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NCF Nation: Outback Bowl

Michigan heading to Outback Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
3:21
PM ET
After Sunday's mini-surprise with the Capital One Bowl, Michigan moved up a spot in the pecking order and will face an SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl. According to a release, Michigan will face a "Top 10" SEC foe to be announced later today.

The Wolverines (8-4) likely will face South Carolina on Jan. 1 in Tampa. Brady Hoke's team makes its first trip to the Outback Bowl since 2002, when it beat Florida 38-30.

Northwestern looked like the Capital One Bowl's pick Saturday night after Wisconsin stomped Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. But sources told ESPN.com that Big Ten and SEC leaders lobbied for the title game losers -- Nebraska and Georgia -- for the Capital One Bowl.

The Capital One Bowl couldn't select Michigan ahead of a Nebraska team with two more wins than the Wolverines. The Outback Bowl was able to pick 8-4 Michigan ahead of 9-3 Northwestern, a team the Wolverines defeated Nov. 10 in Ann Arbor.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Stefan Demos has experienced more highs than lows at Northwestern, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors for his kicking exploits in 2009.

But throughout his college career, Demos has learned more from failure than success.

"My first road game as a redshirt freshman, I shanked three punts against Ohio State," Demos recalled Wednesday. "I've learned from that."

[+] EnlargeStefan Demos
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaNorthwestern kicker Stefan Demos has gotten over the disappointment of missing a final-second kick against Auburn.
Although Demos nailed two game-winning field goals plus a huge 47-yarder in Northwestern's upset of Iowa last year, his season ended on a very sour and very public note. After Northwestern made a furious rally against Auburn in the Outback Bowl, Demos had a chance to win the game -- and end the Wildcats' 61-year bowl victories drought -- on the final play of regulation.

His 44-yard attempt hooked wide right and Northwestern ended up losing 38-35 in double overtime.

The miss certainly served as a learning experience, although Demos closed the book on it long ago.

"I think I had a enough time to dwell on it, three months out," said Demos, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "The three weeks after the game, where everyone on campus and in the community reminded me of the game, was enough to dwell on it. I should have just locked myself in a cage.

"But there's no point in dwelling on it. Obviously, that game wasn't fun for me, but I've had a lot of fun games, we had a great season. It obviously didn't end the way I wanted to or the team wanted to. We're going to move on, and so am I."

For Demos, the process began shortly after the bowl game, thanks in part to Ryan Fitzgerald, the 3-year-old son of the Northwestern head coach.

"Stef and Ryan were playing I-spy five minutes on the bus trip to the airport [after the Outback Bowl]," Pat Fitzgerald said. "So I knew that [Demos] was fine."

Demos has overcome struggles before. After missing three field goals in a narrow win against Illinois, Demos responded with four field goals, including two 45-yard attempts, in a 33-31 victory against Wisconsin in the regular-season finale.

He kicked the ball well in spring practice and spent part of the summer back home in Scottsdale, Ariz., working with Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff and Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber, the 2007 Lou Groza Award winner. Demos should benefit from having the punting duties taken off his plate, and he could contend for the Groza Award this season.

"This position is magnified," he said. "The Outback Bowl is a perfect example. I get three plays, basically, and if I don't convert 'em, the game's on me. I accept that and take the good and the bad.

"The bowl game's long gone, and I'm not going to be out there [in the season opener] against Vandy thinking anything about that."

Outback Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
9:46
PM ET
Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Northwestern take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After being snubbed by the Outback Bowl for Iowa last year, Northwestern received a somewhat surprising invitation to the Tampa game, as it makes its first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since 1997.

The Wildcats now look for the same result as the Hawkeyes, who last year crushed South Carolina in the Outback to claim the Big Ten's only bowl victory. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose.

The game pits two teams (Northwestern and Auburn) that have never played, as well as two potentially explosive spread offenses. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, leads a Wildcats attack that settled into a rhythm in its final two games. Kafka will need to be sharp against an Auburn defense that ranks 28th nationally against the pass, though there could be some running room for a Wildcats rushing attack that has struggled to get on track.

Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has been a key part of Northwestern's surge the last two seasons, but he will be tested against Auburn and spread guru Gus Malzahn. The Tigers will try just about anything on offense and boast the nation's No. 12 rushing unit, led by senior running back Ben Tate. The game features two efficient passers in Kafka and Tigers senior Chris Todd, who ranks 21st nationally in passer rating.

Northwestern comes in very hot, having gone 3-0 in November with two wins against top 20 opponents. Auburn started 5-0 before dropping five of its final seven contests, though the Tigers did give No. 1 Alabama all it could handle.


Auburn take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Auburn was one of six teams in the SEC this season finishing 7-5, but emerged out of the pack as the Outback Bowl’s top choice. The Tigers were one defensive stand away from knocking off Alabama in the regular-season finale two weeks ago and really putting a memorable stamp on Gene Chizik’s first season as head coach.

The long break before the bowl game should help Auburn as much as any team in the SEC. The Tigers battled depth problems all season, which explains in part their fast start and rocky finish to the season. They wound up losing five of their last six SEC games. But the way they played against the Crimson Tide gives everybody on the Plains hope that there are better days ahead.

Gus Malzahn’s offense is one of the more unpredictable units in the country. The Tigers like to spread you out and will run everything from reverses, to direct-snap packages to throw-back passes. Their bread and butter this season, though, was turning around and handing the ball off to Ben Tate, who rushed for 1,254 yards.

Defensively, it was a struggle for Auburn. The Tigers finished last in the SEC in scoring defense (26.9 points per game). But, again, they looked like a different defensive unit against Alabama and turned in their best effort of the season on that side of the ball, holding Mark Ingram to 30 yards rushing.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Belts are tightening around college football these days, as athletic directors are finding ways to trim costs in a very tough economic climate.

Iowa appears to have succeeded during its trip to the 2009 Outback Bowl. 

The school today released its budget report for the bowl trip. Iowa came in just under budget, spending $1,519,800 for the trip after being provided a budget of $1.65 million, in accordance with Big Ten Conference policy.

"I'm very proud of our staff's ability to effectively manage the expense-side of our participation in the Outback Bowl in a way that allowed us to stay within our budget, provide all that was required to prepare our team for the game and give us the best chance for victory, and to give our student-athletes the high-quality experience they earned," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement. 

It's interesting to see the itemized breakdown of expenses, which include the following:

  • $290,842 for transportation of players, coaches, support staff and athletic department officials.
  • $66,725 for the marching band's meals, lodging and per diem expenses.
  • $20,130 for team equipment costs. 
Iowa sold more than 14,000 tickets for the game through its own ticket office, and the report showed the school paid for 3,672 tickets that were either "comped" or unsold. Both teams were responsible for 11,000 game tickets.

Final Big Ten power rankings

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
10:06
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com'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 ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten probably wants to forget this postseason after going 1-6 in bowls. But several players stood out, even in defeat, and they deserve recognition. Let's hand out helmet stickers for the final time this season, beginning with the one Big Ten team (Iowa) that actually won its bowl.

Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Playing in what would be his final collegiate game, the Hawkeyes' junior went out with a flourish, racking up 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Greene eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and set a single-season school rushing record with 1,850 yards.

Iowa strong safety Tyler Sash -- South Carolina was in a giving mood (five turnovers), and Sash capitalized with two interceptions, raising his season total to five. Sash, a redshirt freshman who became one of the team's top playmakers, picked off Stephen Garcia's first pass of the game and had interception returns of 45 and 29 yards.

Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher -- The senior recorded an interception and a forced fumble in his final game in a Hawkeyes uniform. With Iowa up 14-0, Fletcher squashed any chance of a South Carolina rally by intercepting a Garcia pass in the end zone for a touchback. He also forced a fumble on South Carolina's first play of the second half.

Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman -- He hadn't taken significant snaps since September but gave Ohio State a big lift in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The offense was sputtering until Boeckman found Brian Robiskie for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boeckman later threw a touchdown to fellow quarterback Terrelle Pryor and nearly helped Ohio State to a big upset.

Ohio State's defense -- Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby had the final word in Glendale, but Ohio State held the high-powered Texas offense well below its season scoring average. The Buckeyes racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss and limited big plays until Cosby's 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.

Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher -- Bacher ended an up-and-down senior season with arguably his best performance in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in a 30-23 overtime loss. Bacher threw only one interception and spread the ball well to his veteran targets.

Northwestern's senior wide receivers -- Rasheed Ward, Ross Lane and Eric Peterman combined for 19 receptions, 261 yards and three touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. All three had scoring receptions of 20 yards or longer, highlighted by Lane's circus catch in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter.

Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman -- The Rose Bowl was a rough one for Penn State's defense, but Bowman certainly did his part with five tackles for loss and a sack. Bowman finished the season with 106 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Next season he'll form the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem with Sean Lee.

Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley and his fellow defenders held Georgia to three first-half points in the Capital One Bowl and gave the Spartans offense a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard. Michigan State eventually caved against Matthew Stafford, but Wiley had a forced fumble and seven tackles to go along with 87 return yards in his final collegiate game.

Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker -- Decker returned from knee surgery and an ankle injury to boost the Gophers in the Insight Bowl with eight receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown. The junior set Minnesota bowl records for receptions and receiving yards and will return in 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top targets.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

So far, I'm 1-1 in bowl picks, though I should have had more faith in Northwestern and a lot less in Wisconsin. Despite an 0-2 start to the bowl season, the Big Ten can redeem itself in January. A BCS bowl win or two would go a long way toward repairing the league's national image, though it won't be easy at all.

Here's how I see the last four bowls shaping up.

OUTBACK BOWL -- Iowa 24, South Carolina 14

The Hawkeyes are the better team and ended the season strong, while South Carolina stumbled down the stretch. Both teams are solid on defense, ranking 12th (South Carolina) and 13th (Iowa) nationally. The difference is Iowa found an offensive identity toward the second half of the season, while South Carolina's search continues. Hawkeyes running back Shonn Greene has another big game on a national stage, and he'll get plenty of chances because South Carolina is so strong against the pass. Iowa defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul will stuff the run in their final collegiate game, forcing South Carolina to throw against a defense that generates a ton of turnovers. Unless quarterback Ricky Stanzi regresses, Iowa will get the Big Ten a bowl win.

CAPITAL ONE -- Georgia 37, Michigan State 21

Mark Dantonio and his staff did an amazing job to get everything they could out of their players this season. But looking at how Michigan State struggled against elite offensive teams, there's little to suggest the Spartans can slow down a Georgia offense stocked with future NFL players. If Spartans star running back Javon Ringer controls the clock and Michigan State's defensive line puts pressure on Matthew Stafford, an upset isn't out of the question. Georgia hasn't defended the run well at times this season, and the Bulldogs will get a heavy dose of Ringer. But the Bulldogs have too many weapons, and they'll pull away down the stretch to snap the Big Ten's Capital One Bowl win streak.

ROSE PRESENTED BY CITI -- Penn State 17, USC 14

There's really no reason to pick against USC in a big game, especially one in Pasadena. But there's something special about this Penn State team: the way they overcame offseason turmoil, the way they blitzed through most of the season and the way they made improvement in every facet of the game. So after a lot of thought, I decided not to play it safe in the Rose Bowl Game. USC has to lose one of these games, and Penn State has what it takes to beat the Trojans, especially on defense. There won't be a lot of points, but special teams proves to be the difference for Penn State. Derrick Williams breaks off a big return and specialists Kevin Kelly and Jeremy Boone both step up as the Lions prevail in a defensive struggle.

TOSTITOS FIESTA -- Texas 30, Ohio State 21

Texas was supposed to be a year away, while Ohio State entered the season stocked with seniors and major contributors. But the Longhorns have evolved into the more complete team. Ohio State's identity, particularly on offense, took a long time to develop. The Buckeyes are definitely playing their best football, particularly along the defensive line, and freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor won't flinch in the national spotlight. If Ohio State's defensive front puts pressure on Colt McCoy and heralded linebacker James Laurinaitis makes a huge play, the Buckeyes could pull off the upset. But Ohio State's offense is too reliant on the big play, and an offensive line that struggled for most of the season won't hold down Brian Orakpo and a Texas defense that leads the nation in sacks.

Postseason record: 1-1 (50 percent)

Regular-season record: 71-17 (80.7 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final 2008 edition of What to Watch examines the four remaining Big Ten bowl games: Outback, Capital One, Rose and Fiesta. The Big Ten is winless so far in the bowl season and is favored in only one bowl (Iowa, Outback).

Here are some subplots to watch as you watch the games (in order of kickoff time).

1. Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Big Ten fans should be somewhat familiar with Greene, but most of the country will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes' superstar on Thursday against South Carolina. The Doak Walker Award winner has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games but faces a stout South Carolina defense. This likely will be Greene's final collegiate game, so get a good look while you can.

2. The Hawkeyes' back seven vs. Stephen Garcia -- Garcia gets the start at quarterback for South Carolina and hopes to provide some stability under center. The redshirt freshman has six touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season, and he'll need to limit mistakes against an Iowa defense that forces plenty of them. Iowa led the Big Ten with 20 interceptions, with five players collecting multiple picks.

3. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer -- His last bowl appearance was a disaster, as he committed five turnovers (4 INTs, fumble) in a loss to Boston College. Georgia undoubtedly will load up to stop Javon Ringer and make Hoyer win the game for Michigan State. Though Hoyer's numbers this season won't blow anyone away, he has made clutch throws and found ways to win games. If he can stretch the field with Blair White, rushing lanes should open for Ringer.

4. Michigan State's defensive line vs. Georgia's offensive line -- If the Spartans manage to slow down Georgia, it has to start up front. Michigan State's defensive line has more experience and must find ways to exploit Georgia's front five. Rush end Trevor Anderson finished the year with eight sacks andBrandon Long and Justin Kershaw combined for seven more. If Matthew Stafford has time in the pocket, Michigan State will be in big trouble.

5. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- It doesn't really matter where Paterno watches the Rose Bowl, but his potential return to the sideline after seven consecutive games in the press box might give Penn State an emotional lift. Paterno admits he sees the field better from up top, but the 82-year-old is itching to get back to where he belongs. His location likely will be a game-time decision, and the officiating crew better be on its toes if JoePa returns to the sideline.

6. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Penn State's offensive strategy -- Clark got his swagger back in the regular-season finale against Michigan State and enters the Rose Bowl stocked with confidence. But he goes up against quite possibly the best defense in recent college history. Though Clark has been smart and efficient all season (four interceptions in 285 pass attempts), Penn State likely needs to challenge USC down the field. A passive approach simply won't work in this game, and play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to go right at USC's strength.

7. Penn State's special teams -- These two defenses could easily cancel one another out -- Penn State can play some 'D', too -- and the Rose Bowl might come down to special teams. Penn State senior return man Derrick Williams has been outstanding this season and needs another huge performance against USC. If Williams can give Penn State short fields and Kevin Kelly converts his field goal attempts, the Lions could outlast the Trojans. Punter Jeremy Boone also could play a big role in this one, and Penn State must contain the Johnsons (Ronald and Stafon) on USC's returns.

8. Ohio State's Pryor-Wells backfield combo -- If the Buckeyes' much-maligned offensive line steps up to create rushing lanes and time in the pocket, Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells should do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Pryor has shown beyond-his-years poise this season, but the national spotlight gets brighter for the true freshman quarterback Jan. 5. The game likely will be Wells' last in a Buckeyes' uniform, and he'll want to go out with a huge performance after a season that began with Heisman Trophy hopes.

9. Buckeyes senior stars vs. Colt McCoy -- Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will go down as two of the best ever to play their positions at Ohio State. They don't want to finish their careers with a third consecutive postseason loss, one that would only ramp up criticism of the Ohio State program. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy provides a formidable final challenge, but Ohio State's defense played its best football in the second half of the season. The Buckeyes need their senior stars to make game-changing plays, and Laurinaitis and Jenkins need a win to cement their legacy outside of Columbus and the Big Ten.

10. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel -- He's about as far away from the hot seat as a FBS head coach can get, but Tressel and his program really could use a win in the desert. Ohio State hasn't won a national showcase game outside of the Big Ten since 2006 (Texas), and despite the team's obvious improvement in November, the USC disaster remains the lasting image of the Buckeyes' season. Tressel has drawn criticism for what some feel is a stale offense. If he pulls the right strings with some more creative play calling, Ohio State could pull off the upset.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Catching up on a weekend full of links and several more from this morning ...

"Shafer parted ways with Michigan by 'mutual agreement' a week before the school announced the change in the letter from athletic director Bill Martin, but there were conditions. It said Shafer could not publicly release the terms of his agreement, and he also agreed 'that I will not issue any statements to the media or in a public or similar setting which demean or disparage the University of Michigan, the football program, or any of their employees, in any way.'"

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Shonn Greene is used to seeing the wide eyes and the dropped jaws as he recounts his amazing evolution from college football exile to national award candidate.

The story never gets old, even for the man telling it.

"I'm just as surprised as they are," Greene said. "You would think I wouldn't be. Everybody knows about it, so everybody's kind of surprised. It's a great journey."

 
 Mark Cunningham/Getty Images
 Shonn Greene is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.

Greene's journey, which in a sense began inside a warehouse at McGregors Furniture last year, ends tonight in Orlando, Fla., at the College Football Awards Show (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Though the Iowa junior running back didn't get an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, he's the favorite to win the Doak Walker Award tonight. Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Georgia's Knowshon Moreno are the other Doak Walker finalists.

As he waited at Chicago's O'Hare Airport for his flight to Orlando on Wednesday morning, Greene was asked if he ever envisioned himself in this situation a year ago.

"Absolutely not," he said. "It's a good feeling."

After academic issues forced him out of football last season, Greene returned this fall and produced one of the greatest seasons in Iowa football history. He eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games, finished second nationally in rushing average (144.1 ypg) and broke Tavian Banks' single-season team rushing record with 1,729 yards.

Numbers like those merit a Heisman invite most seasons, but Iowa's slow start and a national spotlight consumed with quarterbacks kept Greene somewhat under the radar. He should get his due tonight as the nation's best running back.

"It would mean a lot," Greene said of the Doak Walker Award. "There are a lot of running backs this year doing well. Just to be up there with those guys will be an honor."

Greene admits the speed of the game initially caught him off guard after returning to the field this fall after a year away. He had trained hard in the summer with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle but got fatigued following the Hawkeyes' first two games.

What came next shocked Greene. He continued to get stronger as the season progressed and elevated his production despite increased awareness from opposing defenses. Greene had his two top rushing games -- 217 yards, 4 touchdowns against Wisconsin and 211 yards, 2 touchdowns against Purdue -- in the second half of the year.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com'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
12/08/08
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com'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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The bowl selections are in, and here's how Big Ten teams are reacting. 

"If it were me, it wouldn't be tough," Tressel said.

He should go?

"Shoot, yeah," Tressel said. "In my opinion he ought to be one of the first five guys picked. I know he is very focused, and this game [against Texas] is very important to him but we've always said if you're going to be a top-round pick, you ought to think about going."

Big Ten pre-bowl power rankings

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
12:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com'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 ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Bowls, bowls, bowls. When a league exits the spotlight before Thanksgiving, there's not much else to write about right now. Not that I mind. Who doesn't love bowl banter this time of year?

"Steve Hogan, executive director of the Champs Sports Bowl, said Monday it looks like his bowl could be picking between the bitter border rivals, the Badgers (7-5) and Gophers (7-5).

Naturally, Hogan didn't come out and say which Big Ten team he would prefer. But when laying out the cases for both schools, he made it clear head-to-head matchup is important.

"All things being equal, you like to look at head-to-head," Hogan said. "I think head-to-head, [the Gophers] lost to another team we may be picking against."

The Chicago-Sun-Times' Rick Telander writes:

"I know a coach who might work.

Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern.

With even harsher academic standards than Notre Dame has, Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to a 9-3 record and a bowl game. Remember when Fitz was a Northwestern middle linebacker and his 1995 NU team came to South Bend and stunned the Irish in the season opener, when everybody was wearing those ''Shake Down the Thunder" T-shirts and blabbing about a sure-fire national championship?"

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