Anyway, on to the mailbag:
Scott M. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will we ever know why Ohio State felt two carries were plenty for Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter? The game turned in the third quarter because of the bruiser. Braxton Miller is the driver of the car but those two calls late in the game were just awful. How anyone can say I have third-and-three for the game and my 230 pound, 7-yards-a-rush running back will not touch the ball really needs to look at themselves in the mirror.
Brian Bennett: Should Carlos Hyde have gotten more than 18 carries against Michigan State? Probably. But don't forget that the Spartans defense specializes in loading the box and daring teams to throw deep. Plus, Miller was the more effective runner of the two most of the night and finished with more yards and yards per carry than Hyde.
The fourth quarter began with an Ohio State punt. Then Michigan State drove for a field goal. On Ohio State's first real possession of the fourth, Hyde ran for four yards on second-and-10, setting up a passing situation on third down. Miller then threw an incomplete pass. The series you're talking about started with 7:36 left. The Buckeyes had Miller run it on third and fourth down, and he was stuffed both times. Urban Meyer said it was his call to give the ball to Miller on fourth-and-2.
And it's hard to fault him for that. We're talking about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year who ran for 142 yards vs. Michigan State. A running quarterback is one way to counter the Spartans defense. It didn't work out, mostly because Pat Narduzzi called the right blitz and Denicos Allen made a great play. After that, Michigan State scored a touchdown to go up by 10 points, and the the time to run the ball was over for Ohio State.
Bottom line is you have to be successful passing the ball to beat the Spartans. And Ohio State went 8-for-21 for 101 yards through the air.
Tommy B. from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, as a Buckeye fan it's crazy for me to think that after the 2011 6-7 disaster that I'd be so disappointed after the team would go 24-1 under Urban Meyer so far. I'd almost forgot what it felt like to lose on a Saturday (emphasis on almost, it felt terrible in case you were wondering). The problem has obviously been complete inconsistency with the defense. They have big name veteran stars with gaudy numbers and at times (including in the B1G title game) they've been dominant. But in the Michigan game and for some big game-changing plays against MSU they've had complete breakdowns. They have the talent to be better than they are. In your opinion, what's the problem? Fickell? Key injuries (Bryant)? Fickell? Youth in key positions? Fickell?
Brian Bennett: It's a good question. The place we thought Ohio State's defense might be vulnerable to start the year was up front because of all the youth there. Yet that was arguably the strength of the defense, with guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The problem really seemed to be at the linebacker positions other than Ryan Shazier and at safety, especially when Christian Bryant got injured. Michigan State exposed the Buckeyes' safeties early on last Saturday.
It's kind of hard to believe that Ohio State would find itself so thin at linebacker. The Buckeyes recruited some highly-regarded defensive backs last year, but guys like Vonn Bell didn't have much of an impact this season. They're still young, so that's to be expected, but it was disappointing that some of the more veteran players didn't have great seasons (relatively speaking, because Ohio State did go 12-0).
The Buckeyes' defensive coaches all have strong track records, so I have a hard time believing it's simply a coaching issue. But Ohio State clearly needs to develop better depth in its back seven, especially if Shazier decides to leave for the NFL.
Randy from Waukesha, Wis., writes: I just learned that Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis won an award for the national best walk-on player-of the-year in CF! Did I miss your guys' article on this? If not please tell us more..... B1G can use all the kudos it can get, especially at this time of the year!
Brian Bennett: Yes, Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is award to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. We didn't write a post about it, mainly because there are seemingly thousands of college football awards now, but we did tweet it. Abbrederis was a slam-dunk choice for that award, and it's hard to believe he ever was a walk-on. He'll be on an NFL roster next fall.
King from Los Angeles writes: I agreed with you about the silliness of the coaches' poll. I am a Huskers fan and I do not believe we deserved a top 25 ranking even though Bo thinks so. I think they should change the way coaches vote by making a rule that you cannot vote for your own team. That could take away all the biases. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: That would only solve part of the problem, as there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc. The good news is it won't matter at all as part of the national championship provess next year, so the coaches can be as silly as they want to be. And given how little most coaches want to deal with the hassle, I'm not sure why there should even be a coaches' poll next year.
Greg from Lansing, Mich., writes: In giving conferences more power on selecting bowl match-ups should we just assume Ohio State/Michigan will always occupy the better bowl games? (If they aren't already in the play-off).
Brian Bennett: I can understand why there's a feeling in some quarters that Ohio State and Michigan get preferential treatment from the league office. But the truth is that the biggest brand-name schools already get preferential treatment from bowls. Is there any reason why Michigan at 7-5, should be in the Big Ten's No. 3 non-BCS bowl this year? Or why Ohio State went to the Gator at 6-6 in 2011? Only one: drawing power.
What the new system will basically do is allow the leagues more input on the process so as to avoid teams going to the same destination over and over again and to create better matchups. Had it been in place this year, however, I doubt we'd see Nebraska going back to Florida for a rematch with Georgia. Bowls are always going to want big-name teams as long as they are businesses. But better matchups and fresher destinations should help fans.
Greg from Atlanta writes: As an Iowa fan living in Georgia, I'm wondering how an 8-4 Georgia team gets ranked and an 8-4 Iowa team doesn't? Now, I'm not saying Iowa deserves a ranking, because 4 wins shouldn't get you in the top 25. But, Georgia lost to Vandy and needed double OT to beat Ga Tech. They also struggled with teams they should have throttled and fell far below expectations. Iowa played two teams tough that will both play in BCS bowls. Is this just more bias against the Big Ten? If so, will that bias ever go away?
Brian Bennett: I don't think this is a case of anti-Big Ten bias as much as it is probably pro-SEC sentiment. Iowa is a tough case and a team I debated putting in my final Top 25 for a while before ultimately deciding against it. Barely. The Hawkeyes' four losses are all highly respectable -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. But you shouldn't get credit for just losing to good teams. Iowa's best wins are over Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska, with two of those on the road. Very solid, but not spectacular.
Georgia's in a similar boat in terms of "good" losses, including Clemson and Missouri. The Dawgs also lost on the road to Auburn thanks to a miracle play at the end. They have also beaten South Carolina and LSU, two wins better than anything Iowa can claim, and the team was decimated by injuries this season.
I think the Hawkeyes are good, and they have some nice momentum after winning their final three games. That's why I'm really looking forward to seeing how they play against LSU. Iowa definitely ends the season in the Top 25 with a win over the Tigers in the Outback. And given the wide-open nature of next year's West Division, at least on paper, Iowa could emerge as one of the preseason favorites in that division in 2014.
- Graham Couch looks at Michigan State's 12 steps to Pasadena.
- Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is exploring his NFL possibilities and appears conflicted about his future.
- There are similarities between the first three years for Jerry Kill and Glenn Mason at Minnesota.
- Purdue got its third commitment for 2014 in the past four days.
- Silver Football finalist Carlos Hyde was a changed man after his suspension this year for Ohio State.
- A junior college defensive lineman switched from Wisconsin to Nebraska.
- Bryce Miller ponders whether Iowa has the best linebackers group in the country.
- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is getting some rest for his turf toe injury.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman plans to retain defensive coordinator Tim Banks despite some shoddy play on that side of the ball.
- Did Penn State meet expectations by going 7-5 in Bill O'Brien's second season?
- Athlon offers its Big Ten awards and all-conference team.
- Colleague Mark Schlabach ranks every bowl game, with Clemson's tilt against Ohio State coming in No. 2 behind the title game.
- AthlonSports unveils its All-ACC teams and conference awards.
- Boston College's Andre Williams has gone from his own book to the college record books, Mark Blaudschun writes in USA Today.
- The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' David Jones explains why Duke's David Cutcliffe is his coach of the year.
- The Washington Post's Kent Babb looks at how Heisman Trophy winners have handled their hardware, including former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura takes a deeper look at Georgia Tech's recent schedules.
- Maryland AD Kevin Anderson is confident his school will break even on the Military Bowl, Alex Prewitt writes in the Washington Post.
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink looks at whether Orange fans will travel well to Houston for the Texas Bowl against Minnesota.
- Virginia Tech will be facing the latest Lott IMPACT Trophy winner in UCLA's Anthony Barr.
- New coach Dave Clawson is ready to rebuild Wake Forest, Lauren Brownlow writes on FoxSportsCarolinas.com.
Discover Orange Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 12 Clemson Tigers in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Friday, Jan. 3.
- Coach: Dabo Swinney (five full seasons)
- Record: 10-2, 7-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference
- Combined opponents' record: 81-65
- Common opponents: None
- Leading passer: Tajh Boyd, 252 for 373 for 3,473 yards, 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions
- Leading rusher: Roderick McDowell, 177 carries for 956 yards and 5 touchdowns
- Leading receiver: Sammy Watkins, 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns
- Leading tackler: Spencer Shuey, 89 tackles, 5.5 for a loss
Clemson has won at least 10 games three seasons in a row, and it will be making its second appearance in the Orange Bowl in three years. The first trip didn't turn out well as West Virginia put up 70 points in a blowout victory over the Tigers after the 2011 season, again putting their defense under fire after failing to do much to support a high-flying offensive attack that typically has no problems carrying its share of the load.
This year, that defensive unit has been steady and solid, giving up just more than 21 points per game to rank No. 17 in the nation. That helps balance the scales with an offense that scores more than 40 points on average. The Tigers were gashed, though, in top-25 matchups against Florida State and South Carolina, yielding 51 to the No. 1 Seminoles and 31 to the rival Gamecocks to close the regular season.
Key matchup: Ohio State star cornerback Bradley Roby has one final audition on the college stage before heading to the NFL draft, and he's going to have his hands full with another surefire future pro. Watkins is one of the most dangerous targets in the country, and few defensive backs have been able to handle him without much help thanks to his explosive athleticism and playmaking ability.
The Buckeyes are at their best when they can play man coverage in the secondary and create pressure in the front seven, particularly when they turn Ryan Shazier loose as a blitzer. But an aggressive approach in getting after the passer requires lockdown coverage on the receivers, and the winner in what figures to be a spirited battle between Watkins and Roby will go a long way toward determining the Orange Bowl title.
Both teams are headed to BCS bowls, but the Spartans earned their way to Pasadena for the first time since the 1987 season.
There are no changes in the final 10 spots.
Here's one final look at the Week 14 rankings.
Now, for the fresh rundown …
1. Michigan State (12-1, last week: 2): We knew the Spartans had a nationally elite defense and a much-improved offense, but we didn't know whether they could put it all together against a team that hadn't lost a game in two seasons. Quarterback Connor Cook, linebacker Denicos Allen and others provided the answers against Ohio State. Cook passed for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, while Allen and the Spartan Dawgs limited Ohio State to 25 yards in the fourth quarter. Next stop: the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.
2. Ohio State (12-1, last week: 1): It's odd to see a "1" in the loss column, but Meyer's Buckeyes looked shaky both early and late in their biggest test since the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Penalties and poor pass defense, as well as a one-dimensional offense that didn't sustain a rhythm, doomed Ohio State against Michigan State. Quarterback Braxton Miller and his teammates squandered a chance to play for a national title. They'll try to finish the season strong with a win against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
3. Wisconsin (9-3, last week: 3): No Big Ten team wants to get on the field more than the Badgers, who delivered their worst performance of the season at the worst time against Penn State. Linebacker Chris Borland and a proud and decorated group of seniors should be much better in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. Quarterback Joel Stave tries to bounce back after throwing a career-high three interceptions against PSU.
4. Iowa (8-4, last week: 4): Coach Kirk Ferentz sees similarities between his current team and the 2008 version, which also finished strong after a so-so start. The 2008 squad finished with an Outback Bowl victory, and the Hawkeyes will try to do the same when they face LSU in a rematch of the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Linebacker James Morris and an improved defense will be tested, and Iowa will try to control the clock with its power run game.
5. Minnesota (8-4, last week: 5): The season will be a success no matter what, but Minnesota would like to end on a positive note after dropping its final two regular-season games to ranked opponents. The Gophers return to the Texas Bowl, where coach Jerry Kill thinks they set the foundation for this year with a good effort last December against Texas Tech. Minnesota's defense will show up against Syracuse, but can the offense find a passing game?
6. Nebraska (8-4, last week: 6): Barring a surprise, Bo Pelini will get another chance to bring a championship to Lincoln next season. It would be nice to end this year on a positive note, however, especially after a blowout home loss to Iowa on Black Friday. Nebraska's young team has a chance to grow up the next few weeks before a matchup against Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl.
7. Penn State (7-5; last week: 7): The season is over but Penn State can feel optimistic about the future, particularly on offense with Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. Hackenberg completed a strong debut with 2,955 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and he'll have most of his weapons back for 2013. Last week brought the somewhat surprising departures of two assistants, including longtime linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. It will be interesting to see where Bill O'Brien goes with his replacements.
8. Michigan (7-5, last week: 8): Michigan's performance in The Game left many wondering where that team was all season. The Wolverines hope to follow up with another strong effort -- and a win -- as they take on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It's important for Michigan to end a disappointing season on a positive note, especially for the offense, which surged behind Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Jake Butt and others against Ohio State.
9. Indiana (5-7, last week: 9): It's a pivotal offseason for the Hoosiers, who should in no way be satisfied with a five-win season that includes three Big Ten victories. Indiana should have made a bowl this season with such an explosive offense and must make the necessary upgrades -- coaching, talent and elsewhere -- to get to the postseason in 2014. Kevin Wilson has some work ahead to ensure he's not the latest offensive-minded coach to flame out in Bloomington.
10. Northwestern (5-7, last week: 10): Here's another team bitterly disappointed with its 2013 season that has some work to do this winter. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's first priority is keeping together or perhaps enhancing the strongest recruiting class in his tenure. Northwestern also must evaluate its offensive vision after enduring quarterback injuries in three of the past four seasons. The Wildcats should get a big boost at running back if Venric Mark is granted a fifth year, as expected.
11. Illinois (4-8, last week: 11): Tim Beckman will lead the Illini for a third season, athletic director Mike Thomas confirmed earlier this week. Like Indiana's Wilson, Beckman will focus on improving a defense that slipped to 110th nationally in total defense and 104th in scoring defense. He fixed the offense after the 2012 season by bringing in coordinator Bill Cubit. If he can do the same on defense, Illinois should go bowling next fall. If not, it could be the end for Beckman in Champaign.
12. Purdue (1-11, last week: 12): After a historically poor season, Purdue begins the rebuilding process on the recruiting trail, where it must get better in a lot of areas. The Boilers lose some of their top defenders like Bruce Gaston Jr. and Ricardo Allen, and must build a lot more depth on that side of the ball. Offensive line also is a target area as the Boilers allowed a league-worst 38 sacks this fall.
Now, it's time to see how we fared -- and find out which of us was smarter in August.
Actual wins: 4
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: We both had the Illini finishing 3-9; the preseason over-under number was a good one. Illinois' blowout win over Cincinnati remains one of the more surprising results of the season, but the Illini also came close to beating Penn State, Indiana and Northwestern.
Actual wins: 5
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: Vegas got us again. Both of us were bullish on the Hoosiers making a bowl game this year. Home losses to Navy and Minnesota were killers.
Actual wins: 8
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: Like most people, we underestimated the Hawkeyes this year. By a lot.
Actual wins: 7
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: So, um, yeah. This isn't going too well for us.
Actual wins: 8
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: And I'm on the board. Finally. But 8-4 still surprised us.
Over-under: 9.5 Actual wins: 8 Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: I said in my prediction that it wouldn't shock me if Nebraska went 8-4, which they did. Adam called the over "a fairly easy call."
Actual wins: 5
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: Neither of us thought the Wildcats would miss a bowl game, but I had them falling short of expectations because of the schedule.
Over-under: 11 Actual wins: 12 Brian's pick: Push
Adam's pick: Push 20/20 hindsight: Though we both figured Ohio State would be dominant, we just thought it would be too hard to go undefeated again. It wasn't -- at least until the Big Ten title game.
Over-under: 8 Actual wins: 7
Brian's pick: Push Adam's pick: Push 20/20 hindsight: Another whiff. I even mentioned a possible 6-0 start for Penn State. At least the Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin to get closer to the preseason number.
Over-under: 5.5 Actual wins: 1 Brian's pick: Under Adam's pick: Under 20/20 hindsight: Guess it's safe to say the Boilermakers fell way short of expectations in Darrell Hazell's first year, though we both expected some struggles.
Over-under: 9 Actual wins: 9 Brian's pick: Push Adam's pick: Under 20/20 hindsight: Once again, the wiseguys were right on the number, and so was I, as I predicted a 9-3 season with losses to Arizona State, Ohio State and one other Big Ten team. Blind squirrel, meet nut.
I won but take no pride in those picks. The lesson here, as always: Don't mess with Vegas.
We also took a stab at some random over-unders of our own in the preseason. Let's take a look at how those turned out:
Michigan State starting QBs
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: The Spartans played three quarterbacks early and very nearly went with a fourth in Damion Terry. But only Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook started.
Taylor Martinez touchdowns + turnovers
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: This one became a lock because of Martinez's injuries. He finished with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble. We'll never know what a healthy T-Magic could have done his senior season, and that's a shame.
Big Ten players ejected for targeting
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: It took a while for the league to have its first player ejected, but then the new rule showed its impact. For the record, the five players ejected were Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, Indiana's David Kenney, Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis and Purdue's Landon Feichter.
Braxton Miller rushing attempts
Over-under: 188 Actual: 131 Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: Another category where an injury affected things. Miller would have gotten close and possibly reached our over-under if he didn't miss three games with a knee injury.
Chris Borland takeaways
Over-under: 7.5 Actual: 3 Brian's pick: Under Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: Borland wasn't as active on the turnover front as Adam thought, but he still wound up as the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Indiana defensive points allowed
Over-under: 29 ppg Actual: 38.8 ppg Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: And this is why the Hoosiers didn't make a bowl.
Devin Gardner's rushing totals
Over-under: 400 yards and 10 touchdowns Actual: 483 and 11 Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: Thanks to a whole lot of sack yardage, Gardner came very close to our preseason baselines.
Iowa AIRBHG strikes
Actual: 0 20/20 hindsight: The Iowa running back curse was thankfully lifted this year. Afraid to say anything more for fear of jinxing it.
- Michigan State's upset of Ohio State is a fitting end to the BCS era, writes Michael Rosenberg.
- The loss proves that Ohio State is human, but the Buckeyes are still set up to be an elite program.
- Penn State's John Urschel and Glenn Carson will play in the East-West Shrine Game.
- Minnesota's Brock Vereen says that playing in the Texas Bowl gives Minnesota an advantage because it has been there before.
- Kirk Ferentz is wary of LSU's backup QB because of how history has played itself out, but he's happy that left tackle Brandon Scherff says he will return for his senior season at Iowa.
- Video of the 2013 Illinois senior class discussing their careers for the Illini.
- Teddy Greenstein takes a deeper look at Chris Borland's upbringing and how it made him play the way he does at Wisconsin.
- As he did Sunday on the Gator Bowl teleconference, Nebraska's Bo Pelini needs to make sure that his positive voice is heard.
- Former Michigan QB Brian Griese stressed sacrifice to this year's group at the team's banquet.
Here's a look at our predictions from last week and those of former players Dan "Boom" Herron (Ohio State) and Jason Strayhorn (Michigan State).
Ohio State vs. Michigan State
Bennett's pick: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24
Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 30, Ohio State 28
Actual score: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24
20-20 hindsight: Both of us were in the ballpark with the score predictions, and I would have nailed Michigan State's if the Spartans had settled for a field goal rather than a touchdown in the closing minutes (darn you, Jeremy Langford). Brian correctly predicted that Ohio State would have its lowest points total of the season and struggle against Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" secondary. He also had Michigan State starting fast behind quarterback Connor Cook, who turned out to be the game's MVP. But his forecast of a big fourth quarter for Ohio State fell short, as Michigan State held Braxton Miller in check and surrendered only 25 yards in the final 15 minutes.
I expressed some concern that Ohio State, making its Big Ten title game debut and facing its toughest opponent in years, could be a bit shaky, which turned out to be true as Michigan State jumped ahead 17-0. Then again, I predicted Ohio State would take an early lead and Michigan State would force two turnovers, neither of which turned out to be true. I correctly pegged Spartans wideout Keith Mumphery for a touchdown catch, but his teammate Bennie Fowler didn't get one. Miller's go-ahead touchdown run came in the third quarter, not the fourth, and Michigan State didn't need a game-winning field goal in the end.
Now for our guest forecasters
While "Boom" Herron's prediction of a 31-17 Ohio State win went bust, Strayhorn correctly picked his Spartans to prevail and came just 34 yards shy of nailing Cook's career-high passing total. Michigan State's perceived weakness, the pass game, turned out to be stronger than Ohio State's (pass defense).
The next set of predictions will come your way before bowl season kicks off.
The ESPN recruiter power rankings examine which assistant coaches are doing the best on the recruiting trail in the 2014 class. Beyond looking at how many four- or five-star recruits a coach lands, the rankings take into account the needs those recruits will fill at the next level.
These rankings will be updated regularly as national signing day approaches. They are also a measure of where we believe the recruiters are now, not where they will be on signing day. Many coaches and schools have yet to make a recruiting run and could quickly climb the list as more progress is made.
Previous rankings: October 2013
1. Billy Napier
ESPN 300 recruits: 7
Top recruit: ESPN 300 No. 3 Cameron Robinson
Previous ranking: 4
Napier, Alabama's receivers coach, established himself as one of the better recruiters in the ACC while at Clemson, but recruiting for the Crimson Tide has allowed him to climb to the top of the national charts. Recruiting in Louisiana and parts of Texas, and also spot-recruiting other key national targets, Napier boasts commitments from five ESPN 300 prospects who are in the top 10 at their positions, including No. 1 OT Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), No. 2 pocket passer David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) and No. 2 safety Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville). Napier's efforts have also helped the Tide climb to No. 1 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and reload at positions of need like offensive tackle, quarterback and especially receiver.
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Here is a look at the most important prospects left for each team in the Big Ten.
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2. Kliff Kingsbury did what? The first-year Texas Tech head coach, voting in the USA Today coaches’ poll, ranked Alabama No. 6. But Kingsbury’s only agenda appeared to be to honor conference champions. The five teams ahead of the Crimson Tide -- Florida State, Auburn, Baylor, Stanford, Michigan State -- raised trophies Saturday night. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.
3. Other curious votes: Two coaches ranked Michigan State No. 2 ahead of Auburn: West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and, yes, the Spartans’ Mark Dantonio. … Stanford looked like the inkblot. Mike Leach of Washington State ranked the Cardinal No. 3, ahead of Alabama, while the Tide’s Nick Saban ranked the Pac-12 champ No. 9, behind four SEC teams. … Four coaches slipped their team in at No. 25 on their ballots: Dave Clawson of Bowling Green, Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, Jerry Kill of Minnesota and Bo Pelini of Nebraska.
Like every year, the bowls will distribute gifts to each of the participating players (the NCAA allows bowls to distribute up to $550 for 125 players per team). Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal has the complete list of bowl swag.
Let's take a look:
Texas Bowl (Minnesota): Samsung Galaxy Tab 3; Fossil watch; belt buckle, T-shirt; Ogio backpack; lapel pin
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Nebraska): Fossil watch; Dome hat; Mercury Luggage Seward Trunk luggage set; football, Jostens ring
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Michigan): Gift suite; Fossil watch; Ogio Cube backpack
Outback Bowl (Iowa): $150 Best Buy gift card; Fossil watch; cap; Jostens ring, Outback Steakhouse gift card
Capital One Bowl (Wisconsin): $450 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip; Timely Watch Co. watch; Russell Athletic workout shirt
Discover Orange Bowl (Ohio State): Gift suite; Tourneau watch
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Michigan State): Gift suite; Fossil watch; New Era 59Fifty cap; Ogio backpack
Gift suites allow players to select from a list of items, which include electronics, jewlery, headphones and even mountain bikes. Sports Business Journal notes that a home theater recliner with built-in USB ports will be part of gift suites this year. I was with Northern Illinois players as they collected their gift suites at the 2013 Orange Bowl. There were a lot of options.
What are your thoughts on the bowl swag? Wisconsin players look like the big winners, but the gift suites at the BCS bowls should be pretty impressive.
We'll be breaking down these games for the next few weeks, but we wanted to share our first impressions of the lineup:
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Michigan State vs. Stanford
Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3: Ohio State vs. Clemson
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin vs. South Carolina
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa vs. LSU
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28: Michigan vs. Kansas State
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27: Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Let's begin ...
Adam Rittenberg's first impressions
Worst game: Gator. I'm probably not as upset about this one as Brian (or most Nebraska fans), but a rematch of last season's Capital One Bowl featuring two teams playing without their starting quarterbacks doesn't move the needle. At least running backs Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are fun to watch.
Sneaky good game: Capital One Bowl. Not sure how sneaky this one is, but both teams are talented on both sides of the ball and easily could have better records. The game features the nation's most talented defender in South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney against one of the nation's most accomplished defenders in Wisconsin's Chris Borland. The Badgers' seniors want to go out on a good note after a stunning home loss to Penn State, not to mention three consecutive losses in the Rose Bowl.
The bowl season will be a success if: The Big Ten records a winning record with at least one BCS bowl win. This season's lineup is slightly more favorable, and four wins certainly isn't out of the question. Ohio State and Minnesota both should win their games, and Michigan State, while less experienced than Stanford in BCS games, is playing its best football. Wisconsin needs to rebound, Iowa has a tough draw and both Michigan and Nebraska have been enigmatic, but the Big Ten should expect a little more in its final season of its self-created meat-grinder bowl lineup.
Brian Bennett's first impressions
Best game: The Rose Bowl is tremendous and looks to be the second-best game outside of the BCS title game. But let me also put in a plug for a possible underrated Orange matchup between Ohio State and Clemson. I saw Clemson earlier this season, and while the Tigers stumbled badly against Florida State and South Carolina, they are loaded with athletes. Put Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde all on the same field, and you're guaranteed some fireworks. Both teams score more than 40 points per game so we could have an entertaining shootout with some intriguing back stories (the Woody Hayes punch, Urban Meyer's return to the state of Florida).
Worst game: Minnesota had a great season and has a legitimately good defense and solid running game led by David Cobb. So I was hoping to see the Gophers get a chance to prove themselves against a decent opponent. Unfortunately, they drew a 6-6 Syracuse squad that beat absolutely no one and has an even lower-scoring offense than Minnesota. A bowl win is probably all that matters to Jerry Kill and his players, but I think they deserved a better showcase opportunity.
Sneaky good game: Outback. Iowa will have to make up for a talent gap with LSU -- as most teams do when they play the Tigers. But the Hawkeyes really hit their stride in the season finale at Nebraska, and they have only lost to teams ranked in the top 20. LSU, meanwhile, will be without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL in the season finale, and this was not a vintage Tigers' defense. Both teams like to run the ball a lot, and Iowa linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey must continue to lead the way for Phil Parker's defense. Maybe if we're lucky, we'll get an ending half as good as the 2005 Capital One Bowl.
The bowl season will be a success if: At least one BCS win is a necessity, especially with opponents who are similar in style in both games. Winning at least one of the games against the SEC on New Year's Day is also important; that holiday has been unkind to the Big Ten of late, and Georgia and LSU look more vulnerable than usual. An overall winning record is possible and could start to change the conference's image. Another sign of success will be if Wisconsin can avoid adding to Clowney's postseason highlight reel.
- Mark Dantonio made a trip to Pasadena in May and told his MSU team all about it, Graham Couch writes. The Spartans have redefined their program.
- Ohio State can't let the blues linger as it prepares for the Discover Orange Bowl.
- BTN.com's Tom Dienhart weighs in on the seven Big Ten bowl matchups.
- Iowa's large traveling fan base and strong on-field results helped the Hawkeyes land an Outback Bowl berth.
- Michigan's trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is a weird end to a weird year.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini isn't complaining about a bowl rematch with Georgia.
- Wisconsin can measure its program against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
- Minnesota is headed back to the Texas Bowl but with elevated expectations.
- Northwestern isn't going bowling, but the Wildcats' 2014 recruiting class just got better.
- Purdue AD Morgan Burke reflects on a tough season and the future for the Boilers.
- Coach Kyle Flood will lead Rutgers into the Big Ten, but he'll have several new assistants in 2014.
- Penn State's linebacker recruits remain on board despite coach Ron Vanderlinden's departure.