NCF Nation: Michigan State Spartans
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Why Illinois will win: There has been a noticeable change in the Illini down the stretch, and Tim Beckman’s players appeared to have fully bought in to his message as they fought back to qualify for a bowl game. Across the board, this looks like the most favorable matchup for any Big Ten team, and with a motivated team playing its best football when it mattered most, expect Illinois to come away with a trophy. Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 24. -- Austin Ward
Why Louisiana Tech will win: I suppose I should believe more in Illinois after it finished the season strong, and Louisiana Tech has some bad losses on its schedule (Northwestern State and Old Dominion … oy). But I still have a wait-and-see attitude with this Illini defense, and the one thing the Bulldogs can do is score points. They averaged 37.5 points per game this season, and I think they'll win a shootout against a group of players not accustomed to the bowl stage. Louisiana Tech 38, Illinois 35. -- Brian Bennett
Quick Lane Bowl
Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers has already played four of the nation's top 10 defenses and a half-dozen of the top 25 rushing attacks. So, even with dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, North Carolina isn'’t going to throw anything at Rutgers it hasn’t already seen. The Tar Heels have one of the worst defenses in the country -- only 10 have allowed more yards -- so Rutgers shouldn’t have a problem scoring. The issue here is Rutgers' defense, but, again, Rutgers has fared OK there against middle-of-the-road teams, and that's exactly what UNC is.
Rutgers 38, North Carolina 31. -- Josh Moyer
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Why Boston College will win: It's fitting this bowl is played in Yankee Stadium because the final score might look like it belongs to a baseball game. Both teams have top-five rushing defenses and middling offensive production. Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy, a former Florida Gator who transferred before this season, has been the X factor this season that helped BC beat USC and stick within a field goal of Florida State. Murphy does most of his damage on the ground, and that plays in Penn State's favor. But if he can break one or two big plays, that should be enough for a close win. Boston College 10, Penn State 6. -- Dan Murphy
Why Penn State will win: Let’s be honest: The Nittany Lions offense is lousy, and the special teams (outside of Sam Ficken) are almost just as bad. But I'm going with Penn State for the same reason it made a bowl game in the first place: defense. Only four teams in the FBS threw for fewer yards than Boston College, and no team defended the run better than Penn State. That works right into the strengths of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Plus, the Nittany Lions will be motivated in their first bowl appearance since 2011. Underestimate this team at your own peril; it ended the plast two seasons with even bigger upsets.
Penn State 16, Boston College 13. -- Josh Moyer
National University Holiday Bowl
Why USC will win: Because the Trojans have more offensive firepower than any team to face Nebraska this season -- and the Huskers have surrendered 475 yards per game to Miami, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. USC, with quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor, will torment a Nebraska team that might feel a bit lost without deposed coach Bo Pelini. The Huskers, organizationally, figure to struggle after a tumultuous month. They're stuck in turmoil as USC looks to build off a strong finish to the regular season in a win over Notre Dame. USC 38, Nebraska 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Foster Farms Bowl
Why Stanford will win: This is a virtual home game for the Cardinal in nearby Santa Clara, California, while the Terrapins have to travel all the way across the country. Stanford struggled earlier in the season but seemed to find its footing late, beating UCLA by 21 points in the regular-season finale. Maryland has been unpredictable most of the season and has enough big-play ability to pull off an upset. But it's a tall order. Stanford 24, Maryland 17. -- Brian Bennett
Why Wisconsin will win: It's been a topsy-turvy three weeks for the Badgers, between losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game and then losing their head coach, but this group isn't one to just lie down, and I can't envision Melvin Gordon taking it easy in the last game of his college career. How you view this game is basically a reflection of how you view that Big Ten championship -- and I see that as an anomaly. It won't happen again against Auburn. I still think Wisconsin has a great defense. I still think this offensive line can overpower Auburn. And I still think these players want to win one for Barry Alvarez. Auburn has an average defense and a great offense, but the Badgers win a close one in the end. Wisconsin 31, Auburn 28. -- Josh Moyer
Why Auburn will win: You can bet Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched the Big Ten championship game with a big smile on his face. Ohio State had its way with Wisconsin's supposedly elite defense despite using a quarterback making his first career start with only one week to prepare. Auburn has as much, or more, offensive talent and speed as Ohio State, and it has a veteran quarterback in Nick Marshall. The Tigers' shaky defense could struggle with Gordon, Wisconsin's All-America running back, but it should be able to outscore the Badgers. Wisconsin can't match up with Sammie Coates in the back end and could struggle with Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne on the perimeter. Auburn 35, Wisconsin 24. -- Adam Rittenberg
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Michigan State will win: The fearsome Spartans defense has already allowed more than 40 points twice this season. There's a decent chance it will happen a third time against Baylor, the country's No. 1 offense, but Michigan State is no slouch on offense, either, and should be able to keep pace. While Baylor uses a breakneck tempo to get its advantage, the Spartans rely more on their instinct to grind opponents down. If Michigan State can control the pace of the game and get a couple of stops, it should be able to avoid falling to 0-3 against top-10 opponents this season. Michigan State 45, Baylor 42. -- Dan Murphy
Why Baylor will win: Michigan State faced two ranked teams this season and lost both games in unflattering fashion. Oregon and Ohio State hung 46 and 49 points, respectively, on the Spartans as Michigan State's offense just couldn't keep up. The problem for Mark Dantonio's squad? Baylor’s offense is even better. The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring and yards, so the "No-Fly Zone" could have as much a hard time stopping Bryce Petty as it did Marcus Mariota. The Spartans are a good team, but I just don't like this matchup for them. MSU starts off strong but Baylor pulls away in the second half.
Baylor 45, Michigan State 35. -- Josh Moyer
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Why Minnesota will win: The SEC East champions were already given fits by a Big Ten team, and Indiana won only a single conference game after knocking off Missouri on the road. Minnesota, with its power rushing attack, aggressive defense and solid leadership from the coaching staff, was better than the Hoosiers in virtually every way this season. Plus, it will be fired up to end the season on a high note with a fan base excited for the destination. The Gophers claim more hardware here. Minnesota 27, Missouri 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Missouri will win: All the Gophers have to do is follow Indiana's game plan from the Hoosiers' 31-27 upset in Columbia, Missouri, back in September, right? It might not be that easy. While the Tigers benefited from playing in the terrible SEC East, Missouri did improve as the season went along and has a strong rush defense that allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. That means Mitch Leidner will likely have to make some plays -- and avoid the fierce pass rush of Shane Ray. Minnesota has an excellent shot here, but I like Missouri in a close one.
Missouri 27, Minnesota 24. -- Brian Bennett
Why Tennessee will win: Bowl games are often about motivation and momentum, and Tennessee trumps Iowa in both areas. The Vols are that incredibly young, talented team that should benefit more than most from bowl practices and the chance to punctuate this season before a 2015 campaign that will carry much higher expectations. Iowa has a good track record in bowls but comes in on a down note after a very disappointing regular season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs sparked Tennessee down the stretch and should give Iowa's defense trouble. Tennessee's defense should pressure Iowa's quarterbacks into mistakes.
Tennessee 24, Iowa 17. -- Adam Rittenberg
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Why Ohio State will win: Urban Meyer doesn't need to call on his psychological tricks for an underdog team all that often, though the Ohio State coach did already have a couple occasions to do so this year. Look at what happened to Michigan State and Wisconsin when the Buckeyes felt slighted and Meyer pushed their buttons to bring out their best. Certainly, No. 1 Alabama is the ultimate test and is favored for a reason, but Ohio State has the personnel to match up with the SEC champions, and the Buckeyes have one more chance to shock everyone in what has been already been a stunning season. Ohio State 31, Alabama 30. -- Austin Ward
Why Alabama will win: Have you watched the Crimson Tide? They have the best talent nationally and possibly the best coaching. Ohio State is not too bad itself, with a young and fast-improving stable under Meyer, but Alabama is several steps ahead and tested against a daunting schedule in the SEC West. If it boils down to playmakers, the Buckeyes will be at a disadvantage for the first time this season -- perhaps a big disadvantage. Ohio State simply can't match Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and the Bama backs with a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones and weapons elsewhere whose athleticism won't surprise the Alabama defense.
Alabama 31, Ohio State 17. -- Mitch Sherman
1. Austin Ward: 88-25 (.779)
T-2. Brian Bennett: 85-28 (.752)
T-2. Mitch Sherman: 85-28 (.752)
4. Dan Murphy: 57-19 (.750)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 83-30 (.735)
6. Josh Moyer: 82-31 (.726)
Michigan State's Connor Cook says he’s coming back for “unfinished business.”
There is plenty left for the Spartans quarterback to accomplish in his final year of eligibility.
Considered the conference’s top quarterback in September, Cook was largely overshadowed this season by the rise of J.T Barrett at Ohio State despite an impressive first full season as Michigan State’s starter. He’ll have a trio of Buckeyes quarterbacks to contend with again next fall, but likely a bigger chance to shine. That's at least part of the pull that helped him to decide to pass up a spot in the NFL draft for one more year in East Lansing.
Cook’s decision to return, which he confirmed Tuesday afternoon, provides an important anchor of consistency for a Michigan State offense that will lose a large portion of its production when the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic ends. Cook will be without his top target in the passing game and his top two running backs when the team reconvenes.
Two-thirds (43 out of 64) of the team’s touchdowns this season were scored by players who won’t be back next fall. Current sophomores like tight end Josiah Price and running back Delton Williams are able-bodied replacements, but the next edition of Michigan State’s offense will be highly dependent on Cook to make sure his younger teammates get up to speed.
Cook’s 2,900 passing yards were the most of any quarterback in the conference, which is made more impressive when you consider he plays in an offense that still runs the ball far more frequently than it passes. He finished second to Barrett in the Big Ten in touchdown throws (22) and passer rating (152.4).
If not for Barrett’s sensational rookie season, Cook would have been a shoo-in for the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year and probably mentioned as a finalist for a couple of national awards. If not for Barrett’s sensational day against the Spartans in a 49-37 Buckeyes win, Cook and his team might have had an argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That brings us back to the “unfinished business.”
Cook knows he’ll need to be better next season to reach the goals he missed this year. He said he plans to improve his ability to run and use his running backs as safety valves in the passing game more often next season. He said he watches Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers and tries to emulate the Pro Bowler as much as possible.
“[I’m] not trying to be a dual-threat quarterback by any means, but if I have to get 4 or 5 yards just be more of a threat with my feet,” he said.
Catching Barrett (or whoever wins the Ohio State starting job) won’t be easy. The Buckeyes’ quarterback will be an early favorite for the conference’s individual accolades. Cook will have to make big strides to keep pace. More importantly, he’ll have to have an expanded role as a leader of the offense and Michigan State’s team if it is going to close the gap on Ohio State. That’s the unfinished business that cemented Cook’s return to East Lansing for a final season.
A holding penalty eliminated what at first looked like a rushing touchdown for Spartans running back Jeremy Langford. Not long after, the Buckeyes wiped clean the rest of Michigan State’s lead and its chance at a second consecutive Big Ten title, making the holding call a pivotal play in the race for a conference championship.
Langford’s run would have given his Spartans a 28-14 lead with under four minutes to play in the second quarter and their second touchdown in less than 60 seconds. The drive, which started inside the red zone thanks to a fumbled kickoff, was a chance to dump a truckload of pressure on the Buckeyes and their rookie quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Instead, All-American center Jack Allen hooked his arm around an Ohio State defender and dragged him down to open the lane for Langford. It was a clear penalty, which set up a third-and-long Michigan State couldn’t convert. Michael Geiger missed a field goal on the following play, and the Spartans missed a great chance to push Ohio State’s back to the wall.
“All of the sudden momentum just flipped,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said following the game. “If we go in at 28-14 there's a different feel, there's a little bit more like, 'OK, we've got them.' But they hit two big plays in that three minutes. So you deal with it."
Barrett connected with Michael Thomas on the next play for a 79-yard, game-tying touchdown. He would throw another deep ball for another score before the end of the half to complete a 21-point swing in the final minutes of the second quarter. Ohio State took its touchdown lead into the locker room and never looked back en route to a 49-37 win.
If Michigan State doesn’t get caught for holding, it could have pressed the Buckeyes and perhaps taken a two-score lead into the second half. To push the hypothetical further, maybe Barrett doesn’t play as loose without those two late scores and perhaps the Spartans hang on to win. They would be the one-loss team playing an overmatched Wisconsin squad in Indianapolis. With their only loss coming on the road to No. 2 Oregon, perhaps the selection committee sees them as worthy of one of four playoff spots.
On the other side, Urban Meyer is pinned with his first regular-season conference loss in the Big Ten and his third year without a conference title. A second loss kills the Buckeyes' chance of a playoff berth. Meyer is suddenly human, and the perception of the league’s top two teams is flipped.
Instead, the referee threw a flag between Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin and potentially altered the Big Ten season.
"Who knows what could have happened,” Conklin said after the game, “if we could have come out and finished that drive.”
Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.
Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.
Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.
Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.
Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.
QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.
OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.
G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.
DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.
DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.
DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.
DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."
DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.
K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.
P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.
Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Urban Meyer and Nick Saban met three times between 2008 and 2010, with the Tide winning the last two meetings. Meyer’s Florida Gators won, 31-20, in the first meeting. … According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Ohio State would be favored over Florida State -- but it would be an underdog against Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Baylor, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Oklahoma. … Meyer is one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award and one of three finalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year. … Alabama teams that have been ranked in the top 2 of the AP poll are 5-1 in bowl games in New Orleans and boast six national championships. … Ohio State slightly trailed both Baylor and TCU in game control (No. 8) and strength of W-L (No. 6) but had the advantage in strength of schedule (No. 45). Baylor was No. 59 in that category, while TCU was No. 53.
Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic): The Spartans extended a school record this season with their eighth straight bowl appearance. That is the second-longest streak in the Big Ten and the 13th longest in the country. … Michigan State has won its past three bowl games -- against Georgia, TCU and Stanford -- which is also a school record. It’s also the longest active bowl winning streak in the conference. … Michigan State has made 25 bowls in its history, but it’s never been to the Cotton Bowl, which dates back to 1937. … According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Michigan State would’ve been favored over Florida State if it had made the playoff.
Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl): The Gophers last played a January bowl game in 1962, when it beat UCLA, 21-3, in the Rose Bowl. … This is Minnesota’s 17th bowl appearance, but it will be just the second time it plays in Florida. … Jerry Kill became just the second coach to guide Minnesota to three straight bowl games. (Glen Mason was the other.) … ESPN.com conducted a September poll by asking coaches: Who would you want your son to play for? Kill tied Stanford’s David Shaw for third with 7 percent of the vote.
Wisconsin (Outback Bowl): Wisconsin has now made 13 straight bowl games -- the seventh-longest streak in the country -- with the past five taking place in January. … The Badgers have played in the Outback Bowl four other times. They’ve lost the past three (to Georgia twice and to Tennessee). … If Melvin Gordon scores one more TD, he would join Barry Sanders and Kevin Smith as the only players with 2,000 yards and 30 TDs in a single season. … Gordon needs just seven rushing yards to surpass USC’s Marcus Allen (2,342 yards) and move into third on the single-season rushing list.
Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl): This is the Huskers' 51st bowl appearance, the third most in the nation, and their seventh straight appearance. … Mike Riley was named the new head coach Dec. 4 but will not coach in the game. Interim coach Barney Cotton will. … USC and Nebraska have met four other times, including a 2006 and 2007 home-and-home series, and the Trojans hold a 3-0-1 advantage.
Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl): Since 2001, no Big Ten team has won more bowl games or has a higher bowl winning percentage than Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 6-5 during that time. … Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa is 4-2 against current SEC teams in bowl games. … Iowa last played in the TaxSlayer Bowl in 1983 (then known as the Gator Bowl), when it lost to Florida by a score of 14-6.
Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl): This will be the first meeting between Maryland and Stanford. … The Terrapins are the biggest underdog in the conference this postseason, as Stanford is a two-touchdown favorite. … Maryland is 11-12-2 all time in bowls but has won five of its past seven. … Maryland last appeared in San Francisco to face Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl in 2007. It lost 21-14.
Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl): This is the first time the Nittany Lions will be playing in the new Yankee Stadium, but they played three times previously in the old stadium. Of course, that last trip was quite a while ago -- Penn State last played there in 1929 when it lost to NYU, 7-0. … This is Penn State’s 45th bowl game, tied for ninth most in the nation. … The Lions’ defense is one of just two that ranked in the top 10 this season in all of the following categories: rushing defense (No. 1), total defense (No. 2), scoring defense (No. 8), pass efficiency defense (No. 2) and defensive third-down conversion percentage (No. 6).
Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl): This is the ninth bowl appearance in 10 seasons for Rutgers. Prior to the 2005 season, the Knights had played in just one bowl (1978) in school history. … Kyle Flood is the first coach in school history to lead Rutgers to a bowl in his first three seasons. … The Quick Lane is one of five new bowl games in this year’s lineup. … Player gifts for the bowl include a Fathead made in each participant’s likeness; the winner also gets a $25,000 locker room makeover.
Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl): This is Illinois’ first bowl appearance since 2011 and the 18th in program history. Illinois’ bowl record is 8-9 overall. … The Illini are one of just two Big Ten teams with a bowl winning streak – the other is Michigan State – as Illinois won the 2010 Texas Bowl (over Baylor) and the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (over UCLA). … Tim Beckman’s squad has posted five comebacks on the year, and four wins came after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Here is a look at what teams might benefit from the bowl game they will play in and why they could see a positive impact on the recruiting trail.
It all comes back to Urban Meyer, really.
On Jan. 7, 2007, Meyer led an underdog Florida team into University of Phoenix Stadium and the Gators crushed Ohio State 41-14. The win did more than give Meyer his first national championship and Florida its first since 1996.
The game set the narrative that the Big Ten is down, a label the league has struggled to shake ever since.
Six years and 11 months later, the Big Ten has received another opportunity to change its story. Despite a brutal start to the 2014 season, the league has an entry in the inaugural College Football Playoff as Ohio State nabbed the fourth and final spot Sunday.
Once again, Meyer is the central character, and once again, he'll lead an underdog team onto the national stage. This time, it's the Buckeyes, who take on top-ranked Alabama in a playoff semifinal Jan. 1 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
It's a chance for Ohio State -- and the Big Ten -- to validate itself in the national discussion. It's also a chance for the Big Ten to be exposed to the criticism it has heard all too often since that January night in the desert.
"At some point, if you're going to reach for the top, that you have to go through the top," Meyer said Sunday. "And the last several years Alabama has certainly been at the top of college football."
That a Big Ten team has a chance to change the league's negative national narrative is a victory in and of itself. The Big Ten's nonconference flops during the first three weeks -- Ohio State's 14-point home loss to Virginia Tech, among them -- had many counting out the league's playoff hopes six weeks before the initial rankings were released.
But the mere action of taking on marquee opponents from other conferences benefited the Big Ten in the end.
"Sometimes you can win by losing because you're making an effort and your team gets better," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com after the playoff selections. "You get better by playing better people."
The selection committee made it clear that playing top nonconference opponents and losing is better than not playing them at all (see: Baylor). And arguably no Power 5 team improved more during the course of the season than Ohio State, despite using two quarterbacks (J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones) barely anyone knew outside Columbus when preseason camp kicked off in August.
The opportunity is there for Ohio State, but it faces a mammoth challenge in Alabama. The Buckeyes opened as 9.5-point underdogs in the matchup (Ohio State was a 7-point favorite against Meyer's Florida team in 2007). Although Jones far exceeded expectations in his first career start in the Big Ten title game against a strong Wisconsin defense, he will see a much faster Tide unit in New Orleans. Alabama allows just 2.8 yards per rush with just three rushing touchdowns allowed all season.
Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have been masterful in preparing inexperienced quarterbacks for big stages. They'll need their best work to prepare Jones for the biggest stage against the best program in college football.
But that's what you should want as an Ohio State fan, and as a Big Ten fan. You get it in the postseason, not just with the Ohio State-Alabama game but throughout the Big Ten's bowl lineup.
Big Ten teams face offensive juggernauts in Baylor, Auburn and USC. Michigan State gets one more chance to take down a top team in Baylor after stumbling in its first two opportunities. After the Indianapolis implosion, Wisconsin tries to end its season on a brighter note in the Outback Bowl. Minnesota can cement its rise under Jerry Kill with a bowl win against Missouri.
There are two league champions (Alabama and Baylor), two runners-up (Missouri and Louisiana Tech) and five ranked opponents on the Big Ten's bowl slate.
As Delany reminded me Sunday, I've been critical of the Big Ten's bowl lineup in the past, both because of its difficulty and its lack of diversity. This year's lineup seems to strike a good balance between both, although it still looks daunting. Which is good -- the Big Ten needs to step up eventually.
Delany declined to assess the larger implication of Ohio State's performance against Alabama, but he knows it's important. These are the games that Big Ten teams have lost -- often in convincing fashion -- too often in recent years. Ohio State once again will hear about its record against the SEC in bowl games (its only win, against Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, later was vacated).
But the Buckeyes and the Big Ten can't be written off. Many made that mistake in early September.
"I'm not going to put categorizations on particular games," Delany said. "If you win, there's no issue; if you lose, there's an issue. We have 10 bowl games. Earlier in the year, I said these are big stages and big opportunities, and they are."
That's all you can ask for, and three months ago, the Big Ten seemed unlikely to earn a second chance.
Now it just needs Meyer to repeat what he did eight years ago.
But was their exclusion from the big four as simple as there being no Big 12 championship game? It’s not that simple.
Yes, the conference’s lack of “One True Champion” hurt the cases for TCU and Baylor -- the only Power 5 teams with one or no losses which did not make the playoff – and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted on ESPN airwaves Sunday that the believed it hurt his conference’s teams.
“It’s clear that we were penalized for not having a postseason championship game. It would have been nice to have been told that ahead of time,” Bowlsby said.
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As ESPN.com first reported this week, the Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss a bowl. If a Big Ten team goes to the Capital One Orange Bowl, the league won't have a participant in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And if only one other Big Ten team reaches a New Year's Six bowl, it will leave eight eligible teams for only seven spots. Since there are more bowl-eligible teams than spots, and all spots are contracted, there are no at-large selections this year.
Got all that?
Michigan State is virtually assured of an Orange Bowl berth, following Alabama's win against Missouri in the SEC championship. At No. 8, the Spartans should remain ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State in Sunday's rankings -- neither team played this week -- and therefore be the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC.
Big Ten champion Ohio State is the only other league squad heading for the big bowls -- either a Playoff semifinal or a New Year's Six game. After the Buckeyes' 59-0 spanking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, we project Urban Meyer's squad to the Playoff. Boom.
That means one eligible Big Ten team is out of the bowls. Although Penn State and Illinois both are 6-6 and the Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions, there's no way PSU misses a bowl after being banned the past two years. Illinois, unfortunately, is the odd team out.
Wisconsin's horrific performance in the Big Ten title game drops the Badgers down to the Holiday Bowl, which really, really wants Gary Andersen's team. Minnesota heads to the Outback Bowl, while Nebraska likely would go to the Music City Bowl to avoid a repeat in Jacksonville.
Penn State in the Pinstripe has been a likelihood for weeks, and we have Rutgers going to Detroit and Maryland to Dallas.
Here are our final, final Big Ten bowl projections for the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual or Allstate Sugar Bowl): Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland
The final 2014 edition of bowl projections is here, and we're more confused than ever.
Some questions we pondered this week:
- If Wisconsin beats Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, how many Big Ten teams appear in New Year's Six bowls? It could be as many as three.
- Will a Big Ten team play in the Orange Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, the Music City Bowl or the Gator Bowl? We won't know until Sunday.
- Are both the Music City and Gator bowls possible landing spots for Big Ten teams? Yes but not both.
Our projections originate with the Big Ten title game winner. In a majority decision, not a unanimous one, we're going with Wisconsin over Ohio State in a close game. Wisconsin would earn an automatic berth in a New Year's Six bowl. Also, we believe both Michigan State and Ohio State will qualify for New Year's Six games by finishing in the top 10 of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
While the Big Ten will be the only Power 5 league without a playoff entrant, it will have three teams in the bigger bowls.
That brings us to the Orange Bowl, which will pair an ACC team against the highest-ranked available SEC or Big Ten team. This likely will come down to which MSU -- Michigan State or Mississippi State -- is higher in the final rankings. Michigan State is higher in tonight's rankings (No. 8 vs. No. 10) and both teams are done with the regular season. We don't see things changing so the Spartans are projected for South Florida.
It means no Big Ten team in the Citrus Bowl for the first time since 1992.
Minnesota is the likely choice for the Outback Bowl. Nebraska appeared in Holiday Bowls both in 2009 and 2010, but we have the Huskers heading to San Diego.
We're also going with the Music City over the Gator as the destination for a Big Ten team this year. The Big Ten hasn't played in the Nashville bowl since 2005. We'll send Iowa there.
The bottom of the Big Ten bowl order is in flux and could be arranged just about any way you'd like, although Penn State looks like a lock for the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
Again, very confusing. About the only thing we know is the number of bowl-eligible Big Ten teams: 10. Welcome to the club, Illinois.
Here are the full projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Wisconsin
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Nebraska
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Iowa
Foster Farms: Rutgers
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Maryland
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Illinois
It’s the final week of the Big Ten’s regular season, and there are still quite a few questions left to be answered: Will Tevin Coleman surpass 2,000 yards on the season? Who will face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship? Will Northwestern or Illinois find its way to bowl eligibility?
There are no night games or byes this week. So shake off that tryptophan, make another turkey sandwich – possibly to go with that bowl of turkey soup – and get that remote ready. Here’s a glance at what you should look forward to (all times ET):
Nebraska (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) at Iowa (7-4, 4-3), ABC: Ameer Abdullah admitted he’s been frustrated the past two weeks – because of his injury and back-to-back losses – and even said matter-of-factly, “It sucks. It definitely does suck.” Bo Pelini is on the hot seat again and can’t afford a third straight loss; Kirk Ferentz wants to secure another eight-win season and have some kind of trademark Big Ten victory. (Iowa hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team with a winning record.) Something has to give.
Illinois (5-6, 2-5) at Northwestern (5-6, 3-4), ESPNU: Let the (unlikely) battle for bowl eligibility begin. Northwestern bounced back from a 3-6 record with victories over Notre Dame and Purdue, while Illinois played its best special-teams game of the year last week to beat Penn State. The Wildcats are without senior QB Trevor Siemian, who suffered a torn ACL, so their postseason hopes are pinned to backup Zack Oliver.
Purdue (3-8, 1-6) at Indiana (3-8, 0-7), BTN: Don’t let the records fool you. Sure, these are two of the worst teams – recordwise – in the Big Ten. But this one might be worth watching for no other reason than Tevin Coleman, who could be playing in the final college game of his career. Coleman needs just 94 yards to reach 2,000 on the season and he’s also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. He might be the best running back in the nation not named Melvin Gordon.
Michigan (5-6, 3-4) at No. 6 Ohio State (10-1, 7-0), ABC: The Ga_e will always _ean so_ething special. Especially as long as Ohio State continues with its tradition of crossing off every “M” on campus. The Buckeyes are the big favorite, while the Wolverines have been a big disappointment. But nothing would make Wolverines fans happier than knocking Ohio State out of the playoff picture. Of course, Ohio State is also currently scoring an average of 24 points more per game than Michigan -- so that’s not going to be easy.
3:30 p.m. Saturday
No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at Penn State (6-5, 2-5), ABC: The Nittany Lions are hoping to experience some déjà vu this season. Last year, they entered their home finale as 24-point underdogs to Wisconsin and some way, somehow, came out on top in an upset. This season, they’re only 13-point underdogs. And while the Penn State defense is historically good this season, the offense is historically bad. Michigan State, on the other hand, is a well-rounded team that’s fighting for a trip to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.
No. 18 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1), BTN: It all comes down to this in the West. The winner will advance to the Big Ten title game to face Ohio State; the loser will have to lament watching it from the dorms. Gordon needs just 1 yard to break the Big Ten single-season rushing record, and Minnesota’s David Cobb is “very questionable” for the contest. Jerry Kill is arguably the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year and, if he pulls this out, we can probably take “arguably” away from that sentence. This is a must-watch.
Rutgers (6-5, 2-5) at Maryland (7-4, 4-3), ESPNU: Both teams have met or exceeded expectations this season, but it’s been a difficult second half for Rutgers. After starting 5-1, the Scarlet Knights have won just one of their past five and have looked really overmatched against the B1G’s best. Maryland has looked like the better team – and beat both Iowa and Penn State – but Rutgers would like to change the conversation here. A victory for either team would go a long way; Rutgers could grab some second-half respect or Maryland could climb its way to a better bowl.
- Week 14 predictions | Bold calls | Awards tracker
- B1G sweeps Doak, has other finalists
- Big Ten backs deliver historic season
- Heisman debate: Mariota vs. Gordon
- Last hurrah with Hoosiers for Tevin Coleman?
- Tale of the tape: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
- It's Michigan week in Columbus
- Michigan, Hoke hope to end on a high note
- Ohio State in great position for stretch run
- Planning for success: Michigan State
- Kenny Bell's Nebraska career full of fun, heartbreak
Why Iowa will win: Based on the roller-coaster ride Iowa has been on lately, now is the time to jump back in and hang on tight as the regular season comes to a close. The Hawkeyes actually impressed even in a losing effort last week against Wisconsin, and with Nebraska reeling and having to go on the road, expect Kirk Ferentz to get his team ready to capitalize. The Blackshirts have been a mess down the stretch once again, and Black Friday won’t be any different with Jake Rudock leading an Iowa passing attack that somewhat surprisingly ranks No. 4 in the Big Ten. ... Iowa 31, Nebraska 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Nebraska will win: Are the Huskers trending downward? You bet. But Iowa is not nearly as good as Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Huskers still boast the better total offense here -- they're 34 spots ahead of Iowa in the national rankings at No. 29 -- and the better scoring offense, with 10 points more per game. The defense has been up and down, but Mark Weisman is no Melvin Gordon or David Cobb. And Ameer Abdullah is only getting healthier. Iowa hangs tough but loses in the end. ... Nebraska 28, Iowa 24. -- Josh Moyer
Why Indiana will win: It’s time to cash in the chips on Purdue. I’ve been a believer in the Boilers since they beat Illinois in early October, then hung around with Michigan State and Minnesota. But things have gone downhill. Lately, Purdue can’t run the football, and it can’t stop the run -- a bad combination, especially against Tevin Coleman. The Indiana junior will have a huge day and cruise past 2,000 rushing yards for the season in perhaps his last collegiate game. Defensively, the Hoosiers haven’t stopped a decent offense all year, but they’ve got enough left to avoid a winless Big Ten season. ... Indiana 38, Purdue 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Why Purdue will win: Purdue's production has taken a step backward since scoring 38 against Minnesota and threatening to take down the Gophers. The Boilermakers stumble into the Hoosier State battle, but Indiana is exactly what the doctor ordered in that front. No one on Purdue's roster compares to Tevin Coleman, but speedy senior Raheem Mostert can have a big day against Indiana's run defense. Austin Appleby proves to be the difference to help Darrell Hazell end his second year on a high note. ... Purdue 24, Indiana 20. -- Dan Murphy
Ohio State 35, Michigan 14: No, Brady Hoke, there is no Santa Claus. The Wolverines simply do not have enough offensive competence to hang with the Buckeyes on the road, though emotion will help them keep it close into the third quarter.
Wisconsin 24, Minnesota 20: The Gophers have a real chance here, but the potential absence of David Cobb (hamstring) and the road environment will make it tough. Melvin Gordon is held under 200 yards but rips off the game-winning score in the fourth quarter.
Maryland 31, Rutgers 23: The Scarlet Knights' only win since Oct. 4 was at home against Indiana. The Terps have been playing much better than their fellow first-year Big Ten newbie, and they'll protect home field to spoil Ralph Friedgen's homecoming.
Northwestern 28, Illinois 21: It's win or go home for both teams. The Wildcats are surging at the right time, having scored 81 points in back-to-back wins the past two weeks. The loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian (ACL) hurts Northwestern, but picking the Illini to win consecutive Big Ten games strains logic.
Michigan State 19, Penn State 10: Don't underestimate the power of Senior Day in Beaver Stadium, as we've seen the Nittany Lions put up strong performances in their regular-season finales the past two years. Their defense will also cause the Spartans some trouble. But Penn State is going to a bowl regardless, and its offense has few options against Pat Narduzzi's defense.
1. Austin Ward: 83-22 (.790)
2. Dan Murphy: 53-15 (.779)
T-3. Brian Bennett: 81-24 (.771)
T-3. Mitch Sherman: 81-24 (.771)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 78-27 (.743)
6. Josh Moyer: 77-28 (.733)