Dallas Colleges: Donnell Kirkwood
1. Wisconsin-Ohio State could be the Big Ten's game of the year: In recent years, the Badgers-Buckeyes matchups have been more significant than Ohio State-Michigan or any other conference pairing. This week's showdown at Ohio Stadium could be just as significant. Ohio State is the Big Ten's best team, and Wisconsin might be No. 2 after another dominant rushing performance against Purdue. Both teams ascribe to the power run game but do it in vastly different yet equally entertaining ways. Although the Kenny G show has been terrific for the Buckeyes, top quarterback Braxton Miller should be back for the Big Ten opener. Miller might not be the biggest offensive star on the field, as Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has performed as advertised, racking up 624 rush yards and seven touchdowns in the first four games. The game features first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen going up against his former boss, Urban Meyer. One of these teams has held at least a share of the past eight Big Ten titles. The winner takes control of the Leaders Division. Should be a great one.
3. The Iowa-Minnesota game has added meaning: We love the pig, but there's a lot more than the Floyd of Rosedale at stake (steak?) this week as Iowa and Minnesota open Big Ten play in Minneapolis. Both teams have shown improvement, especially with their power running games, and enter the matchup with momentum. Iowa exploded for 38 first-half points Saturday against Western Michigan and finished with 59, its highest total since 2002. The Hawkeyes received contributions in all three phases, including two punt return touchdowns from receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and two pick-sixes from cornerback B.J. Lowery. Iowa's defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. After a miserable offensive performance in 2012, Iowa is starting to establish an identity behind its line and a stable of running backs. Minnesota is doing the same, finally showing it can control the line of scrimmage and dominate on the ground. Despite not having its starting quarterback (Philip Nelson) or starting running back (Donnell Kirkwood), Minnesota racked up 353 yards and six rushing touchdowns, including four by backup signal-caller Mitch Leidner, in an impressive win against San Jose State. The Gophers are 4-0 for the second straight season. Both teams have very challenging league schedules, so getting off to a 1-0 start is huge. Big one at TCF Bank Stadium this week.
4. Bo Pelini is still standing, but needs time to regroup: The open week couldn't come at a better time for Nebraska's coach and his team, which ended an emotional week with a 59-20 thumping of FCS South Dakota State. The firestorm from audio-gate should die down, at least a little, as Pelini got through Saturday's game without any further controversy, and received mostly support from Huskers fans. Pelini is hardly out of the woods, though, and must turn his attention to a defense that needs a ton of work before Big Ten play begins Oct. 5 against Illinois. The Huskers surrendered 465 yards to the Jackrabbits, who had a balanced attack (238 yards passing, 227 yards rushing). Pelini called it the defense's worst performance in a season filling up with them. Whether it's youth, talent, scheme or attention to detail, Nebraska's defense must get back on track soon. Although the schedule remains favorable the next month or so, it's hard to see the Huskers repeating as Legends Division champs without some significant upgrades on D.
5. Indiana still hasn't arrived: Indiana entered the year with high hopes for a bowl game this year, and with a warp-speed offense averaging 50 points a game through three weeks, the Hoosiers didn't appear to be deluding themselves. But after an impressive showing last week against Bowling Green, Kevin Wilson's team found itself right back in a familiar spot: unable to defend a good team. Missouri racked up 623 yards -- the most in Memorial Stadium history -- in a 45-28 win in Bloomington on Saturday. The game wasn't even as close as the final score, as Indiana tacked on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 10 seconds to go, and Missouri had three turnovers in the first half to kill promising drives. The Hoosiers' vaunted offense failed to score from the 6:31 mark of the second quarter until there was 11:24 left in the game, and IU punted nine times after punting only five times in the first three games combined. The loss to Navy now hurts even more, as Wilson's team would have to go 4-4 in Big Ten play to become bowl eligible. That seems like an awfully tall order. Penn State comes in next after a bye for both teams, and the Nittany Lions just righted their defense in a 34-0 shutout of Kent State. Penn State has never lost to Indiana and will be favored soundly again on Oct. 5. It might be wait for next year time again in Hoosierland.
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS
Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6)
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas.
When: Friday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET
About Texas Tech: Texas Tech could use a little good news. It's kind of been all bad lately. A promising season began at 6-1 and had more than a few Red Raiders dreaming of Big 12 title trophies. Then Kansas State delivered a systematic beatdown and Tech lost four of its final five games, the lone win coming at home in overtime against 1-11 Kansas. Then coach Tommy Tuberville left to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati, and OC Neal Brown followed him out the door to take the same job at Kentucky. The best news over that span? Texas Tech's bowl opponent is Minnesota. Let's look at these Gophers.
About Minnesota: Coach Jerry Kill is just 9-15 in two seasons as Minnesota coach, and this year's team doesn't have a win in Big Ten play over a team that's better than .500. One came over 6-6 Purdue and the other was over Illinois, who went winless in league play. All four losses in the final six games came by at least 16 points in a weak Big Ten that struggled in nonconference play. The Gophers improved this season to reach their first bowl game since 2009, but the Gophers haven't been to a bowl game that wasn't the Insight Bowl since way back in 2005.
Red Raiders to watch: Receiver Darrin Moore is the team's most talented player, but Seth Doege makes the offense go. If he has a good day, Tech can beat almost anyone. If he struggles, fans will be wondering if the Michael Brewer Era can get started a little early. Defensively, keep an eye on Kerry Hyder along the defensive line. He's been a huge help in revitalizing the nation's worst rush defense from a year ago, but safety Cody Davis is a playmaker and a scholar in the secondary.
Golden Gophers to watch: The Gophers' best player, A.J. Barker left the team and transferred to Houston recently, but sophomore Donnell Kirkwood added 848 yards on the ground to lead the team and scored five touchdowns. Barker's absence will be felt. Despite playing just eight games, he still leads the team in receiving by more than 300 yards and caught a team-high seven scores. There's been a revolving door at QB for the Gophers, which hasn't helped the receivers. Senior MarQueis Gray had a disappointing season, and Phillip Nelson took over to end the season after Max Shortell didn't make a huge impact and chose to transfer. Defensive end D.L. White may help pressure Doege. He was second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.
Did you know: This game is loaded with fun facts, though the first isn't so fun. The 13-point line in this game (Texas Tech is the favorite) is one of the highest of the bowl season, muddled in the middle of some of the highest. Oklahoma State vs. Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl is the highest, but depending on who you ask, Tech vs. Minnesota is No. 2. These two already played a classic in the 2006 Insight Bowl, when Texas Tech rallied from a 38-7, third-quarter deficit and outscored Minnesota 24-0 in the fourth quarter of a 44-41 overtime win that resulted in Golden Gophers' coach Glen Mason getting fired.
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