NCF Nation: Champs SPorts Bowl

Stepping up in the bowls: NC State

December, 22, 2010
Few outside the program were expecting much from NC State this season, but the Wolfpack were surprise contenders for the Atlantic Division in late November, needing only a win over Maryland to advance to the ACC championship game. The Pack couldn’t get it done in College Park, but the program still has a chance at a nine-win season with a win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. It would be the second-most wins in school history and the most under coach Tom O’Brien, who needs one more victory to reach 100 in his career.

In order for that to happen, who needs to step up?

NC State’s offensive line: Yes, the defense is going to have to play better than it did in the regular-season finale loss to Maryland, but in order to win this game, the guys up front are going to have to give their magic man time to work. West Virginia has two standout pass-rushers in defensive ends Julian Miller (8.0) and Bruce Irvin (12.0), who have combined for 20 sacks this year. The Mountaineers’ 3.3 sacks per game ranks third nationally, just ahead of NC State, which ranks fourth with 3.25. Against Maryland, quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked on fourth down from the Maryland 8-yard line. NC State is tied for 104th in the country in sacks allowed with 2.83 per game and 34 total.
It wasn't Jacory Harris' fault.

[+] EnlargeRandy Shannon
AP Photo/John RaouxRandy Shannon has compiled a record of 21-16 in three seasons.
No, this was a group effort.

Harris was sacked four times when Wisconsin rushed four or fewer players and once when the Badgers brought five or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He didn't get the protection he needed, but he also contributed a few of his own mistakes. Because Miami couldn't run the ball, though, it was up to Harris to win the game with his arm. Meanwhile, the defense couldn't get the Badgers off the field, and Wisconsin had the ball for almost 20 more minutes than the Canes.

The frustrating thing for Miami fans had to be the fact that Miami played poorly and still had a chance to win. They won the turnover battle. They had fewer penalties. They showed those flashes of electric plays -- the reverse on the opening kickoff and recovering the onside kick -- that championship teams make. But the Canes were just 2-of-11 on third downs.

It was a deflating loss for both the ACC and Miami, as a win would've likely pushed the Canes into the top 10 heading into 2010, but that doesn't mean Miami won't finish there next season. This program has improved each season under coach Randy Shannon, and the loss to Wisconsin doesn't erase that progress. But it is time to raise the level of expectations again. Harris will be a junior. The majority of the team will be coming back. It will be the second season under the new coordinators. Youth and coaching transitions should no longer be an excuse.

The bottom line from the Champs Sports Bowl is that Miami still isn't where anyone associated with the program wants it to be. It's not a shocker. Miami had enough up and down performances this year to know that. But that consistency will come with maturity. It's just time for the Baby Canes to finally grow up.

Size vs. speed in Champs Sports Bowl?

December, 10, 2009
Miami coach Randy Shannon doesn’t believe in the notion that players from the South have speed and players from the Midwest have size. In fact, he called it a myth.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireWisconsin's offense leans heavily on John Clay and the Badger running backs.
Whether or not Miami is faster than Wisconsin at the skill positions will be determined on the field in the Champs Sports Bowl, but as far as size goes, they're are almost identical up front. Wisconsin averages 6-foot-5, 313.4 pounds on the offensive line. Miami averages 6-foot-5, 313.8. On the defensive line, Wisconsin averages 6-foot-3, 282 pounds. Miami averages 6-foot-2, 280.5. Those numbers are both based on the starting lineups from the last depth charts available for each team.

“Everybody recruits speed,” Shannon said. “It’s not going to be a situation where we’re going to be faster than those guys or they’re going to be faster than us. We have a big offensive line, they have a big offensive line. They have big guys on defense, we have big guys on defense. It’s going to work itself out. It’s just a myth that if you’re down south you run faster.”

These teams do play a different style of football, though, and bruising Wisconsin running back John Clay -- at 6-foot-1, 248 pounds -- is heftier than Miami’s Graig Cooper, who is 6-foot, 205 pounds. Clay is “a big guy who runs angry,” according to Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, and he’s obviously the Badgers' first option. Clay has rushed for 1,396 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Wisconsin has run the ball 539 times this year compared to Miami’s 440.

“They can run the football,” Shannon said. “They are a big, hard-nosed team that believes in establishing the run and they’re not going to bend in the run game. They are not going to sit up and go, “OK, if we can’t run the ball in the first 20 plays then we’ll start throwing it.’ They’re going to come out and still establish the run.”

Miami believes in that philosophy, too, but Cooper is just one of three running backs who has at least 450 rushing yards this year. Miami also has six receivers with at least 200 yards each. Seventeen different players have caught a pass for Miami this year, and 10 of those 17 have double-digit catches. Miami is taller than Wisconsin at receiver, where the Canes have four players at 6-foot-3 or taller.

Bielema said he is good friends with Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and called it a “unique matchup.”

“I think the matchup in itself will be neat because everyone is going to talk about the Florida speed versus the Midwest size of Wisconsin," Bielema said, "and we have big people, but I think a couple of our guys can run as well.”

Champs Sports Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Miami (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Dec. 29, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Miami take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Canes get to stay in their home state, which they wanted, and they’ll face a Wisconsin team that boasts the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year in John Clay, who finished the season with 1,416 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Clay’s 172 yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers’ 51-10 romp of Hawaii in the regular-season finale helped push Wisconsin back into the national rankings this week, but Miami is at No. 17 in the BCS standings and wrapping up its best season since 2005. Clay is a major reason the Badgers have the No. 15 rushing offense in the country and the No. 1 unit in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin is a more one-dimensional team than Miami.

Miami’s defense will be tested in this game, but so will Wisconsin’s, as both teams will present different styles of offense. The Canes, led by quarterback Jacory Harris, have relied more heavily on their passing game, but can turn to several running backs to mix it up. The Badgers have the No. 8 rushing defense in the country, but haven’t been spectacular against the pass. The Canes had ample time to rest and heal and enter the postseason off of back-to-back wins. It’s the second bowl appearance in the third season under Randy Shannon.

The Hurricanes are 2-1 all-time against the Badgers, with the last meeting coming in 1989 when UM defeated Wisconsin, 51-3, in Madison.

Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The Badgers are heading to Orlando for the second consecutive season, but there's certainly a different feeling within the program this time around.

Wisconsin was one of the nation's biggest disappointments last year, tumbling from the top 10 to the middle of the Big Ten. The season ended things with a very lousy showing against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

This time, head coach Bret Bielema leads a nationally-ranked team that has exceeded most expectations into a Dec. 29 matchup against Miami. The Badgers boast a balanced offense and an aggressive defense led by ends O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt, who have combined for 36 tackles for loss, the highest total among any FBS tandem. Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren needs both Schofield and Watt to get after Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, an early season Heisman Trophy contender who has thrown multiple touchdown passes in nine games.

The bowl could be a classic speed vs. power matchup, as Wisconsin tries to neutralize Miami's speed with its downhill rushing attack. Sophomore running back John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, ranks 14th nationally in rushing and has eclipsed 100 rush yards in each of his last five games.

Wisconsin is 1-2 all-time against Miami, last facing the Canes in 1989. The Badgers are 0-1 in the Champs Sports Bowl but 2-1 in Orlando bowl games.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The ACC recently made a change to its bowl lineup, swapping the Humanitarian Bowl for the much-closer GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Big Ten is locked into its bowl agreements through the 2009 season, but the tie-ins will undoubtedly be discussed at next week's meeting of league coaches and athletic directors in Chicago. 

There's some mounting concern about two Big Ten bowl tie-ins, the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl, both of which are held at Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando. At issue is the stadium and plans for renovations, which the Big Ten and SEC desperately want but might not get in the current economic climate. 

[Florida Citrus Sports CEO Steve Hogan] said the SEC and Big Ten have grown tired of waiting for the renovation -- especially with other cities such as Dallas, with a new $1 billion stadium, looking to muscle in on Orlando's bowl positioning.

"The first thing the commissioners told me was 'I thought you guys had approved renovation of the stadium. I don't think you guys realize how important this is for us,'" Hogan said. " ... I didn't expect to be shocked as I was about how pointed and concerned our existing sponsors are right now."

It would be tough to see the Big Ten dump the Orlando games, especially the Capital One, considered by many to be the most prestigious non-BCS bowl. But it's always a good idea to evaluate the league's entire bowl lineup.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen thinks the Big Ten should make at least one change, swapping either the Insight or Motor City bowls for another game, or possibly adding a game. Asmussen argues that the Big Ten could benefit from a bowl game located closer to the league footprint, or perhaps a second bowl in tourist-friendly California. 

I doubt anyone has a major problem with the Outback or Alamo bowls. Those are solid games, so let's not waste time there.

The Big Ten's decision to trade the Sun and Music City bowls for the Champs Sports and Insight looked good at the time, and despite the stadium issues, the Champs Sports is a solid destination for mid-level Big Ten teams. I love the Sun Bowl and the Pac-10 matchup and would be thrilled if it came back, though El Paso is a tough place to travel to. The Insight Bowl is in a great location, but doesn't provide the exposure of other comparable bowl games.

The Motor City is an interesting dilemma for the Big Ten. Keep in mind the MAC-Big Ten relationship does help with nonconference scheduling, especially in this era of playing FCS teams. Playing a MAC team in the postseason helps this relationship. But few Big Ten fan bases like the idea of downtown Detroit in December.

On the other hand, it's rare when a Big Ten team actually plays in the Motor City Bowl. Only two teams have appeared in the game since the agreement began before the 2002 season.  

Final Big Ten power rankings

January, 14, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

As the only Big Ten team to win its bowl game, Iowa is the lone squad to make a significant move in the final edition of the power rankings. The gap narrowed between Penn State and Ohio State after the Buckeyes' solid effort in the Fiesta Bowl, but Penn State still gets the nod with a better body of work. Northwestern and Michigan State have been mirror images for much of the season and remain that way in the rankings.

  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene rushed for 121 yards and 3 TDs in the Outback Bowl.

Here's the final rundown for 2008.

1. Penn State (11-2) -- The Nittany Lions looked out of sync in Pasadena, but they faced quite possibly the nation's best team in a virtual road game. It wasn't the way a stellar senior class intended to go out, but an 11-1 regular season highlighted by a road win against Ohio State keeps Penn State atop the rankings.

2. Ohio State (10-3) -- There aren't moral victories in Columbus, but Ohio State made a national statement, even in defeat, by outplaying Texas for most of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Terrelle Pryor-led Buckeyes weren't the same team that had soiled itself against USC on Sept. 13. Ohio State played its best football down the stretch and was seconds away from a fairly substantial upset of Texas.

3. Iowa (9-4) -- Things fell into place perfectly for the Hawkeyes, who ended the season as the Big Ten's hottest team. Iowa rolled over an overmatched South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl to win six of its final seven games. Shonn Greene played a huge role, but so did a defense that led the Big Ten in takeaways (32).

T-4 Michigan State (9-4) -- The Spartans clearly peaked in late September/early October, but they continued to fight hard, especially on the defensive side. They outplayed Georgia for a half in the Capital One Bowl but couldn't capitalize on favorable field position. Though Michigan State beat Northwestern in a head-to-head matchup Oct. 11, the Wildcats played better football down the stretch. So it's a push between the teams.

T-4 Northwestern (9-4) -- Had the Wildcats finished off Missouri in the Alamo Bowl, they would have vaulted to No. 3 in the power rankings and possibly into the top 15 in the national polls. Despite being the biggest underdog in the 34 bowls, Northwestern outplayed Missouri but lost the game because of special-teams blunders. Along with Iowa and Ohio State, the Wildcats saved their best football for the end of the season.

6. Minnesota (7-6) -- The Gophers don't really deserve to move up the rankings after a 21-point loss in the Insight Bowl, but they turned in a better effort than Wisconsin, which self-destructed against Florida State. This team clearly needs some upgrades after losing five straight to close the season, but it was hard to imagine Tim Davis' power run attack clicking right away in the bowl game. There will be a lot of changes in 2009, but Minnesota returns its nucleus.

7. Wisconsin (7-6) -- Despite a win against Minnesota and a better regular-season finish, Wisconsin needed to pay the price for an embarrassing loss in the Champs Sports Bowl. An extremely disappointing season ended with a thud, as Wisconsin had three fumbles, two of which were returned for touchdowns. From coaching to quarterback play to intangibles, Wisconsin seemed to be missing something this fall.

8. Illinois (5-7) -- The Big Ten's bowl fortunes might have been better had the Illini found a way to sneak into the postseason. Then again, a big-play offense and loads of talent translated into only five victories this fall. Head coach Ron Zook seems intent on turning things around with some bold coaching hires. Illinois can't afford another bowl-less winter.

9. Purdue (4-8) -- The Boilermakers sent head coach Joe Tiller out on a high note with a 62-10 pasting of Indiana on Nov. 22. Head coach Danny Hope must restore Purdue's offensive swagger with a new quarterback in 2009, and the Boilers have several holes to fill on defense.

10. Michigan (3-9) -- The Big Ten sorely needs Michigan back in a bowl game in 2009, but Rich Rodriguez has another tough challenge ahead of him. Michigan must identify a capable quarterback, most likely freshman Tate Forcier, and fill gaps along the defensive line. If the offensive line improves and the running game surges behind Brandon Minor, Michigan should be in decent shape for a lower-tier bowl.

11. Indiana (3-9) -- After ending the Big Ten's longest bowl drought in 2007, Indiana slipped back to reality this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch enters 2009 on the hot seat, likely needing at least six victories to keep his job. Indiana has the talent, particularly at defensive end, and if it can stay healthy and improve on defense, a bowl run next fall isn't out of the question.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Now that that national championship game is over, is officially putting a cap on the 2008 season. We're kicking it off today with a bowl edition of helmet stickers. The ACC won four of its 10 bowl games, with Virginia Tech, Florida State, Maryland and Wake Forest earning postseason victories.

Here are the ACC's top performers during the bowls:

Virginia Tech's backups: Offensive guard Jaymes Brooks, linebacker Barquell Rivers and defensive end Nekos Brown filled in for Tech's missing starters and the Hokies didn't miss a beat. Brooks played all 78 snaps as the Hokies put up nearly 400 yards of total offense. Brown and Rivers helped limit the high-powered Cincinnati offense to just one touchdown and Rivers had a key stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1 to help seal the game.

Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans: Evans ran for 153 yards and a score, earning FedEx Orange Bowl MVP honors in the Hokies' 20-7 win over Cincinnati.

Virginia Tech's defense: The Hokies grabbed four interceptions, held Cincinnati to 71 yards rushing and 310 yards of offense. They didn't allow any touchdowns after the first drive.

UNC wide receiver Hakeem Nicks: In what became the final game of his career, Nicks caught eight receptions for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including ESPN's No. 1 bowl play of the season -- a behind-the-back catch. It was a standout performance in a losing effort, as the Tar Heels fell, 31-30, to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Florida State kicker Graham Gano: He averaged 48.2 yards on five punts and had three downed inside Wisconsin's 5-yard line to earn MVP honors. Gano placed three first-quarter punts inside the 4-yard line, including two at the 1.

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder: He threw for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 42-13 romp over Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. It was a dramatic improvement from the last 10 games of the regular season during which he threw six touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott: After being benched for 2 1/2 quarters for a curfew violation, Scott came in and ran 14 times for 174 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the Terps' 42-35 win over Nevada. His 49-yard touchdown run with 12:21 left put Maryland ahead 35-28, and Scott became the seventh back in Maryland history to top 1,000 yards.

Wake Forest offensive lineman Jeff Griffin: After starting 11 games at right tackle, Griffin moved to right guard and graded out at 94 percent (65 offensive plays, 61 plays graded positive), led the team with 18.5 knockdown blocks and didn't have one missed assignment. Wake Forest rushed for a season-high 239 yards and outrushed Navy 239-221 in the 29-19 win over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl. Griffin paved the way for Kevin Harris to rush for 136 yards, the most by a Demon Deacon this season. Wake Forest did not allow a sack.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner: He completed all 11 pass attempts against Navy for 166 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed seven times for 29 yards. Trailing Navy 19-14 with 12:30 to play in the game, Skinner drove the Deacons 80 yards in nine plays and finished it off with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight Ben Wooster. Skinner was named the game's MVP.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers: Bowers had three tackles for loss, the most ever by a Clemson freshman in a bowl game. He finished with five total tackles and three quarterback pressures in the Tigers' 26-21 loss to Nebraska. He was named Clemson's MVP of the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl by the media attending the game.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The 2008 Big Ten season officially ends tonight as No. 10 Ohio State faces No. 3 Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, but it's never too early to take a look at 2009. Here are five fearless predictions for the Big Ten next fall. 

1. The Big Ten mercifully gets only one BCS entry -- After sending two teams to BCS bowls for four straight years, the Big Ten is limited to only one participant (Rose Bowl). The league's recent big-game flops turn off the bowl selection folks, but the Big Ten gets a more reasonable bowl lineup and finishes above .500. 

2. Penn State repeats, JoePa returns -- The Nittany Lions fix their secondary and produce one of the nation's most dominating defenses en route to a second consecutive league title. Penn State capitalizes on a favorable home schedule (Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota), and head coach Joe Paterno opts to return for a 45th season. 

3. Michigan reaches the postseason (barely) -- The Wolverines might be making the short drive to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl, but they won't miss the postseason for the second straight year. Freshman Tate Forcier stabilizes the quarterback spot and Michigan finds a way to win six or seven games. 

4. Northwestern wins a bowl game -- The Wildcats should have ended their drought this year against Missouri, but they'll come through next fall in the Champs Sports or Insight bowl. It marks Northwestern's first postseason victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. 

5. Ax falls on at least one coach -- After a rare offseason with no forced coaching changes, the Big Ten sees some turnover in 2009. Indiana's Bill Lynch can't afford another losing season, and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema needs to show improvement following an extremely disappointing 2008 campaign. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After a lengthy hiatus, What to Watch is back as we take a look at the first three Big Ten bowl games.

  • Champs Sports -- Wisconsin vs. Florida State, Dec. 27
  • Valero Alamo -- Northwestern vs. Missouri, Dec. 29
  • Insight -- Minnesota vs. Kansas, Dec. 31

Here are some things to keep an eye on as you watch the games (in order).

1. Wisconsin's power run game -- The Champs Sports Bowl will feature strength vs. speed, and Wisconsin needs to overpower a swift Florida State defense with 473 pounds of running back. P.J. Hill and John Clay form a bruising rushing tandem, and Wisconsin will have to control the clock and wear down the Seminoles. The Hill-Clay attack seemed to surge in the final five games.

2. Wisconsin linebacker Culmer St. Jean -- He appeared in every game this fall and racked up 16 tackles, but the Badgers sophomore linebacker takes on a much bigger role against the 'Noles. St. Jean will start at middle linebacker as Jaevery McFadden moves to the weak side to replace the injured Jonathan Casillas. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said St. Jean has been peaking in practice heading into the bowl.

3. Wisconsin wide receiver David Gilreath -- The sophomore could be an X-factor in this game. He took on a bigger role in the rushing attack late in the season, but Wisconsin has to find better ways to use his speed. It's baffling that Wisconsin ranks last nationally in kickoff returns despite having Gilreath as the return man. If offensive coordinator Paul Chryst finds creative ways to use Gilreath, Wisconsin could surprise Florida State.

4. The Badgers' offensive line -- Sure, they're big, and at times they've played well as a unit, but few things have gone according to plan for the Wisconsin offense this season. The next task is a daunting one -- finding a way to block Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. Sophomore left tackle Gabe Carimi receives the undesirable task of trying to keep Brown from digesting quarterback Dustin Sherer.

5. C.J. Bacher and Northwestern's passing attack -- Northwestern was able to win nine games without summoning superhuman performances from Bacher, who delivered a couple of them last season. But to get win No. 10, Bacher will need to be at his best. Missouri's high-powered offense probably can't be held down for 60 minutes, but the Tigers' pass defense is miserable. Bacher can put up big numbers with a veteran receiving corps, but he must avoid interceptions, his bugaboo, and make more plays in the red zone.

6. Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton -- There's some talk that Northwestern's all-conference end could enter the NFL draft after a stellar junior season. He can showcase his ability on a national stage against Chase Daniel and Missouri. Northwestern will have to generate a strong pass rush against Daniel, and Wootton leads a defense that led the Big Ten in sacks (33) this fall.

7. Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton -- Northwestern likely will get its best all-around player back for the Alamo Bowl, but how he responds from left wrist surgery is a big question. Sutton, who typically carries the ball in his right arm, will wear a cast for the game and expects to be fine. The Wildcats struggled to generate a consistent run game without him and need one to control the clock against Missouri.

8. Minnesota's offensive line -- Head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged his team got beat up down the stretch, and no unit suffered more than the offensive line. Brewster brought in veteran line coach Tim Davis after the regular season, and it will be interesting to see what impact Davis has on a young group. The Gophers need to reduce the pressure on quarterback Adam Weber and find a way to run the ball against Kansas.

9. Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- The first-team All-Big Ten selection underwent left knee surgery after the regular season but is expected to be fine for the Insight Bowl. Minnesota seemed to lose its consistency on offense after Decker sprained his ankle Nov. 1, and Weber undoubtedly will be thrilled to have his top target healthy again. If Weber and Deck regain their rhythm and keep Todd Reesing and the Kansas offense off the field, Minnesota should have a shot in this one.

10. Gophers secondary and forcing turnovers -- Minnesota built its 7-1 start on amazingly opportunistic defense, particularly from the secondary. The Gophers' four starting defensive backs -- Traye Simmons, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret -- have combined for 10 interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. The group also owns a whopping 47 pass deflections. Minnesota's secondary has to force mistakes from Reesing, who has thrown 12 interceptions this season.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It's not quite the holiday vacation yet, and there are still plenty of ACC bowls to talk about. Today we'll focus on the Champs Sports Bowl and the Emerald Bowl. Let's start with the Seminoles.

Here are three reasons why Florida State will win:

1. Speed. The Seminoles have it, and Wisconsin isn't used to seeing it. Badgers quarterback Dustin Sherer, who replaced Allan Evridge as the starter in October, will get up close and personal with FSU defensive end Everette Brown, one of the best pass-rushers in the country. And the Badgers' scoring defense has been friendly, allowing 25 points per game. FSU has plenty of speedy playmakers ready to take advantage of a veteran defensive line that has underperformed this season.

2. Home turf. Florida State has never lost a game in Orlando (6-0-2), and is 2-0 in bowl games there. Bobby Bowden played -- and won -- the first bowl game of his career in Orlando, a 40-17 win over Texas Tech in the 1977 Tangerine Bowl.

3. Special teams. The Seminoles have Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano, and Wisconsin has the worst kickoff return unit in the country. FSU's Michael Ray Garvin leads the country in kickoff returns, and Gano leads the country in field goals. Gano is averaging 41.1 yards per punt, and Wisconsin is 48th in the country in punt returns.

Here are three reasons why FSU won't win:

1. Momentum. Wisconsin enters this game on a three-game winning streak while Florida State is trying to regroup after losing two of its last three, including that pounding the Noles took from Florida.

2. The Big Ten's No. 1 rushing offense. This is obviously the Badgers' strength, as they lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the country. It's the best the program has been on the ground since 1999. Junior P.J. Hill and redshirt freshman John Clay combined to run for 1,866 yards this season. Over the past four games, Hill and Clay each went over the 100-yard mark three times and combined to total 773 yards (an average of 193.3 ypg). They also scored 13 touchdowns over that span. Wisconsin will try to pound the ball and control the clock.

3. Wisconsin's secondary. Niles Brinkley, Allen Langford and Shane Carter have combined for eight interceptions this season, and Jay Valai has developed a reputation as a hard hitter. If the Badgers can force quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball, this group is capable of making game-changing plays.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to check the pulse of the Big Ten. Looks like the poor economy is affecting bowl ticket sales for several conference schools.

  • Wisconsin's ticket sales for the Champs Sports Bowl are down significantly from its previous two bowl trips (both to New Year's Day games), Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
  • Ohio State is seeing a similar decline in Tostitos Fiesta Bowl ticket sales, which became open to the public on Wednesday, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. 
"Not since the Alamo Bowl four years ago, off a rebuilding four-loss regular season, and the 1995 Citrus Bowl before that, has Ohio State had tickets left over to create a public sale. For a BCS bowl, this is new territory."
  • Northwestern is calling itself "The Redeem Team" as it heads back to the Valero Alamo Bowl, where it lost 66-17 to Nebraska in 2000, Richard Oliver writes in the San Antonio Express-News.  
  • Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker is doing some running following left knee surgery and maintains he will return for his senior season in 2009, the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood writes in his blog. Also, the Gophers' offensive line got a big boost with the signing of tackle Jeff Wills, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. 
  • In a sporting age where coaches are disposable, Penn State's Joe Paterno continues to amaze us with his longevity and continued success, Mike Lopresti writes in USA Today.
  • Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has closely monitored the progress of his former team, Cincinnati, which he helped mold, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.  

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Kudos to the Ohio State media for providing most of today's links lineup. The rest of you are slackers. 

  • Familiar luxury awaits Ohio State in the desert, but the Buckeyes better not get too comfortable at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl after back-to-back BCS bowl flops, wordsmith Rob Oller writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
"The Princess again will house Ohio State during this Fiesta Bowl visit -- Texas picked first and chose the resplendent Scottsdale Plaza Resort -- and if the Buckeyes are smart they'll take one look at their mansion-like digs and see a Motel 6 instead. And like it. They should show contempt for the comfortable and harbor an attitude of oppression over indulgence and opportunity over opulence."
"Consider: Why has Alabama been ranked ahead of Penn State all season? Granted, the reasoning was obvious for a few weeks last month, when Alabama was still unbeaten and Penn State had just suffered that one-point loss at Iowa. But Penn State's victories over Ohio State and Oregon State trump any two of Alabama's. Penn State's strength of schedule is practically identical to the Crimson Tide's. Penn State's defense is statistically comparable; its offense is superior.
There's one reason why Penn State has been at a reputational deficit all season: Ohio State-Southern California. USC's September blowout of the Buckeyes colored popular opinion of the Big Ten (or, rather, reconfirmed old suspicions) -- as it should have. The only unfair aspect of this is that the Buckeyes (and, by extension, the Big Ten) were one of the few that stuck its nonconference neck out this season."
  • Illinois head coach Ron Zook needs to find an offensive coordinator and, most importantly, an ace recruiter to replace Mike Locksley. Here are some suggestions, courtesy of The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen. 
  • A New Year's Day bowl gives Michigan State an excellent chance to continue its momentum in recruiting, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News. 
  • The Daily Iowan debates whether Iowa star running back Shonn Greene should turn pro a year early. 

Ranking the Big Ten bowls

December, 8, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten wants more respect after being skewered nationally for much of the season. An exciting bowl lineup gives the conference a chance to get its wish.

In addition to having two BCS entries for the fourth straight year, the Big Ten faces the preseason No. 1 (Georgia), a preseason national title contender (Missouri) and two of the more successful head coaches in the southeast (Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier).

To piggyback off Mark Schlabach's national list, it's time to rank the Big Ten bowls.

1. Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi
No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC, 4:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ABC): Two powerhouse programs, a legendary head coach (Joe Paterno) and another well on his way there (Pete Carroll), and one of college football's greatest settings make the Rose Bowl a must-see. Both of these teams easily could have been in Miami on Jan. 8, and a win will only strengthen their arguments. It will be fun to watch the Spread HD offense match up with a ferocious USC defense.
2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Texas, 8 p.m. ET, Jan. 5 (Fox): The teams clashed in 2005 and 2006 but have never met in the postseason. It will be fascinating to see how Texas responds from its BCS title game snub. Heisman Trophy candidate Colt McCoy will go against the best defense he's faced this season in Ohio State, which ranks seventh nationally in points allowed (13.1 ppg). The Buckeyes need a win to restore their national reputation and will need strong performances from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.
3. Capital One Bowl
No. 15 Georgia vs. No. 18 Michigan State, 1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ABC): Forget about those Big 12 quarterbacks and that Tebow fellow. This game is all about the running backs, as Doak Walker Award finalists Javon Ringer and Knowshon Moreno match up. Ringer has carried Michigan State to this point and could capitalize on a suspect Georgia defense, while Moreno is one of the nation's most exciting running backs and takes on a Michigan State defense that struggles to stop elite players.
4. Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern, 8 p.m. ET, Dec. 29 (ESPN): An insane number of sports journalists will be tuning in for this one, and you should, too. Missouri boasts one of the nation's most dynamic passing combinations in quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Northwestern counters with a sack-happy defense led by end Corey Wootton. If Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher discovers his 2007 form against a woeful Mizzou secondary, this could become a shootout.
5. Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Florida State, 4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 27 (ESPN): Both of these teams underachieved to a certain degree this fall, but the bowl game will provide an interesting match-up of power (Wisconsin) vs. speed (Florida State). The Wisconsin rushing attack came together late in the season, but P.J. Hill and John Clay face a tough task in a Florida State defense led by superstar end Everette Brown and linebacker Derek Nicholson.
6. O
utback Bowl
South Carolina vs. Iowa, 11 a.m. ET, Jan. 1 (ESPN): I can't get enough of Shonn Greene, but aside from the powerful Iowa running back, this game doesn't provide many reasons to shake-off the New Year's Eve hangover. Iowa played excellent football down the stretch, and it will be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes match-up with an SEC team. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier returns to Florida amid increasing criticism. He needs to win this game.
7. Insight Bowl
Kansas vs. Minnesota, 5:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31 (NFL Network): If Minnesota can get back to the disciplined and opportunistic play that spurred its 7-1 start, this game will be worth watching. But the Gophers didn't look like the same team down the stretch, and they'll need to make some major upgrades in the next few weeks to keep pace with a more experienced Kansas team led by quarterback Todd Reesing.

Big Ten pre-bowl power rankings

December, 8, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten wrapped up its regular-season schedule 16 days ago -- feels like 1,600 -- so the power rankings have not changed. But some of you have demanded a fresh lineup before bowl season begins, so here it is.

1. Penn State (11-1) -- The Nittany Lions are clearly the Big Ten's best team, but will they be good enough to keep pace with USC? A Rose Bowl victory would go a long way toward restoring the Big Ten's national reputation, and Penn State could finally distinguish itself from its conference brethren who recently have stumbled on the big stage.

2. Ohio State (10-2) -- Fiesta Bowls have been good to the Buckeyes and head coach Jim Tressel, and a Jan. 5 matchup with Texas is absolutely huge for this program. Dominating Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten doesn't mean much when the league is struggling. Ohio State must re-establish itself as a national power by knocking off the Longhorns.

3. Michigan State (9-3) -- After struggling against elite competition during the regular season, the Spartans can take a big step by knocking off preseason No. 1 Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. A talent upgrade is on its way to East Lansing and the future is bright, but running back Javon Ringer and his fellow seniors want to finish their careers on a high note.

4. Northwestern (9-3) -- Respect remains hard to come by for the Wildcats, who got passed over by the Outback Bowl for the second time in nine seasons. An Alamo Bowl victory against a talented Missouri squad would generate the buzz Northwestern sorely needs heading into 2009. Northwestern needs to do a better job of filling its home stadium, and a 10-win season would certainly help.

5. Iowa (8-4) -- Shonn Greene and the Hawkeyes are playing on New Year's Day, and they have an excellent opportunity to climb the power rankings by beating a very average South Carolina team. Iowa's strong finish has made its early season struggles a distant memory. Now the Hawkeyes must capitalize on a golden opportunity.

6. Wisconsin (7-5) -- Bret Bielema has several things to fix during the offseason, but his team seemed to come together around quarterback Dustin Sherer down the stretch. A Champs Sports Bowl victory against Florida State would springboard the Badgers toward 2009, when they return a formidable rushing attack in P.J. Hill and John Clay.

7. Minnesota (7-5) -- Head coach Tim Brewster isn't afraid to talk titles and Rose Bowls, but this season resembled those of the past, as the Gophers started strong and faded fast. This is a young team that will only get better, and an Insight Bowl upset of Kansas would validate an impressive turnaround from a 1-11 campaign.

8. Illinois (5-7) -- Sustained success remains the goal for the Illini after a deflating Rose-Bowl-to-no-bowl tumble. Head coach Ron Zook is spending this time doing what he does best -- recruiting -- but the team leaders need to do a better job of building chemistry for 2009.

9. Purdue (4-8) -- The Danny Hope era officially begins Jan. 1, but the new head coach already is forming his staff for 2009 and hitting the recruiting trail hard.

10. Michigan (3-9) -- Roster attrition might not be as bad as some envisioned for Rich Rodriguez's team, but there's plenty to fix in the offseason. Rodriguez has to be counting the days until incoming quarterback recruits Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier step on campus.

11. Indiana (3-9) -- Head coach Bill Lynch received a vote of confidence from his soon-to-be boss, Fred Glass, but Lynch is very much on the hot seat entering 2009.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Bowl practices will resume later this week at several schools, and the selections are only four days away. Here's what's happening around the league. 

  • Penn State head coach Joe Paterno returned to work barely a week after undergoing hip-replacement surgery, but his son Jay could be in the mix for the Toledo head-coaching vacancy, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. 

"Several Web sites reported that Jay Paterno, a 1990 Penn State graduate who has been on his father's staff for 14 years, could be in line to be interviewed by Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien. Jay Paterno did not return telephone calls from the Daily News, and Toledo officials would neither confirm nor deny that the school had been in contact with him."