Big Ten: Mike Sherman

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 33, NU 22

December, 31, 2011

After a rough season that included the death of teammate Joey Villavisencio last week and the firing of coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies got a bowl win. It's been an emotional year at Texas A&M, but it will end in fine fashion with a good win over Northwestern.

The Aggies did it without top rusher Cyrus Gray, too. Gray missed his second consecutive game and the final game of his career with a stress fracture in his shoulder that he suffered early in a win over Kansas.

Here's some instant analysis.

How the game was won: Texas A&M was the better team and proved it for the first three quarters, but like we've seen all year, the team swooned in the second half. This time it came in the fourth quarter. The Aggies survived via two huge third-down catches from Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller to keep the ball out of Northwestern's hands in the final minutes. This season, the Aggies blew leads of 18 (Arkansas), 17 (Oklahoma State), 14 (Missouri), 13 (Texas) and 10 (Kansas State). They avoided a sixth loss in extravagant fashion this season with a clutch late drive to close out the Wildcats.

Turning point: Trailing 7-3, Texas A&M scored on its final three drives of the first half, highlighted by a vertical, 26-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Fuller from Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies took control and the Wildcats weren't able to get within realistic reach the rest of the game. The Aggies scored the first 10 points of the second half for a 30-7 lead.

Player of the game: A&M receiver Ryan Swope. Swope continued his tear this season with eight catches for 105 yards and broke a few tackles on a 37-yard catch-and-run to set up an early touchdown that put the Aggies ahead for good. Fuller had a huge catch late to seal the game, but Swope kept the A&M offense humming in the first half while it built the big lead.

Unsung hero: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He spelled what looked like a gimpy Dan Persa and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown in a nice performance.

What it means: One epic bowl losing streak ended while another lives on. Northwestern had lost five bowl games going back to 1949 and made it a sixth. Texas A&M ended its eight-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2001. The Northwestern streak was represented on the sidelines by a monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey, the number of years since the Wildcats won a bowl.

Well wishes: Coryell Judie. The Aggies' kick returner and cornerback finally returned to full health against Texas on Thanksgiving after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. However, he suffered a fractured wrist during his final collegiate game. It's a rough break for a huge talent, but he'll hear his name called next April in the NFL draft.

Record performance: With his first field goal midway through the first quarter, kicker Randy Bullock broke Texas A&M's single-season scoring record set back in 1927. The Lou Groza Award winner surpassed Joel Hunt's record of 128 points and finished the season with 139 points after making three field goals and three extra points on Saturday.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 4, 2011
Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.

That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.

Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.

The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.

This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 2, 2011
Championship game around the corner. Let's do this.

Alden from Chicago writes: Adam, Do you see potential for a budding rivalry between Michigan State and Wisconsin? As a huge Michigan State fan, I'm starting to feel it a bit. I see it possibly as a third obviously behind Michigan and Notre Dame. But perhaps it'd be more from Wisconsin fans at this point. Things are kind of building between the programs and we've clashed on several occasions. In recent history: Michigan State beats Wisconsin in 2010, but Wisconsin finishes ahead of Michigan State in the BCS and steals the Rose Bowl berth. Michigan State beats Wisconsin on a game ending (rocket) pass for a touchdown. Now, the rematch game in the first B1G Championship, and if this is as tough and close a game as we all expect, I can see some real animosity between the schools over it. If Michigan State loses and falls all the way down to the Outback bowl, I'll hate Wisconsin for beating us just as much as I'll hate Michigan for getting a BCS spot ahead of us. If Michigan State wins, I would expect them to hate us for stealing what was supposed to be their special season. Especially after Russell Wilson was draft... I mean, went to Wisconsin after his time at NC State. Countning down the hours to kickoff!!!

Adam Rittenberg: Bring it, Alden! Love the new rivalries that are building in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin-Michigan State certainly fits into the category. Michigan State always will hate Michigan, and Notre Dame is a great rivalry, but to have another true rival within the Big Ten would benefit the Spartans, who won't ever be Michigan's No. 1 rival. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has the rivalry with Minnesota, but the Gophers' struggles have taken the edge off of the game in my view. The Badgers have a more competitive rivalry with Iowa, but Michigan State certainly has to be rising to that level after the close games between Mark Dantonio and Bret Bielema.

Dan from Omaha writes: Can you imagine Bo Pelini and Mike Stoops on the same sideline?!? Refs will be bringing earplugs to every game! In all seriousness, I like the idea of Stoops, but if not him, who else would you potentially see filling this position?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be rather awesome, Dan. Most intense sideline in America, at least when the defense is on the field. Bo should make a play for Stoops, but it will be interesting to see who else he pursues to fill his big brother's shoes. Would Pelini try to get Mike Ekeler back? Ekeler left for a co-coordinator post at Indiana, and the Hoosiers' defense really struggled this year (110th nationally), but he did a nice job as a position coach with the Huskers and seems like a coach on the rise. There also could be some very good defensive coaches available from Penn State (Tom Bradley, Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden) or Ohio State (Jim Heacock).

A-Duke from Waterloo, Wis., writes: Based on what metrics is Trent Richardson having a better year than Montee Ball?

Adam Rittenberg: Really none, Duke. Richardson's receiving numbers are a bit better than Ball's. But the eye test comes into play when voters are evaluating both backs, and Richardson plays in a league viewed as better than the Big Ten. His performance against LSU, even in a losing effort, strengthened his case immensely for the Heisman. But it would be a travesty if Ball didn't at least get an invitation to New York. He'll be on my Heisman ballot. Where he is depends a lot on how he performs Saturday night.

David from Wilmette, Ill., writes: Adam, with the bowl selection coming up shouldn't the NCAA rule on the OSU sanctions before the selections so that if they do a bowl ban for this year it will not mess up the fans travel plans as well as negativity impact the Bowl the Buckeyes are chosen to? If they do not rule until after is that a sign of no bowl ban?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, David. With the process taking so long, it appears any bowl ban handed down would apply to future seasons rather than this one. Ohio State has said all along it doesn't expect a bowl ban, but you can bet the Buckeyes would rather accept one for this year than in future seasons. I can't imagine the NCAA would hand down a bowl ban for this season after Sunday's selections for the reasons you outline.

John from Pasadena, Md., writes: I thought only 2 teams from any one conference can be eligible to play in BCS bowl games? If Georgia beats LSU, they win the automatic berth from the SEC. How could Alabama and LSU still play for a national title in this case?

Adam Rittenberg: John, first of all, I didn't know there was a Pasadena in Maryland. Think I'd rather spend New Year's Day at the other one, but thanks for your note. Here's the deal: if LSU and Alabama finish 1-2 in the final BCS standings, no matter what LSU does Saturday, those two teams go to the title game. Georgia would gain the SEC's automatic berth to the Sugar Bowl, but LSU and Alabama would head to the championship if they're 1-2 in the BCS standings.

Jason from Dallas writes: Illinois, Texas A&M, Ohio State and others have realized that 6-6 is not acceptable (despite bowl bids) and have fired their coaches. Any chance Purdue does the right thing and fires Danny Hope and goes after Purdue Alumn Kevin Sumlin? Purdue at 6-6, not having beat anyone with a winning record, should not be acceptable either, even if they get to go to a bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Jason, I'm stunned you're writing to me rather than gearing up to see the Boilers play in your home city, as they're looking likely for the TicketCity Bowl. Listen, I understand your frustration about Hope, and you're not alone. But the team did take a step forward this year, albeit a small step, and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007. This is a team that also lost its starting quarterback (Rob Henry) weeks before the opener. Purdue fans should expect more and Hope will need to produce next year, but this isn't the time to make a change. Hope has had no luck on the injury front and has only been in this position for three seasons. As for Sumlin, while he's an alum, I'd be surprised if he chose Purdue over some of the other options he'll have.

Jim from Cape Giradeau, Mo., writes: Adam, I can't believe that coverage of Saturday's game hasn't included one of the most obvious storylines -- Keshawn Martin is kryptonite to the Badgers. Jet sweep/double reverse -- touchdown; drag route over the middle -- touchdown; punt return -- touchdown; 85 yard pass -- touchdown. Maybe you could correct me if I missed a few. I expect the national media to be unawares, but I thought you would have been all over this. Please comment.

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, I touched on this a bit with discussing how Wisconsin has to avoid a special teams breakdown (citing Martin's TD return from last year), but you bring up a great point about how much No. 82 has tormented the Badgers. He's one of the fastest and most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big Ten, and Wisconsin has to make sure Martin doesn't enter the open field. Almost impossible to catch him. Wisconsin ranks 58th nationally in punt return yards defense (7.63 ypr).

Herky from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Adam, If you take out the 2009 season which appears to be a flash in the pan, Kirk Ferentz is a very average 36-27 overall. If you take into a consideration a generally fluffy non-conference schedule each year, then I'm sure he's closer to .500 in the last 6 years or so. Before Urban Meyer joined the league, Kirk was the highest paid coach in the B1G. Is his seat getting warmer and warmer by the year? As a Hawks fan I love Kirk as a coach, but I also love being nationally relevant and beating teams that we should beat. Is Kirk's Iowa career winding down or is he safe for awhile given the amount of support he has from Hawkeye faithful? Can he get us over the hump to be a B1G contender every year?

Adam Rittenberg: Herky, you're overlooking the stretch from 2002-04, when Ferentz's Iowa's teams averaged 10.3 wins. But I totally see your point, and you're not the only Iowa fan who feels this way. A lot of people struggle to see why Iowa pays its coach like a top 10 program but doesn't get the top 10 results on the field that often. I've supported Ferentz and his salary, as I think Iowa could become like Washington State (Mike Price) or North Carolina (Mack Brown) if it doesn't pay its coach top dollar. But Iowa fans also deserve more 9- or 10-win seasons than they're getting. Does Ferentz wield too much power at that university? Probably. Has he upgraded the program? Without a doubt. But there should be more pressure to produce because a lot of coaches could win 6-8 games a year at Iowa for less money.

Adam from Atlanta writes: Hey Adam,Quick question PSU stated they want the next coach to be a man of about Mike Sherman? He turned A&M around and had a top 10 recruiting class coming he has some ties to the Midwest coaching in Green Bay.

Adam Rittenberg: Sherman hasn't coached college football in the Midwest for a very long time -- he was a GA at Pitt and also coached at Holy Cross. No direct ties to Penn State. I wasn't very excited when Texas A&M hired Sherman, and while I agree with others that he got a raw deal in College Station, his team really didn't impress this season after all the hype. He certainly is an accomplished coach, but I don't see this happening. We'll see.