NCF Nation: Todd Boeckman

Looking back on B1G freshman QB starters

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
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It's rare for a true freshman like Christian Hackenberg to earn the starting quarterback job -- but it's not unheard of in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg started his Penn State career with a win over Syracuse on Saturday.
We took a look at the Big Ten true freshmen who came before the Penn State signal-caller to see how they fared. We looked at quarterbacks from the past 10 years who started at least six games that first year and offered a rundown of those true freshman seasons, along with how their careers played out.

There's no telling right now where the four-star Hackenberg (Scout grade: 88) might end up. But here's what Big Ten history has to say:

Minnesota, 2012
Philip Nelson, Scout grade: 74

Freshman stats: 75-of-152 (49.3 percent) for 873 yards, eight TDs, eight INTs; 69 carries for 184 yards

Record as freshman starter: 2-5

Freshman synopsis: Nelson was expected to redshirt but, between injuries and inconsistent QB play, his number was called earlier. He started the last seven games and had limited success. But he showed some potential such as the Purdue win, where he completed 68 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns.

College career & beyond: He started Week 1 and helped lead Minnesota to a 51-23 win over UNLV. He could be in line to become a four-year starter, and all eyes will be on whether he can guide Minnesota to back-to-back bowls.

Penn State, 2010
Rob Bolden, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 112-of-193 (58 percent) for 1,360 yards, five TDs, seven INTs; 30 carries for minus-11 yards, one TD, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-3

Freshman synopsis: Bolden became the first true freshman to start a PSU opener in 100 years. He impressed in Week 1 by dominating Youngstown State with 239 passing yards, two TDs and a pick -- but his season would falter afterward. He seemed to regress, and a quarterback battle with Matt McGloin lasted all season. (Actually, for two seasons.) PSU finished 7-6 and lost to Florida in the Outback Bowl. Bolden didn't play in the postseason.

College career & beyond: Bolden transferred to LSU last year but has yet to attempt a pass. He's not poised for any playing time, and rumors have continued to circulate that he's considering another transfer.

Michigan, 2009
Tate Forcier, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 165-of-281 (58.7 percent) for 2,050 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs; 118 carries for 240 yards, three TDs, four fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-7

Freshman synopsis: He got off to a solid 4-0 start and made his mark by throwing a last-second, game-winning TD against Notre Dame. ESPN analyst Matt Millen, echoing a shared sentiment of Forcier's bright future, called him the best QB in the B1G. But his career took a nosedive in Week 5. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State, 26-20, and Forcier would win just one more game -- against Delaware State -- the rest of the season. His early performance still helped him earn a spot on ESPN's All-Big Ten freshman team.

College career & beyond: He was briefly listed as the third-string QB at the start of the next season and saw limited time behind Denard Robinson. He hoped to transfer to Miami (Fla.) after a sophomore slump but ended up at San Jose State. He then withdrew from that school in January, 2012 because of poor academic standing.

Ohio State, 2008
Terrelle Pryor, Scout grade: 93

Freshman stats: 100-for-165 (60.6 percent) for 1,311 yards, 12 TDs, four INTs; 139 carries for 631 yards, six TDs, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 8-1

Freshman synopsis: He came in as a consensus top-five national recruit, and he lived up to expectations. By Week 4, the dual-threat rookie supplanted Todd Boeckman -- a quarterback who took the Buckeyes to the national title game a year before -- and started the rest of the regular season. OSU finished 10-3 and lost the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. He was named Big Ten freshman of the year.

College career & beyond: He helped OSU earn three straight BCS berths before declaring early for the NFL's 2011 supplemental draft when it looked as if he'd be suspended. Oakland gave up a third-round pick for him, and he currently looks to be the backup. He has thrown for 155 yards so far in his NFL career.

Illinois, 2006
Juice Williams, Scout grade: 82

Freshman stats: 103-for-261 (39.5 percent) for 1,489 yards, nine TDs, nine INTs; 154 carries for 576 yards, two TDs, six fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 1-8

Freshman synopsis: Williams got the nod in Week 4 and shocked the nation one week later at Michigan State. Coming in as huge underdogs -- about four touchdowns -- Illinois' Williams threw for 122 yards and rushed for 103 to upset the Spartans 23-20. Illinois dropped the last seven games and finished 2-10, but four losses were decided by one score. He was an honorable mention on The Sporting News' freshman All-American team.

College career & beyond: Williams' sophomore campaign was a memorable one, as he beat No. 1 Ohio State -- the Illini's first win over the top-ranked team in a little over a half-century -- and finished 9-4 with a season-ending loss in the Rose Bowl. That was the highlight of his career, however, as he won just eight games over the next two seasons.

Michigan, 2004
Chad Henne, Scout grade: N/A

Freshman stats: 240-of-399 (60.2 percent) for 2,743 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs; 55 carries for minus-137 yards, two TDs, two fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 9-3

Freshman synopsis: The Pennsylvania native started Week 1 when a sore arm hindered Matt Gutierrez, and Henne never looked back. He picked up national headlines in October after back-to-back 300-yard games. Said Minnesota coach Glenn Mason: "If you didn't know he was a freshman, you wouldn't know he was a freshman." He tied Elvis Grbac's season record for touchdown passes with 25 and, unsurprisingly, made the All-American freshman team. He also led Michigan to the Rose Bowl, in which it lost to Texas, 38-37.

College career & beyond: Henne's college career saw its ups and downs, but he's still at -- or near -- the top of most Michigan passing records. He went 0-4 against Ohio State, but UM still finished in the top 25 in three of his four seasons. Miami selected him the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, and he's now the backup QB on Jacksonville.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


There will be many more starts and other big stages for Terrelle Pryor, who's expected to spend at least another season and possibly two at the helm of the Ohio State offense.

But make no mistake: Pryor's long-term legacy as Ohio State's quarterback will be shaped by what he does Saturday night against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
 
 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
 Saturday's showdown with USC could prove to be a defining game for QB Terrelle Pryor.


There are no guarantees, especially with a loss to the Trojans, that Pryor will face another team of USC's caliber in his Buckeyes career. Sure, Ohio State's dominance of the Big Ten could continue, but Penn State seems to be catching up quickly in the conference. The Buckeyes begin a two-game series against Miami next season, but the U. isn't USC.

Let's not underplay what's on the line for Ohio State in this game. The Buckeyes need to change the perception that they can no longer win big games. They need to change the perception that they're just the best of a bad bunch in the Big Ten. They need to prove that a Big Ten team can compete with the squad that has done more to ruin the league's national reputation than any other.

For Pryor, this is a chance to prove himself as a complete quarterback and an effective field leader. He boasts the unique combination of size and skills that, if used correctly, could give the Trojans defense some major headaches.

"If he comes out and plays well, it could throw his name right in the middle of the Heisman race," Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey said. "It could definitely be a defining game for him, and hopefully he comes out and takes control of it."

Pryor saw the field against USC last year, but he couldn't do much to change the outcome. He was used in spots throughout the first half and showed good poise as a true freshman playing in a rough environment. But by the time he ran a full series late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in a 35-3 hole.

He took over the starting job the following week and endured ups and downs leading a veteran offense that had some strong loyalties to his predecessor, Todd Boeckman. After a strong offseason in which he improved his passing footwork and fundamentals, Pryor now leads a unit featuring many of his peers. Though Ohio State didn't name a season captain from the offense, the general sentiment suggests that this is Pryor's team.

"He's definitely taken ownership; that’s the role of the quarterback," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's more comfortable and obviously knows that all of us on the offense trust him and are more confident in him. There's a comfort level for him in that role."

Pryor created a stir last week when he paid tribute to childhood idol Michael Vick by writing Vick's name on one of his eyeblack stickers. The sophomore, who has been shielded from the media this week and throughout most of his college career, also took heat for some of his postgame comments.

Though the criticism seems excessive, Pryor is the type of polarizing player who will always find his way into the spotlight. He's talented and brash, saying in April, "There's some teams out there that are waiting for us, and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."

Pryor no doubt included USC in his thoughts. Saturday night, he has the chance to back it up.

"He looks like he wants to win the game for us this week," Cordle said. "If he can beat USC, that’s obviously pretty defining."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Other than USC's Pete Carroll, no FBS head coach has dominated a league during this decade like Jim Tressel in the Big Ten. The Ohio State head coach, who enters his ninth year in Columbus, owns a 52-12 record in Big Ten play and has led the Buckeyes to at least a share of five league titles, including the last four. Tressel boasts a 7-1 record against archrival Michigan and in November became the only Ohio State coach to win five consecutive games against the Wolverines.

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
  Since arriving in Columbus, Jim Tressel owns a 52-12 record in Big Ten play.

But is it enough? Tressel continues to take heat for Ohio State's recent big-game performances, including two losses in the BCS national title game, three consecutive BCS bowl losses and a blowout loss at USC in September. His offensive flexibility has been questioned, and some wonder whether Tressel can get all he can from gifted sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. A new chapter has started this spring at Ohio State, as Pryor goes through his first spring ball as the definitive starter and the team tries to replace a sizable and decorated senior class. Tressel took some time last week to discuss the Buckeyes' outlook for the spring and 2009.

As far as the youth and the feel of this team, is there another team it reminds you of, or is it really unique?

Jim Tressel: The thing about this world we live in, there's really no two teams are even remotely alike. Because you're so concerned about so many things. It's not like basketball, where, 'OK, if my two-guard comes along, I'll be fine.' Will my long snapper be all right? Will we be able to protect the field goals better? There are so many things. This is a younger team. It's going to need to grow. Do they understand how difficult this world is? We'll find out. But I like their intentions.

Is there an area or a position group that has surprised you so far?

JT: A young guy who made a position change, Jake Stoneburner, who moved from wideout to tight end, to me has been a pleasant transition. A lot of time you have to be really patient with a guy that changes positions. That's been a real plus. Otherwise, youth-wise, the young kicker-punter Ben Buchanan, who's trying to do both, did a good job in the kick scrimmage, probably better than he's done both since he's been here. That made me feel a little bit better about having some depth at those two positions. Outside of that, I've felt good about the way Terrelle's coming along, but also Joe [Bauserman]. Joe's really making steps and making headway, which is huge, of course.

You said last year it was Todd Boeckman's team. Is this Terrelle's team now? Do you need to say that to him? Does he know that?

JT: I don't think you ever assume anything. We certainly have discussions all the time, not just with Terrelle, but with anyone who we think has shown the kind of production that then can lead to being a potential leader. 'Hey, you've been given opportunities to get in the game, you've produced when you've been in the game. Now people are looking to you for that leadership.' So you absolutely talk about that, but not just with your quarterback.

Is he a player that tests a coach's reluctance to be creative? Is he a guy who you have to expand the package for, or try new things?

JT: You get tempted to say, 'Hey, I wonder if we can do this or that.' But you rein it back in and say, 'Let's look at the whole group. What are the things the whole group will be best at?' Now of course, what can special guys add? What is it that [Dane] Sanzenbacher does best? What is it that [DeVier] Posey does best? What does Terrelle do best? But we haven't gotten crazy.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Terrelle Pryor showed snippets of his boundless potential last season, he usually did so with his feet.

Whether it was sprinting for the game-winning touchdown at Wisconsin, wrong-footing the Michigan State Spartans in a blowout or consistently beating Texas defenders to the edge in the Fiesta Bowl, Pryor displayed the type of fearless footwork that you simply can't teach. But outside the spotlight, in Ohio State's locker room, the meeting rooms or the practice field, Pryor moved more cautiously.

 
  AP Photo/Andy Manis
  Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor knows his role as a leader will increase in 2009.

He tiptoed and kept a safe distance.

"He was very conscious of, 'Hey, this was Todd Boeckman's team,'" Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "He never wanted to step where he didn't think he belonged. He wanted everyone to feel good about what he's doing, most especially Todd because of his fondness for Todd.

"It was difficult enough to start taking some of Todd's reps. So he was very conscious of not treading where he might not be best suited to go."

Pryor no longer has to think twice about where he sets foot. Every cubic inch of Ohio State's locker room, meeting rooms and practice fields is now his territory.

Sure, the Buckeyes have seniors and other voices of leadership. When Ohio State elects its team captains in August, Pryor, only a sophomore, likely won't be among them.

But there's little doubt that Pryor has a much greater ownership stake in this Buckeyes team. He doesn't have to be a steward for last year's sizable senior class. He admired and respected them, but they're gone now.

When the 2009 season kicks off, Pryor can be his own man, his own leader and his own quarterback.

"I want to take that responsibility and lead the team," Pryor said. "There's some seniors now that will take it, but you can tell, they kind of gave it to me. The most important thing is for a quarterback to be a leader. ...

"We have some seniors and guys, they've been here longer. It's their team, but it's also my team."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Check out the Big Ten's spring prospectus, if you haven't already. One item that stood out to me is the fact that the Big Ten returns its six-most efficient quarterbacks from 2008.

Is this a good thing?

The easy answer is yes. Who doesn't want an experienced and efficient quarterback taking snaps for another year?

On the flip side, as stated countless times in this blog, quarterback play is the biggest factor separating the Big Ten from rejoining college football's elite.

Last year was downright miserable for Big Ten quarterbacks, as all-conference candidates like Purdue's Curtis Painter, Ohio State's Todd Boeckman and Indiana's Kellen Lewis really struggled. Northwestern's C.J. Bacher was average, at best, and both Iowa and Wisconsin replaced their opening-day starters.

So as you look at this list, keep in mind that at least five of the six players (Penn State's Daryll Clark is the exception) need to improve on last year's numbers to truly elevate quarterback play around the league.

The Big Ten's Returning Quarterbacks (2008 Statistics)
Quarterback, School Rating Pass yards TD INT
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State 146.5 1,311 12 4
Daryll Clark, Penn State 143.4 2,592 19 6
Juice Williams, Illinois 138.1 3,173 22 16
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa 134.8 1,956 14 9
Adam Weber, Minnesota 126.9 2,761 15 8
Dustin Sherer, Wisconsin 120.7 1,389 6 5

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.

Here they are.

Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.

Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.

Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.

Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.

Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.

Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.

Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.

Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.

Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.

Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.

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

 
 Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
 Ohio State nearly pulled off the upset behind Todd Boeckman, above, and Terrelle Pryor.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Perhaps more than any other player, Todd Boeckman has served as a symbol for Ohio State's senior class.

He celebrated Big Ten titles and struggled in big games. He earned local and national recognition and endured the pain of subpar performances. He handled both the highs and the lows with class.

Despite losing the starting quarterback job to true freshman Terrelle Pryor in Week 4, Boeckman still joined fellow captains James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Brian Robiskie to meet the media after every game. He remained a leader in the locker room, on the practice field and on the sideline, even if he could no longer be one on Saturdays.

For those reasons, no player on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium had more support than Boeckman as he reclaimed a critical role in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The senior helped Ohio State rally in the fourth quarter and was seconds away from a perfect end to his career when Texas scored the game-winning touchdown to win 24-21.

"To see him go in there, it proves the old adage that good things happen to good people," Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol said. "He stayed the course all year. Yeah, he was pissed off in his mind all year long. Who wouldn't be? He did the right thing, he did what was best for the team. He forgot himself."

But Ohio State didn't forget about Boeckman, even though Pryor made strides as the starter. The Buckeyes shook things up in bowl practice, pairing Boeckman and Pryor on the field together.

The combination worked Monday as Boeckman completed five passes for 110 yards, including a 5-yard scoring fade to Pryor, who recorded his first touchdown reception. Boeckman helped set up Ohio State's go-ahead score with 2:05 left with a 21-yard strike to tight end Jake Ballard on second-and-17.

"I had no idea how much I was going to play," Boeckman said. "They just told me to be ready at all times. I'm always looking forward to getting out there and playing with these guys. I had some fun out there today, but unfortunately, we couldn't get the job done.

"It felt pretty good to get out there and throw the ball around a little bit. I haven't done that in quite a while."

Ohio State's coaches downplayed the two-quarterback scheme leading up to the game, suggesting it would only be used sparingly. But Boeckman took the game's first snap and found Robiskie for a 14-yard gain.

He seemed to spark the offense in the first half, and after the unit went silent in the third quarter, his 48-yard completion to Robiskie on third-and-13 changed the game's complexion.

"Todd is a special guy," head coach Jim Tressel said. "Every one of us wanted to do all we could to make him a part of the plan. He stepped in and did a good job."

The game signaled the start of a major personnel transition for Ohio State, as the 28-member senior class departs following four Big Ten titles but a 1-3 record in bowl games. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and wideout Brian Hartline, both juniors, also could also be departing. Both said they had not reached a decision about the NFL draft.

"The seniors have 43 wins throughout their career here," Boeckman said. "That's one of the best records in Ohio State's history. The hard part about that is the last three bowl victories, we didn't get a win. That's probably what people are going to remember the most. That's tough to take."

The near miss resonated with Pryor, who performed admirably under pressure and will face an even greater burden in 2009.

"We made a statement, but losing to a team, it's not good enough," Pryor said. "You've got to win. We hung onto 'em, but it doesn't sound great. It's not right.

"We had an OK season. We needed to finish that game off."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Texas needed one final push against a staunch Ohio State defense that had kept Longhorns receivers in front of it all game.

The Longhorns got it from wideout Quan Cosby, who wriggled free of Ohio State safety Anderson Russell and sprinted to the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left. Quarterback Colt McCoy led a masterful drive as Texas marched 78 yards in 11 plays without using a timeout. Cosby had a huge performance in his final game in a Longhorns uniform.

Though Texas failed to make the statement it needed for a split national title, the favored Longhorns survived to notch their fifth straight bowl victory and third in a BCS game.

Ohio State mounted an impressive fourth-quarter comeback behind quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor, who hooked up for a touchdown with 7:26 left. The Buckeyes' ground attack secured the lead despite a concussion suffered by Chris Wells, but a defense that had stepped up all game couldn't get the final stop.

The Buckeyes weren't embarrassed like the last two seasons and had control for most of the game, but they ended up dropping their third consecutive postseason contest. The Big Ten did absolutely nothing to improve its national reputation with a 1-6 bowl record, arguably the worst postseason performance in league history. The league has lost six consecutive BCS bowls.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Once again, Ohio State has an early lead in a big game.

Can the Buckeyes hold it?

The second quarter has doomed Ohio State in recent showcase games and will be crucial against Texas, which is showing some life on offense. Colt McCoy and the Longhorns have accelerated their pace on offense and marched inside Buckeyes' territory after two punts.

Ohio State has controlled the tempo so far, though the Buckeyes don't have much to show for it.

They didn't waste any time unveiling their much-discussed two quarterback plan.

Senior Todd Boeckman took the game's first snap with Terrelle Pryor lined up wide and found Brian Robiskie for a 17-yard gain. Boeckman left the field but re-entered three plays later and threw a beautiful deep fade that Robiskie dropped. The veteran seems on his game and could be a weapon later in the game.

Ohio State has moved the ball decently, but pass-protection problems are already surfacing. Texas All-American rush end Brian Orakpo is schooling Buckeyes left tackle Alex Boone, and Pryor took a sack that nearly took the team out field-goal range.

Pryor looks decent so far, though twice he has curiously run out of bounds when he easily could have gained more yards.

Ohio State was outscored 55-7 in the second quarter in its two national championship game losses and a Sept. 13 setback at USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- University of Phoenix Stadium is just as cavernous as it looks on TV, and it will serve as an appropriate setting as two college football giants clash tonight in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (FOX, 8 p.m.).

Media members received a police escort from our resort to the stadium, which was pretty cool until we hit traffic in downtown Phoenix and the cops didn't help much. It was pretty funny to see the reactions from fans, who thought the buses carried Ohio State and Texas players rather than out-of-shape reporters. Sorry to disappoint.

I didn't get much of a chance to walk around, but the parking lots around the stadium are already buzzing with fans of both teams. The highlight was seeing a massive one-piece Jim Cordle jersey worn by four young women, presumably Cordle's friends or family members. If Cordle and his fellow linemen look that big on the field tonight, Texas could be in trouble.

No. 3 Texas enters its first Fiesta Bowl at 11-1, looking to restate its case as a national title contender after getting snubbed from the championship game last month. The Longhorns were a play away from reaching Miami and should be keyed up for this one. No. 10 Ohio State also has plenty to prove after flopping in the last two BCS title games. The Buckeyes are no strangers to Arizona, having won the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Their last trip inside this stadium ended in defeat, however, as they fell to Florida in the 2007 championship game.

On the health front, Texas has no reported injuries. Ohio State likely will be without third-string running back Brandon Saine, and reserve offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts won't play much if at all. Buckeyes starting wide receiver Brian Hartline might miss a series or two after reportedly committing a team rules violation last week.

Tonight's officiating crew is from the Big East Conference.

Here are three keys for each team heading into tonight's matchup.

TEXAS

  • Get Colt McCoy on the move to establish an early offensive rhythm. Ohio State's defensive line has improved in the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes haven't seen a quarterback as dangerous as McCoy. If he performs anything like he did during the regular season, Texas shouldn't have trouble putting up points.
  • Clog the middle and force Terrelle Pryor to win the game. The pre-game talk has centered on Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, but defensive tackle Roy Miller could be a more important player tonight. Ohio State wants to establish the power run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells. It's up to Miller and his linemates to slow him down.
  • Guard against the big play. Ohio State has been too reliant on big plays this season, but Pryor and his receivers are capable of stretching the field at any time. Texas' secondary is vulnerable, but if the Longhorns keep the wide receivers in front of them, they should be OK.

OHIO STATE

  • Establish Wells and the run game right away. Wells needs to have a huge night for Ohio State to keep pace with Texas. Though the junior thrives in big games, Texas defends the run well and Ohio State's offensive line has underperformed for most of the season. If Wells can wear down the Texas defensive front, Pryor will have opportunities to get creative.
  • Don't be afraid to test the Texas secondary. If there's a weakness for the Longhorns, it's the back four, and while the Buckeyes want to run the ball, they can't shy away from passing on first down. There's been some buzz about using Pryor and fellow quarterback Todd Boeckman on the field together. Sounds like a good idea for an offense that gets stale at times.
  • Defensive stars have to make plays. Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will graduate as two of the most decorated Ohio State defenders in team history. As they take the field for their final collegiate game, both men must be major factors in trying to disrupt McCoy and the Longhorns offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mack Brown still gets nervous, even if he doesn't show it. 

When Brown met the media this morning, the Texas head coach recalled a conversation he had with coaching legend Darrell K. Royal about managing anxiety before games. 

 
 Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 Mack Brown doesn't see a playoff system coming to college football anytime soon.

"I asked coach Royal once, 'Did you have trouble sleeping the night before a big game?'" Brown said. "And at Texas they are all big. If you lose one, it gets real big. He said that unless you gag before you brush your teeth on Saturday morning, you are not ready to play.

"I gagged this morning. So I think I'm fine."

Brown will coach in a BCS bowl for the first time since guiding Texas to the national championship when his team takes the field Monday against No. 10 Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). Despite his nerves in front of the bathroom sink, Brown showed none in front of reporters as he discussed Texas' final preparations for the game. 

Here are some highlights:

  • Brown doesn't see a playoff system coming to college football, but he acknowledged that the impressive wins by USC and Utah strengthen the argument for one. A Texas blowout of Ohio State certainly would add to the playoff push, which Brown certainly advocates. With many coaches supporting a playoff, Brown encouraged media members to continue the fight. And while he covets a playoff, Brown doesn't want the bowl system to suffer.
"I played at Vanderbilt for two years, and when I saw Vanderbilt kick a last-second field goal to win their first Bowl game since 1955, there will be no team or coaching staff any happier than that Vanderbilt staff was," Brown said. "We do not need to take that away from college football. It is an exciting time. I see 7-5 teams throwing Gatorade on their coach. At Texas, if we were 7-5, they'd be throwing something on me but it wouldn't be Gatorade."
  • The Big 12 has been average at best during the bowl season, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State losing, and a heavily favored Missouri team struggling mightily against Northwestern. But Brown thinks a conference and its teams shouldn't be evaluated solely on one game, especially a game that might bring lukewarm enthusiasm. 
"We've had some teams that weren't as excited about their game because they didn't get the draw they wanted and they got disappointed at the end of the year," Brown said. "That's the biggest thing in the bowl games: Who has the edge? Who is motivated? Who wants to be there? ... If you look at the games and see who wants to be there and who is motivated because none of us have played for a month, I think that usually tells you the story more than anything else."
  • Brown recounted the process of telling his players that they didn't reach the Big 12 championship game and likely wouldn't be heading to the national championship in Miami. His first directive was to refrain from commenting publicly about the snub and instead let him do the talking. Rather than allowing the players to learn their fate on TV, Brown and his staff sent text messages minutes before the announcement and then scheduled a team meeting several hours later. In the meeting, Brown explained why Texas was left out (the computer rankings weigh road wins more than neutral-site ones), reiterated that the system is flawed and told players not to start throwing a pity party.
"Some people like it," Brown said. "It is better than what we had 10 years ago. But in this case, it didn't work out for you. But one year it didn't work out for [USC]. One year it didn't work out for Auburn. In 2004 it worked out for you when you went to the Rose Bowl to play Michigan. Don't say 'Oh, poor me' and don't say the system was poor to you just this time. It has been poor to a lot of people. This year it was good to Oklahoma instead of us."
  • Texas has tried to strike a balance between fun and serious preparation this week in Arizona. Players were given an 11 p.m. curfew most nights, and Texas hasn't had any disciplinary infractions. Director of player development Ken Rucker gave the players an added incentive not to mess up.
"[Rucker] said if he smelled any alcohol on them, he would kiss them," Brown said. "That took care of that. As far as I know, nobody has been kissed by coach Rucker before they went to bed. If you see coach Rucker, only [his wife] Nancy wants to kiss coach Rucker. It is not a group of guys."
  • Like Ohio State's 28 seniors, Texas' seniors have made a unique impact on the program and the coaches. Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo said Thursday that the team might be closer than the 2005 squad that won a national title. They built that foundation as juniors before the 2007 Holiday Bowl, when they spoke up about helping the coaches maintain the right focus.
"A lot of people say this team will be great next year, and that's not necessarily true because when you lose some ingredients, like Orakpo and his leadership and what he has meant to this program or Roy Miller," Brown said. "My experience has been you don't wave the wand and say we have a lot of good players coming back so it works again. For whatever reason it didn't work as well for 2006 and [2007], and it's has worked this year."
  • Brown, on the prospect of Ohio State using quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman on the field together: "We hope it works as well as ours. I think ours had five plays for minus-12 yards."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to catch up on your Sunday reading. 

"Which raises the question: How much can the Fiesta Bowl affect their legacy? Would a win wipe away the bad memories? Would a loss further render the other accomplishments hollow? Or is the legacy already set, and the outcome of a non-title game irrelevant?"

"Of the first 11 BCS national champions, 10 have or will come from the Southern tier -- Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and southern California. And schools from Alabama and Georgia have been knocking on the door.

Meanwhile, once powerful programs in the North who commonly contended for and won national titles in the 1980s and 1990s -- Michigan, Notre Dame, Washington, Nebraska -- are either in total disarray or have reached the point where they are delighted to win a fleabag bowl game."

  • It took a while and some twists and turns, but Michigan finally got its man as standout prep defensive tackle William Campbell affirmed his commitment to the Wolverines, Sam Webb writes in The Detroit News. 
  • Despite an extremely young staff and a very disappointing season, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema isn't planning any changes, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. 
  • Kirk Ferentz's family and ties to Iowa City could play a large role in whether he jumps to the NFL, J.R. Ogden writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are 10 things I'm looking forward to watching in Big 12 bowl games that start on Thursday.

1. Clemson's defense performs with new leadership: Heralded defensive coordinator Vic Koenning left Clemson before the Tigers' matchup in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl against Nebraska for a new job at his alma mater at Kansas State. It will leave Clemson linebackers coaches David Blackwell and Ron West calling defenses in an interim capacity in the bowl game against Nebraska. It won't be an easy chore considering that the Cornhuskers rank in the top 20 nationally in passing yards, yards per game and points.

2. Joe Ganz's final game: Nebraska's senior starting quarterback has quietly led a resurgence of the Cornhuskers' offense, directing them to at least 30 points in 10 of 12 games this season and at least 41 points and an average of 504 total yards in their last three games. Ganz needs four touchdown passes to break Nebraska's single-season and career marks. Considering the way he has played down the stretch, those marks might not be out of the question with a big day against the Tigers.

3. Pelini's mark on history: First-year Nebraska coach Bo Pelini will be gunning for his ninth victory of the season against Clemson, which would enable him to join Frank Solich, Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney as the only Nebraska coaches to win nine games in their first full season with the Cornhuskers.

4. Texas Tech finally returns to football: The Red Raiders have endured a long month since the end of the season as Graham Harrell has recovered from delicate surgery on his non-throwing hand and Mike Leach has been involved in continued contact negotiations with school officials. It will almost be a relief to get back to football -- particularly with the return to health of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was hobbled much of the season with a sprained ankle. A victory against Mississippi in the AT&T Cotton Bowl would boost the Red Raiders to a school-record 12 victories in a single season.

5. Say goodbye to the Cotton Bowl -- in Fair Park: Thursday's game between Texas Tech and Mississippi will be the final AT&T Cotton Bowl game played in its historic facility near downtown Dallas before moving to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington next season. The bowl has been one of the more tradition-steeped games in college football, beginning at its current location in 1937. Memories of that rich 73-year history will be especially vivid on Friday.

6. Harrell's remarkable legacy: Texas Tech's senior quarterback Graham Harrell will finish his career Friday as the clear best to ever play at his position in school history. He can punctuate his college career by staking two significant statistical claims. With 253 passing yards he can become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons. And he needs two touchdown passes to surpass Hawaii's Colt Brennan's career record of 131 touchdown passes for the most in FBS history.

7. The Rebels' defense put to a test: Mississippi is allowing only 123.3 yards per game in their last three contests and have held opponents to less than 215 total yards in five games this season. They will be supremely challenged against an explosive Red Raider offense that ranks first nationally in passing and fourth in total offense and scoring. Tech erupted for at least 538 yards of total offense in eight of its first 10 games this season, but has been progressively limited to its lowest offensive totals in each of the last two games against Oklahoma and Baylor.

8. Will Ohio State's success against Big 12 teams continue against Texas? The Buckeyes have compiled a remarkable 28-4 record against Big 12 teams, including a 5-0 mark in bowl games. But they will be facing a Texas squad in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl that is hungry after being snubbed for a shot at the Big 12 title game and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game if it would have won there. The Longhorns are one of four programs nationally that are undefeated in BCS games.

9. Colt McCoy's retribution against the Buckeyes: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was making only the second start of his career early in the 2006 season when he directed the Longhorns to a 24-7 home loss to Ohio State in his second career start. Since then, McCoy has claimed 30 of his 36 career starts to become the winningest starting quarterback in school history (31-7, .838 winning percentage.) Included in that streak have been both his bowl games.

10. Ohio State's trickeration on offense: The Buckeyes have spent much of their early bowl practices tinkering with a package where quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman are in the lineup at the same time. They will try that offense against a Texas defense familiar with such a philosophy for chunk plays after early work this season with McCoy and Texas backup quarterback John Chiles playing at the same time. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel can only hope his gadgetry is more fruitful than Texas' ended up being.

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