Big Ten: Roy Roundtree

Michigan season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
10:30
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Can Michigan make the jump from the cusp to an actual Big Ten championship game? A look at the 2013 Wolverines:

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Coach: Brady Hoke (66-57, 19-7)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB/RB Denard Robinson; WR Roy Roundtree; RG Patrick Omameh; C Elliott Mealer; DE Craig Roh; DT Will Campbell; MLB Kenny Demens; CB J.T. Floyd; S Jordan Kovacs

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould running back Derrick Green be the key to Michigan's season? The touted freshman is expected to compete for the starting job right away.
Key returnees: QB Devin Gardner; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Jeremy Gallon; TE Devin Funchess; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DT Quinton Washington; DE Frank Clark; LB Jake Ryan (injured); LB Desmond Morgan; CB Blake Countess; CB Raymon Taylor; S Thomas Gordon

Newcomer to watch: There are a couple of freshmen who could see major snaps for Michigan, but the most notable is running back Derrick Green. He will push Toussaint for the starting job immediately and could end up as the featured back by the end of the season. The other two freshmen who could see major time are early enrollees: defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt. Neither will likely start, but both will be key reserves or used in subpackages.

Biggest games in 2013: Michigan had all of its key games on the road last season. This year, the Wolverines will have their two toughest games at home: Notre Dame on Sept. 7, and Ohio State on Nov. 30 in the regular-season closer. The Buckeyes, though, cap a difficult month for the Wolverines, who have trips to Michigan State on Nov. 2 and Northwestern on Nov. 16.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Who will run the ball? As the Wolverines complete their transition to a pro-style offense, they need a capable running back lining up behind quarterback Gardner. Considering the importance of play-action in what they will try to do offensively, they will need a back to gain yards to keep the whole offense balanced and a defense confused. The main candidates are Toussaint and Green, with freshman De'Veon Smith, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson and junior Thomas Rawls also pushing for time.

Forecast: Good. Like most teams that are near the end of a rebuilding phase, depth at certain positions is questionable, which means anything written here would be for naught if Gardner, Gallon or Lewan were injured for any length of time. Provided those three offensive stalwarts stay healthy, the Wolverines have a strong shot at making a run to the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan’s season could come down to whether it can beat Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. It is entirely possible that by the time the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the regular-season finale that both will have wrapped up divisional titles and Big Ten title game trips. The best news for Michigan in all of this is how the schedule breaks down. After Notre Dame in Week 2, the Wolverines have only one real challenge -- at Penn State -- until November. This will allow a young offensive line to gain confidence and chemistry, and a young defensive line a chance to figure out how to beat Big Ten linemen.

A road win at any of those three places could lift Michigan into a different level, because one of the major issues with coach Brady Hoke has been his inability to win a game of any significance away from Michigan Stadium, where he has yet to lose.
2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
5:00
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Monday mail musings ...

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: For straight balance, I think Michigan State should move out west. With Ohio State and Michigan the East already would have a lot of power at the time. The West probably needs to make up for that with more options such as Michigan State. However, I have to say, I'm not certain I like the idea in regards to Michigan. Sure, a protected cross-over. But that simply isn't the same as being in the same conference (calling those divisions now). I hate all of this destruction of tradition (where it is good tradition at least). Do you think moving to a different division will subtract from that rivalry?

Brian Bennett: John, I'm in agreement that Michigan State should be the team that moves west (and I wrote so here). I just think an eastern division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is too top-heavy and means that the other division will have to have teams like Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, et al, compete at a high level to maintain proper balance. But as far as your question goes, I don't think a protected crossover rivalry with Michigan and Michigan State would do anything to hurt that rivalry. Sure, it would rob some of the fun for both fan bases to keep an eye on each other in regards to the division race. But Michigan-Ohio State certainly hasn't been damaged the past two years as a cross-division game. It would also increase the possibility of a rematch in Indianapolis; it would be interesting to see who the Spartans were rooting for in the Ohio State-Michigan game on the final weekend if it determined their opponent in the Big Ten title game.




David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: I've come to the conclusion that the Big Ten needs to get rid of protected cross-overs. My problem with the protected cross-over is one of parity. Since each team is competing against their divisional opponents, having a protected rivalry adds uneven schedule difficulty that is not left up to the randomness, and eventual evenness, that a rotating schedule would. I imagine some team would be very unhappy if they had to play Ohio State every year, while a divisional rival has to play them once every 6 years or something. If a rivalry is that important, put those teams in the same division, so their schedules are more equivalent.

Brian Bennett: You're right in that protected crossovers have the potential to hurt schedule balance. If, say, Michigan State had Michigan as a crossover every year, then you could surely argue the Spartans would be at a disadvantage. Here's the thing, though: In a 14- (or even 12-) team league where not everybody plays one another on an annual basis, the schedules are never going to be even. Somebody is always going to have a harder crossover schedule, play more tough road games, etc. And it's impossible to protect every rivalry through division alignment. Believe me. We have tried. But schedule imbalance isn't the worst thing in the world, either. The NFL does it every year, and hardly anyone complains. I'd rather live with a little less balance if it means protecting cherished rivalries.




Carl from Washington, D.C., writes: After reading the article by Jeremy Fowler on a possible SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten power bowl alliance, I'm wondering if the Big Ten is considering creating its own bowl game in B1G country to add to the mix of the bowls mentioned in the article. Obviously, Indianapolis would be most convenient as a bowl location for most Big Ten schools but I'm not sure about the attractiveness of the destination -- though a December 27 or 28 bowl might draw interest (as previously mentioned about the Big Ten wanting to spread out away from the January 1 date). But with the addition of Maryland, Washington, DC could be in the mix too. And you have already discussed the possibility of a partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: We haven't heard anything about a "Midwest Bowl." Obviously, that would provide an advantage for Big Ten schools, but as you mentioned, people aren't exactly thrilled to flock to the Midwest during the winter. There is already a bowl in Big Ten country: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. And fans don't get real excited to go there in late December. Plus, you'd have to have a city willing to host it. Indianapolis would be a natural fit, as you mentioned, but that city already puts on a lot of events. I think it's more likely you'll see the Big Ten in New York City and possibly D.C., as well as spreading out the lineup to California and other locations.




Fohgetboutit from Rochester Hills writes: I've read the blog for a long time but it's been a while since I've asked a question. Anyways, what position do you think Michigan needs to improve on the most to become the best possible team next year? The way I see it is that the quarterback position will be fine in an already proven Devin Gardner. Either Derrick Green, Fitz Toussaint, or a combination will step up and fill the running back position that seemed lost last year. And on the O-line Michigan returns a few starters and needs to fill a few holes. The way I see it is that of the seven incoming o-line freshman a couple of them have to step-up, and we have previous depth in Kyle Kalis, so I'm not worried as others are about the o-line. The one spot that needs the most improvement, in my opinion, is wide receiver. Gallon is our only returning starter that is both proven and consistent, I think UofM will really need some help and for some youngins to step-up. Thanks.

Brian Bennett: Michigan needs to find some more options at receiver this spring, especially with Roy Roundtree gone. But remember, those wideouts played exponentially better once Gardner took over the reins and gave the team a true downfield passing game. Gallon is a big-time playmaker despite his size, and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess could become even more of a weapon. The Wolverines need more go-to guys, but Brady Hoke singled out Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh during bowl practices as two guys who could make an impact in 2013. I'm more worried about the interior offensive line than you are. Yes, Michigan has recruited some talent there, but those players are wildly inexperienced. The lack of a running game last year can be blamed in large part on the failure to get a good push up the middle. The Wolverines need to be able to churn out the tough yards to win a division title or more, and the progression of those inside spots on the line is what I'll be looking for the most this spring.




Hayden B. from Lavista, Neb., writes: Hey, Brian, I have been keeping up on a lot of mock drafts and player ratings by various websites. My question to you is, How is Rex Burkhead not higher on the mocks and how is his rating going down after the pro day? This is a player in the top 5 of every category except bench among RBs. I personally think he is better than Lacy. Will he get the recognition he deserves? Or will he get it once he's the next Foster or Morris late round RB?

Brian Bennett: Burkhead seems to be very underrated to me. His knee injury as a senior likely hurt his stock, and he's not viewed as a guy with breakaway speed. But we all know Burkhead is a terrific athlete and intense worker who'll probably make some team very happy. You wonder if there's still a stigma among some people about white running backs, but let's hope that silly notion does not impact his NFL selection.




Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Let's quit making excuses. All too often I have read on the Big Ten blog that location is a major hindrance for Big Ten recruiting. Came across this report from American Institute for Economic Research. They ranked the 75 Best College Towns and Cities for 2012-2013. Major Metro areas ... No. 6 Mpls /StPaul, No. 12 Chicago. Mid Sized Metros: No. 11 Columbus. Small Metros: No. 1 Ann Arbor, No. 2 Madison, No. 6 Lincoln, No. 12 Lansing. College Towns: No. 3 State College, No. 4 Iowa City, No. 6 Champaign- Urbana, No. 7 Lafayette, No. 16 Bloomington. Isn't it time you stop citing "Location" as a reason for The B1g's Recruiting issues? or at leases come up with some date to prove otherwise?

Brian Bennett: Mark, I think you have misunderstood what we mean when we say the Big Ten has some location issues when it comes to recruiting. That has nothing to do with the quality of the Big Ten cities, and in fact the league is full of great towns. But we're talking about location in relation to where the top recruits are. And the demographics clearly show that the population has shifted south and west. There are just more top-flight athletes in the Sun Belt and Texas, etc., than there are in the Midwest. The challenge for the Big Ten is to get some of those players to at least come up and check out the great campuses and environments throughout the conference.




Ryan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Brian! Adam tells me that you're the basketball expert on the blog. With that in mind, any chance we can do a Big Ten Blog bracket competition? Should be a great year for it.

Brian Bennett: If one of you guys wants to set up a bracket challenge and e-mail me an invite, then I'm in. I'll try to talk Adam into ignoring his beloved Blackhawks for a few moments to fill out a bracket as well. I'm afraid you'll see that "expert" is a term that should be used loosely when you see my bracket picks, but I'm game.

WolverineNation links: Exit Interviews 

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
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WolverineNation beat writer Michael Rothstein invites each departing Michigan player to sit down with him for one final interview about his career and future plans. Here's a list of the more interesting ones compiled so far:

Roy Roundtree Insider: The wide receiver discusses the statistical decline of his final two seasons, and his two biggest catches.

Elliott Mealer Insider: The guard opens up about a star-crossed career that saw him arrive at Michigan in the wake of an auto accident that killed his father and his girlfriend and left one of his brothers paralyzed.
After a brief break for signing day, the postseason position rankings return with the wide receivers and tight ends. The Big Ten had only one team (Indiana) rank in the top 30 nationally in pass offense, and the league's overall depth at receiver and tight end wasn't good at all, but a few groups of pass-catchers stood out.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season and factor in both star power and depth. Here's a look at our preseason rundown.

There's clear separation with the top three groups, while the bottom four could be rearranged just about any way you want (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Now let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Cody Latimer should have a productive season in Indiana's pass-oriented system.
1. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 8): The Hoosiers attempted 58 more passes than any other Big Ten team, but they had plenty of reasons to do so and merit top billing here. Speedster Shane Wynn led the squad in receptions with 68, but Cody Latimer emerged into the star of the group, recording 51 receptions for 806 yards and six touchdowns. Like Latimer, Kofi Hughes stretched the field and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Tight end Ted Bolser also made nice contributions (41 catches, 445 yards). IU had five receivers or tight ends finish with at least 23 receptions.

2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 2): The Huskers' multitude of big-play threats nearly put them in the top spot, as they helped Nebraska finish with the Big Ten's top offense (460.8 ypg). Wideout Kenny Bell led the way with 863 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 50 receptions (17.3-yard average). Receiver Jamal Turner and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton all averaged at least 13 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa became a nice No. 2 target with 42 receptions for 470 yards.

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 7): Few saw this coming before the season, and our preseason capsule about the Nittany Lions began with, "Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option." Whoops. Even though Brown transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State found surprise stars in wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Robinson won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and touchdown catches (11). Carter (36 catches for 453 yards) might have been the league's top tight end, a position where Penn State had unparalleled depth. Players like wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman emerged later in the season.

4. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 5): There's definitely a drop-off after the top three groups, but Purdue had a nice crop of receivers who likely would have put up bigger numbers if quarterback Robert Marve had stayed healthy all season. Wideouts O.J. Ross (56 receptions, 454 yards) and Antavian Edison (58 receptions, 682 yards) both finished in the league's top five in receptions, while Gary Bush also eclipsed the 40-catch mark. Young wideout Dolapo Macarthy showed promise, and tight ends Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright combined for 47 receptions.

5. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 6): No offense to Denard Robinson, but Michigan's receiving corps truly got its chance to shine once Devin Gardner took control at quarterback. Michigan became a much more pass-oriented offense and stretched the field with several players. Jeremy Gallon turned in a very solid junior season with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns (16.9-yard average). Roy Roundtree came on strong late in the season and made the catch of the year in the league against Northwestern to force overtime. Michigan received nice contributions from wideout Drew Dileo and young tight end Devin Funchess (five touchdowns), and Gardner himself made some plays early on before switching permanently to QB.

6. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 9): Coach Urban Meyer is looking for much more from Ohio State's perimeter players, but in a pass-challenged league like the Big Ten, Ohio State's receivers and tight ends finish in the middle of the pack. Corey Brown quietly produced a 60-catch season, finishing fourth in the league in receptions (5 rpg). Devin Smith had half as many receptions as Brown but finished with nearly the same yardage total (669-618) as he became Braxton Miller's top deep threat. Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches, while sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman showed some promise.

7. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 1): Thanks to the emergence of Venric Mark, Northwestern became a much more run-driven offense than we anticipated before the season, although the receiving corps underachieved a bit. The Wildcats had no true stars, although they boasted some nice balance as four players recorded at least 29 receptions. The big bright spot late in the season came from freshman tight end Dan Vitale, who recorded 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. USC transfer Kyle Prater wasn't much of a factor (10 catches, 54 yards). Quarterback Kain Colter might have provided the best performance from a Northwestern receiver when he moved there against Indiana and recorded career highs for both receptions (9) and receiving yards (131).

8. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 11): It says something about the Big Ten when Michigan State's receivers, who received heavy criticism for much of the season, finish in the top two-thirds of the rankings. But the Spartans simply produced a lot more than the groups below them. They had arguably the league's top tight end in Dion Sims, who recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards before opting to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged at receiver during Big Ten play (29 receptions, 364), and the Spartans had three receivers record at least 36 receptions and two -- Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler -- with more than 500 receiving yards.

9. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 3): Wisconsin had a major shortage of depth, which hurt during a season where three different players started at quarterback. The Badgers had one of the league's best wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis (49 receptions, 837 yards, 5 TDs), and Jacob Pedersen won the Big Ten's Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award, albeit in surprising fashion. But no other players recorded 20 receptions and Wisconsin ended up finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing.

10. Iowa (Preseason rank: 4): The Hawkeyes struggled to consistently pass the ball, and getting into the end zone proved to be nearly impossible as they finished with just seven receiving touchdowns. Kevonte Martin-Manley, the group's bright spot with 52 catches for 571 yards, was the lone Hawkeye with multiple scoring receptions in 2012. Keenan Davis fell short of expectations and while C.J. Fiedorowicz put up nice numbers for a tight end (45 receptions, 433 yards), many expected more from him as well. Like several Big Ten squads, Iowa struggled with depth at receiver.

11. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): We had concerns about Illinois' skill-position talent and depth before the season, and it proved true. Although the Illini had four players record at least 25 receptions, two of them -- receptions leader Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- play running back. Ryan Lankford was the team's top wideout with 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Darius Millines once again struggled to stay healthy. Spencer Harris contributed 21 catches for 252 yards and two scores, but Illinois needed much more to spark the league's worst offense.

12. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 12): Like many of their Big Ten brethren, the Gophers lacked playmakers on the edge to provide balance on offense. Their best threat, A.J. Barker, left the program in not-so-quiet fashion after a spat with head coach Jerry Kill. Barker appeared in only eight games but still had 11 more receptions than any other Minnesota player. Receivers like Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes, and tight end John Rabe had four touchdown grabs, but Minnesota needs a lot more from this group going forward.

Big Ten's best moments from 2012

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
11:00
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The Big Ten had a mostly forgettable season in 2012, and most are anxious to turn the page to 2013. But the fall did provide some memorable moments around the league.

Here are a few …

Miller's mastery: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller put himself on the Heisman Trophy radar with dazzling moves and long runs, but his most memorable play covered only a yard. Facing third-and-goal, Miller looked like he would be stopped on a zone-read play, but he executed a video game-like juke, scooted past Penn State All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and leaped into the end zone for the touchdown. The score gave Ohio State a 21-10 lead, and the Buckeyes went on to win 35-23.

Barry's back: After Bret Bielema surprisingly left Wisconsin for Arkansas three days after winning the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers needed a coach for the Rose Bowl, and the seniors knew where to turn. They asked former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez to lead the team, and Alvarez quickly agreed. Alvarez provided several great moments during his month as coach, including a ridiculously entertaining news conference in which he delivered the quote of the year in the Big Ten: "I won't use a search committee. Most search committees use me." The return tour culminated with Alvarez strolling the sideline at the Rose Bowl, just like old times.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLe'Veon Bell's hurdle was one of the few bright spots in Michigan State's season.
Penn State punctuates season: Few expected much from Penn State after a turbulent summer that brought severe NCAA sanctions and a mini exodus that included star running back Silas Redd. But first-year coach Bill O'Brien and a steadfast senior class kept the team on track. Following an 0-2 start, the Lions won eight of their final 10 games to finish in second place in the Leaders division. The season culminated in an emotion-charged senior day in State College, as Penn State honored the seniors on the stadium facade and the Lions outlasted Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime. Fittingly, kicker Sam Ficken, whose struggles led to Penn State's Week 2 loss at Virginia, hit the game-winning field goal from 37 yards out.

Roundtree to the rescue: Michigan found itself in serious danger of dropping its first home game under coach Brady Hoke as it took possession at its own 38-yard line with no timeouts and 18 seconds left. Needing a field goal to tie Northwestern, quarterback Devin Gardner heaved the ball downfield toward senior receiver Roy Roundtree, who amazingly faced only single coverage. The pass appeared to be too far, but Roundtree battled defensive back Daniel Jones, tipped the ball in the air and then made an amazing catch at the Northwestern 9-yard line. Michigan went on to win in overtime and keep alive its hopes for a Legends division title.

Buckeye backups rise: Ohio State recorded the sixth undefeated, untied season in team history, but it wouldn't have happened without some huge performances from little-used players against Purdue. The Buckeyes were on the ropes, trailing Purdue 22-14 with 47 seconds left, no timeouts and the ball at their own 39-yard line. Quarterback Miller was in the hospital getting his neck examined. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the offense downfield and found a diving Chris Fields for a touchdown with three seconds left. Fields' first touchdown grab set up a 2-point conversion, and Ohio State went on to win in overtime.

Ball becomes touchdown king: Montee Ball's senior season didn't start off well, as the Wisconsin star was the victim of an assault this summer and struggled in September. But Ball provided his typical late-season surge and put up excellent numbers in Big Ten play (1,168 rush yards, 16 TDs). He set several records down the stretch, none more significant than the NCAA's all-time touchdowns record, which he secured on a first-quarter scoring run Nov. 24 at Penn State. Although he didn't make it back to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.

Osborne leads Nebraska out of tunnel: Tom Osborne announced his retirement as Nebraska's athletic director in September, and the team honored its living legend before its final home game Nov. 17 against Minnesota. Osborne, who coached the Huskers from 1973-97, joined the team for its famous tunnel walk and led the Huskers onto the field before an adoring crowd at Memorial Stadium. Although Osborne certainly isn't going anyway, the emotional tribute allowed Nebraska fans to recognize him one final time.

Northwestern's bowl bonanza: Bowl games are no longer rarities for Northwestern, but the program's inability to win a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl cast a shadow over its recent accomplishments. The Wildcats finally got the bowl monkey off of their backs by thumping Mississippi State 34-20 on Jan. 1, setting off an emotional celebration for Pat Fitzgerald and his players. In a jubilant locker room the team tore apart the stuffed monkey that had symbolized its postseason futility. The victory gave Northwestern just its third 10-win season in team history, and made Fitzgerald the program's all-time winningest coach (50 victories).

Bo knows: After Ohio State humbled his Nebraska team Oct. 6 in Columbus, coach Bo Pelini calmly delivered a statement that would carry the Huskers to a Legends division title. "We need to win out," Pelini said. "We have six weeks. And we need to win the next six football games. Get to Indianapolis." And indeed they did, as Nebraska shook off the blowout loss and became Team Comeback, rallying to beat Northwestern and Michigan State on the road and Penn State at home. The Huskers embraced the urgency of the situation and made it to Indianapolis for the league title game.

Le'Veon's leap: Michigan State didn't have many memorable moments, and neither did the Big Ten during nonleague play, but Spartans star running back Le'Veon Bell provided one in the season opener against Boise State. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound junior hurdled a Boise State defender on Michigan State's third play from scrimmage, delighting the Spartan Stadium crowd. It became somewhat of a signature move for Bell, who racked up 266 yards on a whopping 44 carries against the Broncos in the first of many workhorse-like performances this season. Michigan State won the game 17-13, giving the Big Ten one of few solid nonleague victories.

Iowa's Weis-man: Like Michigan State, Iowa fell short of expectations this season and struggled to generate offense. And like the Spartans, the Hawkeyes could hang their hat on a big, bruising ball-carrier, although one few anticipated would do much this season. Fullback Mark Weisman, a walk-on who transferred from Air Force, announced himself with a 113-yard, three-touchdown performance in a Week 3 win against Northern Iowa. Weisman racked up 623 rush yards and eight touchdowns during a brilliant four-week stretch before being slowed by injuries.
The college football postseason all-star games kick off in the next few weeks, so I thought it would be a good time to see who from the Big Ten is headed where. These games feature NFL draft hopefuls from around the sport, and we'll have full coverage of each contest, particularly the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

These rosters will be updated in the coming days, but here are lists of confirmed attendees.

SENIOR BOWL

When: Jan. 26 Where: Mobile, Ala.
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME

When: Jan. 19
Where: St. Petersburg, Fla. NFLPA COLLEGIATE BOWL

When: Jan. 19
Where: Carson, Calif. RAYCOM COLLEGE FOOTBALL ALL-STAR CLASSIC

When: Jan. 19
Where: Montgomery, Ala. CASINO DEL SOL COLLEGE ALL-STAR GAME

When: Jan. 11
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
Our look at the best moment and worst moment for each Big Ten team in 2012 continues with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Best moment: Shock the monkey

Northwestern finally ended its bowl losing streak by dispatching Mississippi State 34-20 last week in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. It marked the Wildcats' first postseason victory in exactly 64 years -- their last came in the 1949 Rose Bowl against Cal. Coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't play up the stuffed monkey like he did the previous year, but after Northwestern had won, the symbol of the program's bowl futility paid the price in a jubilant locker room. Northwestern took control early, survived a rough second quarter, made enough plays on both sides of the ball and, most important, held onto a big fourth-quarter lead to finish off the Bulldogs. Although Northwestern was a play or two away from reaching the Big Ten championship with a chance to play for a Rose Bowl appearance, a young team not expected to do much ended its season with a 10th victory and a bowl championship that should resonate throughout the winter, spring and summer as the hype builds for the 2013 campaign.

Worst moment: Michigan’s miracle

After squandering double-digit fourth-quarter leads against Penn State and Nebraska, Northwestern had another marquee opponent on the ropes in the Big House. The Wildcats led 31-28 and drained almost all of the clock after converting a fourth-and-1 play in Michigan territory. But a poorly executed punt gave Michigan excellent field position at its own 38-yard line with 18 seconds left and no timeouts, Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner fired the ball downfield to Roy Roundtree, who amazingly faced single coverage by Northwestern cornerback Daniel Jones. The pass appeared to be too far, but Jones went for the interception and deflected the ball back to Roundtree, who caught it for a 53-yard gain at the Northwestern 9. If Jones had let the ball go or tackled Roundtree for a pass-interference penalty before the ball arrived, it would have been better than what actually happened. The wacky play allowed Michigan to tie the game with a field goal. Michigan went on to win in overtime, hand Northwestern more late-game heartbreak, and essentially eliminate the Wildcats from the division title race.

Previous best/worst:

Minnesota
Michigan
Nebraska

Poll: Big Ten's best game in 2012

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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Christmas is behind us, and as we wait for the new year we're seeing a lot of year-end, best-of lists.

So we thought we'd get in the spirit by trying to figure out the best conference game from the Big Ten's 2012 regular season. It wasn't a year filled with classics, and certainly there was nothing on the scale of last season's two epic Wisconsin-Michigan State clashes. But there were still a lot of exciting contests. The question is: Which one was best? Here are five candidates:
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  • Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT), Nov. 10: Also known as the Roundtree Catch game. Devin Gardner's 53-yard heave to Roy Roundtree set up a game-tying field goal with two seconds left, and Michigan went on to win in overtime of a wild game.
  • Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28, Oct. 20: The Huskers trailed 28-16 with under six minutes to go but staged a frantic comeback. The Wildcats missed out on some golden opportunities to get themselves in the thick of the Legends Division hunt.
  • Ohio State 29, Purdue 22 (OT), Oct. 20: No matter what else he does in his career, Kenny Guiton has earned a place in Buckeyes lore. The backup quarterback led the Buckeyes to a touchdown and two-point conversion with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game, which Ohio State went on to win in overtime to keep its undefeated season alive.
  • Nebraska 28, Michigan State 24, Nov. 3: This one might be remembered more for the controversial calls than the actual game. But it was another incredible Huskers comeback, as they trailed 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter. Taylor Martinez's touchdown pass to Jamal Turner with six seconds to go won the game.
  • Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21 (OT), Nov. 24: There may not have been a whole lot on the line in this one, but both teams played like it was a championship week. The Badgers tied the score on a Curt Phillips touchdown pass with 18 seconds left, only to lose in overtime for the third time in four weeks. Penn State's Sam Ficken got to play hero after his early season struggles, and the program's vaunted senior class went out on a high note.

Which game do you think was the best in the league in 2012? Vote now in our poll.

B1G bowl primer: Outback Bowl

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
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Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.

OUTBACK BOWL

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

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

TV: ESPN

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.

 

Season report card: Michigan

December, 21, 2012
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Final grades are in -- at least for each Big Ten team's regular season. We're handing out report cards on each team's offense, defense, special teams and overall performance in 2012.

Today's subject: the Michigan Wolverines.

Offense: B-minus

Michigan's offense went through several ups and downs this season. The Wolverines averaged a very respectable 30 points per game but ranked just 80th nationally in total offense. The attack fizzled in big games against Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Nebraska, but averaged 40 points against the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue. Denard Robinson ran for 1,166 yards, but was limited in the back half of the season by injuries. Devin Gardner put a charge into the passing game starting in November, rejuvenating the seasons of receivers like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon. The running backs, though, were a major disappointment, as Fitz Toussaint followed up his 1,000-yard season in 2011 with just 515 yards this season. Much of the blame for that belonged to an offensive line that largely underperformed outside of All-American Taylor Lewan. Michigan's offense could look unstoppable one week and wholly underwhelming the next -- or even from one half to the next, as the season finale showed.

Defense: A-minus

Though not as dominant on the defensive line as they were a year ago, the Wolverines still found ways to develop into a terrific unit. They finished second in the Big Ten in both points allowed and total defense, and were No. 11 and No. 16 nationally in those categories, respectively. Will Campbell finally lived up to his recruiting hype as a senior by becoming a very good run-stuffer. Jake Ryan was a monster at linebacker, constantly disrupting other teams' plans. The secondary overcame the early loss of Blake Countess to do a very good job against the pass and had a great leader in senior safety Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's defense was short on superstars but long on production. The only mark against it was that the defense benefited from playing some questionable Big Ten offenses like Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan State. Better attacks like Alabama, Air Force, Northwestern and Ohio State were able to exploit the Wolverines with speed on the perimeter.

Special teams: B-plus

Will Hagerup was named the Big Ten's punter of the year, and placekicker Brendan Gibbons had a strong year, booting the game-winner against Michigan State and the field goal against Northwestern to send the game into overtime. The Wolverines were average in the return game, where Dennis Norfleet looks like a possible future star. Michigan did rank last in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, however.

Overall: B-minus

If we were using Brady Hoke's grading scale, we'd have to give Michigan an 'F' since he has said any season that doesn't end with a Big Ten title is a failure. The Wolverines once again fell short of hanging a league or even a division championship banner during their 8-4 campaign. It's tough to be too critical of a team whose losses were to the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the Associated Press poll (Notre Dame, Alabama and Ohio State) and Legends Division champ Nebraska. But as Hoke would say, this is Michigan, fergawdsake. The Wolverines are expected to not just play great teams, but win their fair share. Robinson's interception-festival cost them a shot at beating Notre Dame on the road, the lack of a strong backup plan when he got hurt killed any chance of winning at Nebraska, and some curious second-half playcalling contributed to the Ohio State loss. Michigan beat the teams it should have beaten and finally broke the losing streak against Michigan State, which was good. But you don't achieve greatness simply by being on the same field with great teams. You have to beat some. That's why a victory against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl would raise the overall grade for the Wolverines' season.

Previous report cards

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa

2012 Big Ten regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
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The Big Ten's 2012 regular season can be summed up by the following facts:

  • The league's best team, Ohio State, went 12-0 but won't play in a bowl because of probation.
  • The league's best nonconference win came in Week 1 when Iowa beat BCS-bound Northern Illinois. The Hawkeyes proceeded to go 3-8 the rest of the season.
  • The league shockingly announced in mid-November that it was adding Rutgers and Maryland. The Scarlet Knights and Terrapins each embraced Big Ten football by promptly losing their last two games, with Rutgers fumbling away a golden opportunity to make a BCS bowl.
  • The league's Rose Bowl representative, Wisconsin, went 7-5 in the regular season. After winning the Big Ten championship game despite finishing third in the Leaders Division, the Badgers celebrated for a couple of days -- and then saw head coach Bret Bielema leave for Arkansas.


Yes, it's safe to say that 2012 played out kind of like the disaster movie of the same name for the Big Ten. Not even the Mayans could have predicted such cruel endings as Illinois' nine-game losing streak or Nebraska's bug-meet-windshield showing in the conference title game.

But we shouldn't overlook the good stories that occurred in the league this year, either. Ohio State's refuse-to-lose season under Urban Meyer was fun to watch all year long, and the Buckeyes look poised to enter 2013 as a legitimate national title contender. Penn State emerged from the ashes of a horrific scandal and decimating NCAA sanctions to go 8-4, inspiring a community with its resiliency. Northwestern won nine games and had a chance in all 12 with a young team. Minnesota doubled its victory total from 2011 and made it to a bowl game for the first time since 2009. Indiana went from one to four wins and made a rare, if brief, appearance in the national spotlight with a chance to make it to the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin made a school-record third straight Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately, those stories aren't what most people will remember about this season in the Big Ten. The conference sealed its narrative in Week 2 when it went 1-6 against BCS opponents and Notre Dame, with Northwestern's win over Vanderbilt the lone bright spot. Even though some of those opponents turned out to be much better than expected -- like Oregon State, UCLA and the Irish -- the Big Ten never could reverse the negativity. Michigan, which began the season in the top 10, got blasted by Alabama in the opener and ended up losing to teams ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the Associated Press poll. Nebraska won a division title but couldn't shed its label as a big-game flopper. Michigan State had Rose Bowl dreams but failed to win a single conference home game while going 6-6. Purdue had to win its last three just to get to 6-6, and then it fired head coach Danny Hope. Iowa and Illinois were train wrecks.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireBraxton Miller was at his finest this season late in games as he led Ohio State to a 12-0 mark.
The league became a national punching bag yet again, something it can only change through better performances on the national stage. It will get that chance during bowl season, but now its Rose Bowl team likely will be led by an interim coach, while all seven postseason teams figure to be underdogs. The Big Ten will need some luck to make sure its difficult year doesn't extend into early 2013.

On to some awards:

Offensive MVP: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. Stats can't really measure what Miller did, even though he has some great numbers (2,039 passing yards, 1,271 rushing yards, 28 total touchdowns). He made huge, game-winning plays to bail out the Buckeyes time and again. Ultimately, 12-0 is his best stat.

Defensive MVP: Penn State LB Michael Mauti. While Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive lineman John Simon and others had standout years, no one meant more to his team on and off the field than Mauti. He was an emotional leader who helped keep the program together. He also was a tackling machine.

Newcomer of the year: Penn State DE Deion Barnes. He ran away with this award by registering six sacks (which ranked fifth in the Big Ten), 10 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles (tied for fourth in the league). The redshirt freshman has superstar potential.

Biggest surprise: Northwestern. A year after struggling to stop anyone on defense, the Wildcats showed much better toughness on that side of the ball, especially against the run. Venric Mark shocked everybody by not only becoming a reliable running back, but a 1,000-yard back who was one of the best in the country. The Wildcats were a few plays away from going 12-0.

Biggest disappointment: Michigan State. We picked the Spartans to win the league in the preseason but underestimated just how much the offense would struggle with a new starting quarterback (Andrew Maxwell), a young receiving corps and a disappointing offensive line. After a season-opening win against Boise State, Michigan State went 0-5 at home, and its last five losses were by a total of 13 points.

Best game: Michigan 38, Northwestern 31, OT, on Nov. 10 in Ann Arbor. This game featured the play of the year in the Big Ten. Michigan trailed by a field goal with 18 seconds left when it took over on its own 38-yard line with no timeouts. On the Wolverines' first play, quarterback Devin Gardner heaved a throw down the field, and receiver Roy Roundtree made a spectacular catch after tipping the ball to himself in midair. That 53-yard reception set up Brendan Gibbons' 26-yard field goal to tie things up with two seconds left in regulation. Michigan won in overtime, and the Wildcats were left to wonder what had just happened.

Outback Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:16
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South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (8-4)

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Tampa, Fla. (ESPN)

South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: All you really need to know about South Carolina’s program right now is that the Gamecocks are one win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl away from having their second straight 11-win season. Until last year, they’d never won 11 games in a season in their history.

Steve Spurrier has the Gamecocks rocking along, and they were close to making it back to the SEC championship game this season for the second time in the past three years. They had a brutal three-game stretch against Georgia, LSU and Florida and wound up losing to both the Tigers and Gators on the road after routing the Bulldogs by four touchdowns at home. Still, the Gamecocks head into the postseason on a four-game winning streak and capped the regular season with a 27-17 win over Clemson, which was South Carolina’s fourth straight in the series. It’s the first time since 1951-54 that the Gamecocks have won four in a row over their bitter in-state rivals.

They boast one of the most explosive defensive players in the country in sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who leads the SEC with 13 sacks. Good luck in trying to block him one-on-one. South Carolina is ranked 12th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense. The Gamecocks held opponents to 20 or fewer points in nine of their 12 games this season. For the second straight year, they were forced to finish the season without star tailback Marcus Lattimore, who suffered yet another serious knee injury. South Carolina beat Clemson with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. But starter Connor Shaw, who missed the Clemson game with a foot injury, should be back for the bowl.




Michigan take from WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein: The biggest question for Michigan in its bowl game is where senior Denard Robinson will line up.

Will he be at quarterback? Running back? Slot receiver? Kick returner? All of these are possible in the finale for one of college football’s most exciting players. Robinson also has a shot at breaking former West Virginia quarterback Pat White’s FBS quarterback rushing record of 4,480 yards. Robinson has 4,395 career yards.

The success or failure of Michigan’s team, though, lies not with Robinson but with its defense. The Wolverines have one of the best linebacking units in the Big Ten, led by redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan, who is the team leader in tackles (84), tackles for loss (14.5), forced fumbles (four), quarterback hurries (two) and is tied with Craig Roh for the team lead in sacks (four).

Michigan’s pass defense, ranked highly this season, is not quite as good as the numbers indicate. The Wolverines are ranked in the 30s in pass-efficiency defense, and have been adept in not allowing big plays this season.

When Michigan has the ball, it will look to a combination of Robinson and junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner has been the quarterback the past four games and has helped in a renaissance with senior receiver Roy Roundtree, who has 378 yards in his past four games.

It will still all come down to Michigan’s quarterback play and defense, though, which has been the theme for the Wolverines the past three seasons.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 13

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
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The season predictions race is over, and I ran away with the victory. To the victor goes the shrimp cocktail.

Brian Bennett saved his best for last, going 6-0 on the final weekend of the year. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

Here's a look back at the Week 13 predictions.

WEEK 13/FINAL REGULAR-SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 5-1, 76-20 (.791)

Brian Bennett: 6-0, 71-25 (.740)

It's rewind time ...

Nebraska at Iowa
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 38, Iowa 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 35, 10
  • Actual score:Nebraska 13, Iowa 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: I guess we should have checked the weather forecast before making our game forecasts, which were way off aside from the correct winner. Both offenses sputtered, and Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez came nowhere near Bennett's production prediction (100 rush yards, 200 pass yards) or mine (3 pass TDs, 1 rush TD). RB Rex Burkhead actually provided the most offense for the Huskers in his first action since Oct. 20, and scored the team's lone touchdown.
Michigan at Ohio State
  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 35, Michigan 31
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 24, Michigan 21
  • Actual score: Ohio State 26, Michigan 21
  • 20-20 hindsight: A much better score prediction for yours truly, as I nailed Michigan score and came two points away from Ohio State's. Michigan had an early touchdown on a Devin Gardner pass to Roy Roundtree, as I had predicted, and Buckeyes RB Carlos Hyde (146 rush yards, 1 TD) came fairly close to my forecast (120 rush yards, 2 TDs). Ohio State QB Braxton Miller finished with 246 yards of offense, well short of the 375 Bennett had predicted he'd have.
Illinois at Northwestern
  • Bennett's pick: Northwestern 21, Illinois 9
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 27, Illinois 13
  • Actual score: Northwestern 50, Illinois 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both came fairly close on Illinois' score, but we both underestimated what Northwestern's dynamic rush attack could do against an overmatched Illini defense. The Wildcats pulled away in the third quarter with three touchdowns, as I had predicted, while Bennett's forecast of no Illinois touchdowns ended on the first possession of the game.
Indiana at Purdue
  • Bennett's pick: Purdue 28, Indiana 27
  • Rittenberg's pick: Indiana 31, Purdue 28
  • Actual score: Purdue 56, Indiana 35
  • 20-20 hindsight: Our score predictions were looking decent midway through the third quarter before the game turned into a true shootout. Purdue QB Robert Marve actually exceeded Bennett's prediction of three touchdown passes with four, and while the Boilers recorded three interceptions, CB Josh Johnson had none. Indiana QB Cameron Coffman had one second-half touchdown pass, not the two I had predicted, and his turnovers were the ones that proved costly, not Purdue's, as I incorrectly pegged IU to win the Bucket.
Michigan State at Minnesota
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 24, Minnesota 17
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 20, Minnesota 16
  • Actual score: Michigan State 26, Minnesota 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: Our score predictions weren't totally off and would have looked better if Minnesota had any sort of offense. Bennett correctly pegged Minnesota to jump ahead early and to go ahead for good on an Andrew Maxwell touchdown pass, although the pass went to WR Bennie Fowler (via Tony Lippett), not TE Dion Sims. Spartans CB Darqueze Dennard had an interception, as I had forecast, but he didn't return it for a touchdown. RB Le'Veon Bell helped MSU seal the win with 266 rush yards on 35 carries.
Wisconsin at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 21, Wisconsin 20
  • Actual score: Penn State 24, Wisconsin 21 (OT)
  • 20-20 hindsight: Bennett nailed Penn State's score, while I correctly predicted a closer game between the Lions and Badgers. Penn State didn't take its customary early lead, as I thought it would, and Wisconsin star RB Montee Ball had only one touchdown run, not two. I also incorrectly forecast a last-minute Matt McGloin touchdown run. Bennett pegged Ball to get the NCAA all-time touchdowns record and for McGloin to record more milestones, but Lions WR Allen Robinson (4 catches, 35 yards) didn't play a huge role in the win, as he had thought.

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