Big Ten: Marcus Lattimore
Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
About Michigan: After an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl championship in coach Brady Hoke's first season, Michigan entered the fall pegged for even bigger things. But a blowout loss to Alabama in the season opener indicated the Wolverines would have a rougher time in Hoke's second go-round. If teams were ranked based on the quality of their losses, Michigan would be up there as its only setbacks came against the nation's two undefeated teams -- Notre Dame and Ohio State -- Alabama and Legends Division champion Nebraska. The flip side is the Wolverines lack many quality wins and nearly fell to a good Northwestern team and in-state rival Michigan State. Quarterback Denard Robinson struggled early, surged early in Big Ten play and then suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. Devin Gardner sparked the offense late, while the defense had another strong season (11th nationally) despite some youth and depth questions.
About South Carolina: Like Michigan, South Carolina entered the season with expectations to challenge for a league title and maybe more. After a shaky opener against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks surged to a 6-0 start punctuated by a dominating performance against Georgia. But the schedule didn't let up and South Carolina dropped consecutive road contests against LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title race (and, as it turned out, the SEC East division race). Although the slide ended Oct. 27 against Tennessee, South Carolina lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury. The Gamecocks finished strong, though, beating in-state rival Clemson to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jadeveon Clowney triggers a fast and physical unit that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss.
Key players, Michigan: Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue and should be a factor as a ball-carrier, but Gardner should be the primary signal caller after moving the offense well at quarterback until the second half of the Ohio State game. Gardner fired eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in the final four games after taking over as the starter. He got receivers like senior Roy Roundtree much more involved in the offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, has the daunting dask of dealing with Clowney. Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan triggers the defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, and senior safety Jordan Kovacs leads a secondary that will be without top cornerback J.T. Floyd (suspended) in the bowl.
Key players, South Carolina: Clowney is the headliner for South Carolina, a freakishly athletic sophomore who could play in the NFL right now. He ranks second nationally in both sacks per game (1.18) and tackles for loss per game (1.95), and has two forced fumbles. Safety D.J. Swearinger is a second-team All-SEC selection who had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw is healthy after missing the Clemson game, and Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders form a nice combo at receiver. Sanders also is one of the nation's elite punt returners, ranking fourth nationally in average (14.5 ypr).
Did you know: Michigan and South Carolina have met twice before. The Gamecocks beat the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium in 1980, and Michigan registered a 34-3 win at South Carolina in 1985. ... This will be Michigan's fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl. Michigan is 3-1 in the Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl, beating Alabama (28-24) in the 1988 game, North Carolina State (42-7) in the 1994 contest and Florida (38-30) in the 2003 game. The lone setback came against Alabama (17-14) in the 1997 game. ... The Gamecocks are bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season under coach Steve Spurrier, who has taken South Carolina to six bowl games. No other coach in school history has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowl games (Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison). Spurrier, who faces Michigan for the first time in his career, is 2-4 in bowl games at South Carolina. ... The Gamecocks are 2-1 in the Outback Bowl with a 24-7 win over Ohio State in 2001 as well as a 31-28 victory over the Buckeyes in 2002. In the program's last appearance, South Carolina fell to Iowa 31-10 in 2009.
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nebraska take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After having very different results in the same bowl (Holiday) the past two seasons, Nebraska heads to a new destination looking for its 10th victory.
The Big Ten’s newest member endured some ups and downs in its first season in the conference. Nebraska had two really bad days, getting blown out by both Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, but the Huskers also crushed Legends Division champion Michigan State and looked good in their regular-season finale against Iowa. In many ways, Nebraska has been two different teams in 2011.
If the defense plays to its potential, Nebraska is very tough to beat. Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are two of the best in the country at their respective positions. But depth has been an issue at times, and Nebraska struggled to contain Big Ten offensive stars like Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson. The Blackshirts will need a strong effort against a South Carolina team that plays a little defense of its own.
Nebraska’s young offensive line will be tested by Gamecocks star defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, although a run-heavy scheme will limit their pass-rushing prowess. While South Carolina ranks fourth nationally in total defense, it ranks just 45th nationally against the run, an area Nebraska will try to exploit with junior I-back Rex Burkhead, one of the nation’s most consistent ball carriers, and sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.
A victory gives Nebraska its third consecutive 10-win season, something the Huskers haven’t done since 1999-2001.
South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: The Gamecocks and bowl games have historically not mixed very well. They’ve lost four of their past five bowl games, including their past three. They’re just 4-12 all time in bowl games.
This season, though, South Carolina heads into the postseason with some real momentum. They ended the regular season winning six of their final seven games and saved their most complete performance for the finale, a 34-13 beatdown of archrival Clemson.
It’s a season that could have easily gone the other way when you consider that star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game and fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted from the team a couple of weeks earlier.
The Gamecocks, though, persevered, and won 10 games for only the second time in school history. They were edged out by Georgia for the Eastern Division championship.
Sophomore Connor Shaw took over at quarterback in Week 6, and South Carolina adjusted its offense to Shaw’s dual-purpose talents. The defense has been a force for most of the season. The Gamecocks are ranked fourth nationally in total defense, holding opponents to an average of 268.9 yards per game, and gave up more than 13 points only twice in their final nine contests.
The most surprising part: neither player is named James White.
White, the 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, didn't make the FWAA's squad. Indiana tight end Ted Bolser and Illinois defensive lineman Akeem Spence both appear on the list.
Bolser and Spence quietly had outstanding freshman seasons for their teams. Bolser had 407 receiving yards and five touchdowns, and Spence finished with 45 tackles, including four for loss and a sack.
But let's get back to White. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman were the two running backs on the team. It's hard to argue with either selection, and running back might be the most competitive position among freshman, but it's still surprising not to see White's name appear.
The guy came out of nowhere to lead Wisconsin and rank seventh in the league in rushing. Not easy to top that, especially given Wisconsin's depth in the backfield.
It's likely that Penn State will sign no more than 15 players next February, and barring a mass exodus or something crazy like that, the Lions' limit looks like 17 or 18.
As colleague Bill Kurelic writes:
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is going to sign a small 2011 recruiting class. At this point the Nittany Lions have just 14 scholarships to give, and have yet to land a commitment this recruiting season. Right now, it is anybody's guess as to which prospect will break the ice and become JoePa's first 2011 commitment.
So who's in the mix?
Here are a few targets:
- Donovan Smith, offensive tackle, Owings Mills, Md. -- Smith's stock appears to be on the rise, and Penn State has made him a high priority as it looks to land another top prospect from the state of Maryland.
- Savon Huggins, running back, Jersey City, N.J. -- Penn State really wants Huggins, and it's easy to see why. He's one of the nation's top prospects at running back for 2011, and the Nittany Lions, who couldn't land Marcus Lattimore this year, would love to sign Huggins. A ton of schools are in the mix for the New Jersey star.
- Doran Grant, cornerback, Akron, Ohio -- Grant stood out Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp in State College, and he talked about the thrill of getting to meet JoePa. The thrill is mutual for Penn State, but the Lions need to beat out fellow Big Ten members Ohio State and Michigan State, where Grant's father was an all-conference receiver.
- Terrell Chestnut, athlete, Pottstown, Pa. -- Chestnut is a dynamic running quarterback but likely will play defensive back at the collegiate level. He has a ton of offers from schools in the east as well as from several Big Ten teams, including Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.
- Maika Polamalu, safety, Pottsgrove, Pa. -- Polamalu is the cousin of Steelers star Troy Polamalu, and his father won a national championship at Penn State in 1986. He's not a mega prospect but reportedly has a verbal offer from Penn State.
The Big Ten also features several of the country's best player development programs, so success in this league isn't always tied to highly rated recruits.
That said, it's somewhat surprising to review the latest ESPNU 150 list and see none of the top 30 prospects headed to Big Ten teams. In fact, you need to scroll all the way to No. 42 to find a Big Ten commit (defensive end William Gholston, Michigan State).
Last year's recruiting wasn't much different, as the Big Ten had only one top top 25 recruit (Ohio State RB Jaamal Berry) and three top 50 prospects -- Berry, Ohio State LB Dorian Bell and Michigan DE/LB Craig Roh -- in the ESPNU 150.
As National Signing Day approaches, it's safe to wonder whether the Big Ten can land a big name.
Penn State seemed to have a decent shot at landing running back Marcus Lattimore (No. 19 in the ESPNU 15), especially with Joe Paterno preparing for a home visit, but the South Carolina native dropped the Nittany Lions from his final choices.
The good news for the Big Ten is two top 10 prospects remain uncommitted, and both live in Big Ten territory. Linebacker Jordan Hicks (No. 4 overall) from West Chester, Ohio, is deciding between Ohio State, Florida and Texas. Ohio State is also in the mix for offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson from St. Paul, Minn. Henderson, ranked No. 8 in the ESPNU 150, also is considering Florida, USC, Notre Dame, Miami and Big Ten members Iowa and Minnesota.
Hicks and Henderson would be huge boosts to Big Ten teams, and it'll be important to keep at least one close to home.
Happy MLK Day to all.
- Here's a great piece by the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan about Arrelious Benn's older brother, Illinois recruit Trulon Henry, who is making the most of his second chance in football. Illinois' new running backs coach DeAndre Smith should boost the team's recruiting, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News- Gazette.
- It looks like heralded quarterback recruit Devin Gardner will enroll early at Michigan after all, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez will take his time to hire a defensive assistant, annarbor.com's Dave Birkett writes.
- After a disappointing 2009, Michigan State will face higher expectations this coming season, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Joe Paterno won't be hitting the recruiting trail after all, as running back recruit Marcus Lattimore eliminated Penn State from consideration, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Ohio State hopes to take its recruiting class from good to great in the coming weeks, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Minnesota AD Joel Maturi has some concerns about football staff stability if offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch bolts for the Seattle Seahawks, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
- Iowa's offensive backfield will be stacked with running backs in 2010, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Purdue reportedly will host Eastern Michigan in 2012, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
Craig from San Francisco writes: Adam, love the Modern Family quote on your lunch link, Barkley would be welcome in my home any time. Keep up the good work on the blog, it's a perfect way to keep the offseason alive. Speaking of recruiting, any new news on Marcus Lattimore and the possibility of him winding up at PSU? I know JoePa is making a personal visit on January 28th, just wondering if there have been any further grublings recently and what other schools are still in the mix. Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Craig. I'll keep the quotes coming. As for Lattimore, South Carolina is hoping to keep the standout running back within state borders as he makes his official visit to Columbia this weekend. Auburn and Oregon are the other two schools in the mix with Penn State. A home visit from JoePa means a great deal, especially since he makes so few these days. If Lattimore doesn't get swayed by South Carolina this weekend, you've got to like Penn State's chances. He'd be a great addition, especially after Penn State lost a few top recruits.
Joe from Toledo writes: Hey Adam, really enjoy the blog. What do you think of Brandon Graham's draft status, I have been hearing late 2nd round to early 3rd. I think that is ridiculous he was arguably the best defensive player in the Big Ten and was on a terrible defense and still was able to dominate. I can only imagine how good he would have been on a good defense. I'm not saying he's a top 10 guy but mid to late 1st round seems more reasonable to me. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: Brandon Graham remains at No. 20 overall on Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board, and I'd say late first round remains a good bet for when he gets picked. You can't overlook what Graham did this year, especially on a bad Michigan defense. There will be concerns about his size because he's not 6-foot-5, but Graham is very strong and has good speed to get into the backfield. Graham and Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga likely will be the top players selected from the Big Ten, unless Arrelious Benn goes nuts at the combine.
Jerry from Lansing, Mich., writes: You maight want to reword your use of the word reinstated regarding the MSU players who had been suspended as MSU has not in any way used the word to describe the situation for any of those players. So to say that they are reinstated is not only inaccurate, it is misleading!
Adam Rittenberg: Jerry, here's a direct quote from Mark Dantonio about the suspended players attending a recent team meeting. "They have been outside of the football facility and everything to do with football for the last six or seven weeks. And at this point in time, we are going to welcome them back into that environment for clarity purposes. Yeah, they are on our team right now, yes. They are on our football team." I don't think he needs to spell it out any clearer. They're reinstated. For now. Dantonio also said, and I wrote, that he'll wait for the legal process to play itself out. Do I expect all of these players to be on the field for spring ball? No. But they're participating in some team activities again, as opposed to being barred from everything.
Patrick from Alexandria, Va., writes: Re: your piece OSU's schedule change. I really don't like Thursday games. I understand why OSU is doing it, given that Miami is coming to town the following week, but heck, my Badgers went into Florida and dominated the Hurricanes, so I don't see what the Buckeyes have to fear at home. Weeknight games are just television reality shows. I suppose MAC and SBC teams that need the exposure like them, but OSU hardly needs more exposure. The Big Ten isn't the CFL.
Adam Rittenberg: First of all, Miami will be better next year, but I understand your point. Ohio State isn't a team that needs national exposure. Still, it doesn't hurt to be the opening act for the 2010 season, especially as a legit national title contender. I really think several Big Ten teams -- Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State -- would benefit from Thursday night exposure. You get your program out there when a lot of folks are watching. Ohio State isn't going to do this every week, but for the first game, I really think there are some genuine benefits.
Ryan from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hi Adam,Now that the season is over, I am wondering if you'll be picking up any news off the recruiting trail... I am wondering if you've heard any news on Seantrel Hendersen (sp?) out of St. Paul/Minneapolis area because I had heard that Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio St. were still on the short list. Thanks again for a great season and looking forward to the next! Go Hawks!
Adam Rittenberg: The blog will be heavy on recruiting as we get closer to National Signing Day, and you should also check out our comprehensive recruiting coverage here. As for Henderson, he's waiting until signing day to announce his decision. The three Big Ten schools you mention are still in the running for Henderson, who took an official visit to Ohio State on Sept. 12 and unofficials to both Iowa and Minnesota. He's also still considering Florida, USC, Notre Dame, Miami and Oklahoma.
- With Pete Carroll gone from USC, Ohio State could be in position to land top offensive line recruit Seantrel Henderson, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The debate is over about the Big Ten, which always has been a strong football conference, Jamie Samuelsen writes in the Detroit Free Press. A good breakdown of the Big Ten in 2010 from The-Ozone's Tony Gerdeman.
- Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey talks about jumping to the NFL, a decision made easier by how rarely opposing teams challenged him this season, Andrew Logue writes in the Des Moines Register.
- It's time for Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to hit the road and land recruit Marcus Lattimore, Frank Bodani writes in the York Daily Record. Seven Penn State recruits enrolled in school Monday, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Michigan State tight end Dion Sims isn't putting too much pressure on himself as he joins the Spartans' basketball squad, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Several Big Ten players appear on CollegeFootballNews.com's top bowl performers list and all-bowl team.
- Wisconsin's final AP ranking sets up the team for a jump up the polls heading into the 2010 season, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Recruit James Green didn't qualify academically at Minnesota and had to switch his commitment to Toledo, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
It's time to catch up on a few Big Ten-related recruiting tidbits from ESPN's Scouts Inc.
ESPNU 150 running back Marcus Lattimore down to four
Four-star ball-carrier Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes) has eliminated Georgia from contention, ESPN affiliate Web site TheBigSpur.com reports.
The ESPNU 150 talent is now only considering Auburn, Oregon, Penn State and South Carolina.
Lattimore has already completed official visits with the Tigers and Nittany Lions. He plans to visit the Gamecocks on Jan. 15th and the Ducks on Jan. 22nd before announcing his decision February 2nd.
Fort Lauderdale running back James White names Badgers
Wisconsin has added a Class of 2010 commitment from three-star prospect James White of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound White chose the Badgers over Michigan State, Clemson and North Carolina State.
Among his other offers were Boston College, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse and Tulane.
Spartans snare Westland running back Jeremy Langford
Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,932 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior for John Glenn (Westland, Mich.), has accepted a Class of 2010 offer from Michigan State.
Colorado, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan also offered the 6-foot-0, 185-pound running back.
The Spartans have 17 commitments.
Florida comes out of nowhere to land Dominique Easley
In a surprise move, Under Armour All-American Dominique Easley (Staten Island, Fla./Curtis) committed to Florida over Oregon, Miami-FL and Penn State Saturday at Tropicana Field. Easley originally picked the Nittany Lions.
"The guys helped make my choice," Easley told ESPN affiliate Web site GatorCountry.com, in referring to Leon Orr and several of the other 10 Florida commitments playing in St. Petersburg on Saturday. "After talking with the (Florida) coaches, it was settled."
Four-star receiver Dyjuan Lewis reopens pledge to Cincinnati
Dyjuan Lewis, a highly-recruited wideout from Pike (Indianapolis, Ind.) has decommitted from the Bearcats.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Lewis is now considering Kentucky, Purdue, Oregon and the Bearcats for the Class of 2010. He also lists Notre Dame, but the Irish have not offered.
Lewis also has offers from Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisville, Michigan State, Missouri, Oregon and South Carolina.