Big Ten: Stephen Garcia
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nebraska take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After having very different results in the same bowl (Holiday) the past two seasons, Nebraska heads to a new destination looking for its 10th victory.
The Big Ten’s newest member endured some ups and downs in its first season in the conference. Nebraska had two really bad days, getting blown out by both Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, but the Huskers also crushed Legends Division champion Michigan State and looked good in their regular-season finale against Iowa. In many ways, Nebraska has been two different teams in 2011.
If the defense plays to its potential, Nebraska is very tough to beat. Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are two of the best in the country at their respective positions. But depth has been an issue at times, and Nebraska struggled to contain Big Ten offensive stars like Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson. The Blackshirts will need a strong effort against a South Carolina team that plays a little defense of its own.
Nebraska’s young offensive line will be tested by Gamecocks star defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, although a run-heavy scheme will limit their pass-rushing prowess. While South Carolina ranks fourth nationally in total defense, it ranks just 45th nationally against the run, an area Nebraska will try to exploit with junior I-back Rex Burkhead, one of the nation’s most consistent ball carriers, and sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.
A victory gives Nebraska its third consecutive 10-win season, something the Huskers haven’t done since 1999-2001.
South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: The Gamecocks and bowl games have historically not mixed very well. They’ve lost four of their past five bowl games, including their past three. They’re just 4-12 all time in bowl games.
This season, though, South Carolina heads into the postseason with some real momentum. They ended the regular season winning six of their final seven games and saved their most complete performance for the finale, a 34-13 beatdown of archrival Clemson.
It’s a season that could have easily gone the other way when you consider that star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game and fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted from the team a couple of weeks earlier.
The Gamecocks, though, persevered, and won 10 games for only the second time in school history. They were edged out by Georgia for the Eastern Division championship.
Sophomore Connor Shaw took over at quarterback in Week 6, and South Carolina adjusted its offense to Shaw’s dual-purpose talents. The defense has been a force for most of the season. The Gamecocks are ranked fourth nationally in total defense, holding opponents to an average of 268.9 yards per game, and gave up more than 13 points only twice in their final nine contests.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.
Here they are.
Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.|
Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.
Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.
Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.
Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.
Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.
Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.
Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.
Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.
Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.
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
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in Thursday's victory.|
Shonn Greene might be gone to the NFL, but Iowa football is definitely back.
After three middling seasons, Iowa has restored its place among the Big Ten's elite by winning six of its final seven games to close the season. The Hawkeyes (9-4) took care of business today in the Outback Bowl, stomping a bad South Carolina team 31-10 to give the Big Ten its first bowl victory of the season.
These two teams entered the game going in opposite directions, and Iowa did what it was supposed to do: Pound away with Greene and force mistakes from a shaky Gamecocks offense. If this was Greene's final collegiate game -- and from what I've heard, it will be -- the burly junior went out with a trademark performance, rushing for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Looking back at recent seasons, there certainly were flashier backs or ones with better numbers, but I can't remember a guy coming off a season away from football to completely dominate his position the way Greene did this fall. He was truly a joy to watch.
Things came together perfectly for Iowa, which started the season 3-3 and turned up the heat on head coach Kirk Ferentz and his coordinators. The Hawkeyes notched a program-changing upset of Penn State on Nov. 8, crushed archrival Minnesota, 55-0, and leapfrogged Northwestern for the Outback Bowl. Honestly, it would have been nice to see the white-hot Hawkeyes face a more formidable opponent. South Carolina was in a giving mood today, committing five turnovers and 10 penalties in an unsightly loss.
Iowa's defense forces a ton of turnovers, and South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia played right into the Hawkeyes' hands with three interceptions. I'm continually impressed with the development of Iowa's underclassmen on defense, particularly Tyler Sash, Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey and Jeremiha Hunter, who laid a filthy hit on a South Carolina ball carrier early in the second half.
Greene would certainly be a big loss, but freshman Jewel Hampton looks more than capable of stepping up as the starter in 2009. Hampton isn't afraid of contact, as he showed on a near touchdown run in the third quarter. Though quarterback Ricky Stanzi needs to cut down his interceptions -- his two picks today didn't prove costly -- Iowa's offense should be fine. The defense, meanwhile, will be one of the Big Ten's best if Iowa finds replacement for star defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
The big question in the coming days involves Ferentz, who has been linked to the Cleveland Browns head-coaching vacancy. If the Browns hire Ferentz's good buddy Scott Pioli, Iowa might be looking for a new coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's a big day for the Big Ten, and things begin this morning with the Outback Bowl matchup between Iowa (8-4) and South Carolina (7-5) in Tampa (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET). This might be the Big Ten's best chance at a bowl win. Here's a quick look at the matchup.
WHO TO WATCH: Big Ten fans are familiar with Shonn Greene, but the rest of the country likely will be getting its first look at the Doak Walker Award winner. This also could be the final chance to see Greene in college, as the Iowa junior running back is a strong candidate to enter the NFL draft a year early. No defense has come close to stopping Greene, who eclipsed 100 rushing yards in every regular-season contest. South Carolina certainly will have its hands full with him.
WHAT TO WATCH: Head coaches Kirk Ferentz and Steve Spurrier are a contrast in style and personality. It will be interesting to see the two match wits in a bowl game. Ferentz will lean on two improved lines, the power run game and a playmaking defense. Spurrier has taken heat for South Carolina's inconsistent offense this season, and he might try to shake up the play-calling to spark quarterback Stephen Garcia.
WHY TO WATCH: The game features the only Big Ten bowl favorite and has a must-win quality not only for Iowa, but the beleaguered conference. Iowa is arguably the Big Ten's hottest team, winning five of its final six regular-season games. A win likely puts the Hawkeyes in the Top 25 and springboards them into a promising 2009 season.
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.