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NCF Nation: 2011 Outback Bowl

Anytime the SEC and the Big Ten square off, conference pride is at stake. Most of those matchups usually occur in bowl season, and this year is no different. The two leagues will face each other in three Jan. 2 bowls, with South Carolina playing Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State taking on Georgia in the Outback Bowl and Florida and Ohio State staging a 2007 national title game rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

So which league will come out on top this year? SEC blogger Chris Low and Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett debate that topic:

Brian Bennett: Well, Chris, it's bowl season again, which means some more SEC vs. Big Ten showdowns. I think I read somewhere that the SEC has had a little bit of success in the postseason, especially against the Big Ten. So I suppose you want to brag a little bit about your league. Let's go ahead and get that out of the way first, shall we?

Chris Low: Brag? Coming from SEC Country? We don't need to brag. We just flash our jewelry in these parts, and that usually suffices. Sure, it's been another banner year in the SEC with Alabama and LSU set to play for the BCS national championship and three other SEC teams ranked among the top 16 in the final BCS standings. But you've got to prove it every year, and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida all have tough matchups with Big Ten teams in the bowls. Speaking of the three bowl showdowns matching the SEC and Big Ten, which one do you think is the worst matchup for the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWill Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez be able to run the ball effectively against South Carolina's speedy defense in the Capital One Bowl?
BB: Very restrained of you not to bring up last New Year's Day, Chris. I actually think all three Big Ten/SEC showdowns this year are good matchups that could go either way. If I had to pick the toughest one for the Big Ten, I'd probably go with the Capital One Bowl. While Nebraska had a nice season at 9-3, it has a challenging assignment in trying to solve South Carolina's defense. Especially up front, the Gamecocks can cause serious problems for the Huskers' run game, and I don't think the option is going to work well against all that speed. Taylor Martinez will have to have one of his best games, and when Nebraska has to rely on the pass, it doesn't always look pretty. Then again, South Carolina isn't exactly a juggernaut of an offensive club, either.

What's your take on that one?

CL: Couldn't agree more about South Carolina's defensive line. Those guys have played lights-out all season, and you're going to see three or four of them playing in the NFL at some point. They've made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks this season, and other than the Arkansas game, didn't give up much of anything the last nine games of the season. They're not the kind of dynamic pocket passing team you're used to seeing under Steve Spurrier, but sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw is tough as nails and isn't afraid to take off and run. They'll also run the zone read play with him. Honestly, the big concern with the Gamecocks is that they've been so wretched in bowl games. They've lost their past three and haven't played well in any of them. I want to see them break that drought before I get too high about their chances in the postseason.

Speaking of poor bowl performances, can Michigan State rebound from last year's debacle?

BB: I think so. The Spartans ran into an Alabama buzz saw last year, and I don't see Georgia being nearly as talented or as angry as the Crimson Tide were a year ago. This Michigan State team was playing extremely well down the stretch and came within a play or two of going to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans can dominate defensively, especially up front with All-America tackle Jerel Worthy, and they can knock a quarterback off his rhythm with their blitz schemes. But I think the biggest difference between this year's Michigan State and the one that got manhandled last year is a more productive, diverse offense. Kirk Cousins was very sharp in the second half of the season, and the offensive line continued to improve. Both teams have top-five defenses, but Georgia may have a harder time scoring.

Motivation will be a key for both teams, though, as they each lost in their conference title game. How good are these Dawgs, really?

[+] EnlargeMurray
Dale Zanine/US PresswireGeorgia's Aaron Murray should get a stiff test from Michigan State's defense in the Outback Bowl.
CL: Motivation shouldn't be a problem for Georgia. At least, it better not be. The Bulldogs have a chance to win 11 games and really set themselves up nicely going into next season. Georgia has a chance to be a top-10 team in 2012 and build the kind of momentum this program hasn't had in the offseason since its Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii to cap the 2007 season. How good are these Dawgs? They're a good team, not a great team. Defensively, they should be the best test the Spartans have faced all season. Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are an exceptional linebacker tandem. Jones was the SEC's best big-play defender this season, and the Bulldogs didn't give up much in the secondary, either. I wouldn't underestimate Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. He spreads the ball around and threw 33 touchdown passes this season.

What's your take on the Urban Meyer Bowl?

BB: The Meyer angle adds intrigue, but I'd be more interested to see these teams play next season. As is, we have a pair of 6-6 teams who had all kinds of offensive issues this year. Ohio State lost its final three games after looking like it might have turned things around. But at least the Buckeyes will be motivated to audition for Meyer, and they're a young team that should benefit from the extra bowl practices. Plus, the Buckeyes have a blossoming star at quarterback in freshman Braxton Miller. Maybe a new offensive coordinator can jump-start the Gators' attack, but we could be looking at a low-scoring game in Jacksonville. A 6-6 tie in regulation seems appropriate.

Can Florida finally put it all together?

CL: Florida could use anything remotely resembling a quality win this season. Of course, I don't know that you could call Ohio State a quality win. One of these days, the Buckeyes are going to beat an SEC team in a bowl game and have that win stick. The win over Arkansas last season was vacated thanks to tattoo-gate, so technically Ohio State is still 0-9 against the SEC. The Gators were hard to watch on offense this season, and there's no reason to think they will be significantly better in the bowl game. I agree that a 6-6 tie sounds about right with somebody winning in overtime on a field goal. The Gators are good enough on defense to get it done, so I'm predicting an SEC sweep.

That's right, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida will all come out victorious. And not only that, but something tells me the SEC stands a pretty good chance of winning the Allstate BCS National Championship Game, too. Call it a hunch.

BB: OK, so Ohio State's win over Arkansas may not count, but I was there and I know it did happen. So the Big Ten can actually beat the big boys from the SEC. I may be naive, but I think the Big Ten gets a little revenge this bowl season. All three games are winnable, and I predict the league I cover takes two out of three from your southern friends. And maybe someday soon the Big Ten will be back in the national championship debate.

Outback Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:31
PM ET
Michigan State Spartans (10-3) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (10-3)

Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The Spartans are still dealing with the heartbreak from the Big Ten championship game, as they came so close to securing their first Rose Bowl appearance in 24 years. While the sting might linger for a bit, Michigan State still has an excellent opportunity to take another step toward becoming an elite program.

Coach Mark Dantonio has things pointed in the right direction, as Michigan State has recorded consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. About the only thing Dantonio hasn’t done is win a bowl game, as his teams are 0-4. The Outback Bowl gives Michigan State the chance to get over the hump.

After being snubbed for a BCS bowl in 2010, the Spartans looked like anything but a BCS-worthy team in the Capital One Bowl, getting pounded 49-7 by Alabama in the most lopsided result in the bowl’s history. They will look for a stronger performance against Georgia in a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl.

The Spartans’ offense has surged since an Oct. 30 loss at Nebraska, averaging 38.6 points in the past five games. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and his receivers are in a groove, and running back Le’Veon Bell has emerged as of late. The offense will face an excellent test from a Georgia defense ranked third nationally. Michigan State’s defense is no slouch, either, ranking fifth nationally, but the Spartans' secondary will need to contain talented Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.


Georgia take by SEC blogger Chris Low: The Bulldogs were left for dead back in September after losing their first two games of the season to Boise State and South Carolina. Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin went as far as to say they were thrown out with the trash.

With everybody on the outside wondering whether coach Mark Richt was going to make it, the Bulldogs came storming back and reeled off 10 straight wins to clinch the Eastern Division and make it to the SEC championship game, where they lost 42-10 on Saturday to No. 1 LSU.

Georgia will be looking to make amends for a woeful performance in its bowl game last season. The Bulldogs lost 10-6 to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, which only elevated the unrest coming into this season.

This season’s team has been the picture of resiliency and has leaned on a defense that made major strides in the second year in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in total defense and feature one of the country’s best pass-rushers and big-play defenders in sophomore outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray played his best football during the second half of the season and was able to spread the ball around. He threw touchdown passes to 10 different players on his way to setting the school record with 33 scoring tosses.

Andrea Adelson talks with Florida’s Mike Pouncey about the win in the Outback Bowl.
Florida defeated Penn State 37-24 on Saturday in the Outback Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: With Penn State driving for the potential game-winning touchdown, Florida senior safety Ahmad Black intercepted a third-and-3 pass from Penn State’s Matthew McGloin and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown, sending Urban Meyer out a winner in his final game as the Gators’ coach.

Turning point: Penn State was leading 24-20 late in the third quarter when Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks intercepted a McGloin pass and returned it 14 yards to the Penn State 25, setting up Florida’s go-ahead touchdown.

Player of the game: Black had two of the Gators’ five interceptions, including the 80-yard touchdown return to seal the win in the final minute.

Stat of the game: Florida won despite going just 4-of-15 on third down and being outgained in total offense by 70 yards.

Best call: Following the Hicks interception early in the fourth quarter, the Gators had it fourth-and-2 at the Penn State 17. But Meyer passed on kicking the field goal and went for it. Jordan Reed hit Trey Burton with a 3-yard pass to get the first down, and the Gators went on to score the go-ahead touchdown.

What it means: After all the success Meyer has enjoyed in his six seasons at Florida, he deserved to go out a winner, especially given everything that went wrong this season. The Gators (8-5) overcame a lot of distractions to win this game and made several clutch plays when they had to, which should generate some positive energy in the program heading into the offseason as Will Muschamp takes over for Meyer.

Outback Bowl: Did you know?

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
4:53
PM ET
A little bit of this and a little bit of that heading into Saturday's Outback Bowl matchup between Penn State and Florida:
  • This is the only bowl game this season featuring coaches that each have a national championship. Penn State’s Joe Paterno led the Nittany Lions to the 1982 and 1986 national titles, while Florida’s Urban Meyer led the Gators to titles in 2006 and 2008.
  • Meyer, who's stepping down after this game, is 6-1 all-time in bowl games, going 2-0 with Utah and 4-1 with Florida. His lone loss was a Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan following the 2007 season.
  • Paterno holds the NCAA records for most bowl appearances (37) and bowl wins (24). He is 24-11-1 in bowl games.
  • This is Penn State’s 16th bowl game against an SEC opponent. The Nittany Lions are 10-5 in the previous 15, which includes the 1961 Gator Bowl against then-SEC member Georgia Tech.
  • The Gators have 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions this season. That's after they threw 93 touchdown passes and just 16 interceptions in the previous three seasons. The last time the Gators threw fewer than 20 touchdown passes in a season was 1989 when they were held to 10.
  • Meyer said he plans to meet with quarterback John Brantley about Brantley's future plans following the game. Brantley is considering transferring next season.
  • Meyer's six-year run at Florida included two national championships, three BCS bowl victories and seven first-round NFL draft picks.

Outback Bowl keys

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
1:45
PM ET
Here are three keys for Florida in its Outback Bowl matchup with Penn State:

1. Make some plays down the field: Throughout much of Urban Meyer’s tenure, nobody was better than the Gators when it came to making explosive plays down the field. But that was a component that was sorely missing this season from the offense. Florida could use some quick strikes early to get its offense going and spread out the Penn State defense. Chris Rainey figures to play a key role in this game.

2. Force Penn State to throw: Even though Florida will be without top cornerback Janoris Jenkins in this game, the Gators are still plenty talented in the secondary. They will gladly take their chances with Penn State throwing the football as opposed to the Nittany Lions getting their running game cranked up and moving the chains that way. If Florida can get Penn State into a lot of third-and-long situations, then it’s probably going to be a long day for the Nittany Lions.

3. Take care of the ball: The Gators turned the ball over an SEC-high 25 times this season, which is extremely uncharacteristic of an Urban Meyer team. They turned the ball over six times in their last two games against FBS opponents -- South Carolina and Florida State. If they turn it over two or more times against Penn State, they’re going to be in trouble.

Outback Bowl keys for Penn State

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
10:00
AM ET
Three keys for Penn State in its Outback Bowl matchup against Florida.

1. Offensive line play: The line played better down the stretch in the regular season but faces a big test with the Gators' defense. If All-Big Ten guard Stefen Wisniewski and his line mates create lanes for Evan Royster and Silas Redd, Penn State will be able to control the clock and open up the passing game for Matt McGloin. The Lions' line is a group that can make strides during the pre-bowl layoff, and it needs to step up.

2. Harass John Brantley: Florida's starting quarterback hasn't had a great season and could be transferring after the bowl game. He doesn't seem like a confident player right now, and Penn State should do all it can to get in his face. Penn State ranked ninth in the Big Ten in sacks with 16, so it's critical for a line that hasn't met expectations this season to generate some pressure.

3. Red zone defense: The Gators ranked last in the SEC in red zone offense, scoring points on just 69.8 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. The problem? Penn State ranked last in the Big Ten in red zone defense, allowing scores on 30 of 32 opportunities. Something has to give, and Penn State's defensive front seven must buckle down and keep Florida out of the end zone.
After all the off-field buzz, Penn State and Florida will actually play a football game on Jan. 1 in Tampa.

Here's a quick look at the Outback Bowl.

WHO TO WATCH: Penn State sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin provided a spark for Penn State's offense midway through Big Ten play and brought a much needed swagger to the huddle. He threw 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in the final six regular-season games. Florida's speedy and talented defense provides a good test for McGloin, whose ability to attack downfield could open things up for running backs Evan Royster and Silas Redd.

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's defensive front seven. The line has underperformed given recent history and the linebackers have been up and down, but the layoff before the bowl has given players like linebacker Michael Mauti time to get healthy. Florida's offense has been shaky and quarterback John Brantley could be transferring after an inconsistent season. It's imperative for Penn State to put pressure on Brantley and force some mistakes.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need a reason? Urban Meyer is stepping down as Florida's coach after the game, and there's a ton of uncertainty on the Gators' sideline. How will Florida respond, especially without several key players out with injuries? Penn State coach Joe Paterno and others have squashed the retirement rumors, but the 84-year-old always provides a reason to tune in. Penn State is the type of team that can really use the bowl as a springboard for 2011, when it returns quite a bit on both sides of the ball.

PREDICTION: Penn State 20, Florida 17. The Gators' defense is the best unit on the field and could give McGloin and Penn State problems, but I wonder how Florida will approach this game mentally. Florida is used to BCS bowls, and there have been so many issues regarding coaches, injuries and players' future. Penn State is the type of team that can make strides in bowl prep, and Paterno's ability to win bowl games is second to none. JoePa and the Lions win this one behind a strong defensive effort.

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