Big Ten: Matthew Stafford
According to the Detroit Free Press, and several other reports, Minnesota has hired Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton to run its offense. Horton replaces Jedd Fisch, who left Minnesota after only one season to take a position on Pete Carroll's staff with the Seattle Seahawks. Fisch had come to Minnesota from the Denver Broncos.
I've yet to receive official confirmation on Horton's hiring from the university, which should make an announcement in the coming days.
Horton, who interviewed for Minnesota's vacancy last year, has spent the last four seasons in the NFL but previously coached quarterbacks at Wisconsin and had head-coaching stints at both Nevada, his alma mater, and UNLV.
While at Wisconsin, Horton worked with several current Minnesota assistants, including co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee and offensive line coach Tim Davis. He mentored quarterbacks such as Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi at Wisconsin and Matthew Stafford this season with the Lions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.
Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.
Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.
Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.
Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.
Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.
Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.
Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.
Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.
Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten took a beating this bowl season, but rather than gripe about unfavorable locations and matchups, it's time to acknowledge a fact about the league.
The quarterback position stinks.
And in this age of college football, that equals competitive suicide.
All it took was a look across the field during bowl season to realize how far the Big Ten must progress at the quarterback spot.
The list of quarterbacks the Big Ten faced included:
- Texas junior Colt McCoy, a Heisman Trophy finalist who ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency, fifth in total offense and ninth in passing yards.
- USC junior Mark Sanchez, who ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency and 20th in pass yards.
- Georgia junior Matthew Stafford, who ranks 15th nationally in pass efficiency and 14th in pass yards.
- Missouri senior Chase Daniel, who ranks fourth nationally in pass yards and fifth in total offense.
- Kansas junior Todd Reesing, who ranks eighth nationally in both passing yards and total offense.
Of the Big Ten quarterbacks competing in bowl games, only one, Penn State's Daryll Clark, ranks among the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency (Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor did not qualify). Minnesota's Adam Weber had the most passing yards (2,761), which ranks 35th nationally.
Granted, the Big Ten's best statistical passer, Illinois' Juice Williams, didn't reach the postseason, but this league is losing the arms race.
College football has become a quarterback's game, and the Big Ten has fallen way behind. For the Big Ten to restore its place among the nation's top conferences, the fix must begin under center. It takes more than adopting the spread offense, which most Big Ten teams have done. Quarterbacks must be better developed in this conference.
And despite the league's sagging national reputation, there is hope.
The quarterback spot figures to be stronger in 2009 than it was in 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A day late, but better than not at all ...
Krag from Phoenix writes: I was at the Fiesta Bowl, so I saw this live and was wondering if you could clear something up for me. On Texas' final drive, on the first-down immediately before the touchdown throw, the clock didn't stop. Why? I thought the clock stopped after EVERY first down. At first, I thought it was going to be bad for Texas (not having enough time to score) and then it hurt the Buckeyes since there was :16 seconds left, rather than the :20-:25 there might have been had it stopped. Any explanation would be helpful. Maybe I'm missing something here.
Adam Rittenberg: The clock stops so the officials can reset the chains, but then it winds again. Ohio State took a timeout with 38 seconds left. Texas then completed a 14-yard pass to the Buckeyes' 26, setting up the final play. Though the clock stopped around 25-27 seconds, it moved after the chains were reset. I was a little surprised Texas didn't take a timeout, but the Longhorns ended up managing the clock perfectly.
Ryan from Waukee, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam! Enjoyed reading the blogs all season long and looking forward to next season. As the season is now ever so close to wrapping up, I am looking forward to the 2009 season. I think the Big Ten has a lot to prove next season (where have I heard that before?) and think it could be strong even with some of the big names leaving. Clearly, OSU will be favorite but who could contend with them next season? I don't want to sound biased but Iowa should be a team to look out for. I know Greene, Olsen, Kroul, King and Fletcher leave but we have a lot of young talent with quality PT and a decent group of recruits that will fill in nicely. What do you think about Iowa next season? Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: Penn State could enter 2009 ranked higher than Ohio State and likely will be tabbed the Big Ten preseason favorite. Your Hawkeyes will be right there as well. Shonn Greene is a big loss, but I really liked what I saw from Jewel Hampton. The bigger losses, honestly, are Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa usually has good defensive linemen, but it will be impossible to replace what King and Kroul brought to the table. I project Iowa at 8-10 wins in 2009. If the road schedule wasn't so difficult, I'd put the Hawkeyes in the league title mix, though they could get there with a few breaks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State had the lead at halftime, but the Spartans didn't have the momentum they needed in the Capital One Bowl against No. 15 Georgia.
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|The Georgia defense never allowed Javon Ringer to get on track.|
A more talented but seemingly disinterested Georgia team gave No. 18 Michigan State numerous opportunities to take control of the game. The Spartans ran 26 plays in Bulldogs territory in the opening half but produced only six points. That's nowhere near good enough. Michigan State easily could have been ahead by double digits.
The missed opportunities wound up costing the Spartans in a 24-12 loss.
Credit Georgia's much-maligned defense for shutting down Spartans star Javon Ringer (47 yards) and putting quarterback Brian Hoyer under constant duress. The game was won at the line of scrimmage, and Georgia's speed in the defensive front proved to be the difference. Michigan State (9-4) needed a strong performance from its offensive line to spring Ringer, and it didn't get one.
In many ways, the Capital One Bowl mirrored another near miss by a Big Ten team. Like Michigan State, Northwestern dominated the first half against Missouri in the Alamo Bowl but found itself tied at the break because of a few miscues. The Wildcats went on to lose.
Put bluntly, this year's bowl matchups were terrible for the Big Ten, but both Michigan State and Northwestern had opportunities for upsets and neither team could convert.
Credit Michigan State coordinator Pat Narduzzi and a defense that came to play today. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford looked bewildered during the first half, and the Spartans frustrated Bulldogs star Knowshon Moreno.
With a bigger lead entering the third quarter, Michigan State's defense might have continued to surge. But Stafford got things together and made several brilliant throws to rally his team. By the time Michigan State got in the end zone, Georgia's talent-stocked offense was rolling along.
Despite the loss, Michigan State made major strides this season and head coach Mark Dantonio got everything out of his players. The program is on the upswing.
The Spartans must make upgrades throughout their offense -- quarterback, wide receiver, line -- and find a way to replace Ringer's production. They really could have used a game-changer like Devin Thomas today. The defense loses only three starters and should be much stronger in 2009 behind Greg Jones and Trevor Anderson.
The Big Ten falls to 1-4 in bowl games and remains on pace for the worst postseason in its history. Iowa looked dominant and both Michigan State and Northwestern had bright spots in defeat, but the Big Ten desperately needs a BCS win from Penn State or Ohio State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The final 2008 edition of What to Watch examines the four remaining Big Ten bowl games: Outback, Capital One, Rose and Fiesta. The Big Ten is winless so far in the bowl season and is favored in only one bowl (Iowa, Outback).
Here are some subplots to watch as you watch the games (in order of kickoff time).
1. Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Big Ten fans should be somewhat familiar with Greene, but most of the country will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes' superstar on Thursday against South Carolina. The Doak Walker Award winner has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games but faces a stout South Carolina defense. This likely will be Greene's final collegiate game, so get a good look while you can.
2. The Hawkeyes' back seven vs. Stephen Garcia -- Garcia gets the start at quarterback for South Carolina and hopes to provide some stability under center. The redshirt freshman has six touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season, and he'll need to limit mistakes against an Iowa defense that forces plenty of them. Iowa led the Big Ten with 20 interceptions, with five players collecting multiple picks.
3. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer -- His last bowl appearance was a disaster, as he committed five turnovers (4 INTs, fumble) in a loss to Boston College. Georgia undoubtedly will load up to stop Javon Ringer and make Hoyer win the game for Michigan State. Though Hoyer's numbers this season won't blow anyone away, he has made clutch throws and found ways to win games. If he can stretch the field with Blair White, rushing lanes should open for Ringer.
4. Michigan State's defensive line vs. Georgia's offensive line -- If the Spartans manage to slow down Georgia, it has to start up front. Michigan State's defensive line has more experience and must find ways to exploit Georgia's front five. Rush end Trevor Anderson finished the year with eight sacks and Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw combined for seven more. If Matthew Stafford has time in the pocket, Michigan State will be in big trouble.
5. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- It doesn't really matter where Paterno watches the Rose Bowl, but his potential return to the sideline after seven consecutive games in the press box might give Penn State an emotional lift. Paterno admits he sees the field better from up top, but the 82-year-old is itching to get back to where he belongs. His location likely will be a game-time decision, and the officiating crew better be on its toes if JoePa returns to the sideline.
6. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Penn State's offensive strategy -- Clark got his swagger back in the regular-season finale against Michigan State and enters the Rose Bowl stocked with confidence. But he goes up against quite possibly the best defense in recent college history. Though Clark has been smart and efficient all season (four interceptions in 285 pass attempts), Penn State likely needs to challenge USC down the field. A passive approach simply won't work in this game, and play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to go right at USC's strength.
7. Penn State's special teams -- These two defenses could easily cancel one another out -- Penn State can play some 'D', too -- and the Rose Bowl might come down to special teams. Penn State senior return man Derrick Williams has been outstanding this season and needs another huge performance against USC. If Williams can give Penn State short fields and Kevin Kelly converts his field goal attempts, the Lions could outlast the Trojans. Punter Jeremy Boone also could play a big role in this one, and Penn State must contain the Johnsons (Ronald and Stafon) on USC's returns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
So far, I'm 1-1 in bowl picks, though I should have had more faith in Northwestern and a lot less in Wisconsin. Despite an 0-2 start to the bowl season, the Big Ten can redeem itself in January. A BCS bowl win or two would go a long way toward repairing the league's national image, though it won't be easy at all.
Here's how I see the last four bowls shaping up.
OUTBACK BOWL -- Iowa 24, South Carolina 14
The Hawkeyes are the better team and ended the season strong, while South Carolina stumbled down the stretch. Both teams are solid on defense, ranking 12th (South Carolina) and 13th (Iowa) nationally. The difference is Iowa found an offensive identity toward the second half of the season, while South Carolina's search continues. Hawkeyes running back Shonn Greene has another big game on a national stage, and he'll get plenty of chances because South Carolina is so strong against the pass. Iowa defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul will stuff the run in their final collegiate game, forcing South Carolina to throw against a defense that generates a ton of turnovers. Unless quarterback Ricky Stanzi regresses, Iowa will get the Big Ten a bowl win.
CAPITAL ONE -- Georgia 37, Michigan State 21
Mark Dantonio and his staff did an amazing job to get everything they could out of their players this season. But looking at how Michigan State struggled against elite offensive teams, there's little to suggest the Spartans can slow down a Georgia offense stocked with future NFL players. If Spartans star running back Javon Ringer controls the clock and Michigan State's defensive line puts pressure on Matthew Stafford, an upset isn't out of the question. Georgia hasn't defended the run well at times this season, and the Bulldogs will get a heavy dose of Ringer. But the Bulldogs have too many weapons, and they'll pull away down the stretch to snap the Big Ten's Capital One Bowl win streak.
ROSE PRESENTED BY CITI -- Penn State 17, USC 14
There's really no reason to pick against USC in a big game, especially one in Pasadena. But there's something special about this Penn State team: the way they overcame offseason turmoil, the way they blitzed through most of the season and the way they made improvement in every facet of the game. So after a lot of thought, I decided not to play it safe in the Rose Bowl Game. USC has to lose one of these games, and Penn State has what it takes to beat the Trojans, especially on defense. There won't be a lot of points, but special teams proves to be the difference for Penn State. Derrick Williams breaks off a big return and specialists Kevin Kelly and Jeremy Boone both step up as the Lions prevail in a defensive struggle.
TOSTITOS FIESTA -- Texas 30, Ohio State 21
Texas was supposed to be a year away, while Ohio State entered the season stocked with seniors and major contributors. But the Longhorns have evolved into the more complete team. Ohio State's identity, particularly on offense, took a long time to develop. The Buckeyes are definitely playing their best football, particularly along the defensive line, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor won't flinch in the national spotlight. If Ohio State's defensive front puts pressure on Colt McCoy and heralded linebacker James Laurinaitis makes a huge play, the Buckeyes could pull off the upset. But Ohio State's offense is too reliant on the big play, and an offensive line that struggled for most of the season won't hold down Brian Orakpo and a Texas defense that leads the nation in sacks.
Postseason record: 1-1 (50 percent)
Regular-season record: 71-17 (80.7 percent)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi didn't help his conference in the never-ending Big Ten-SEC debate when he provided his scouting report of Georgia's offense to head coach Mark Dantonio.
"Their skill guys, their receivers, their running back, their quarterback, it's like the Big Ten All-Star team that we get to play against," Narduzzi told Dantonio.
Georgia wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi matched or surpassed any pass-catching combo Narduzzi saw in Big Ten play this year. Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford trumped first-team All-Big Ten quarterback Daryll Clark of Penn State.
And while Narduzzi, like everyone associated with the Spartans football program, thinks the world of Javon Ringer, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno isn't too shabby. If Georgia has a weakness on offense, it's the offensive line, and that's largely because of youth.
"It's obviously going to be a challenge for our defense," Narduzzi said. "Everybody's got to step up. Certainly, if you're looking at something that might be their weakness, you look at their O-line. I don't know what they see as our weakness, but obviously pressure on the quarterback and pressure at the line of scrimmage by our linebackers and defensive line is going to be a key in the game."
Narduzzi's unit lacks the headliners of Georgia, but it has helped Michigan State to nine wins and a Capital One Bowl appearance Thursday against the preseason No. 1 team (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).
This fall, the Spartans held eight teams to 24 points or fewer, including two bowl champions (Notre Dame and Florida Atlantic). What happened in the other four games, though is a cause for concern.
Michigan State struggled against elite offensive competition, allowing a combined 94 points in losses to Ohio State and Penn State.
Michigan State will play in a January bowl game for the first time in nine seasons, and the Spartans can take an important step in their evolution by knocking off preseason No. 1 Georgia.
The Spartans had to be encouraged after watching Georgia's last performance, in which the Bulldogs surrendered 409 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech. Running the ball is what Michigan State does best, and the Spartans boast one of the nation's top backs in senior Javon Ringer, who leads FBS in carries (370) and ranks third in rushing average (132.5 ypg).
Georgia undoubtedly will load up to try and stop Ringer, so Spartans senior quarterback Brian Hoyer needs to step up. Hoyer struggled the last time he stepped on the field at Citrus Bowl Stadium, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble in the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl.
Michigan State does a good job of controlling the clock, and it will need to do whatever possible to keep Georgia's offense off the field.
The Spartans defense has performed well for most of the season, but it really struggled against elite offensive skill players from Cal, Ohio State and Penn State. Georgia's dynamic backfield of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno will test Michigan State, which was mediocre statistically.