Big Ten: Utah Utes

Ohio State: What might have been?

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
1:30
PM ET
Ohio State posted one of the great "What might have been?" seasons in the history of college football this year.

Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaUrban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green
That might have completely transformed the 2012-13 postseason. It certainly would have made for a much better Rose Bowl, however things played out.

Consider:

  • It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
  • If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
  • Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
Of course, this speculation includes the assumption that the NCAA would have been satisfied with the Buckeyes just sitting out the 2011 postseason. It rarely pays to assume what the NCAA will do. Based on wanting to make an example out of Ohio State for a scandal that included extra benefits violations involving memorabilia, tattoos and cash, as well as a cover-up by former coach Jim Tressel, the NCAA quite possibly still could have banned the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.


But you never know.


That is the excruciating discussion Ohio State fans have had among themselves all season as the wins piled up in coach Urban Meyer's first campaign. Many have dumped the blame on athletic director Gene Smith, who was admittedly -- and curiously -- surprised when the NCAA opted to ban the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.


It's apparently a sore subject around Columbus. Ohio State declined an interview request for this story, with spokesman Jerry Emig saying "A would of, should of, could of, wouldn't read well."


It probably would have read better than the Badgers' record, which features more losses than five other Big Ten teams.


Of course, the Rose Bowl and its participants are trying to grin through the curious circumstances that created a less-than-thrilling matchup. As could be expected, Stanford folks are going out of their way to not slight Wisconsin. The Cardinal, said coach David Shaw, won't take the Badgers lightly.

"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."

There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.

While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.

As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.

This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.

That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.
Ball/JamesUS Presswire

Montee Ball and LaMichael James will highlight a showdown of high-powered offenses.

After a year's hiatus, the Rose Bowl is back to its traditional self: A Pac-12-Big Ten matchup.

And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.

Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!

Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?

Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.

That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?

[+] EnlargeBall
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMontee Ball's 1,759 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns on the season have helped the Badgers score an average of 44.6 points per game.
Ted Miller: Oooooo. I’m telling Chip Kelly that you said the Ducks run a 3-4! He hates that. No idea why. Coordinator Nick Aliotti will tell you that the Ducks throw a lot of stunts and looks -- 3-4, 4-3, 2-5, etc -- and crazy stuff at you. They are fast, underrated and bigger than many think. Their top four defensive tackles, who are in a regular rotation, weigh 321, 300, 283 and 286 pounds.

Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.

Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.

Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.

While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?

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Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
4:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A few questions and answers before the weekend.

Donny from Decatur, Ill., writes: I've been hearing a lot of the hype surrounding this years Illinios receivers, everything from "Maybe the best in the country", "best in the Big Ten". Maybe it's because I am in Illinois. But I am excited to go see these guys in action this year. What are your thoughts on them this year? Do you think they will live up to the hype? WithBenn, Cumberland, Sykes, Jenkins, Duvalt, James, and TE Hoomanawanui and Newcomers/Red shirts etc. Fayson, Ramsey, Scottand Hawthorne the Illini look to have a very solid group for a few years to come. Also Juice has gotten better with every year he has played. What do you truly expect from these guys this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Well, since I've been writing some of those things myself, I'd say my opinion is pretty high of Illinois' group. As an Illini fan, you have the right to get very excited about these wideouts. Arrelious Benn will contend for All-America honors this fall, and Illinois could have a legit No. 2 receiver to complement Benn in Jarred Fayson. I never thought Jeff Cumberland could truly be a No. 2, and now he won't have to be. But all those weapons you list easily make Illinois the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. If Juice Williams gets time to throw, look out.


Brian from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Could you explain why OSU has only 16 scholarships available (I think) but they lost 33 players from last year?

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State signed a fairly large class in February (25 recruits), which accounted for most of the graduation losses. The Buckeyes also boast a pretty sizable junior class, which includes true juniors like Brandon Saine, redshirt juniors like Thad Gibson and even transfers like Justin Boren (Michigan). You always have to factor in the number of redshirted players and the number of fifth-year seniors when calculating how big or small a recruiting class will be.


Derek from New Jersey writes: I saw you posted a lunch-link about Minnesota's new stadium. I also watched a video about it. I was just wondering, from somebody who has been there, what your thoughts on it were. Is it built up (ie: Beaver Stadium) or out (Michigan Stadium)? Do you know where the student section will be in the horshoe stadium, or how many seats will be blocked off for them? Any neat novelties worth mentioning? It's not often a college team gets an all new stadium. Thanks for any extra insight!

Adam Rittenberg: TCF Bank Stadium breaks the traditional mold of most Big Ten football facilities. For starters, it is located in a major metropolitan area, which will be a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. Fans in the upper deck and suites will get a great view of downtown Minneapolis. It definitely doesn't compare with any of the huge Big Ten facilities in terms of size, though it could expand to 80,000 seats if Minnesota chooses to add another deck. The student section will be in the east (non-open) end of the horseshoe, near the Gophers' tunnel. As far as novelties, the massive scoreboard in the open end will be pretty cool. Fans also will be able to see the field while walking along the main concourse. There isn't much excess space on the field footprint, so fans will be very close to the action. Overall, it should be a great venue, and I love the fact that Minnesota didn't build something too big to start off. For more, check out my tour of the facility back in November.

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Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 12, 2009
6/12/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Looks like our scheduling series has had the desired effect.

Justin from Iowa writes: Adam,I've heard a lot of people suggest Iowa will split their away schedule 2/2. Iowa is a historically slow starter that gets better as the season progresses. If they avoid any pitfalls and start their OOC schedule 4-0, followed up by a win at Penn State to kick off big 10 play, how do you see this prediction perhaps changing?

Adam Rittenberg: The pattern definitely held true last year as Iowa played its best football down the stretch. The Penn State game means everything for Iowa. Win in Happy Valley, and suddenly the league road schedule doesn't seem so daunting. My prediction could change a bit if Iowa prevails at Penn State, but the Hawkeyes get no breathers on the road this fall.


Will from Cleveland writes: Dear Adam,I actually have two very different questions I'd love for you to answer. What does non-conference schedules mean anymore? Because its always taking the backseat by the end of the year bowl games. Like last year the Pac10 was spanked across the country for the most part of the beginning of the season. But now every time I'm on a blog fans act like it means nothing we went 5-0 in the bowls but does who you play in bowl games ever matter?Secondly Adam I want to know how can the PSU fans talk so much smack, and their team last year did nothing against good teams? Sure they're highlight was against my Buckeyes but we were terrible according to our own standards. We have so much to look forward to other than Laurinitis, and Jenkins (sorry Adam but the Wideouts I hated worst starting tandem of Tressel era). But it seems they've lost so much more, and they act like its the exact opposite explain the theories for me please ADAM?

Adam Rittenberg: As to your first question, you're right about bowl performance. It seems to mean everything these days, while the regular season fades to the background. But nonconference scheduling can shape how a team or a league is viewed nationally, and it could help or hurt in the all-important polls. Take Penn State this fall. There's no way the Nittany Lions make any jump in the polls until the Iowa game. They would need everyone else to lose in order to move up.

Moving on, Penn State definitely deserves credit for beating Ohio State in Columbus, no matter how "down" the Buckeyes might have been. I think you're being a little hard on Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, but neither man had the season many thought they would. Penn State also knocked off Oregon State, albeit early, and thumped Wisconsin in Madison. Both Penn State and Ohio State lost a lot from last year, but the confidence from Penn State fans stems from the fact that the program is on the upswing since 2005 after some lean years.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When the new BCS contract begins during the 2010 season, there's a chance you could see a team like Boise State, Utah or TCU in The Granddaddy of Them All. 

As first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and confirmed to ESPN.com by BCS administrator Bill Hancock, the Rose Bowl will be required to take an eligible non-BCS team if it loses the Big Ten champion or Pac-10 champion to the national title game. This policy would only take effect once during the four-year BCS bowl cycle. 

Here's how the policy change works. Let's say USC is selected for the national championship game following the 2010 season. Rather than selecting another Pac-10 team, the Rose Bowl would have to take a non-BCS team if that team is eligible for BCS bowl selection and not headed to the national championship game. So you could have the Big Ten champion against a team from the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, MAC or Sun Belt.

No teams from those leagues have ever appeared in the Rose Bowl. 

"It's only going to happen once if it happens at all," Hancock said.

The change will open up more opportunities for non-BCS teams to play in these big-time bowls. It also will prevent, at least temporarily, teams that don't necessarily deserve BCS berths from appearing in these games simply because of their conference affiliation.

I can't imagine the Big Ten is too pleased about the change. The league has sent more teams to BCS bowls than any other conference, and the Rose Bowl tie-in is a big reason why. When the Big Ten lost Ohio State to the national title game in 2006 and 2007, it still sent a representative to the Rose Bowl.

It's a pretty good bet a 9-3 Illinois team wouldn't go to Pasadena under the new policy, as it did in 2007.

I'm a big fan of the non-BCS teams and enjoy seeing Utah, Boise State and others routinely go against the big boys. On the other hand, there's not a more tradition-rich game in the country than the Rose Bowl.

Though the game has featured three Big 12 teams this decade -- Nebraska in 2002, Oklahoma in 2003, Texas in 2004 and 2005 -- as well as Miami in 2002, it would be odd to see a Mountain West or a WAC team in Pasadena. I could get used to it every once in a while, though I doubt Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany could. 

It would be interesting to see how a non-BCS team would affect attendance and ratings for the Rose Bowl, which continues to thrive in both areas. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten expansion has been a hot topic this week, with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno stumping for a 12th team and league commissioner Jim Delany essentially shooting it down

It's worth reiterating that expansion is not a front-burner issue for the Big Ten right now. But things always change, and it's undeniable that the league loses something -- certainly from a marketing standpoint and possibly from a competitive standpoint -- without a championship game that ends the regular season on the same day as the other BCS conferences.

Let's also reiterate that Notre Dame has been and always will be the best option for Big Ten expansion. The two parties last talked in 1999 but didn't get too far. Notre Dame obviously has some tremendous advantages as an independent, and purely from a business standpoint, joining a league doesn't make much sense. The dilemma for the Big Ten is whether to add a 12th team or wait until its home-run choice decides it wants to join a league, which may or may not happen.

I've heard just about every suggestion for a 12th team this week. There are the usual suspects (Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Iowa State, Missouri, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut), a few reaches (West Virginia, Nebraska) and several fuhgetaboutits (any MAC school, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois).

Of all the realistic possibilities, Missouri makes the most sense. 

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the second half of my bowl wrap-up interview with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. For Part I, click here.

Given that these things tend to be cyclical, do you see a four- or five-year stretch of winning records on the horizon for the Big Ten?

Jim Delany: That's what we came out of. We had four or five years where we had done pretty well. If you look at the history of it, you can break it down by 20 years, 10 years, five years. People don't get to where they've got without having some success along the line. To whom much is given, much is expected, and we have amazing universities, amazing fan bases, amazing resources. We have very good coaches. It's more the surprise if you go on a four-year, five-year period where you're not competing at the very top. And having said that, I don't think it's as far down as many think. If you want to pick out LSU, Florida and USC and say, 'Did we get beat good?' I'd say, 'Yeah.' I'd also say, 'Did anybody else play them at that level?' They're beating everybody pretty good.

You've had four consecutive seasons of getting multiple teams in BCS bowls. Given the recent struggles, are you still confident that it will continue next season?

JD: You have to look at each year on its own merits. If you have a team in the Top 10 and they're going to travel well, they could go. We don't have a situation where the top eight teams go. We have a situation that is different. A lot of people were complaining that Utah wasn't [No. 1]. Well, if it wasn't for the BCS, Utah wouldn't have been in a major bowl. Nor would have Boise [State in 2007]. Nor would have Hawaii [in 2008]. The BCS made those venues available in ways that were never available before. So rather than criticize it, I look at it as, 'Hey, we've opened up the system.' People might say, 'The Rose Bowl should be opened up and anybody should be able to go.' And I would say, 'That's something that was built over 60 years, and I don't think that's going to happen.' I look at it as hey, we've played some great football teams. We've been competitive in some cases, we've won some games and we've gotten beat pretty soundly in some others. Those are the facts. If you can't be honest enough about the facts, you're not being realistic. And you have to be realistic. They have been really, really good, and we haven't had a team at the level that Florida played at, at the level that LSU played at and the level that USC played at. At all other levels, we've got teams that can play, and at a particular time and place, we can climb back up. I'm optimistic and resilient about it.

You mentioned USC, LSU and Florida and not having a team quite at that level right now. Do you think a team isn't far from that in the Big Ten?

JD: It's hard to know because wherever Florida was this year, they weren't there last year because we beat them. And LSU, the year before they won it, we beat them. So I don't think that there is a big gap between playing at what I would describe as super elite level and at a very good level. Penn State had four or five losing seasons and coach [Joe] Paterno said, 'We're just a few players away.' Well, he was correct. I look at Ohio State with Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor and they were certainly all Texas could handle, but without them, they really weren't capable against USC. So I really don't think it's far, but who's to say? We've got a half dozen of our 11 teams, they have young staffs, new staffs, that are building programs. I think Michigan will be back quickly, Illinois is on the upswing, Michigan State's on the upswing, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota. Having played on three teams that went to Final Fours and never won a national championship, I can identify with how good Ohio State is. They're a very, very good college football team. It's more a sign of the times when somebody can be that good, accomplish that much, win at Texas, play Texas tough this year, do a lot of really good things, and people can only find out, if you're not [No.] 1, you must be no one.

Oklahoma will go through the same thing now, no doubt.

JD: I think there's something fundamentally wrong with tagging somebody who accomplishes something as much as the Oklahoma team has accomplished. That means there could only be one great program, and everybody else is a loser. And you know what? That doesn't conform to reality. That doesn't conform to my sense of quality. I'm not saying we can't get better, we won't get better, we haven't been better. All I'm saying is there are a lot of good football teams. Congratulations to Florida for winning two of the last three and the SEC. They have clearly demonstrated they're at the top of the heap in this cycle, and they should be recognized for such. But I've always felt the Pac-10 didn't get their due. Everybody was down on the Pac-10. Well, USC was pretty good, they went 5-0 [in bowls]. But again, it's five games. I look around at people that were 4-2, they could have been 2-4. But it is what it is, and I take a little bit of a longer-term view. You have to look at your programs and say, 'OK, what's really going on? Do you like the leadership of your programs?' And in all of my cases, I say, 'Yeah, I do.' They have enough resources to be successful. They have great fan bases and media agreements. So everything's in place, and there's not a lot of difference between winning and losing. You have to tip your hat to those that are at the elite level, but you can't crawl in a hole and start making excuses and self-flagellating. The infrastructure's there to be very good.

We talked about urgency before the bowl season. Is there a new sense of that or an even heightened sense going into the 2009 season?

JD: Our coaches and our players are not immune. They realized that we haven't performed on the big stage as well as we would have liked to. So I think they played very hard. I saw how hard Penn State played. I thought Ohio State played really hard. The [Northwestern] Wildcats, I was really proud of how hard they played. So I don't think it's a matter of urgency because if your players are playing their hearts out and your coaches have them prepared and they lose the game, there's no shame in that. If you're doing it the right way in college sports, while you're disappointed, you get up, you clean your pants off, you go back to spring practice, you continue to recruit, you hope the kids graduate and have a good experience, and you congratulate the people that won the game. That's how I've tried to view it, even though I'd much rather win the games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Utah Utes finished the season with the strongest résumé for a non-BCS program in recent times.

  • Utah (13-0) was the only undefeated FBS team.
  • The Utes swept through the Mountain West Conference, which reached a new level for a non-BCS league.
  • They beat TCU and BYU.
  • They beat an Oregon State team that knocked off No. 1 USC the week before.
  • And they topped it off with quite possibly the most impressive win of the bowl season, a 31-17 triumph against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Sure, USC looked impressive against Penn State, but the Rose Bowl is a virtual home game for the Trojans. Utah essentially beat Alabama in the Crimson Tide's backyard.

And the amazing thing is, Utah's profile could have been a lot better.

Remember who the Utes beat in the season opener Aug. 30? Michigan. Utah outlasted the Wolverines 25-23 to kick off a very special season.

Now imagine Michigan was Michigan, not the rudderless 3-9 product we saw this fall.

What if this was a standard Michigan team, one that finished the season ranked in the top 20? How much better would Utah look with a win in the Big House against a solid Wolverines squad from a solid Big Ten?

I'm not saying it would have put Utah ahead of Florida in the final polls. But as someone who voted the Utes at No. 2 in the ESPN.com final Power Rankings, I would have given a lot of thought to putting Utah on the top line.

As it turned out, Michigan was one of Utah's least impressive victories. Only San Diego State (2-10) had a worse record. The Wolverines are barely mentioned when Utah's résumé is discussed.

Many teams saw this as a good season to play Michigan. But for Utah, the game in Ann Arbor didn't really help.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mack Brown still gets nervous, even if he doesn't show it. 

When Brown met the media this morning, the Texas head coach recalled a conversation he had with coaching legend Darrell K. Royal about managing anxiety before games. 

 
 Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 Mack Brown doesn't see a playoff system coming to college football anytime soon.

"I asked coach Royal once, 'Did you have trouble sleeping the night before a big game?'" Brown said. "And at Texas they are all big. If you lose one, it gets real big. He said that unless you gag before you brush your teeth on Saturday morning, you are not ready to play.

"I gagged this morning. So I think I'm fine."

Brown will coach in a BCS bowl for the first time since guiding Texas to the national championship when his team takes the field Monday against No. 10 Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). Despite his nerves in front of the bathroom sink, Brown showed none in front of reporters as he discussed Texas' final preparations for the game. 

Here are some highlights:

  • Brown doesn't see a playoff system coming to college football, but he acknowledged that the impressive wins by USC and Utah strengthen the argument for one. A Texas blowout of Ohio State certainly would add to the playoff push, which Brown certainly advocates. With many coaches supporting a playoff, Brown encouraged media members to continue the fight. And while he covets a playoff, Brown doesn't want the bowl system to suffer.
"I played at Vanderbilt for two years, and when I saw Vanderbilt kick a last-second field goal to win their first Bowl game since 1955, there will be no team or coaching staff any happier than that Vanderbilt staff was," Brown said. "We do not need to take that away from college football. It is an exciting time. I see 7-5 teams throwing Gatorade on their coach. At Texas, if we were 7-5, they'd be throwing something on me but it wouldn't be Gatorade."
  • The Big 12 has been average at best during the bowl season, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State losing, and a heavily favored Missouri team struggling mightily against Northwestern. But Brown thinks a conference and its teams shouldn't be evaluated solely on one game, especially a game that might bring lukewarm enthusiasm. 
"We've had some teams that weren't as excited about their game because they didn't get the draw they wanted and they got disappointed at the end of the year," Brown said. "That's the biggest thing in the bowl games: Who has the edge? Who is motivated? Who wants to be there? ... If you look at the games and see who wants to be there and who is motivated because none of us have played for a month, I think that usually tells you the story more than anything else."
  • Brown recounted the process of telling his players that they didn't reach the Big 12 championship game and likely wouldn't be heading to the national championship in Miami. His first directive was to refrain from commenting publicly about the snub and instead let him do the talking. Rather than allowing the players to learn their fate on TV, Brown and his staff sent text messages minutes before the announcement and then scheduled a team meeting several hours later. In the meeting, Brown explained why Texas was left out (the computer rankings weigh road wins more than neutral-site ones), reiterated that the system is flawed and told players not to start throwing a pity party.
"Some people like it," Brown said. "It is better than what we had 10 years ago. But in this case, it didn't work out for you. But one year it didn't work out for [USC]. One year it didn't work out for Auburn. In 2004 it worked out for you when you went to the Rose Bowl to play Michigan. Don't say 'Oh, poor me' and don't say the system was poor to you just this time. It has been poor to a lot of people. This year it was good to Oklahoma instead of us."
  • Texas has tried to strike a balance between fun and serious preparation this week in Arizona. Players were given an 11 p.m. curfew most nights, and Texas hasn't had any disciplinary infractions. Director of player development Ken Rucker gave the players an added incentive not to mess up.
"[Rucker] said if he smelled any alcohol on them, he would kiss them," Brown said. "That took care of that. As far as I know, nobody has been kissed by coach Rucker before they went to bed. If you see coach Rucker, only [his wife] Nancy wants to kiss coach Rucker. It is not a group of guys."
  • Like Ohio State's 28 seniors, Texas' seniors have made a unique impact on the program and the coaches. Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo said Thursday that the team might be closer than the 2005 squad that won a national title. They built that foundation as juniors before the 2007 Holiday Bowl, when they spoke up about helping the coaches maintain the right focus.
"A lot of people say this team will be great next year, and that's not necessarily true because when you lose some ingredients, like Orakpo and his leadership and what he has meant to this program or Roy Miller," Brown said. "My experience has been you don't wave the wand and say we have a lot of good players coming back so it works again. For whatever reason it didn't work as well for 2006 and [2007], and it's has worked this year."
  • Brown, on the prospect of Ohio State using quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman on the field together: "We hope it works as well as ours. I think ours had five plays for minus-12 yards."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

USC coach Pete Carroll spent part of last night's Rose Bowl conference call defending his team's desire to play yet another game in Pasadena. 

Carroll said all the right things, reaffirmed his love for the Rose Bowl, how it's always USC's top goal, yada, yada, yada. The coach said claims that USC isn't amped to face another supposedly overmatched Big Ten team stemmed solely from the media. 

"Watch the interviews from our players and coaches," Carroll said. "We're pumped about this opportunity, excited, feel honored that we have this matchup. Everything else you hear to the contrary is written by people from the media side of it. That's not our guys talking. It's never what we've been about. 

"Every single day we walk off the practice field, we see the Rose Bowl at the end of the tunnel, everybody knows that's what we're shooting for. There's no doubt about it. We're all pumped up about this."

There's no doubt Carroll is pumped. He'd be geeked to play in the International Bowl and request the game be moved outside. That's one of the reasons he's so easy to like. 

But it's hard to believe his players are itching to face another Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl after dominating Illinois and Michigan the last two seasons.  

Here's how Trojans defensive tackle Kyle Moore characterized the BCS after his team finished off UCLA on Saturday.

"They did us wrong," he said. "They did us dirty. We were No. 5 [in the BCS poll], we win 56-0 [against Washington], then they moved us down to No. 7. We've been trying to move back to that spot since then. I don't know how this BCS works." 

Enter teammate Patrick Turner

"We've been going to Rose Bowls for a while now," Turner said. "It's like a home game."

The Trojans don't seem too excited, and their interest in the game -- or lack thereof -- could benefit Penn State come Jan. 1. 

Penn State has enough talent to pace the Trojans, but given USC's amazing track record in bowl games under Carroll, any intangible edge the Lions can get will be beneficial. 

Carroll is a master motivator, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if USC gets to the right mental state before kickoff. But Penn State has been disrespected more than USC this season, and there's no doubt Joe Paterno's players will be ready for the Rose Bowl.

The Lions were totally dismissed from the national title picture after a 1-point road loss to a pretty good Iowa team. They inexplicably fell to No. 8 in the BCS standings -- behind inferior squads in Utah and Texas Tech -- and drew criticism for their conference affiliation more than anything they did on the field. 

Penn State has an excellent opportunity to show it's not another Big Ten flop, that it can compete with the nation's best.

The Lions have plenty of reasons to get excited for the Rose Bowl. 

Does USC?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's safe to assume that if Ohio State earns a BCS at-large berth, the Buckeyes will head to the Fiesta Bowl and probably face Texas. 

Never assume. 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises has an interesting post on his blog about the possibility of Ohio State facing Utah rather than Texas on Jan. 5 in Tempe, Ariz. It's important to note that Texas is almost universally projected for the Fiesta Bowl -- as long as Oklahoma beats Missouri in the Big 12 championship game -- but the plan could change on Sunday. 

"The BCS and FOX would be making an effort to create not only a national title game but almost an undercard for the national title game by matching up presumably the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the BCS, Texas and the SEC title game loser, in the Sugar Bowl."

This would create an interesting situation for Ohio State.

Utah is an excellent football team, but the Utes aren't the Texas Longhorns. A win against Texas would restore much of Ohio State's national credibility, which has taken a beating this fall. On the other hand, the Buckeyes likely have a better chance to beat Utah, and a BCS win helps no matter who it comes against. 

"Ohio State-Texas would be an interesting game, but the teams just played each other in 2005 and 2006. So some of the drama would be taken out of that showdown. And if OSU fans are really interested in ending the season on a win, I'm not sure Texas is the opponent you're looking for. A loss to Utah, though undefeated, would really be a shot to the Ohio State program. But you have to play someone. And no matter how good Utah is, and the Utes are good, they aren't the Longhorns. So embrace that, OSU fans, and assume that the Buckeyes will play well."

Not sure how many Buckeyes fans will buy the argument -- they want to beat the best possible opponent -- but it's something to think about.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten regular season wrapped up last week, so neither Penn State nor Ohio State had a chance to improve in the BCS Standings. Not surprisingly, both teams didn't budge when the latest standings came out this afternoon. 

As I've written many times before, it's a crime that Penn State remains No. 8 in the BCS standings, behind both Utah and Texas Tech. The Lions are ranked ahead of the Utes and the Red Raiders in the human polls, but they're a good distance behind No. 5 USC.

Add in a terrible computer average (No. 9), Penn State slips down the BCS standings despite a very impressive regular season. The BCS standing doesn't really matter, as Penn State no longer remains in the national title hunt and can validate its season by beating USC in the Rose Bowl. 

Ohio State held at No. 10, behind BCS at-large competitor Boise State (No. 9). But the Buckeyes likely will get the nod over the Broncos for the final at-large spot after Oregon State stumbled Saturday night against Oregon. Ohio State isn't too popular with the computers, either (No. 11). 

Michigan State dropped two spots to No. 21, and Northwestern moved up two spots to No. 22 despite not being ranked in the computer average. How does that happen?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It looks like my All-Big Ten predictions got under your skin a bit. I'll have an updated list sometime after the final week of games. Other than that, a lot of bowl questions this week.

Fire away.

Kevin from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Assuming Iowa beats Minnesota in their season finale and Michigan State loses to Penn State, Iowa will be 8-4 and Michigan State will be 9-3. Iowa would already be a lock for the Outback Bowl over Northwestern considering the Wildcats can't even fill up their own stadium, but what is the likelihood that Iowa goes to the Capital One Bowl over Michigan State since Hawkeye fans travel so well and because of their dramatic upset over LSU in that bowl game in 2005?

Adam Rittenberg: Let's not forget about the BCS situation. Two Big Ten teams (Penn State and Ohio State) would need to earn BCS bowl berths for this situation to happen. If it did, I think Michigan State gets the nod over Iowa for the Capital One Bowl. Michigan State travels well and hasn't been to a New Year's Day bowl since 2000. The Spartans also have a better record and won the head-to-head matchup. The teams are about even in terms of attractiveness, but I think Michigan State goes to Capital One and Iowa to Outback. Though Northwestern struggles to pack Ryan Field, the Wildcats do travel well for bowl games with a national alumni base. I've heard Outback is interested in Northwestern as well, but Iowa would get the nod.


Rob from York, Pa., writes: Adam, Please explain why PSU is the only 1-loss team ranked behind Utah? Of similar opponents, PSU has won by a large margin, Utah has won by a few points. Then comparing PSU to USC, Florida, Oklahoma....none of them have been any more impressive with their schedules. I think the BCS is ridiculous. It's no more obvious than Georgia being ranked #7 by the computers. They've lost their only two quality games. I'm sick and tired of hearing about who's better than who. The only solution is to settle it on the field, with a PLAYOFF!!!

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Rob, and put the Nittany Lions ahead of Utah in my latest power rankings. Penn State is the better team, though the Utes deserve a ton of credit for surviving a very tough Mountain West Conference this season. Georgia is another team that doesn't deserve to be near the top 10. Ohio State had one disaster without its best player (Chris Wells), Georgia had two disasters. I would disagree with you regarding Florida's and Oklahoma's schedules. Those teams played tougher slates than the Lions.


David from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Do you remember any player that simply came out of nowhere and had a season like Iowa's Shonn Greene? Iowa's Brad Banks in 2002 comes to mind, but I could not think of many others.

Adam Rittenberg: David, I threw this out there to some of our other bloggers and writers and no one could remember a case quite like Shonn Greene's. Please feel free to e-mail me if you think of someone. He's truly an amazing story. To go from hauling furniture and working out on his own last fall to being the nation's most dominant running back is remarkable. At least Banks played in junior college and had a season under his belt before breaking out in 2002.

(Read full post)

Michigan D-line the reel deal

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
6:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

On the field, Michigan's Terrance Taylor is a disruptive nose tackle with a fondness for dropping ball carriers in the backfield.

In the film room, Taylor is a 319-pound peanut gallery.

When Michigan's defensive linemen get together to review tape from practices and games, coach Bruce Tall's voice isn't the only one bouncing off the walls. Taylor always chimes in.

"If a coach yells at me for missing a play," defensive end Tim Jamison said, "[Taylor will] try to reiterate, like, 'Yeah, man, you did mess up on that play,' and ask coach to keep rewinding it, try to make us mad."

Taylor admits he never misses a chance to jokingly prod his linemates. But he's not the only one.

"Especially if somebody gets put on their back or misses a tackle, the running back makes 'em look stupid, I definitely want to see it over again," Taylor said. "They do the same thing for me when I do something like that."

Fortunately for the Wolverines defensive linemen, film-room humiliation has been at a minimum so far this season. After a poor showing in the first half of the opener against Utah, the front four has looked like the strength of a transitioning Michigan team, as many expected it would be.

Michigan has racked up 7 sacks in its last six quarters of play and ties for second nationally with 9 sacks on the season. Seven sacks have come from the front four of Taylor, Jamison, end Brandon Graham and tackle Will Johnson -- all of whom are returning starters. The group isn't too shabby against the run, ranking fourth nationally in fewest yards allowed (41.5 ypg).

"Because we do have a lot of experience that came back this year, we're looked upon as being the leaders of this defense," Jamison said.

Michigan expects another strong performance from the defensive line Saturday when it visits Notre Dame. Both teams are struggling on offense, and the game could be won at the line of scrimmage.

Last year's meeting with the Fighting Irish turned into a highlight reel for Michigan's defense, which manhandled a new-look Notre Dame offensive line.

Graham had a career-high 3.5 sacks in the 38-0 win, and Jamison also dropped Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen behind the line.

"It was a pretty good memory," Jamison said, "but I'm sure Notre Dame is remembering it as well and they're going to be prepared."

Though the Wolverines expect to see an improved Irish offensive line in South Bend, their own expectations haven't changed.

"We're conditioned and we're ready to play four quarters hard, and run around and hit people," Taylor said. "We know what we need to do, and we're not going to let anything stand in our way."

No position group on Michigan's team comes close to matching the defensive linemen in terms of experience.

Taylor will make his 27th career start at nose tackle Saturday and has played alongside Johnson and Jamison since 2005. Graham, the only non-senior, led the team in sacks last fall (8.5) in his first season as a starter.

"I really think of them as my brothers," Taylor said. "We're probably the closest group on the team."

And arguably no Wolverines position group made greater strides during the offseason. Strength coach Mike Barwis' work with the whole team is extremely well documented, but quite possibly his biggest impact came with the defensive linemen.

"We got most of the records on the board, the squat and the bench press and the clean, stuff like that," Taylor said. "You want to be the best."

A chest injury limited Taylor in the bench press, but he increased his squat to about 700 pounds. Johnson did two bench-press repetitions of 545 pounds and improved in other areas, including speed work.

"When Barwis first came in, the power clean, I had like no technique," Johnson said. "I'm a lot more explosive now. My speed's also getting better, I feel, balance-wise and going in and out of movements."

The results are showing so far, but there's room for growth. Jamison said Tall wants greater consistency from the front four, starting Saturday in South Bend.

"We want to do everything that's needed to be the best defensive line in the nation," Taylor said, "which I think we are."

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