Big Ten: Jarvis Jones

Nebraska keys for Capital One Bowl

December, 31, 2012
Here are three keys for Nebraska in its matchup against Georgia in Tuesday's Capital One Bowl.

1. Protect the football: It might be asking too much of a team that has given the ball away more (32) than all but five FBS teams, but Nebraska can't expect to upset Georgia if it commits turnovers in bunches. Nebraska tied for the most lost fumbles in the country with 21, and quarterback Taylor Martinez threw 10 interceptions. Georgia is good at taking away the ball, ranking 22nd nationally in turnovers forced (27). Bulldogs All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones has seven forced fumbles, so Martinez, Rex Burkhead and the other Husker ball carriers must be aware of No. 29 at all times. Georgia has had five turnover-free games and boasts a 29-1 record under coach Mark Richt when avoiding a turnover.

2. Pressure Murray: The lack of a truly dominant defensive lineman has hurt Nebraska in its recent losses. Georgia's Aaron Murray is the best drop-back quarterback the Huskers have seen this season, ranking second nationally in pass efficiency (172.4) with 31 touchdown strikes against just 8 interceptions with a completions rate of 65.4 percent. Although Nebraska leads the nation in pass defense (148.2), it will be vulnerable if it doesn't make Murray's life tough in the pocket. Senior defensive end Eric Martin showed flashes of dominance at times this season, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. The Huskers need Martin or another pass-rusher to deliver against the Dawgs.

3. Start fast: Motivation is a big question mark in this game as both teams had much higher goals that vanished after losses in their respective conference championship games. Georgia has to be particularly bummed after being one play away from a spot in the national title game. Bo Pelini's squad must capitalize on any potential hangover from the Bulldogs. It isn't Nebraska's strong suit, as the Huskers are more of a second-half team and have had some problems in the second quarters of games (outscored 118-103). But Nebraska can't expect Georgia to leave the door open like so many Big Ten teams did this season. The Huskers need their best 60-minute effort of the season to pull off the upset in Orlando.

B1G bowl primer: Capital One Bowl

December, 17, 2012
Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continues.


No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) vs. No. 7 Georgia (11-2)

Where: Orlando, Fla.; Florida Citrus Bowl

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


About Nebraska: The Huskers won the Legends Division title in their second year in the Big Ten, saw tangible strides from junior quarterback Taylor Martinez and overcame the absence of star running back Rex Burkhead for most of the season. But many of the good things Nebraska did were overshadowed by two implosions on big stages, first on Oct. 6 against Ohio State in Columbus and then Dec. 1 in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. The Huskers surrendered 133 points in the losses, had damaging turnovers and fell apart defensively midway through both games. Primed to win their first league title since 1999, Nebraska fell flat in Indy and instead plays in the Capital One Bowl for the second straight year. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in offense (462.2) and boasts a nice collection of backs, receivers and tight ends. The Huskers lead the nation in pass defense (148.2 ypg). They rank 105th nationally in turnover margin.

About Georgia: Like Nebraska, Georgia heads to Orlando a bit glum after falling short in its league championship game. Unlike Nebraska, Mark Richt's team showed up in its title contest, only to fall late to No. 2 Alabama. The Bulldogs took care of Florida to win the SEC East division and benefited from a regular-season schedule that didn't include Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. After a blowout loss against South Carolina and a near letdown the following week against Kentucky, Georgia really buckled down on defense, surrendering just 43 points during a five-game stretch. All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones leads a unit that ranks 17th nationally in points allowed (18.8 ppg). Like Nebraska, Georgia is very good against the pass (eighth nationally). Junior quarterback Aaron Murray leads an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (37.2 ppg) and does a much better job of taking care of the football than Nebraska.

Key players, Nebraska: Martinez had a mostly excellent season for Nebraska, racking up 2,667 pass yards, 973 rush yards and 31 touchdowns. He has plenty of help in the backfield in Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, the team's featured back for most of the season who had 1,089 rush yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell emerged as Martinez's top target this season. Nickel back Ciante Evans and safety Daimion Stafford headline the secondary, while linebacker Will Compton anchors the middle and Eric Martin triggers the Huskers' spotty pass rush with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Key players, Georgia: It all starts with the strong-armed Murray, who ranks second nationally in pass efficiency (172.4 rating) and 45th in total offense (261.1 ypg). He has two big-play targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King, while dynamic freshman Todd Gurley triggers the rushing attack. Although Notre Dame's Manti Te'o received more recognition, many think Jones is the best defender in college football. His stats are staggering: 22.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 33 quarterback hurries and an interception. Mercy. Don't forget about freshman linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who boasts four sacks and seven tackles for loss. Safety Bacarri Rambo leads the secondary with three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

Did you know: This marks only the second time Georgia and Nebraska have squared off. Nebraska defeated the Bulldogs 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl. ... Nebraska makes its third trip to the Orlando bowl, having lost to Georgia Tech after the 1990 season before the South Carolina loss in the 2012 game. ... The Bulldogs are 3-1-1 in previous trips to the Capital One/Citrus/Tangerine Bowl, with all three wins coming against Big Ten teams (Ohio State in 1993, Purdue in 2004 and Michigan State in 2009). ... Nebraska makes its 49th bowl appearance, which is tied with USC and Tennessee for the third-most in the nation. The Huskers are 24-24 all time in bowls. ... Georgia makes its 48th bowl appearance, tied for sixth most in the FBS. The Bulldogs are 26-18-3 in bowls.

Ranking the Big Ten's bowl games

December, 12, 2012
The Big Ten bowl season kicks off Dec. 28 in Texas, continues the following day in Arizona and wraps up with five games on New Year's Day. Seven Big Ten teams appear in the postseason, and the number would have been larger had Ohio State and Penn State been eligible. Although most would describe the Big Ten's bowl lineup as more daunting than exciting, it's always fun to rank the games based on intrigue. Which games will be the most entertaining, and which will put you to sleep?

Here's my take:

1. Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford (Jan. 1, ESPN, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.) -- The first Rose Bowl featuring a 5-loss team doesn't sound too appetizing, but Wisconsin finished the season with a 70-point performance in the Big Ten title game and has a lot of stylistic similarities to Stanford. But who are we kidding. The real reason to watch is Barry Alvarez, the former Wisconsin coach who won three Rose Bowls and has taken over the head-coaching duties for the game following the sudden departure of Bret Bielema. Barry's back, and he's going for a 4-0 mark in Pasadena.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson will play his final college game in the Outback Bowl.
2. Outback Bowl, No. 18 Michigan vs. No. 10 South Carolina (Jan. 1, ESPN, 1 p.m. ET, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa) -- Record-setting Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue, and likely will spend most of it at running back as the Wolverines face a fearsome South Carolina defense led by star end Jadeveon Clowney. Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan matches up against Clowney in a battle of likely future first-round picks. Michigan has plenty of "good" losses on its résumé, but this is the last chance for the Wolverines to record a signature win.

3. Gator Bowl, No. 20 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State (Jan. 1, ESPN2, noon ET, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.) -- Everyone knows about Northwestern's bowl drought -- the team hasn't won a bowl since the 1949 Rose -- but bad matchups certainly have played a role. Northwestern finally gets a more evenly matched opponent in Mississippi State, which started strong but faded late. The Wildcats return almost all of their key players in 2013, including star running back/returner Venric Mark and quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, so this game could be a springboard for bigger things ahead if Northwestern comes out on top. Cowbell, anyone?

4. Capital One Bowl, No. 16 Nebraska vs. No. 7 Georgia (Jan. 1, ABC, 1 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando) -- This game usually ranks higher on the intrigue-o-meter, but it's tough to get too excited about a matchup featuring two teams that would much rather be elsewhere. Nebraska comes off of its worst performance in years, a complete clunker at the Big Ten title game. Georgia performed much better at the SEC championship, but once again couldn't get over the hump. There are some exciting individual players like Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Nebraska needs to significantly upgrade its performance to have a chance against the Dawgs.

5. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU (Dec. 29, ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.) -- If your entertainment gauge is based entirely on number of points scored, this probably isn't the game for you. But if you enjoy fast, physical defenses, be sure and tune in as the Spartans and Horned Frogs square off. Michigan State ranks fourth nationally in total defense, and TCU ranks 18th. It's likely the last chance to catch Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell in Green and White, and Michigan State could shake some things up on offense with some extra time to prepare.

6. Heart of Dallas Bowl, Purdue vs. Oklahoma State (Jan. 1, ESPNU, noon ET, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas) -- It's a coin flip for the last spot in the Big Ten bowl rankings, but at least this contest should feature some points. Oklahoma State ranks fourth nationally in scoring and fifth in total offense. While Purdue's offense had its ups and downs, the Boilers finished on a good note behind quarterback Robert Marve and play-caller Patrick Higgins, averaging 482 yards in the final three games. Oklahoma State is a heavy favorite, but Purdue, playing with an interim coach (Higgins) and a large senior class, has nothing to lose and should have some surprises.

7. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (Dec. 28, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET, Reliant Stadium, Houston) -- Again, there's not much separating this game from the one above it, but Texas Tech has an interim head coach after Tommy Tuberville's surprising exit, and Minnesota really struggled offensively late in the season as injuries piled up. It will be interesting to see how cornerback Michael Carter and Minnesota's improved secondary handles a Texas Tech offense ranked second nationally in passing. But unless Minnesota's offense makes major strides in bowl practices, it's tough to see this one being close.
I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to college football awards and all the hollow hype they generate.

Many college football fans love the awards. They enjoy reading preseason watch lists, midseason watch lists, two-thirds-of-the-way-through-the season watch lists, quarterfinalists, semifinalists and the like. It's why we post a decent amount of the lists on the blog. But the selections often make me want to bang my head against the wall. Although some award committees are better than others, it's very easy to see who is paying attention and who isn't.

[+] EnlargeMichael Mauti
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireLinebacker Michael Mauti has sparked Penn State during its four-game win streak.
The recent announcement of the 25 quarterfinalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award -- given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker -- struck a chord. Looking at the list ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland? Check. ... Purdue DT Kawann Short? Check. Like many of you, I kept searching for Penn State LB Michael Mauti. You know, the National Defensive Player of the Week for Week 5, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week winner, the leader of the nation's 15th-rated scoring defense and a Penn State team that has rebounded from an 0-2 start to win four in a row. When we put together our Big Ten midseason review Monday, Mauti earned Defensive MVP honors.

But he wasn't on the Lombardi list. Less deserving players were, including some from the Big Ten.

"There's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "... If there's a linebacker, defensive lineman award, whatever the awards are, I would imagine  I can't imagine that there's that many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys."

There certainly aren't many FBS linebackers playing better than Mauti right now. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Jarvis Jones ... that's about it. Hill and Hodges also are performing well and could have been included on the Lombardi quarterfinalists list, but Mauti is the glaring omission.

O'Brien added that he doesn't even know which awards are which and that midseason watch lists don't make much sense.

"Can we not wait till the end of the season?" he said. "I think it would be a shame that we've got some guys here who are playing good football and they don't get recognized."

It would be especially shameful if Mauti and the others aren't recognized because they play for Penn State. If Mauti had the same first half for a team that didn't spend the offseason in the national headlines and didn't get hit with severe NCAA sanctions in July, would he be on the Lombardi list?

It's a fair question to ask, especially given the PR-driven nature of these awards. If the answer is yes, the awards are completely bogus. Punishing Mauti and his teammates for being associated with Penn State -- while disregarding what they're doing on the field this season -- is disgraceful. It's possible to separate the Penn State sex-abuse scandal from this season and these players.

Is the Penn State stigma keeping players out of the awards race?

"I don't believe that at all," O'Brien said, before adding, "I certainly would hope that's not the case."

There's no definitive answer. All we can do is wait and see if deserving Penn State players like Mauti get their due when the postseason awards are handed out.

If not, there's no need to rant and rave. Just don't pay attention. The awards aren't worth your time.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 10, 2012
For most people, Friday's just the day before the weekend. But after this Friday, the neighborhood'll never be the same.

Cass from Parts Unknown writes: With the preservation of the Rose Bowl being of such concern and the weather getting worse and worse as December goes on, why can?t the semi-finals of the B1G?s plus-one model just happen the week after conference championships? Then the two losers could still participate in bowls and increase the likelihood of a true Rose Bowl being played (not to mention two more high profile teams to play in bowls thus bigger ratings).

Adam Rittenberg: Cass, you bring up a good point. One concern, and I know fans hate to hear this, is the academic calendar. Most schools on the quarter system have final exams during the second week of December. Most semester schools have finals between Dec. 15-23. University presidents of major schools -- yes, I know how the FCS rolls -- don't like these games conflicting with finals. It's one of the reasons why the model has the semifinals being played a bit after Christmas. There's also a concern by some folks I've talked to about the physical grind of what would be 14 games in 15 weeks if you played the semis right after the league title games. The break in between allows players to rest up before bowls or, in this case, a playoff. From talking to the Rose Bowl this week, it sounds like they'll be prepared for whatever model is approved.

Antwon from Cleveland writes: Is their a certain formula to getting your question answered? Anyway I was wondering as far as a Playoff goes why are they so opposed to having more teams involved such as the 8 or 12 top bcs teams and have the first rounds at the higher seeds campus then the next round incorporate the bowls that way nothing gets left out?

Adam Rittenberg: Antwon, ask a good question and you'll usually get an answer. One area that needs to be discussed is whether bowls could take a team with only a week's notice. Typically the bowls have had at least four weeks to prepare for teams, promote the game, have site visits, etc. The lead time also allows fans to make their travel plans. It's not cheap to travel from the Midwest to California, Florida, Arizona and other warm-weather spots in late December. Then again, the bowls are going to need to get used to this new reality. They don't have the power they once did in college football. Personally, I don't need a 12-team playoff. I like the four- or eight-team setups. This isn't college basketball, and I don't need to see the Sun Belt champ against the SEC champ. Let's get the four or eight best teams and have them play. You can keep the better bowls and incorporate them if they're willing.

Scott K. from Buckeye Nation: sincere apologies again for the chat flooding, like i said that was my first time on the live chat and i just figured thats what everyone did to have the best chance at getting their question answered. although they only have one sport left before they hit their 82 player limit cant they still go over as long as they are down to 82 before august, giving them a shot at both neal and diggs?

Adam Rittenberg: No worries, Scott. It just gets annoying when you're trying to see different questions. You're right that the Buckeyes would need to get down to 82 scholarships by August.

Here's how the Big Ten approaches scholarship limits:

Institutions let the Big Ten know how many scholarships they have available to offer, which can be a function of either initial counter limits (25 per year) or overall counter limits (85 per year or 82 in Ohio State's case the next three seasons) -- either limit could be in play when arriving at how many scholarships are available. Institutions then let the Big Ten know if they intend to overoffer (relative to the number of scholarships they anticipate having available). If they do, they let the conference know who is in the overoffer category. Big Ten institutions may overoffer by up to three.

Not every institution that overoffers will actually oversign as not every offeree will sign with the offering institution. But if after the dust settles an institution finds that it actually is in an oversigned position, then at some point after the fall term has begun, that institution will have to provide a person-by-person accounting as to how it came into compliance with the overall scholarship limit.

James from Wisconsin writes: Please explain to me how the co-MVP of the conference champions barely makes the top 25, despite leading the league in tackles. Then to boot you drop his teammate, Chris Borland, completely off the list despite the fact that he was second in the conference in tackles. Which by the way makes Taylor's numbers even more impressive since he had a guy playing right next to him who put up 100+ tackles too. No other team even had two players in the top 10 and Wisconsin puts guys at 3 and 7 nationally and you only rank one of them as a top 25 player!? This is an egregious oversight at best, and closer resembles a slap in the face to the amazing play of these two young men.

Adam Rittenberg: James, first off, let me reiterate that Mike Taylor had a very good season. It's challenging to pick the best 25 players from a pool of 12 teams. Some very good players get left out. When we used to do top-30 lists, it was a lot easier to put together. Why is Taylor at No. 24? While he had a really nice junior campaign, he wasn't the best linebacker in the Big Ten. That would Nebraska's Lavonte David, who carried his defense at times and made more impact plays. Penn State's Gerald Hodges also made more impact plays, in our view. It's why you'll see both players higher on the list. Again, this isn't a knock on Taylor or Borland, who did some great things. Total tackles, in our view, isn't always the most telling statistic. How is a player affecting a game? Is he forcing turnovers? Is he getting the opposing offense off of the field? Of the three linebackers named first-team AP All-Americans last season -- Boston College's Luke Kuechly, Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower -- only Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles, is ranked among the FBS' top 100 tacklers. So tackles isn't always the best gauge of a linebacker.

Scott from Phoenix writes: Adam, in your Take 2 blog with Brian about the B1G playoff proposal you mention how great it would be to see teams from other conferences come up to play Mich or OSU. On the surface, not a big deal to mention those two. But I've noticed since the end of the season, that based on lunch time links, and comments you've made in blogs, that you're trending towards the percpetion of the B1G being Mich, OSU, and everyone else. I can see where PSU fans have felt slighted over the years if this has been the percpetion by those that cover that conference. I understand the B1G history, but as a Husker fan, outside of the Callahan years, NU has always been one of the 'blue chip' teams not part of the 'everyone else', especially due to being 4th all-time in wins (ahead of everyone in the B1G except Mich). From a newby to the conference, just wanted to point out the appearance of a possible trend.

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, you're reading into that statement too much. In other posts about the playoff model, I've mentioned SEC teams coming to State College, Madison, East Lansing, Iowa City and yes, Lincoln. While I understand why this perception exists, we don't only cover Ohio State and Michigan on this blog. We'll typically have more coverage of the news-making programs in the Big Ten, but those aren't only Ohio State and Michigan. Nebraska gets its share of coverage.

Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: Nice work on the Blog, Adam. I see a lot of chest-thumping over recruiting classes, but of course it's over guys who have never played a down of college football, and who may or may not develop well in a given team's schemes. We've certainly seen this in recent years with my beloved Wolverines, who have had some great recruiting years, but have had a lot of highly rated players simply not pan out. That tells me that it's not about the number of 5 and 4 stars on the roster, it's really about how well recruits fit into a team's plans, how well coaches can mold them, etc.I wonder if more attention should be paid to not only how highly rated a player is, but how well he fits the school he's recruited to, and how well that school molds recruits to their system, when incoming recruiting classes are ranked?Several B1G schools have done very well with classes that haven't been all that highly ranked, and perhaps a staff's history of doing well (nor not so well) with their recruits should be somehow factored in. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Some great points, Les. The talent-development component gets lost in all the hubbub about hat dances and star ratings. If the other elements of a program aren't strong -- coaching, schematics, strength and conditioning -- the talent level of a recruiting class often won't pan out. I think the coaching in the Big Ten has been pretty strong, as the number of elite recruits around the league has declined in the past decade. Programs like Iowa and Wisconsin have been especially successful despite rarely having top 30 recruiting classes.

Grant from Detroit writes: Hey Adam,You posted a lunch link today in which Urban Meyer said that the so-called "gentleman's agreement" not to poach other B1G schools' recruits was "comical." While I agree that coaches should recruit with the interest of building their own squads, wouldn't OSU also benefit from stronger B1G teams in general, seeing as we share profits from bowl games? Going off of that, why is he so vocal about not honoring the mutual respect that the rest of the B1G coaches seem to have for each other? Why doesn't he leave his colleagues alone, and focus on poaching talent from schools that have too much of it already, like SEC schools that over-sign? It is disappointing to me, because I do not want SEC slimeball ethics to start infiltrating a B1G built on mutual program respect. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Grant, keep in mind that Meyer's colleagues spoke out against him, not the other way around. So to be fair, Meyer has had to defend himself. As multiple Big Ten coaches have said the last week, there is no "gentleman's agreement" in the league. There never has been. Recruit-flipping has happened for years at virtually every school. It's only a story now because Meyer flipped so many high-profile recruits in such a short time span. Will the recruiting dynamic change with Meyer in the league? Sure, it's possible. But the idea that the Big Ten recruiting landscape is all about respect and ethics seems a bit naive to me. While Ohio State would benefit from being in a stronger league, Meyer and his staff are still going to try to recruit the best players from the Midwest. They'll also surely aim for top national recruits, including those in SEC country. There are enough good players to go around, but he can't have the mindset of, "I'll leave this kid alone so Michigan or Nebraska can get him and therefore be a stronger opponent." That doesn't work.

Tony from Minneapolis writes: I love Delaney's proposal for a playoff with the first round at the higher seed's stadium. But, what happens in that magical season with Northwestern, Minnesota, Boise, or some other school lacking a palatial stadium and adequate hotels earns home field.The big assumption behind this plan is that the big name schools will always be the hosts.

Adam Rittenberg: Last I checked there are enough hotel rooms in Chicago, Minneapolis and Boise. The argument is more about stadium size. You certainly would see some high-priced tickets for those games. But the bigger thing, in my view, is getting these games in the environments where the home teams have played part of their seasons. It gives them the advantage that they're never able to exploit in the current setup where all the critical games are played in the south or west.
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 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.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12