
  • Purdue announced Monday that reserve defenders Kris Cooke and Kevin Green were dismissed from the program for repeated violations of team policy. The Boilermakers have updated their roster and will report for preseason camp Aug. 7. 
  • Several future Big Ten players helped Team USA cruise to victory in the IFAF Junior World Championship. Five Big Ten recruits -- Ohio State's Storm Klein and Jack Mewhort, Northwestern's John Plasencia, Michigan State's Chris Norman and Indiana's Aaron Price -- were named first-team all-tournament.
  • This really got me excited for a while, but apparently Michigan won't be opening the 2010 season against Georgia. The Bulldogs definitely would qualify as the big splash Michigan is looking to make at the renovated Big House. Perhaps Michigan will take my advice and bring Boise State to Ann Arbor. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Colleague Bruce Feldman recently conducted his annual search for cupcakes and ranked the nation's 10 easiest nonconference schedules. Not surprisingly, two Big Ten teams topped his list, as Northwestern had the easiest slate and Penn State wasn't far behind. 

Here's Feldman's take on the Wildcats' cakewalk:

1. Northwestern (Towson; EMU; at Syracuse; Miami [Ohio]) Quality point average: 2: Wow. The Wildcats face three FBS opponents and all three are projected to finish in the cellar of their respective conferences or at least conference divisions. Plus, that FCS team they've got, Towson, is coming off a 3-9 season. This is about as close to four sure wins as anyone is going to get.

And his thoughts on Penn State's stay-at-home vacation:

2. Penn State (Akron; Syracuse; Temple; Eastern Illinois) Quality point average: 2.5: Yes, this is the same exact rating as Ole Miss. PSU wins (or is it loses?) the tiebreaker because the Nittany Lions didn't even schedule a road game and because Ole Miss at least faces someone who went to a bowl game in the past three seasons. PSU has six of its first seven games at home, and the closest thing to a formidable nonleague opponent is Temple, which is 3-34-1 against the Lions and hasn't knocked off Penn State since 1941. Akron also is an OK opponent, but is still coming off a 5-7 season. It's worth noting that this is only the third time in 16 years since PSU arrived in the Big Ten that the Nittany Lions have scheduled an FCS opponent.

No major surprises here, though the order could be switched. Syracuse is definitely down, but in my view, a road game against a BCS opponent still carries a higher degree of difficulty than home games against supposedly superior MAC teams (Akron and Temple). 

Wisconsin finished No. 10 on Feldman's list, which also included three SEC teams (Ole Miss, Kentucky, Arkansas). I think Florida gets a pass on a lot of these lists. The Florida State game is a mere shell of what it used to be, and the Gators' other three nonconference games are ridiculously easy. 

When I look at the nonleague slates of the Big Ten and the SEC, I don't see much difference. But the Big Ten seems to get bashed more in the scheduling debate because its power teams (Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin) all scheduled easy for 2009, while Georgia beefed up its slate and Alabama opens with Virginia Tech. 

As for Northwestern and Penn State, more challenging days are ahead, thankfully. Northwestern faces Boston College, Vanderbilt and possibly Stanford in future seasons, while Penn State takes on Alabama, Rutgers and possibly Miami. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

What if Penn State resumed its rivalry with Pitt? What if the Iowa-Missouri series finally happened? Why can't Wisconsin man up and play a solid BCS team every year? How about a Big Ten-ACC Challenge in football?

We've all pondered these scheduling questions and many others in recent years. When it comes to college football scheduling, you can dare to dream a bit. Although you'll rarely be satisfied in this climate of home games or bust, it's fun to play around with the possibilities.

Here are some nonconference matchups I'd like to see for each Big Ten team.

ILLINOIS-NOTRE DAME

There's no love lost between these two coaching staffs, especially as Illinois has become more competitive as a national recruiter (i.e. Arrelious Benn). This game won't happen any time soon, but it would be extremely entertaining to watch Ron Zook and Charlie Weis stand on opposite sidelines. Both schools constantly compete for recruits, especially in the Chicago area, so why not meet on the field?

INDIANA-KENTUCKY

The teams used to play almost every year, and it would be nice to see the series resume. Indiana and Kentucky have a great rivalry in basketball, and both football programs face similar uphill climbs in major conferences. The proximity between the two schools would make it extremely easy for fans to travel to the games.

IOWA-MISSOURI

Many Iowa fans wish this series had happened already -- Missouri backed out of an agreement several years back -- and it makes a lot of sense for the two teams to meet. You already know my view on Missouri joining the Big Ten, and a natural rivalry with Iowa plays a major role. Both schools recruit in the same area, and both programs have elevated their profiles in recent years.

MICHIGAN-UCLA

Two of college football's greatest settings would make this series a must-see. Michigan always fills up the Big House for games, and Wolverines fans would be guaranteed a trip to the Rose Bowl every other year even if their team doesn't reach the big game on Jan. 1. The two teams have met nine times in the regular season, most recently in 2000, and it would be great to see them celebrate the Pac-10-Big Ten rivalry.

MICHIGAN STATE-NORTH CAROLINA

The Big Ten should be more aggressive in scheduling the ACC for football, and this series would be a good start. Both programs are on the rise under third-year coaches (Mark Dantonio and Butch Davis), and both have been recruiting better in recent years. Let's just hope for better games than the two basketball matchups this past season.

MINNESOTA-WASHINGTON

Minnesota has taken a more aggressive approach to nonconference scheduling, and a series against Washington would fall in line with the new philosophy. Both schools are located in major cities on the northern edge of their respective conferences. Both are trying to revive tradition with energetic coaches (Tim Brewster and Steve Sarkisian). And selfishly, I wouldn't mind making the trip to Minneapolis or Seattle each year.

NORTHWESTERN-VANDERBILT

This isn't really a fantasy matchup because these teams will begin a four-game series in 2010. It's long overdue. Both Northwestern and Vanderbilt face a similar challenge as private institutions with limited football success trying to compete with storied programs in major conferences. Both schools are among the nation's academic elite. There are way too many similarities for the teams not to play.

OHIO STATE-FLORIDA/LSU/ALABAMA/GEORGIA

Though I like colleague Heather Dinich's suggestion for an Ohio State-Miami matchup, Buckeyes fans want the SEC, and they want it bad. No league has damaged Ohio State's national reputation more than the SEC, and the hatred between Buckeye Nation and SEC fans runs deep. Florida makes the most sense for Ohio State, but any of the SEC title contenders would suffice.

PENN STATE-PITT

This is a no-brainer. Fans on both sides desperately want to see the rivalry resume, and it's a shame there are no immediate plans for a series. The game means a lot to folks in the state of Pennsylvania, and the teams' frequent recruiting battles would only add fuel to the series. Although Pitt doesn't have the wow factor it had several decades ago, the game would generate a ton of local interest.

PURDUE-MIAMI

Something tells me Robert Marve wouldn't mind another crack at Randy Shannon and the Canes in 2010. And Marve isn't the only connection between the schools. New Purdue head coach Danny Hope is a Miami native who signed 14 players from Florida in his first recruiting class.

WISCONSIN-NEBRASKA

Wisconsin's hesitancy to schedule big-name teams has irritated its fan base, but athletic director Barry Alvarez can win some support by scheduling his alma mater. Imagine the sea of red from both fan bases when these teams meet at Camp Randall Stadium or Memorial Stadium, two of the nation's most hostile venues. It would be great to see Nebraska play a Big Ten team every year, and Wisconsin certainly needs a marquee opponent.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol didn't make things any easier on their coaches in the spring game.

Not only did the two candidates for Michigan State's starting quarterback spot pace one another in Saturday's Green-White scrimmage, the two sophomores put up the exact same spectacular numbers: 357 pass yards and four touchdowns.

And that's exactly why Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio is in no rush to name a leader in the race to replace two-year starter Brian Hoyer.

 
  Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
  Kirk Cousins saw action in five games last season.

"I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I also want to provide equal opportunity for everybody involved," Dantonio said. "I don't want it to be, 'He played well one time, so he's the guy.' What we're building for is consistency and performance over the long term."

In a sport that demands decisiveness, Dantonio and his assistants feel no pressure or panic about beginning preseason camp with Cousins and Nichol neck-and-neck for the top job. Earlier this month Dantonio said the competition could last all the way through nonconference play.

Who knows? Michigan State might end up with a two-quarterback system come Sept. 5.

"I'm fine with that," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. "I've done that at a couple places. You've got to have a plan for both, but it can definitely be done. I'm flexible. If they're both being productive, it's hard to keep them out."

The lack of clarity this spring has been exciting rather than discouraging for the Spartans.

"It's actually a fun competition to have," junior wide receiver Mark Dell said. "Neither one of them really has a down day."

Cousins owns a slight edge in experience after serving as Hoyer's backup last fall.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Mark Dantonio is changing the culture at Michigan State. In his first two seasons as Spartans head coach, Dantonio has gone 16-10 and guided the team to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1996-97. A program known for midseason collapses and a lack of mental toughness made a push for the Big Ten title last fall before stumbling Nov. 22 at Penn State. The Spartans ended a six-game slide to archrival Michigan in October, and Dantonio and his staff have made major upgrades in recruiting. More challenges lie ahead, as Michigan State must replace All-American running back Javon Ringer, quarterback Brian Hoyer and standout safety Otis Wiley, among others.

Dantonio sat down last week to discuss the upcoming season and his vision for the program.

 
  Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIRE
  Mark Dantonio has produced a 16-10 record since taking over as the Spartans' head coach.

You mentioned last year that this team overachieved a bit. Do you sense it will have to be like that again this year?

Mark Dantonio: It's something we constantly talk about here. I don't care where you're at and the status of things, how long you've played, whether it's [All-Big Ten linebacker] Greg Jones or whoever, it's always important to overachieve because you're always going to face adversity. You want to be known as that type of player, regardless of your ability level. We'll continue to concentrate on that.

Are you about where you thought you'd be as far as your short-term and long-term plan for the program?

MD: I've never really said, 'This is what we need to do in Year 1 or Year 2.' We've set goals, tried to get to those points and places, and we've accomplished some goals. We haven't won a championship yet. That's the goal that we set out for every single year. Why coach if you're not excited about trying to make those goals? Why play if you just say, 'I hope we can win seven games this year?' So I never really put a timetable on that. I've always said, 'This is what we've done. Now what are we going to do next year?' I've never felt like we've arrived. But the culture is changing, which is important. The ability to stay in games and play hard, I hope we're changing that. I look at the 26 games that we've played since I've been here, and there's two games -- the Ohio State game and the Penn State game [in 2008] -- where we've been out of the game. I would hope that perception is changing. But you can always slip right back into it if you're not careful.

How hard is it to do that, to avoid slipping back to the culture that was here before?

MD: That culture where things would fade quickly on us, that existed when I was here before [as an assistant from 1995-2000]. The Wisconsin game, boom, in 1999 [a 40-10 loss], or you beat Ohio State and lose to Minnesota, or whatever the case it was. Or whether it was getting shellacked by Nebraska or going out to Oregon [and getting beat]. That was here. What we have to do is make sure we're changing that perception. And I think we are. Our players need to understand they truly need to play one play at a time. That's a coaches' adage, but you have to do that in this day and age because one slip-up -- you don't take advantage of an offensive opportunity, or you have a poor special-teams performance, or one mental assignment on defense -- can cost you. You have to be able to play with attention to detail or you can't play. There's too much parity in college football. You hear the perception about the Southeastern Conference versus the Big Ten, but you look at it and you look at how close the game was between us and Georgia, it could have went the other way. Texas-Ohio State could have went the other way. So it's just tight out there. You better be ready to play. It's mental toughness. I believe that.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES