NCF Nation: Tony Mandarich

LOS ANGELES -- As Lorenzo White watched the confetti fall at Lucas Oil Stadium and Michigan State raise the Big Ten championship trophy Dec. 7, one thought came to mind.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

White starred at running back for Michigan State's last Rose Bowl team, 26 long years ago. Fueled by a stifling defense and a run-heavy offense -- sound familiar? -- the Spartans blitzed through the Big Ten to earn their first trip to Pasadena since the 1965 season.

It looked like the start of a surge for a team featuring four future first-round NFL draft picks -- White, wide receiver Andre Rison, offensive tackle Tony Mandarich and linebacker Percy Snow -- and a strong coaching staff led by George Perles. But Michigan State once again went more than two decades before its next Rose Bowl berth.

"It's great to have them back," said Perles, who coached Michigan State from 1983 to '94. "It brings back some great old memories."

MSU's latest Rose Bowl run in many way mirrors the path taken in 1987. Both squads faced adversity in nonleague play, regrouped after a loss to Notre Dame, began their ascent with a win at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium in the Big Ten opener and never looked back.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo White
AP Photo/Lennox McLendonLorenzo White carried 35 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the 1988 Rose Bowl.
Both leaned heavily on talented defenses guided by coordinators (Pat Narduzzi now, Nick Saban then) pegged for big things. Both offenses struggled before Big Ten play but eventually settled down. Running back Jeremy Langford's workload isn't as heavy as White's in 1987 -- White logged 357 carries for 1,572 yards and 16 touchdowns, and backup Blake Ezor added 617 yards -- but he has been just as valuable in closing out Big Ten wins.

The 1987 "Gang Green" defense surrendered an average of just 37.6 rush yards in Big Ten play, the second-lowest average in league history behind the 1965 Spartans (34.6), and forced 35 turnovers. The current "Spartan Dawgs" lead the nation in rush defense (80.8 YPG) and thrive on takeaways, recording a league-leading 27, tied for 17th nationally.

"The [current] defense reminds me of our defense 26 years ago," Perles said. "That proves again you win championships with defense."

MSU defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett, a boundary cornerback on the 1987 squad, notes that the schemes were different -- the 1987 team primarily used a Cover 3 defense that Perles brought over from the Pittsburgh Steelers; the current defense mainly lines up in Cover 4, often leaving the corners isolated on opposing receivers. But both defenses keyed on stopping the run and had fiery coordinators with uncompromising standards.

Saban, who turned 37 that October, oversaw a secondary that recorded 28 interceptions. Safeties Todd Krumm and John Miller combined for 17 picks.

"Nick had a lot of, as he would say, piss and vinegar in him," Barnett said. "He was on us about every little thing and demanded excellence and perfection. So in turn, we got turnovers, we stopped the run, we tackled well and played with toughness, similar to our current defense."

[+] EnlargeDenicos Allen
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Denicos Allen had nine tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks against Michigan.
This year's defense recorded its signature performance Nov. 2 against Michigan, holding the Wolverines to minus-48 net rush yards, the lowest total in Michigan history, while racking up seven sacks. It surely reminded some of MSU's 1987 visit to Ohio Stadium, where the Spartans held Ohio State to 2 net rush yards (minus-14 in the second half) and had seven sacks in a 13-7 win.

"That's when we realized how dominant our defense was," said Dan Enos, then a freshman reserve quarterback for MSU who later became an assistant coach at his alma mater. "After that game, we thought, 'Man, we've got a really, really good shot here.'"

There wasn't as much optimism when MSU entered Big Ten play at 1-2. After beating eventual Rose Bowl opponent USC on Labor Day -- in the first night game at Spartan Stadium -- MSU fell to eventual No. 2 Florida State and to Notre Dame, scoring a combined 11 points in the losses.

"That was our nonconference: Southern Cal, Notre Dame and Florida State," Enos said. "Who does that these days? Nobody."

Things didn't get much easier against Iowa, which led 14-7 at halftime. Perles didn't hold back as he addressed his team in the infamous pink locker room at Kinnick. The Spartans rallied to win 19-14.

"He came in, gave us a few choice words," White said with a laugh. "From that point on, we never looked back. The whole season changed."

The next week, MSU beat Michigan in East Lansing for the first time since 1969, thanks to seven interceptions. Despite a tie at Illinois, the Spartans faced Indiana on Nov. 14 with a Rose Bowl berth on the line for both teams.

White carried 56 times, one shy of the Big Ten/NCAA record, for 292 yards as MSU crushed Indiana 27-3. The postgame celebration included a surprise visit from Indiana coach Bill Mallory, who briefly addressed the team.

He congratulated the Spartans and, mindful of the Big Ten's six-game Rose Bowl slide, told players to "go out to the coast and kick [USC's] ass."

"That fired us up," White said. "For another coach to show how much class he had to come over to us and tell us that we had a fine football team, and for us to go out there and kick some butt, that was great."

Mallory, who received Perles' permission before speaking, doesn't recall going into any other opposing locker room after a game in his long career.

"I just had that gut feel," Mallory said. "I didn't want to get carried away, but I wanted to make sure they got our support."

The Spartans' 20-17 Rose Bowl win in many ways typified the 1987 team. They attempted only seven passes but connected for some big gains to Rison, and White had 113 rush yards and two touchdowns.

Snow, who recorded 17 tackles and earned game MVP honors, led a defense that forced five takeaways.

"It was a team loaded with toughness," Perles said.

Barnett, just a redshirt sophomore, expected the Rose Bowl to become an annual trip.

"Little did I know it was going to take 26 years," he said. "I'm really excited for our players to get a chance to experience the granddaddy of them all."

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 9 ...

1. Battle of the banned: The harsh reality of no bowl trip hasn't slowed down Ohio State or Penn State this season. New coaches Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien have revolutionized the offenses in both Columbus, Ohio, and State College, Pa., and have their teams on long win streaks entering Saturday night's clash at Beaver Stadium. Expect an electric atmosphere in Happy Valley as Nittanyville has been packed all week and Penn State fans are viewing the game as by far the biggest of the season. Although neither team will play in the postseason, Saturday night's winner likely will have the label of the Big Ten's best team and will put itself in the driver's seat for the Leaders Division championship.

2. Legends of the fall: While Penn State and Ohio State compete for symbolic titles and a division crown, Michigan and Nebraska are aiming much higher -- for a spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1. The Wolverines and Huskers meet Saturday night in Lincoln for the right to sit atop the Legends Division before the final month of the regular season. Although both teams have remaining tests, Saturday's winner gets the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker and a confidence boost for the stretch run. Michigan makes its first trip to Lincoln in 101 years, and Saturday marks the first conference game in NCAA history to feature two programs with at least 850 all-time victories. Nebraska is 27-6 at home under coach Bo Pelini.

[+] EnlargePenn State
Andrew Weber/US PresswireBill O'Brien's Nittany Lions have opened games strong this season, outscoring opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
3. Ball vs. Bell: The Big Ten's top two running backs -- Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Wisconsin's Montee Ball -- will share the field Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in a reunion of two teams that last year gave us two thrillers, including one in the inaugural league title game. Ball, back to Mon-tee, has looked like a different player in Big Ten games, averaging a league-best 155.5 rush yards with 10 touchdowns. The Wisconsin senior has averaged three touchdowns per game in his past 17 contests, and needs five touchdowns -- of any kind -- to break Travis Prentice's all-time NCAA record. Bell was limited to just 68 rush yards on 26 carries last week, but still comes in ranked second in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in rushing average (123 ypg), just ahead of Ball (122.8 ypg). If Michigan State has any chance to record the upset and possibly turn around its season, it needs a big performance from No. 24.

4. Possible bowl elimination game: Both Minnesota and Purdue have some work left to get bowl eligible, and the loser of Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium will have its back to the wall. Both teams started the season strong, but have fallen off in Big Ten play, going a combined 0-6. Both teams have had quarterback issues and some trouble stopping the run on defense. Minnesota, needing two wins to become bowl eligible, has turned the keys of its offense over to true freshman Philip Nelson, who makes his first home start at quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how the former prep player of the year in the state performs in front of the home faithful. Purdue, meanwhile, comes off of a heartbreaking loss at Ohio State, a game it dominated most of the way. Inconsistency and big mistakes continue to haunt Purdue, which faces yet another pivotal game in the Danny Hope era.

5. Offenses in the crosshairs: Iowa and Northwestern combined for 72 points, 46 first downs and 874 yards in last year's game at Kinnick Stadium, a 41-31 Hawkeyes victory. If another shootout takes place Saturday in Evanston, it will come as a bit of a surprise. Iowa's offense has been a mess most of the season, aside from the surprising play of running back Mark Weisman. Many Hawkeyes fans are calling for a change at quarterback after senior James Vandenberg committed three turnovers in last week's blowout loss to Penn State. Coach Kirk Ferentz is sticking with Vandenberg, who might be able to capitalize on a Northwestern secondary banged up at the cornerback spot. Northwestern, meanwhile, is still searching for an identity on offense after enduring 20 three-and-outs in its past three games, including 10 against Nebraska. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall needs to figure out his quarterback rotation (read: give Kain Colter more opportunities) in a hurry.

6. Win or perish: Illinois coach Tim Beckman took a page from Jim Tressel's book during the off week and told his team to "burn the boats." The phrase, told to Beckman by Tressel, stems from the story of conquistador Hernando Cortes, who ordered his men to burn the ships that brought them to Mexico in the 1500s. "There was no turning back," Beckman said. "Win or perish. I have challenged this team to change." After four blowout losses, Illinois needs a lot of things to change as it hosts Indiana on Saturday. The Illini have a fairly favorable schedule the rest of the way, but they haven't been competitive against an FBS opponent since the season opener. Indiana, meanwhile, continues to find ways to lose and searches for its first Big Ten victory under Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers have either led or been within one score of their opponents in all five of their losses. They seek their first win in Champaign, Ill., since 2006.

7. Miller's time: Last we saw Braxton Miller, the Ohio State quarterback was leaving Ohio Stadium in an ambulance after being slammed to the ground. Miller fortunately emerged with only a sore neck, and returned to practice this week. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said the team is preparing two quarterbacks for Penn State -- Miller and backup Kenny Guiton, who led last week's dramatic comeback against Purdue. Ohio State will use Miller as much as it can, but how he responds from the first real injury scare of his career remains to be seen. Penn State's defense has been stellar, but the Lions haven't seen a quarterback as dynamic as Miller since Ohio's Tyler Tettleton in the opener (a PSU loss). Given Ohio State's lack of depth on defense and Penn State's surging offense, the Buckeyes likely will need a boost from Miller in a tough environment to remain perfect on the season.

8. Martinez, Robinson on center stage: Michigan and Nebraska are contrasting teams in many ways, but they both have similar, dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the Huskers' Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson. Martinez was brilliant in leading Nebraska to a come-from-behind win against Northwestern, and he has been very good at Memorial Stadium throughout his career. But he'll face the best defense he has seen all season in Michigan. Robinson performed well in his last road game at Purdue, but still needs to distance himself from his early-season struggles away from Ann Arbor against Notre Dame and Alabama. For just the second time in college football history, two quarterbacks with more than 5,000 career pass yards and more than 2,000 career rush yards will square off (the other: Texas' Vince Young and Missouri's Brad Smith in 2005). Robinson leads all active FBS quarterbacks in career rushing (4,129 yards, 351 yards shy of the all-time record for career QB rushing), while Martinez is third (2,242 yards).

9. Roushar's play calling: Michigan State fans are understandably upset about their team's 4-4 start, and they've centered their critiques on offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. The Spartans have had a championship-level defense for much of the season, but the offense simply hasn't held up its end of the bargain. Head coach Mark Dantonio came to Roushar's defense this week, saying, "If they want to criticize, tell them to criticize me a little bit, because I'm in charge." But Dantonio also added, "We’ve got to get more points." Roushar's play calling looked pretty good in the two games last season against Wisconsin -- remember Rocket? -- but he'll have to find a way to move the ball against a solid, but not impregnable Wisconsin defense. The Spartans rank 107th nationally in scoring (19.6 ppg), averaging nearly 12 points per game fewer than they did in 2011. Michigan State should get more from tight end Dion Sims, who returned to the field last week at Michigan and can give struggling quarterback Andrew Maxwell a big target.

10. The start in State College: If season-long patterns hold for Ohio State and Penn State, the Buckeyes will be in trouble early on Saturday night. Penn State has outscored its opponents 66-0 in the first quarter and 100-23 in the first half this season. The Lions have scored in the first quarter in all seven of their games, and have scored at least one first-quarter touchdown in five contests. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been a slow-starting team in most of its games, being outscored 56-51 in the first quarter this season. The Buckeyes have been trailing at the end of the first quarter four times this season. The good news is they came out fast in their first road game against Michigan State, scoring on their first possession. Given how much confidence Penn State has and what will be a huge home-field advantage, Ohio State simply can't stumble out of the gate Saturday night. The good news is if the Buckeyes survive the first half, they should be in decent shape against a Penn State team that struggles in the third quarter.
A year ago, Danny Watkins was selected fourth overall in the Canadian Football League draft by the British Columbia Lions.

After this weekend, it's clear the Lions wasted their first-round pick. Watkins stuck around Baylor for his senior year, and on Thursday night, was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, one of two Bears first-rounders this year.

But according to Baylor, he's not the first player to pull the double dip.

Back in 1986, Mike Schad of Queen's University in Ontario was drafted fourth overall by Ottawa. He was also selected with the 23rd pick of the NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. (For our younger readers, yes, L.A. did have an NFL team once. Two of 'em, in fact. Now, they have to settle for USC being the only pro football team in town.)

Quite the coincidence that both players were selected with the same picks in both drafts: fourth in the CFL and 23rd in the NFL.

Watkins can't begin his career until the NFL lockout is lifted, but he'll do so as just the fourth Canadian NFL draft pick ever.

Schad was the first. Famed offensive line bust Tony Mandarich is still the nation's highest pick ever after being selected second overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1989.

The Carolina Panthers selected Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka with the sixth overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Watkins, a 26-year-old British Columbia native, was pegged by some as the most NFL-ready of the draft-eligible linemen. Here's a bit more on the humorous circumstances surrounding his selection.

Before Art Briles' arrival, Baylor hadn't had a first-round pick in the Big 12 era. After Phil Taylor and Watkins were drafted this year, the Bears have had three in three years. Offensive lineman Jason Smith went No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Before I hit the road for Madison, it's time to take a look around the league.