Big Ten: Outback Bowl

Michigan heading to Outback Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
3:13
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After Sunday's mini-surprise with the Capital One Bowl, Michigan moved up a spot in the pecking order and will face an SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl. According to a release, Michigan will face a "Top 10" SEC foe to be announced later today.

The Wolverines (8-4) likely will face South Carolina on Jan. 1 in Tampa. Brady Hoke's team makes its first trip to the Outback Bowl since 2002, when it beat Florida 38-30.

Northwestern looked like the Capital One Bowl's pick Saturday night after Wisconsin stomped Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. But sources told ESPN.com that Big Ten and SEC leaders lobbied for the title game losers -- Nebraska and Georgia -- for the Capital One Bowl.

The Capital One Bowl couldn't select Michigan ahead of a Nebraska team with two more wins than the Wolverines. The Outback Bowl was able to pick 8-4 Michigan ahead of 9-3 Northwestern, a team the Wolverines defeated Nov. 10 in Ann Arbor.
Outback Bowl CEO Jim McVay can't remember a year quite like this one.

"We have great options, spectacular options," McVay told me today. "Who do you want? Penn State? Michigan? Iowa? ... Normally, it's a little clearer, you've got one or two teams. But now you've got a handful of good teams."

McVay and the rest of the Outback Bowl selection committee members are waiting for the official word on whether or not the Big Ten will send two teams to BCS bowls.

In the highly unlikely scenario that only one Big Ten team gets a BCS invite, the Outback will have an easy decision, selecting the 11-1 squad that doesn't go to the Rose Bowl or the Capital One Bowl. The likelier scenario calls for the Capital One Bowl to select the final 11-1 team from the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Ohio State or Michigan State). If this happens, the Outback will have up to five choices: Penn State (7-5), Iowa (7-5), Michigan (7-5), Northwestern (7-5) and Illinois (6-5).

How does the selection committee narrow the pool?

"You talk to the athletic directors, you talk to the media people, you talk to the fans, you send your people up there to watch the games and they come back with reports on everything," McVay said. "We look at the record, look at who they beat, look at who's on an uptick, look at who feels good about themselves. Some teams and some fans have had enough for the year, and some are feeling pretty good about the future, where they're going.

"We probably over-analyze this stuff, but that's what we do."

Most folks are projecting Penn State or Iowa to the Outback. Colleague Mark Schlabach and I have the Nittany Lions in Tampa, while colleague Andrea Adelson has the Hawkeyes heading to the Outback.

Iowa has wins against both Penn State and Michigan, and the Hawkeyes had a strong showing at the Outback Bowl both on and off the field in 2008. The problem: Iowa dropped each of its final three games and four of its final six.

"They caught every bad break they could this year, haven't they?" McVay said. "But they've been great with us."

The Outback hasn't had Michigan since 2003, and no bowl has had a shot at landing the Wolverines and their massive fan base since 2007. On the flip side, there's uncertainty around the Michigan program regarding coach Rich Rodriguez's job status, and the Wolverines dropped five of their final seven games.

"The quarterback [Denard Robinson] is spectacular, there's a lot of things swirling around there, they're 7-5," McVay said. "They're in the conversation."

One team not to be discounted is Illinois.

If Illinois wins Friday at Fresno State, it will have recorded victories in four of its final six contests. Of the likely Big Ten candidates for the Outback, only Penn State finished the season strong with wins in four of its final six games. Illinois holds a head-to-head victory against Penn State.

The Illini also have the longest Outback Bowl drought, last reaching the game on Jan. 1, 1991. Northwestern and Iowa have gone the past two years, while Penn State went on Jan. 1, 2007.

"They are in the conversation," McVay said. "They're a good football team. They had a couple of tough ones with Michigan and Minnesota, but they're pretty good."

South Carolina and Alabama are two likely options for the Outback from the SEC.

"This is perfect for us," McVay said. "Absolutely perfect."
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Stefan Demos has experienced more highs than lows at Northwestern, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors for his kicking exploits in 2009.

But throughout his college career, Demos has learned more from failure than success.

"My first road game as a redshirt freshman, I shanked three punts against Ohio State," Demos recalled Wednesday. "I've learned from that."

[+] EnlargeStefan Demos
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaNorthwestern kicker Stefan Demos has gotten over the disappointment of missing a final-second kick against Auburn.
Although Demos nailed two game-winning field goals plus a huge 47-yarder in Northwestern's upset of Iowa last year, his season ended on a very sour and very public note. After Northwestern made a furious rally against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, Demos had a chance to win the game -- and end the Wildcats' 61-year bowl victories drought -- on the final play of regulation.

His 44-yard attempt hooked wide right and Northwestern ended up losing 38-35 in double overtime.

The miss certainly served as a learning experience, although Demos closed the book on it long ago.

"I think I had a enough time to dwell on it, three months out," said Demos, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "The three weeks after the game, where everyone on campus and in the community reminded me of the game, was enough to dwell on it. I should have just locked myself in a cage.

"But there's no point in dwelling on it. Obviously, that game wasn't fun for me, but I've had a lot of fun games, we had a great season. It obviously didn't end the way I wanted to or the team wanted to. We're going to move on, and so am I."

For Demos, the process began shortly after the bowl game, thanks in part to Ryan Fitzgerald, the 3-year-old son of the Northwestern head coach.

"Stef and Ryan were playing I-spy five minutes on the bus trip to the airport [after the Outback Bowl]," Pat Fitzgerald said. "So I knew that [Demos] was fine."

Demos has overcome struggles before. After missing three field goals in a narrow win against Illinois, Demos responded with four field goals, including two 45-yard attempts, in a 33-31 victory against Wisconsin in the regular-season finale.

He kicked the ball well in spring practice and spent part of the summer back home in Scottsdale, Ariz., working with Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff and Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber, the 2007 Lou Groza Award winner. Demos should benefit from having the punting duties taken off his plate, and he could contend for the Groza Award this season.

"This position is magnified," he said. "The Outback Bowl is a perfect example. I get three plays, basically, and if I don't convert 'em, the game's on me. I accept that and take the good and the bad.

"The bowl game's long gone, and I'm not going to be out there [in the season opener] against Vandy thinking anything about that."

Outback Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
9:30
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Outback Bowl: Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

After being snubbed by the Outback Bowl for Iowa last year, Northwestern received a somewhat surprising invitation to the Tampa game, as it makes its first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since 1997.

The Wildcats now look for the same result as the Hawkeyes, who last year crushed South Carolina in the Outback to claim the Big Ten's only bowl victory. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose.

The game pits two teams (Northwestern and Auburn) that have never played, as well as two potentially explosive spread offenses. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, leads a Wildcats attack that settled into a rhythm in its final two games. Kafka will need to be sharp against an Auburn defense that ranks 28th nationally against the pass, though there could be some running room for a Wildcats rushing attack that has struggled to get on track.

Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a key part of Northwestern's surge the last two seasons, but he will be tested against Auburn and spread guru Gus Malzahn. The Tigers will try just about anything on offense and boast the nation's No. 12 rushing unit, led by senior running back Ben Tate. The game features two efficient passers in Kafka and Tigers senior Chris Todd, who ranks 21st nationally in passer rating.

Northwestern comes in very hot, having gone 3-0 in November with two wins against top 20 opponents. Auburn started 5-0 before dropping five of its final seven contests, though the Tigers did give No. 1 Alabama all it could handle.
Outback Bowl CEO Jim McVay already can fill in half of the picture for his Jan. 1 game in Tampa.

"We know what we're doing on the SEC side," McVay told ESPN.com on Wednesday morning. "I'm assuming, like everybody else, that Alabama and Florida are going to be in BCS bowls. And if that happens, we're going to take Auburn."

The other half of the bowl picture, the part involving the Big Ten, remains a bit hazy right now.

Wisconsin and Northwestern are the two Big Ten squads getting the most attention from McVay and his fellow committee members. The Big Ten likely will get two teams into BCS bowls, with both Iowa and Penn State in the mix for an at-large berth. The team that doesn't get the at-large berth almost certainly will go to the Capital One Bowl, leaving the Badgers and Wildcats as chief contenders for the Outback.

There are some interesting dynamics involving Wisconsin and Northwestern:

  • Wisconsin still has a game to play Saturday night at Hawaii (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET), and McVay and his staff fully intend on staying up late to watch the Badgers' performance. A Badgers win gives them a better overall record than Northwestern (9-3 vs. 8-4).
  • Northwestern holds a head-to-head victory against Wisconsin on Nov. 21 and finished the year with three consecutive victories, two against ranked opponents.
  • Wisconsin has appeared in the Outback Bowl four times, most recently in 2007. Badgers fans travel extremely well, and Wisconsin has a larger alumni base than Northwestern.
  • Wisconsin has been to Florida bowls in each of the past five years. Plus, Badgers fans making the trip to Hawaii might not hit the road again in four weeks for a bowl.
  • The Outback Bowl twice has bypassed Northwestern for lesser teams in the bowl selection process. Last year, the Outback selected Iowa, a team that finished with a worse overall record than Northwestern (9-3 vs. 8-4) and had lost its head-to-head meeting with the Wildcats. Northwestern also was leapfrogged by Ohio State in 2000 when the Wildcats shared the Big Ten title with both Purdue and Michigan.

"We love them both," McVay said of Wisconsin and Northwestern. "We'll take either one of them right now. Northwestern beat Wisconsin. Wisconsin should end up 9-3. Wisconsin's a big, strong, physical team, with a heck of a running back [John Clay]. Northwestern's got a heck of a quarterback [Mike Kafka]. Both schools would be very excited about being in Tampa on New Year's Day."

McVay believes the same number of fans would come to Tampa regardless of who is selected. This might surprise some, as Wisconsin ranks 15th nationally in average home attendance (80,109), while Northwestern ranks 83rd (24,190).

But Northwestern has a scattered alumni base that is very willing to travel for bowl games, as evidenced by recent turnouts at the 2008 Alamo Bowl and 2005 Sun Bowl.

"We've noticed that," McVay said. "Wisconsin's good [with travel]. We have not had Northwestern. That's one of our discussion points."

McVay said the bowl's SEC selection has no bearing on who it picks from the Big Ten. Neither does the fact that the Outback bypassed Northwestern for Iowa last year.

"We have not decided," he said. "We've talked about it and gone to games and all those things. We just haven't forced ourselves to decide yet because no one's asked us to decide. It could be either one of those guys, and we will be very happy with either one, believe me.

"Those are two really good football teams."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Belts are tightening around college football these days, as athletic directors are finding ways to trim costs in a very tough economic climate.

Iowa appears to have succeeded during its trip to the 2009 Outback Bowl. 

The school today released its budget report for the bowl trip. Iowa came in just under budget, spending $1,519,800 for the trip after being provided a budget of $1.65 million, in accordance with Big Ten Conference policy.

"I'm very proud of our staff's ability to effectively manage the expense-side of our participation in the Outback Bowl in a way that allowed us to stay within our budget, provide all that was required to prepare our team for the game and give us the best chance for victory, and to give our student-athletes the high-quality experience they earned," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement. 

It's interesting to see the itemized breakdown of expenses, which include the following:

  • $290,842 for transportation of players, coaches, support staff and athletic department officials.
  • $66,725 for the marching band's meals, lodging and per diem expenses.
  • $20,130 for team equipment costs. 
Iowa sold more than 14,000 tickets for the game through its own ticket office, and the report showed the school paid for 3,672 tickets that were either "comped" or unsold. Both teams were responsible for 11,000 game tickets. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Former Iowa football player and radio analyst Ed Podolak will seek treatment after resigning from his post earlier this month. 

Pictures of Podolak at a bar during Iowa's trip to the Outback Bowl surfaced on the Web shortly before his resignation, though he said that the decision to step down had more to do with his expiring contract with Learfield Communications and traveling to the Midwest each week from his home in northern California. 

Podolak, a former star quarterback and halfback at Iowa who later starred for the Kansas City Chiefs, issued the following statement this morning through Iowa's sports information department.

"After considerable deliberation with my family and close friends, I've decided to seek professional treatment. Over the last few months the people closest to me in life have convinced me that treatment is in my best interest. The unbelievable outpouring of concern and love from Iowa fans everywhere has also had a big impact on my decision. I'll always be a Hawkeye, but their prayers and well wishes have made this decision much easier.

"I continue to ask for the prayers and thoughts of all Iowa fans as I undertake this journey. My hope is that treatment will make me a better husband and father and a better person to my friends."

Podolak was charged with public intoxication and interference with official acts in 1997 after police found him asleep on the Iowa campus. 

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta reiterated his support for Podolak in a statement. Barta also left the door open for Podolak to return to the booth following treatment. 

"I talked with Ed over the weekend, and he sounded positive and focused about his decision," Barta said in a statement. "He did not officially indicate he will be coming out of retirement, but in light of this recent development, I've spoken with Learfield and we have put the search for his replacement on hold." 

Final Big Ten power rankings

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
9:47
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As the only Big Ten team to win its bowl game, Iowa is the lone squad to make a significant move in the final edition of the power rankings. The gap narrowed between Penn State and Ohio State after the Buckeyes' solid effort in the Fiesta Bowl, but Penn State still gets the nod with a better body of work. Northwestern and Michigan State have been mirror images for much of the season and remain that way in the rankings.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and 3 TDs in the Outback Bowl.

Here's the final rundown for 2008.

1. Penn State (11-2) -- The Nittany Lions looked out of sync in Pasadena, but they faced quite possibly the nation's best team in a virtual road game. It wasn't the way a stellar senior class intended to go out, but an 11-1 regular season highlighted by a road win against Ohio State keeps Penn State atop the rankings.

2. Ohio State (10-3) -- There aren't moral victories in Columbus, but Ohio State made a national statement, even in defeat, by outplaying Texas for most of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Terrelle Pryor-led Buckeyes weren't the same team that had soiled itself against USC on Sept. 13. Ohio State played its best football down the stretch and was seconds away from a fairly substantial upset of Texas.

3. Iowa (9-4) -- Things fell into place perfectly for the Hawkeyes, who ended the season as the Big Ten's hottest team. Iowa rolled over an overmatched South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl to win six of its final seven games. Shonn Greene played a huge role, but so did a defense that led the Big Ten in takeaways (32).

T-4 Michigan State (9-4) -- The Spartans clearly peaked in late September/early October, but they continued to fight hard, especially on the defensive side. They outplayed Georgia for a half in the Capital One Bowl but couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. Though Michigan State beat Northwestern in a head-to-head matchup Oct. 11, the Wildcats played better football down the stretch. So it's a push between the teams.

T-4 Northwestern (9-4) -- Had the Wildcats finished off Missouri in the Alamo Bowl, they would have vaulted to No. 3 in the power rankings and possibly into the top 15 in the national polls. Despite being the biggest underdog in the 34 bowls, Northwestern outplayed Missouri but lost the game because of special-teams blunders. Along with Iowa and Ohio State, the Wildcats saved their best football for the end of the season.

6. Minnesota (7-6) -- The Gophers don't really deserve to move up the rankings after a 21-point loss in the Insight Bowl, but they turned in a better effort than Wisconsin, which self-destructed against Florida State. This team clearly needs some upgrades after losing five straight to close the season, but it was hard to imagine Tim Davis' power run attack clicking right away in the bowl game. There will be a lot of changes in 2009, but Minnesota returns its nucleus.

7. Wisconsin (7-6) -- Despite a win against Minnesota and a better regular-season finish, Wisconsin needed to pay the price for an embarrassing loss in the Champs Sports Bowl. An extremely disappointing season ended with a thud, as Wisconsin had three fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns. From coaching to quarterback play to intangibles, Wisconsin seemed to be missing something this fall.

8. Illinois (5-7) -- The Big Ten's bowl fortunes might have been better had the Illini found a way to sneak into the postseason. Then again, a big-play offense and loads of talent translated into only five victories this fall. Head coach Ron Zook seems intent on turning things around with some bold coaching hires. Illinois can't afford another bowl-less winter.

9. Purdue (4-8) -- The Boilermakers sent head coach Joe Tiller out on a high note with a 62-10 pasting of Indiana on Nov. 22. Head coach Danny Hope must restore Purdue's offensive swagger with a new quarterback in 2009, and the Boilers have several holes to fill on defense.

10. Michigan (3-9) -- The Big Ten sorely needs Michigan back in a bowl game in 2009, but Rich Rodriguez has another tough challenge ahead of him. Michigan must identify a capable quarterback, most likely freshman Tate Forcier, and fill gaps along the defensive line. If the offensive line improves and the running game surges behind Brandon Minor, Michigan should be in decent shape for a lower-tier bowl.

11. Indiana (3-9) -- After ending the Big Ten's longest bowl drought in 2007, Indiana slipped back to reality this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch enters 2009 on the hot seat, likely needing at least six victories to keep his job. Indiana has the talent, particularly at defensive end, and if it can stay healthy and improve on defense, a bowl run next fall isn't out of the question.

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 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.

8. Ohio State's Pryor-Wells backfield combo -- If the Buckeyes' much-maligned offensive line steps up to create rushing lanes and time in the pocket, Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells should do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Pryor has shown beyond-his-years poise this season, but the national spotlight gets brighter for the true freshman quarterback Jan. 5. The game likely will be Wells' last in a Buckeyes' uniform, and he'll want to go out with a huge performance after a season that began with Heisman Trophy hopes.
 
9. Buckeyes senior stars vs. Colt McCoy -- Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will go down as two of the best ever to play their positions at Ohio State. They don't want to finish their careers with a third consecutive postseason loss, one that would only ramp up criticism of the Ohio State program. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy provides a formidable final challenge, but Ohio State's defense played its best football in the second half of the season. The Buckeyes need their senior stars to make game-changing plays, and Laurinaitis and Jenkins need a win to cement their legacy outside of Columbus and the Big Ten.
 
10. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel -- He's about as far away from the hot seat as a FBS head coach can get, but Tressel and his program really could use a win in the desert. Ohio State hasn't won a national showcase game outside of the Big Ten since 2006 (Texas), and despite the team's obvious improvement in November, the USC disaster remains the lasting image of the Buckeyes' season. Tressel has drawn criticism for what some feel is a stale offense. If he pulls the right strings with some more creative play calling, Ohio State could pull off the upset.

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

Catching up on a weekend full of links and several more from this morning ...

"Shafer parted ways with Michigan by 'mutual agreement' a week before the school announced the change in the letter from athletic director Bill Martin, but there were conditions. It said Shafer could not publicly release the terms of his agreement, and he also agreed 'that I will not issue any statements to the media or in a public or similar setting which demean or disparage the University of Michigan, the football program, or any of their employees, in any way.'"

Big Ten Friday mailbag

December, 26, 2008
12/26/08
10:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day away from the start of the Big Ten bowl season, it's time to see what's on your mind.

Jason from Springfield, Mo., writes: First off, I have enjoyed the blog tremendously this season. I hope it continues since it keeps me up to date not only on my own team but the rest of the teams, and thanks so much for your hard work this year. I do have a question that has been kinda nagging at me a bit. People have said all year long that Michigan didn't have a lot of talent to work with this year. But after looking at the recruitment rankings from the past 5 years (I know they don't mean a whole lot, but the top classes usually have a decent amount of talent) the Wolverines have had top 10 or close to top 10 classes every year. Why do people think that Michigan has little talent?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Jason. The talent is there at Michigan, but not enough of it was developed in the past two seasons to prevent a drop-off this fall. I believe Rich Rodriguez when he says the competition and overall skill at several positions wasn't up to par, especially after so many good players graduated or left for the NFL. One of the problems with multiyear starters at key positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left tackle) is that the reserves are often neglected. Not saying that happened at every spot, but it's clear to me Michigan would have had some major drop-offs in several places no matter what system or coach was brought in this fall.


Mike from Parts Unknown writes: Hey Adam- love reading your blog! As an Iowa fan, I'm feeling very good about the Hawks bowl game against South Carolina, and I'm feeling very good about their chances for a Big Ten title next year, even if Shonn Greene leaves for the NFL. Besides Greene, Mitch King and Seth Olsen, all big losses to be sure, they return just about everyone else. Am I wrong to think this could be another Top Ten Kirk Ferentz team in 2009?

Adam Rittenberg: A hot Iowa team should take care of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and if several spots are filled, the Hawkeyes could make a title push in 2009. As much as I love Shonn Greene, I'm not as concerned about the running back spot if he chooses to leave for the NFL draft (an extremely likely possibility). Jewel Hampton looked solid when he got his opportunities this season, and Jeff Brinson adds depth at running back. By far the biggest losses will be defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. You rarely get four-year starters at any position, much less interior defensive line. Iowa will have a very hard time replacing those guys, and that's not a dig at the younger players behind them. If the Hawkeyes fill in the gaps on the offensive and defensive lines, they should be pretty good in 2009.


Tim from West Chester, Pa., writes: Adam, First of all I love reading the blog and keeping up with PSU through this page, but what is the deal with you going to the Fiesta Bowl over the Rose Bowl? The perception of OSU and Michigan being more important than the rest of the league is increased by this. Why aren't you going to the rose bowl? That is the game that will define the big ten more than the Fiesta bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, let me start by saying we will have a blogger (or two) at every BCS bowl game, so all games will be covered well. I don't decide what games I cover, but I do think the Fiesta -- as well as the Rose -- has plenty of intrigue this season. The BCS has two Big Ten teams and only one Pac-10 team, so that influences where the conference bloggers go. I will have several Penn State-related items in the coming days, and I'll be tracking the Rose Bowl from Arizona, so all bases will be covered, trust me.


(Read full post)

Happy Holidays to Big Ten Nation

December, 25, 2008
12/25/08
8:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I want to wish all of you Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. This is a great time of year not only for college football, but for enjoying family and friends. Let's savor it.

The blog will be pretty quiet for the rest of the week, though I'll take a look at Wisconsin and the Champs Sports Bowl on Friday and follow up with some pre-game and post-game thoughts on Saturday. Things will crank up again next week, as we get closer to New Year's Day and three Big Ten bowls (Outback, Capital One, Rose).

I will fly to Arizona on Dec. 31 to begin covering the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, though I won't neglect the other games. 

Thanks again for all your interest in the Big Ten blog. I've really enjoyed this first season, and I'm continually amazed with the passion and knowledge of college football fans. The blog will be year-round, so I won't be going anywhere after Jan. 5 (and hopefully, neither will you).

Enjoy the holiday, and I'll check back with you soon. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz shields his coordinators from the media for much of the season, so when Ken O'Keefe and Norm Parker talk on the record, it's sort of a big deal.

After reading the quotes from Thursday's pre-Outback Bowl media session, it's too bad O'Keefe and Parker aren't in the spotlight more often. There's some very entertaining stuff from both men, who have been with Ferentz since he took over in Iowa City in 1999.

Here are some of Thursday's sound bytes as O'Keefe and Parker discussed the season and Iowa's upcoming matchup against South Carolina.

Parker on South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier: "He's not afraid to line up in any crazy formation. When he goes golfing and hits the ball in the trap he goes in the trap and draws plays in the sand. He's got all kinds of gadgets and he's not afraid to use them because he's a very confident guy. He doesn't have anything to lose. It's not going to bother him and he knows what he's doing."

O'Keefe on South Carolina's defense: "They're big, they're physical. Their linebackers are 250, 255, 265. They're a big, physical, well-coached defense that plays multiple fronts and tries to change things up on you and bring some pressure at you. They're going to try to get as many guys down in there as they possibly can. They play a defense a little different than what we've seen from most people this year, but they're good."

Parker on Iowa running back Shonn Greene, the Doak Walker Award winner: "I like it when he's playing because the best way to play defense is to sit on the bench and say, 'Way to go, Shonn [claps hands in applause]. First down.' You just keep sitting there just watching him run. He probably helped our defense as much as anyone. He's probably our most valuable defensive player because he kept us off of the field."

O'Keefe on the impact of wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, a future coordinator or head coach: "The play we threw for a touchdown against Penn State [27 yards from Ricky Stanzi to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos] was an old play they used at Michigan. He's brought a lot to the table. He's a great person with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and that's infectious with the players.

Parker on serving solely as defensive coordinator and not coaching a position: "I go and screw up this drill for a while and then I go and screw up another drill. In doing so, I've gotten to know the players better as a group. When I coached the linebackers, I knew my guys. That's who I really knew. I knew who the other guys were and everything. But I didn't know them like I know them now."

Parker on whether he'd consider coaching as long as Penn State's Joe Paterno: "Eighty five? Hell no. At 85, you'd have to dig me up to coach. You'd have to open the box and get me out. That's amazing that guy can do that. It's amazing that he can do it and still have the energy to do it."

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