Dallas Colleges: Big Ten
Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk are essentially picking up a first down on every rush attempt. Gordon is averaging 9.46 yards per carry, while Seastrunk is at 9.16. Those are the top two yards per carry averages by running backs in the FBS and trail only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota among all players. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter discuss what makes both runners so dynamic and try to figure out whether they should be touching the ball even more.
Jake Trotter: He's a huge part. There's a reason why receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Sure, those guys are blazing fast. But defenses are so concerned about Seastrunk running wild on them, that Reese and Goodley end up in one-on-one situations downfield.
What about Gordon, Brian?
BB: Gordon is incredibly talented, so much so that Montee Ball said before Gordon ever took the field that he might be the most talented Wisconsin back ever. That's saying something. At 6-foot-1, Gordon gobbles up the field with his long-striding form and is almost impossible to catch once he finds a seam. He has touchdown runs of 70, 71 and 80 yards this season. The Badgers also know just how to use him right. He not only lines up in conventional positions, but he is often employed on jet sweeps where he can get a full head of steam as he heads out to the perimeter.
Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line, which is once again stacked with massive human beings who create gaping holes for their backs. That's a major reason for the program's tradition of star tailbacks, and it undoubtedly contributes to Gordon's success, though I think he'd be wildly effective in any system. Which leads me to my question for you: how much of Seastrunk's stats stem from Baylor's system, and how much is just on his own talent? In other words, do you think he'd have the same type of numbers if he and Gordon switched places tomorrow?
JT: The system is a big part of it. Coach Art Briles' track record dating back to the Robert Griffin III years speaks for itself. But the supporting cast is a big part, too. Guard Cyril Richardson leads an offensive line that excels at paving running lanes. The threat of Bryce Petty throwing the ball downfield to Reese and Goodley means defenses can't even think about loading the box. Seastrunk also has a capable wingman in Glasco Martin, who takes some of the rushing load off Seastrunk's shoulders. This Baylor offense is awesome, and Seastrunk is just one part of it. That is a big reason why he's such an efficient runner. He plays on a great offense.
BB: Yeah, Seastrunk is averaging a little under 14 carries per game, while Gordon is getting just a little more than 15 rushing attempts per game. In Gordon's case, Wisconsin has another stud running back in senior James White, who ranks No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards and who has over 3,200 career rushing yards. Four times already this season, Gordon and White have gone over 100 yards in the same game, and White came within two yards last week at Illinois of making it five times. Coach Gary Andersen has basically split the carries between the two, which keeps them both fresh, and I think he feels a little more comfortable with the veteran White in there for pass protection purposes.
But it makes you wonder what kind of numbers Gordon could put up if he got a steady 20-to-25 carries per game. What do you think Seastrunk could do with a heavier workload, and do you think the lack of carries will hurt either back when it comes to major awards like the Doak Walker or All-America honors?
JT: I don't think it will hurt Seastrunk in either category as long as Baylor keeps winning. The key stat with Seastrunk is yards per carry. He is averaging a whopping 9.16 per rush. As long as he keeps that up, Baylor keeps pouring on points and the Bears keep winning, he'll remain at the forefront of the Doak Walker and All-American candidacies. Seastrunk, however, probably has almost no shot at the Heisman. Petty has divided the Baylor vote, and in many ways overshadowed the running back by leading the nation in Total QBR through the midway point of the season. If Petty keeps putting up monster numbers, he -- not Seastrunk -- will likely emerge as the Baylor candidate for the Heisman.
Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational
When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii
Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.
Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.
This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.
Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.
Five players to watch
Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.
Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.
Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor
Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor
When and where: Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Fla.
Initial thoughts: The Old Spice Classic field has rarely, if ever, approached the density or strength of the Maui Invitational (historically) or the Battle 4 Atlantis (more recently). It typically, though, has plenty by which to recommend it, and in 2013 more than most. Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart will lead a Cowboys team determined to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 into the Wide World of Sports Complex as the undeniable favorite, but Memphis won't be that far away.
Meanwhile, we'll get a very early look at whether new Butler coach Brandon Miller will be able to field a tournament-ready team just a few months after Brad Stevens' departure to the NBA's Boston Celtics. We'll see if Purdue can bounce back from an ugly (but in many ways promising) 2012-13 season. Will Saint Joseph's' band of returning seniors be ready to make the leap everyone anticipated and gave up on a season ago? LSU has an intriguing rebuilding group that might push the top half of the SEC. We'll also see if Washington State, after losing seniors Brock Motum and Mike Ladd, is going to be so bad as to put coach Ken Bone on the proverbial hot seat. There are a variety of things worth watching in this bracket, and that includes the hoop.
The Hawks were everyone's vogue pick to win the Atlantic 10 last season, based primarily on the assumption that 2011-12's cadre of sophomores -- the Hawks returned all five starters -- would improve and coalesce as juniors. Instead, the Hawks became merely the latest example of why the muddy mix of "returning players" and "experience" and "chemistry" doesn't always translate into improvement. But Phil Martelli still has a good chunk of those players back for another go at this, and if he can coax better defense from everyone, then Saint Joseph's might transform its narrative yet again.
Meanwhile, LSU probably wasn't as bad as you think in 2012-13. The Tigers weren't great, of course, but they finished in the top 100, and they bring in a surprisingly talented recruiting class. Johnny Jones got "yes" answers from three ESPN 100 players, including No. 3-ranked power forward Jarrell Martin -- the program's best recruit since Glen Davis.
Potential matchup I’d like to see: Oklahoma State versus Memphis. When it comes to early-season tournaments, there is very little reason to root for anything but the best basketball. Every now and then there's a backstory baked into the proceedings, like an old rivalry given a random renewal in November. But, for the most part, our desires can be expressed in the simplest of terms: good basketball. That's the case here. This early before the start of the season, Memphis appears to be the second-best team in this bracket, and its backcourt (Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, both excellent offensive players) should be a fascinating matchup for Smart and running mate Markel Brown. Recently, Memphis has often stumbled out of the gate before otherwise-solid seasons, which has cost the Tigers valuable lines on their NCAA tournament seed in March. Reversing that trend isn't as important in their first season in the American Athletic Conference, but quality nonconference wins are still utterly crucial, and it's going to be hard to find better chances than this.
Five players to watch:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: NBA scouts really like Smart's game, but they're in love with the intangibles -- his work ethic, his drive and his desire to succeed. Those qualities have earned raves from coaches as long as Smart has played basketball, and they helped transformed Oklahoma State from the defensively soft 2011-12 group into one of the nation's best defenses last season. Smart turned down a shot at being a top-five pick to return to Stillwater. If he has developed the skills to go from "really good" to "frighteningly dominant" -- slightly better ballhandling and much better shooting -- they'll be on display at the Old Spice Classic.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: Goodwin's freshman season wasn't quite as good as his recruiting hype foretold, but there were tantalizing bits littered throughout. Now with Memorial Never-Got-There Club member Tarik Black having transferred and Adonis Thomas having left for the NBA draft, the keys to the Memphis frontcourt are decidedly in Goodwin's hands.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The Boilermakers weren't the easiest team in the country to watch last season. When they were good, it was usually because they were guarding, not because they were setting the scoreboard alight. But Matt Painter has one thing most coaches don't: a legitimate 7-foot NBA prospect. Hammons is that guy, and it's not just because he's big. He's also athletic for his size, with good ball skills and footwork. If he returns from the summer with a bit less big-man baby fat and a bit more low-post polish, well, look out.
Jarrell Martin, LSU: As mentioned above, Martin is the No. 3-ranked power forward prospect in the class of 2013. What wasn't mentioned is he is also the No. 11 overall talent. In many incoming classes, this would be worth noting, but little more. With the 2013 class regarded as the deepest and most talented in a decade, if not longer, it is something more. In fact, Martin is the highest-ranked 2013 prospect to not choose Kentucky, Duke, Arizona or Kansas. His situation at LSU will be different and arguably more interesting for it. Can the long-dormant Tigers rise again?
Kellen Dunham, Butler: Former coach Brad Stevens earned the reputation for not needing talent -- that he almost had to find unsung players and mold them for his system to work. That's probably true in general, but there were already signs before his departure to the Celtics that Butler's recruiting had gone up a notch or two since the back-to-back title-game runs in 2010 and 2011. For one, Indiana forward Cody Zeller listed the Bulldogs as among his final three recruiting options (North Carolina being the third). For another, he landed Dunham. Sure, Dunham wasn't Zeller, but he was an ESPN Top 100 player, and he was solid and efficient in big minutes as a freshman. Dunham will have to be even more efficient in even bigger minutes as a sophomore, particularly from 3-point range from which he ended up shooting just 34.5 percent, but he's capable.
Title-game prediction: Oklahoma State over Memphis.
As I wrote above, you just root for good basketball in these things, and Memphis' backcourt (especially if Michael Dixon is able to play) by far looks like the most interesting challenge to Smart and Co. in the Old Spice. But I don't think it would be much of a challenge. Jackson can really put the ball on the floor, and Crawford is a lights-out shooter (even off the dribble), but Smart and Brown look like they're going to lock down pretty much everyone in the sport this season. The Tigers included. Cowboys win.
Who others are picking:
Andy Katz: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Jeff Goodman: Memphis over Purdue
Seth Greenberg: Oklahoma State over LSU
Jason King: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Myron Medcalf: Oklahoma State over Memphis
Dana O'Neil: Oklahoma State over Memphis
The Bears became the first Big 12 team to win the NIT, soundly defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 74-54 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
"I’m proud of these guys," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Really proud of their heart and determination, and they’ll always be remembered. Whenever you make history -- you don’t get a lot of chances to do that."
Baylor led 27-22 at halftime, and Iowa cut the deficit to 28-27 early in the second half. But the game turned into a rout from there. Pierre Jackson, the Bears' leading scorer (19.9 PPG), heated up, scoring 13 of his 17 points after intermission. He also collected 10 assists, giving him a fourth consecutive double-double, and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
"In the second half, they were getting some good screens for me to get to the paint," Jackson said, "and I got to the right spots and knocked down shots."
"They’re a terrific offensive team," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. "They had us spread out. They were moving the ball, and they’ve got a lot of weapons, and Jackson is tremendous."
Iowa, on the other hand, had a nightmarish game on offense. The Hawkeyes shot just 18-for-69 (26.4 percent) from the field and 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) from beyond the arc. They missed open looks on the perimeter and several chippies around the rim, clearly bothered by the presence of 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and 6-foot-9 forward Cory Jefferson (23 points, 7 rebounds).
"[It] seemed like we just kept missing easy shots," McCaffery said. "The stat that jumps out at me is we had 20 offensive rebounds against this team. That’s effort. That’s special. That should have equated to more success offensively."
Baylor (23-14) was ranked No. 19 in the country in the preseason, so ending up in the NIT was a disappointment. But the Bears certainly finished the season strong.
"You look at most teams in the NIT, they probably lost a lot of close games, and with our team, we lost some close games," Drew said. "And the common denominator was when we shot over 70 percent from the free throw line, we won, and when we shot in the 50s and 60s, we lost. That’s with a young front line."
Drew will lose his starting backcourt of Jackson and A.J. Walton, both seniors. But if the talented post players return, Baylor will be dangerous next season.
Iowa (25-13) had its NCAA tournament bubble burst Selection Sunday but gained valuable experience by playing five more games. Senior swingman Eric May departs, but everyone else should be back, and the Hawkeyes should go dancing next season, for the first time since 2006.
"There’s just no substitute for experience," McCaffery said. "Come to Madison Square Garden, the greatest venue in sports, and play twice against two really good teams, win one, lose one, learn from that -- it can only make us better."
NEW YORK -- Quick thoughts on Baylor's 74-54 victory over Baylor in Thursday's NIT title game at Madison Square Garden:
What it means: Baylor is your 2013 NIT champion -- the first Big 12 team ever to win this tournament.
Baylor (23-14) had a disappointing regular season. The Bears were ranked No. 19 in the country in the preseason, coming off a berth in the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight a year ago. They didn't even make the Big Dance this time around but finished the season on a high note.
Iowa (25-13) was on the bubble on Selection Sunday and didn't make the NCAA cut, but collected four wins and some valuable experience the past couple of weeks.
The turning point: After Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble scored the first bucket of the game, Baylor scored nine consecutive points and led the rest of the first half. It took the Bears' leading scorer, Pierre Jackson, almost 15 minutes to collect his first point. But Baylor still led 27-22 at intermission. The Hawkeyes shot just 7-for-28 (25 percent) in the first half and committed eight turnovers.
Iowa cut the deficit to one early in the second half, 28-27, thanks to five quick points by Eric May. But Baylor answered with seven points in a row to reassert control, and soon turned the game into a rout. The Bears pushed the lead past 20 for the first time on a Cory Jefferson two-hand slam with 7:04 remaining. The rest was garbage time.
Star watch: Jackson scored just four points in the first half, shooting 1-for-6. The second half was a different story. The senior finished with 17 points and 10 assists, and was named the tournament's most outstanding player. Jefferson scored a game-high 23 points, and Isaiah Austin added 15.
Mike Gesell scored a team-high 13 points off the bench for Iowa, while Aaron White chipped in 12. Marble finished with just six points.
Number crunch: It just wasn't Iowa's night offensively. The Hawkeyes missed open shots from the perimeter, and several chippies around the rim -- they were clearly bothered by the presence of the 7-foot-1 Austin (five blocked shots) in the paint. For the game, Iowa shot 18-for-69 from the field (26.4 percent), including 5-for-24 from beyond the arc (20.8), while Baylor shot 26-for-48 (54.2 percent).
What's next: That's the final college basketball game of the season at Madison Square Garden. Enjoy the Final Four, and we'll see you next year.
EAST REGION (Washington, D.C.)
Eamonn Brennan: Indiana over Marquette
Fran Fraschilla: Indiana over Miami
John Gasaway: Indiana over Miami
Seth Greenberg: Miami over Indiana
Andy Katz: Indiana over Miami
Jason King: Indiana over Miami
Myron Medcalf: Miami over Indiana
Dana O'Neil: Indiana over Miami
Bruce Pearl: Miami over Syracuse
Robbi Pickeral: Miami over Indiana
Dick Vitale: Indiana over Miami
WEST REGION (Los Angeles)
Eamonn Brennan: Ohio State over La Salle
Fran Fraschilla: Ohio State over Wichita State
John Gasaway: Ohio State over Wichita State
Seth Greenberg: Ohio State over Wichita State
Andy Katz: Ohio State over Wichita State
Jason King: Arizona over Wichita State
Myron Medcalf: Ohio State over Wichita State
Dana O'Neil: Ohio State over La Salle
Bruce Pearl: Arizona over Ohio State
Robbi Pickeral: Ohio State over Wichita State
Dick Vitale: Ohio State over Wichita State
SOUTH REGION (North Texas)
Eamonn Brennan: Florida over Michigan
Fran Fraschilla: Florida over Kansas
John Gasaway: Kansas over Florida
Seth Greenberg: Kansas over Florida
Andy Katz: Michigan over Florida
Jason King: Kansas over Florida
Myron Medcalf: Michigan over Florida Gulf Coast
Dana O'Neil: Michigan over Florida Gulf Coast
Bruce Pearl: Kansas over Florida
Robbi Pickeral: Florida over Kansas
Dick Vitale: Michigan over Florida
MIDWEST REGION (Indianapolis)
Eamonn Brennan: Louisville over Michigan State
Fran Fraschilla: Louisville over Michigan State
John Gasaway: Louisville over Duke
Seth Greenberg: Louisville over Michigan State
Andy Katz: Louisville over Michigan State
Jason King: Louisville over Duke
Myron Medcalf: Louisville over Michigan State
Dana O'Neil: Louisville over Michigan State
Bruce Pearl: Louisville over Duke
Robbi Pickeral: Louisville over Duke
Dick Vitale: Louisville over Michigan State
This Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas wasn't a pretty one. A fun first half gave way to a lackluster second half until the final minutes, when Texas Tech's offense shook awake and rallied for a 34-31 victory over Minnesota with a Ryan Bustin field goal in the final seconds.
Tempers boiled for much of the game, which is pretty rare in a contest between two teams with absolutely no history and few if any links among players on the rosters. Officials didn't do a great job of keeping the peace.
The Big 12 moved to 2-0 in bowl games, and the Big Ten fell to 0-1 with the loss in its postseason opener.
It was over when: Bustin busted a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to complete an unlikely comeback in the final minutes, much as Texas Tech did back in the 2006 Insight Bowl. This one was a whole lot less dramatic than the FBS bowl-record 31-point, second-half comeback of that postseason meeting with the Golden Gophers, but Seth Doege made it a ballgame when he hit Eric Ward on a short slant that turned into a 35-yard, game-tying score when the safety help went absent.
Game ball goes to: Red Raiders wide receiver Darrin Moore. There weren't a ton of truly standout performances, but Moore caught a game-high 11 balls for 84 yards.
Stat of the game: This game was chippy from start to finish. A few media members on hand reported that there was some simmering tension after a contentious rodeo contest earlier in the week (which is just as silly as it sounds) -- and it showed up on the field. Nine personal fouls (five for Texas Tech, four for Minnesota) were handed out, and at one point, Minnesota faced a third-and-49 because of personal fouls. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was also ejected for throwing a punch. More on that later.
Stat of the game II: Texas Tech's interception on third down in the final minute to set up the game-winning score was its first forced turnover since Oct. 20. Before that, Texas Tech had been minus-12 in turnover margin in its previous five-plus games.
Unsung hero of the game: Cornerback Michael Carter, Minnesota. He picked off Doege twice and made five tackles to help Minnesota's defense pitch a shutout in the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.
Second-guessing: Amaro's decision-making. Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant fumbled what was nearly a go-ahead touchdown out of bounds, but Amaro made it worse by punching a defender he had pinned on the ground. Even worse? He did so right in front of an official, who flagged him for a 15-yard penalty and forced Tech into a third-and-goal from the 16. The eventual result was a blocked field goal; Minnesota took a 31-24 lead with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Amaro didn't help his case by clearly complaining on the sideline and leaving the field while signaling "Guns Up" to the fans.
What Texas Tech learned: New coach Kliff Kingsbury has his work cut out for him. Texas Tech's offense struggled in the second half and the team looked undisciplined for all 60 minutes. The Red Raiders didn't score in the second half until the final 70 seconds. Kingsbury is right when he says the program is far from broken, but it obviously needs to be broken of some bad habits developed down the stretch in 2012. It struggled to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns, and silly penalties hurt Texas Tech all night. The Red Raiders were clearly the better team and showed it with the victory, which came despite a very poor performance and mistakes throughout. A few minutes of solid offense in the second half were enough to win this one, but it won't be enough to win many games in the Big 12 once Kingsbury takes over.
What Minnesota learned: Bowl games mean even more pain and another rough finish for the Golden Gophers, who lost their final three games of the season. Quarterback Philip Nelson showed a lot of promise for the future, but his late interception set up the Red Raiders' winning field goal. Minnesota has now lost five consecutive bowl games, and hasn't won one since the 2004 Music City Bowl.
Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET, Dallas (ESPNU)
Purdue take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Purdue will be playing in its second straight postseason when it kicks off the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but that wasn't enough to save head coach Danny Hope's job. Hope was fired on Nov. 25 after a 6-6 season, and assistant Patrick Higgins will serve as interim coach for this game.
Hope was confident this would be his best team at Purdue, and the Boilers got off to a decent 3-1 start that included a close loss at Notre Dame. But with an excellent opportunity to make noise in a probation-ravaged Big Ten Leaders Division, the Boilermakers lost their first five conference games, including multi-touchdown defeats to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State.
The team did rally to win its final three games to salvage a bowl trip, sparked by Robert Marve returning as the starting quarterback. Fans had been calling for that move for weeks, and Marve delivered despite tearing his ACL in the second week of the season and eschewing surgery.
Hope did make some inroads in increasing the overall team speed, and the offense boasts some exciting playmakers like running backs Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt and receiver Antavian Edison. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a potential first-round NFL pick, while Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson form one of the Big Ten's top cornerback tandems -- and they will be needed against Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game.
This team was talented enough to push Ohio State to the absolute brink in Columbus yet unfocused enough to fall behind 44-7 at Minnesota. How the Boilermakers respond and play against the Cowboys without their head coach is anyone's guess.
Oklahoma State take from SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon: OSU coach Mike Gundy has done one of the best coaching jobs of his career as the Cowboys made Big 12 history with three different quarterbacks throwing for 1,000 yards or more. Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf each had their moments this season as the starting quarterback for the Pokes and each signal-caller led OSU to a double-digit win over a Big 12 opponent.
The constant in the Cowboys’ offensive attack is running back Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher with 1,351 rushing yards. His toughness, versatility and playmaking set the tone for OSU’s offense. It could be the final game for the junior, who may elect to leave early for the NFL after three seasons as a key member of OSU’s offense.
OSU’s defense had an up-and-down season, holding four Big 12 opponents to 21 points or less before allowing more than 600 yards of total offense to Oklahoma and Baylor in its final two games. Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have been the tone-setters for the Cowboys defense. When they play well, OSU’s defense is noticeably better.
Keep an eye on the Cowboys defense on third down. In the losses to OU and Baylor, the Cowboys allowed more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted.
Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)
TCU take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Horned Frogs brought a new style of football in their first year in the Big 12, forcing the rest of the league to get used to more low-scoring games decided in the running game. The Frogs won four games this year with 27 points or less and scored fewer than 20 points in two more, while holding opponents to less than 30. The Frogs season turned when it lost Casey Pachall, who left school to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to learn on the job. He’s been up and down, but the Frogs live to run the ball and play defense.
They’ll face a Michigan State team which loves to do the exact same. Expect another game won by the team that wins the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. The Spartans are fourth nationally in total defense, and the Frogs led the Big 12 in the stat by more than 35 yards per game.
TCU clinched its eighth consecutive bowl bid with a banged-up season in the Big 12, playing with a team that was made up of 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, by far the youngest team coach Gary Patterson had ever fielded. Still, in their first year in a tougher league, the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth and won seven games despite missing more than 20 players that it expected to have when 2011 ended. Top running back Waymon James suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Matthew Tucker as the lone returnee from a trio of running backs that rushed for at least 700 yards last season. Ed Wesley left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft after spring practice. It was a season full of difficult circumstances for the Frogs, but they perservered and will try to get a jump on a promising 2013 season with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The bar had been raised for Michigan State entering the fall after the Spartans recorded a team-record 11 victories in each of the past two seasons. Many pegged Mark Dantonio’s squad to reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century and continue to establish itself as a new power in the Big Ten. Things didn’t work out that way, as the Spartans repeatedly came up short, struggled at home and needed a Week 13 win just to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year, a team record.
A talent-stocked Spartans defense did its part, finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense (fourth), scoring defense (10th), rushing defense (eighth) and pass defense (ninth). Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are among the standouts on a unit that allowed fewer than 20 points in eight games.
Most of Michigan State’s problems came on offense, as the Spartans struggled to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and his top three receivers. Junior signal caller Andrew Maxwell had mixed results in his first year as the starter, and while a young receiving corps improved, there was little continuity in the pass game. Running back Le'Veon Bell did his share, taking the ball more times (350) than any other FBS player and recording 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the unit struggled to turn yards into points and lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home.
Bowl practices should help the young offense, but Michigan State’s defense likely will need a big effort against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to secure the team’s second straight postseason win.
Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)
Minnesota take by Big 12 blogger Brian Bennett: Few teams would be as thrilled to accept a Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas invite as Minnesota is. The Gophers are going bowling for the first time since the 2009 season and have made steady progress in Year 2 under head coach Jerry Kill, doubling their win total from three to six.
Kill made the bold decision midway through the year to take the redshirt off true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and thrust him into the starting role, switching banged up senior MarQueis Gray to receiver. It paid off as the precocious Nelson guided the team to two Big Ten victories, which was just enough for bowl eligibility after a 4-0 nonconference mark.
Minnesota badly needs the month off between games to get healthy, as injuries really started to take a toll on an already young and thin team down the stretch. The Gophers got blown out in their last two games and mustered only 96 yards in their finale at home against Michigan State.
Texas Tech can relate after having lost four of its final five. Minnesota will have to hope its No. 11 pass defense can slow down the Red Raiders' No. 2 passing attack, but Kill's limited offense faces a tremendous challenge in trying to score enough points to win. Regardless, just getting to this bowl game will stand as a major stepping stone for the Gophers.
Texas Tech take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Just like last year, Texas Tech stumbled to the finish after a big win over a top five team, but this time, the late struggles weren’t enough to prevent Texas Tech from making a bowl game.
The 7-5 Red Raiders lost four of their final five games, with the only win coming against 1-11 Kansas at home in overtime, and two losses coming by more than 30 points. Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville began the season on the hot seat after going just 5-7 a year ago, but coached his team to a 6-1 start and a big win over then-No. 5 West Virginia. Despite the late-season struggles, Texas Tech does boast quarterback Seth Doege, who is second nationally with 38 touchdown passes and sixth nationally with 3,934 passing yards. The only problem? That’s fourth in the pass-happy Big 12.
The Red Raiders will be a tough matchup for Minnesota, who went just 2-6 in a weak Big Ten and lost three of their final four games, never topping more than 17 points in that rough stretch. They’ll need to hang a lot more points to keep up with Texas Tech, who scored more than 20 points in every game this season and was held below 41 points on just four occasions. The Red Raiders will also commemorate a memorable Insight Bowl matchup against Minnesota in which Tech rallied from a 31-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Golden Gophers in overtime and clinch the biggest comeback in FBS history.
The so-called Champions Bowl will essentially just be the new Sugar Bowl and be played in the Superdome in New Orleans, La, sources told ESPN.com.
From our news story:
New Orleans was chosen over the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Two weeks ago, SEC commissioner Mike Slive told ESPN.com those cities were the two finalists.
Sources said one of the factors why the Sugar Bowl was selected was the SEC's long history in New Orleans. An SEC team played in the inaugural Sugar Bowl in 1935 and SEC teams have been a staple with the bowl game since.
Besides New Orleans and Arlington, the other cities submitting bids for the Champions game were Atlanta, Houston and San Antonio.
The game will take the name of the Sugar Bowl as the Champions Bowl name was a temporary placeholder.
Money is money, and the SEC and Big 12 will share and $80 million payout for the game, the same amount the Pac-12 and Big Ten get for the Rose Bowl.
Still, I'm sure Big 12 coaches are really fired up about having to play SEC teams down on the Bayou.
See more about the game in our news story.
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