SEC: Taylor Martinez

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska seeks to avenge its loss in the Capital One Bowl from a year ago against No. 22 Georgia on Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2. Here’s a preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks are a good place to start. They won't be Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray, the record-setting senior duo who led these teams to a combined 76 points last year in Orlando; rather freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. is expected to start for the eighth time this season for Nebraska, and junior Hutson Mason gets the call for the Bulldogs for a second straight game. Also, keep an eye on Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, an SEC-caliber star with size, speed and strength. If he’s not the best player on the field, it might be Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

What to watch: Statistically, it’s difficult to identify too many spots at which one team might exploit the other. Remember, though, Georgia was challenged by a schedule that featured five teams arguably as good or better than Nebraska’s best foe. So the numbers matter little in gauging matchups. Here’s a hunch that the Huskers, who couldn’t stop Minnesota or, for one quarter, South Dakota State, will struggle to contain Gurley. He was in contention for the title of best SEC back before the midseason injury. And watch the matchup of UGA receivers Chris Conley and Michael Bennett against Nebraska defensive backs Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste. It should be good.

Why to watch: The trio of Big Ten-SEC clashes on New Year’s Day is always entertaining -- at least, it is for fans of the SEC teams. Seriously, the Big Ten is 0-2 in bowls (0-4 if you count 2014 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland), and the SEC is 3-0. Perhaps this game presents the Big Ten with its best chance to win on Wednesday. If that doesn’t get you, tune in to see if Nebraska's Bo Pelini can join the likes of Mack Brown, Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier and Barry Switzer as the eighth BCS-conference coach in history to win nine games in each of his first six years at a school.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 24. A big day for Gurley and a typical turnover or two will spell doom for the Huskers. Look for Ameer Abdullah to keep the Huskers close for a while, but like last year, the Bulldogs will make plays when necessary late.
Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez, the shelved senior quarterbacks at Georgia and Nebraska, started 95 college games.

They won 67.4 percent.

Bet you thought that rate was higher.

Seems we’ve watched these two operate forever. In the past four years, Murray and Martinez meant something important to college football. They tormented defensive coordinators and served as the poster boys for a pair of proud programs, trying -- desperately close at times -- to break through.

It’s not going to happen in their time.

Despite 64 victories between them (35 for Murray, 29 for Martinez), neither won a conference title. At Georgia and Nebraska, a conference title, at minimum, is the standard of success.

Yet as Murray and Martinez depart the college game in sadly anticlimactic fashion as the Bulldogs (8-4) and Huskers (8-4) meet for a New Year’s Day rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, they leave a record of greatness.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Josh Wolfe/Icon SMITaylor Martinez's final season didn't go as planned, but he'll be remembered in Lincoln.
Murray’s senior season was nearly doomed from the start. Injuries to running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, several top receivers and playmakers on defense contributed heavily to four Georgia losses.

The QB persevered until Nov. 23, when he suffered an ACL tear in a 59-17 victory over Kentucky. Murray played through the injury for one series but couldn't fight the pain any further.

In similar fashion, Martinez battled for two weeks through a foot injury, suffered in the Huskers’ season opener.

He led the Huskers to a 21-3 edge over UCLA in the second quarter on Sept 14, but any thoughts of a storybook ending to his career crashed to a halt in the second half. The Bruins scored 38 consecutive points. Martinez clearly wasn’t himself, unable use his usually dangerous feet to stem momentum.

A one-game comeback fell flat at Minnesota in October. Martinez was finished. He lost his final two starts and an opportunity to join Colin Kaepernick as the only players in FBS history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000. He finished with 7,258 passing yards and 2,975 rushing yards.

He lost his chance to win a conference title, a hope so promising back in 2010, when Martinez led Nebraska to a 17-point lead over Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game as a freshman.

Martinez never broke through.

“It’s been hard,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “This whole season’s been hard on him. It’s not the way you want to see him go out.”

Georgia coach Mark Richt said the same thing about Murray. Richt visited a hospitalized Murray after he underwent surgery on the damaged knee. Richt said he wanted to feel sorry for his quarterback, but Murray wouldn’t let him.

His positivity is relentless. And that’s part of Murray’s legacy, alongside the 13,166 passing yards and 121 touchdown passes.

No Southeastern Conference quarterback before Murray threw for 3,000 yards in three seasons. Murray did it four times. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s SEC record for touchdown passes and Tim Tebow’s record for total yardage.

But, like Martinez, his teams never broke through.

Murray’s best chance fell 5 yards short last year against Alabama in the SEC championship game. He targeted Malcolm Mitchell in the end zone, a shot within reach to win an SEC title as the clock ticked away. Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass to Georgia receiver Chris Conley. Conley slid to the turf, surrounded by defenders. Time expired on Murray’s best opportunity.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Aaron Murray
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Murray's place in Georgia and SEC football history is secure.
Instead of a shot to play for the national title, Georgia beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl as Murray threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns, both career-best marks.

It all felt anticlimactic for Murray, though nothing like this year.

“Obviously I had a vision of how I wanted to go out,” Murray said recently.

This wasn’t it.

“It’s almost like I didn't say goodbye,” he said, “which, I guess, is a good thing. I guess it's like, 'to be continued.' I'm not leaving. I'm always a Bulldog. I'll always be a Bulldog, and I guess if I would have been there to wave and really cherish the end of it, that would have been like, 'Book closed, it's over,' and I feel like it's not over for me.”

Murray is eloquent and charismatic. Martinez is quite the opposite.

Uncomfortable in the spotlight, the Nebraska quarterback hasn’t spoken to the media since the Minnesota game.

But Martinez appears to be at peace. He has remained at the side of teammates through conditioning drills and practices this month. Those close to him, though, say he’s devastated by the injury.

A generation from now, Murray and Martinez will be remembered not for this anticlimactic ending or their inability to break through and win a championship.

Time will heal their wounds. History will reflect well on their legacies. College football will remember them.

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.

ESPN.com's David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The running games were supposed to dominate in Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl, but it was Georgia’s passing game that eventually lifted the Bulldogs to a 45-31 win over Nebraska.


Both teams moved the ball effectively on the ground, yes, but it was Georgia’s aerial attack that helped the Bulldogs come from behind to win a game in which the two offenses combined for 1,032 total yards and 86 points.

Let’s take a closer look at Tuesday’s game:

It was over when: Damian Swann sealed Georgia’s victory when he intercepted a Taylor Martinez deep ball at the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line and returned it 27 yards to the 34 midway through the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs drove to Nebraska’s 30-yard line before turning the ball over on downs with just 2:33 to play.

Game ball goes to: Aaron Murray and Chris Conley. Early in the third quarter, it looked like Nebraska might run away with the game, but Georgia's quarterback and his sophomore receiver connected on two touchdown passes -- a 49-yard bomb midway through the third quarter that helped tie the score and an 87-yard tunnel screen that put Georgia up 45-31 early in the fourth -- to turn things Georgia's way. Murray finished with 427 passing yards and five touchdowns, and Conley had a career-high 136 receiving yards.

Stat of the game: 589. Georgia finished with 589 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous Capital One Bowl record of 556.

Unsung hero: Rex Burkhead. He might not get a ton of attention because of the general defensive ineptitude on Tuesday, but Nebraska’s senior running back closed an injury-filled season with a dynamic final game. He ran 24 times for 140 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. It was his first multi-touchdown game since Sept. 22 against Idaho State.

What it means: Georgia will finish a season ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2007 and achieved 12 wins in a season for only the third time in school history. Nebraska fell short of its first 11-win season since 2001.

Keys for Georgia in Capital One Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Here are three keys for Georgia in the Capital One Bowl:

1. Slow down Huskers' run: In the month since Georgia last played a game, one of the most heavily discussed weaknesses from the Bulldogs’ 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game was the 350 yards they allowed on the ground. That marked three straight games that Georgia’s opponent rushed for 300-plus yards, and that doesn’t bode well with Nebraska and its powerful running game ahead.

The Cornhuskers are eighth nationally in rushing at 254.5 yards per game, so the Bulldogs have their work cut out in trying to get a different result against Taylor Martinez (175 attempts, 973 yards, 10 TDs), Ameer Abdullah (219-1,089, 8 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (74-535, 4 TDs) than they did against Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

2. Generate big plays: Georgia has been one of the nation’s best big-play offenses this season -- the Bulldogs have 64 plays that covered at least 25 yards -- and that capability could come in handy against Nebraska. In the Cornhuskers’ three losses, they surrendered eight touchdowns that covered 30 yards or more: four against Ohio State, three against Wisconsin and one against UCLA.

Keep an eye on freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who have combined for 12 runs of 25-plus yards, including eight that went for touchdowns. Also, senior receiver Tavarres King -- who set a school record with 205 receiving yards in last season’s Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State -- is the FBS’ active career leader with 18.8 yards per catch.

3. Force mistakes from Martinez: Nebraska’s quarterback has highlight-reel skills as a runner and passer, but he is prone to committing crucial errors as well. In Nebraska’s three losses, Martinez fumbled five times -- losing two -- and tossed six of his 10 total interceptions. In Nebraska’s 10 wins, he fumbled a total of 10 times.

The Cornhuskers are tied for the most fumbles in the FBS with 21 and have committed the sixth-most turnovers with 32. That seems to favor Georgia, whose defense generated 27 takeaways -- 21st nationally -- and ranked second nationally with 16 fumble recoveries. Martinez will have to keep a close watch on Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who leads the nation with seven forced fumbles in 11 games.
Here are three keys for Nebraska in its matchup against Georgia in Tuesday's Capital One Bowl.

1. Protect the football: It might be asking too much of a team that has given the ball away more (32) than all but five FBS teams, but Nebraska can't expect to upset Georgia if it commits turnovers in bunches. Nebraska tied for the most lost fumbles in the country with 21, and quarterback Taylor Martinez threw 10 interceptions. Georgia is good at taking away the ball, ranking 22nd nationally in turnovers forced (27). Bulldogs All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones has seven forced fumbles, so Martinez, Rex Burkhead and the other Husker ball carriers must be aware of No. 29 at all times. Georgia has had five turnover-free games and boasts a 29-1 record under coach Mark Richt when avoiding a turnover.

2. Pressure Murray: The lack of a truly dominant defensive lineman has hurt Nebraska in its recent losses. Georgia's Aaron Murray is the best drop-back quarterback the Huskers have seen this season, ranking second nationally in pass efficiency (172.4) with 31 touchdown strikes against just 8 interceptions with a completions rate of 65.4 percent. Although Nebraska leads the nation in pass defense (148.2), it will be vulnerable if it doesn't make Murray's life tough in the pocket. Senior defensive end Eric Martin showed flashes of dominance at times this season, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. The Huskers need Martin or another pass-rusher to deliver against the Dawgs.

3. Start fast: Motivation is a big question mark in this game as both teams had much higher goals that vanished after losses in their respective conference championship games. Georgia has to be particularly bummed after being one play away from a spot in the national title game. Bo Pelini's squad must capitalize on any potential hangover from the Bulldogs. It isn't Nebraska's strong suit, as the Huskers are more of a second-half team and have had some problems in the second quarters of games (outscored 118-103). But Nebraska can't expect Georgia to leave the door open like so many Big Ten teams did this season. The Huskers need their best 60-minute effort of the season to pull off the upset in Orlando.

Pregame: Capital One Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Georgia (11-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. Nebraska (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)

Who to Watch: Considering that the two defenses in the Capital One Bowl rank 95th (Nebraska at 194.9 rushing yards allowed per game) and 77th (Georgia, 177.8 ypg) against the run, we recommend that you keep an eye on the respective teams’ running threats.

The run is particularly important for Nebraska, which ranks eighth nationally in rushing offense at 254.5 yards per game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez (175 attempts, 973 yards, 10 TDs) and running backs Ameer Abdullah (219-1,089, 8 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (74-535, 4 TDs) present a major threat for a Bulldogs defense that has surrendered 300-plus rushing yards in three straight games.

Georgia’s offense is more balanced than Nebraska’s -- the Bulldogs average 274.2 passing yards and 184.2 rushing yards per game -- but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will no doubt try to set up his passing game with his dynamite one-two punch of freshman tailbacks, Todd Gurley (199-1,260, 16 TDs) and Keith Marshall (109-723, 8 TDs). Marshall has two touchdown runs of 70-plus yards this season, providing the home-run threat out of the backfield that the Bulldogs have lacked for several years.

What to Watch: Georgia’s defensive front against Nebraska’s offensive line. The Cornhuskers have a pair of All-Big Ten offensive linemen in guard Spencer Long and tackle Jeremiah Sirles, but center Justin Jackson is out with an injured ankle. Their backup center, either Mark Pelini or Cole Pensick, will not have to go up against Georgia’s senior All-SEC nose guard, John Jenkins, who will miss the game after being declared academically ineligible last week. But they’ll hardly get much of a break in having to block 6-foot-6, 355-pound nose Kwame Geathers, who will replace Jenkins in the starting lineup.

Nonetheless, after getting shredded by Alabama’s powerful running game, Georgia’s defensive line will be subject to close observation against Nebraska’s talented runners.

Why Watch? The Capital One Bowl is traditionally one of the highest-profile non-BCS bowl games and this one fits the bill. No. 7 Georgia came within five yards of upsetting Alabama and playing for the BCS title. No. 16 Nebraska could have played in the Rose Bowl before laying an egg against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.

Surprisingly enough, though, these teams have only played once before despite their positions as two of the winningest programs in college football history. Nebraska’s 45-6 win over the Bulldogs in the 1969 Sun Bowl still ranks as the worst bowl loss in Georgia history.

Prediction: Nebraska is going to score, but can it score enough to keep up with Georgia? The Cornhuskers have played six games against teams that rank in the nation’s top 50 in scoring offense. They went 3-3 in those games and allowed an average of 39.5 points per game. And here’s the kicker. Georgia boasts the highest-scoring offense Nebraska has faced this season, as the Bulldogs rank 19th nationally in scoring at 37.2 points per game. Georgia 38, Nebraska 24.

Capital One Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
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Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla. (ABC)

Georgia take by DawgNation's David Ching: Shortly after watching his team survive Georgia’s last-ditch effort to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds of Saturday’s SEC championship game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it would be a “crying shame” if the Bulldogs (11-2) didn’t play in a BCS bowl.

The 32-28 win by Saban’s Crimson Tide ensured that would not be the case, however, spoiling Georgia’s BCS championship hopes in soul-crushing fashion. The Bulldogs no doubt think it’s a shame, as well, after falling 5 yards short of the winning score and a chance to play Notre Dame for a national title. Instead, Georgia will attempt to put the finishing touches on what could become the best season in a decade by winning its bowl. A bowl victory would give Georgia its third 12-win season in school history.

The Bulldogs got to this point by playing stout defense in the second half of the season -- starting with a 17-9 win against then-No. 2 Florida -- to go along with a balanced offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley. They swept rivals Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech for the second straight season and rallied from the lone blemish in the regular season, a 35-7 loss at South Carolina, in impressive fashion.

The Bulldogs will naturally ask what if for months after Saturday’s crushing loss, but Georgia’s back-to-back SEC East championships and the near-miss against Alabama indicate that the Bulldogs are once again major players on the national scene.




Nebraska take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Bo Pelini’s Huskers head to the Capital One Bowl for the second straight season, and this time they do so with an extremely sour taste in their mouths. Nebraska was on the cusp of its first conference championship since 1999 after a resilient performance down the stretch in Big Ten play. Needing only to beat a Wisconsin team it defeated Sept. 29, Nebraska imploded in the Big Ten title game, surrendering 70 points and 539 rushing yards, the most rushing yards it has ever allowed.

How will the Huskers respond? Until Saturday night, their resiliency had been their hallmark, as they erased double-digit, second-half deficits in four Big Ten games (versus Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State) to win the Legends Division. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez made significant strides from 2011, completing 62.2 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He shares the backfield with an outstanding group of ball carriers, led by senior Rex Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, who filled in admirably for Burkhead during most of the season. The Huskers' offense can strike quickly and often, but it also is too prone to mistakes with 32 turnovers, the sixth most in the FBS.

Nebraska’s defense truly has been a mixed bag this season. The Huskers improved down the stretch in Big Ten play but fell apart in losses to UCLA (653 yards allowed), Ohio State (498 yards allowed) and Wisconsin (640 yards allowed). The Blackshirts will need to rebound in a big way against quarterback Aaron Murray and Georgia.

Ole Miss offense could test Tide streak

September, 28, 2012
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1. Heading into its game this week at No. 1 Alabama, Ole Miss is scoring nearly 37 points per game. Therefore, the Rebels might be a test for a Tide defense that has allowed a total of three touchdowns in its last nine games against SEC competition.

Ole Miss was one of the teams that managed a single TD against the Tide defense last year; Florida and Mississippi State were the others. What's amazing is that Alabama doesn't even have the SEC's longest active streak of allowing no more than one TD to a conference opponent's offense. After last weekend's game against Auburn, LSU has now done that in 11 consecutive games.

2. Connor Shaw missed on his first pass of the game last week against Missouri but then completed his last 20 pass attempts. With four more consecutive completions, he'll tie Tennessee's Tee Martin in 1998 for the longest SEC streak of consecutive completions. Martin's streak was the national record for 13 years until East Carolina's Dominique Davis (36 straight completions) broke it last year.

How do Shaw's odds look against Kentucky, his opponent this weekend? Only once in its last 19 games has Kentucky allowed a passer to complete four straight to start a game. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater did it against the Wildcats in the season opener this year. And Shaw will have to top his performance from last year against Kentucky. In that game, Shaw threw an incompletion on his second pass attempt.

3. Michigan State is looking to win consecutive games with Ohio State after beating the Buckeyes last year 10-7 in Columbus. Ohio State has not lost back-to-back meetings with a conference opponent since Wisconsin beat the Buckeyes in 2003 and 2004.

That Ohio State streak of eight years without consecutive losses to any conference opponent is the longest active streak among BCS-AQ conference teams. Ohio State has played 62 Big Ten games since losing those two straight to Wisconsin. If Michigan State can’t break the streak this week, Nebraska will have a chance to end it next week when it meets Ohio State in Columbus.

4. Taylor Martinez is completing 56 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or more downfield this season. Martinez completed less 40 percent of such throws in each of his first two seasons as a starter.

Why is this improvement important? The Cornhuskers are 7-0 against AQ-opponents when Martinez completes at least half of his 15-yard throws and 4-9 when he does not, including last season’s loss to Wisconsin. Martinez finished that game with as many interceptions (three) as completions on 15-yard throws. It is his only career game with multiple interceptions on such throws.

5. This past weekend, Arkansas became the first preseason top-10 team since 2000 Alabama to pick up a third loss by the end of September. This weekend against former SWC rival – and new SEC rival – Texas A&M, the Razorbacks can join an even more exclusive club of futility.

With a loss, Arkansas would join the 1984 Pittsburgh Panthers as the only preseason top-10 teams to have four losses by the end of September. The 1984 Panthers began 0-4 after being ranked third in the preseason poll and finished the season 3-7-1.

South Carolina stopped a three-game losing streak in bowl games Monday with a 30-13 victory against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: South Carolina’s defense clamped down in the second half. In fact, Nebraska went scoreless the last three quarters after putting up 13 points in the first quarter. South Carolina was able to run it just enough (121 yards) to keep the Nebraska defense honest, and sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw kept the Huskers off balance with his ability to run. The Gamecocks also didn't turn it over, while the Huskers had two turnovers.

Turning point: The Gamecocks looked like they had mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, leaving Shaw with just one play. He heaved it toward the end zone, and the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Alshon Jeffery went up over everybody to catch it and lunge across the goal line for a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown with no time remaining in the first half. So instead of going into the locker room trailing 13-9, the Gamecocks went in with a 16-13 lead and all the momentum.

Turning point II: The Huskers took the second-half kickoff and drove the ball down to the Gamecocks’ 8-yard line and had it first-and-goal. A motion penalty and a couple of big plays by South Carolina’s defense forced Nebraska to kick a field goal, and Brett Maher’s 35-yard attempt was no good.

Player of the game: Shaw finished 11-of-17 for 230 yards passing with a pair of touchdown passes, and he also rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Unsung hero: Despite being kicked out of the game in the third quarter for fighting with Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Jeffery caught four passes for 148 yards, including the 51-yard touchdown pass right before the half, in what was likely his final game in a South Carolina uniform. He’s expected to enter the NFL draft.

Stat of the game: Nebraska was held to minus-15 yards in the fourth quarter.

Stat of the game II: South Carolina sacked Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez six times, and four of those sacks came in the fourth quarter.

Record performance: Jeffery had his 12th 100-yard receiving game, breaking the South Carolina school record. He also caught his 23rd career touchdown pass, tying Sidney Rice’s school record.

What it means: South Carolina (11-2) won 11 games in a season for the first time in school history and will likely be a top 10 or top 15 team nationally to start next season. Nebraska (9-4) ended the season by losing three of its last five games. It was also the Huskers’ second straight bowl loss.

Capital One Bowl: Keys for S. Carolina

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
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A look at three keys to the game for South Carolina in its Capital One Bowl matchup with Nebraska on Monday:

1. Balance on offense: The Gamecocks don’t want to put sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw in a position where he has to throw. Instead, they want to be able to run the ball successfully, use Shaw some in the zone read portion of their running game and then hit some big plays in the passing game. This will likely be junior receiver Alshon Jeffery’s final game in a South Carolina uniform. He needs to be a factor in this game if the Gamecocks are going to win.

2. Force Martinez to throw: There’s a reason Nebraska is ranked 103rd nationally in passing offense. The Cornhuskers would rather run it than throw it. Quarterback Taylor Martinez didn’t throw any interceptions in his final four games, and the Huskers would prefer to throw it no more than 23 to 25 times. He threw it a season-high 37 times in the loss to Northwestern and only completed nine passes two weeks later in the loss to Michigan.

3. Get off to a good start: One of the common denominators for South Carolina in its bowl misery is getting off to slow starts. The Gamecocks would like to change that. Playing with the lead would be nice, especially when your defense is playing as well as the Gamecocks are entering this game.

Next Level SEC bowl stats

December, 28, 2011
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It's time to go "Next Level" with some of the bowl games involving SEC teams.

The good people at ESPN Stats & Information have come up with more extra interesting stats for a few bowl games involving the SEC.

Stats & Info checked out the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the AT&T Cotton Bowl and the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. We don't want to overload you with info, so we'll start with the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Outback Bowl and the Capital One Bowl.

There are some interesting notes in here, so take a look:

Chick-fil-A Bowl -- Virginia vs. No. 25 Auburn

  • Clint Moseley has been an upgrade on long passes since taking over as Auburn’s starting quarterback. Moseley has completed more than 50 percent of his throws of 15-plus yards in three of five games against SEC opponents this season. Neither Barrett Trotter nor Kiehl Frazier accomplished this feat once against SEC opponents.
  • Auburn has not rushed for 300 yards in a game this season, after having eight such games last season. The Tigers have 16 rushing touchdowns this season and 12 rushes of 20 yards or longer. It only took 11 games last season for Cam Newton to surpass those totals by himself.
  • Auburn’s lack of a running game has hurt its play-action passing game. The Tigers have not thrown for more than 76 yards off play-action against an AQ opponent (nine games) this season. Last season, the Tigers threw for at least 100 yards off a run fake in three of its final four games, including 234 in the BCS Championship Game.
  • Virginia has held its opponents to no gain or a loss on 39.9 percent of its plays this season, second best in the ACC and sixth best in FBS. The Cavaliers have been even better in their last four games, holding opponents to no yards or less on 43.8 percent of their plays.
Outback Bowl –- No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia
  • Isaiah Crowell was limited to 6 yards on seven carries inside the tackles against LSU in the SEC championship game. It was his fewest yards and lowest average inside the tackles. Crowell entered the game average 60.5 yards and 4.7 yards per carry on the same run.
  • If Georgia is unable to run the ball, it could make the Bulldogs predictable on first down. Aaron Murray leads the SEC and is tied for fourth nationally with 17 touchdown passes on first down this season.
  • B.J. Cunningham has emerged as Kirk Cousins’ big-play threat. Cunningham has five of the team’s six receiving touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, including one in each of the Spartans’ last four games.
  • Georgia and Michigan State’s defenses are both ranked in the top six of FBS in yards per game and yards per play this season. The Bulldogs and Spartans have both forced 106 negative plays, which is the fifth most in FBS.
Capital One Bowl –- No. 20 Nebraska vs. No. 9 South Carolina
  • Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez completes 40.8 percent of his throws of 15-plus yards for his career against AQ opponents. Nebraska is 7-0 against AQ opponents when Martinez completes at least 50 percent of these passes, including the win in its last game against Iowa.
  • Nebraska leads the FBS with 17 rushing touchdowns of 40 yards or longer since the start of the 2010 season. The Cornhuskers are 9-1 when they have one such run with the only loss coming in the 2010 Big 12 championship game to Oklahoma.
  • Connor Shaw completed 7 of 12 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns when Clemson sent five or more pass-rushers on a play. It was Shaw’s seventh straight game where he completed at least 58 percent of his passes against the blitz this season. The Gamecocks were 6-1 in those games with the only loss coming to Arkansas.
  • Shaw has been more productive at home, averaging 107 more passing yards per game at home than on the road in the games that he started. One reason for Shaw’s increased success in Columbia is the accuracy of his deep ball.
  • South Carolina has only given up 112 plays of 10 or more yards this season, second fewest in FBS. In their last game, the Gamecocks held Clemson to a season-low eight such plays, including just four pass plays.
  • South Carolina has 10 plays of 20 yards or more in its four games against FBS opponents since Marcus Lattimore got hurt against Mississippi State. It’s tied for the third fewest such plays during that time period (from Oct. 16 on).
Anytime the SEC and the Big Ten square off, conference pride is at stake. Most of those matchups usually occur in bowl season, and this year is no different. The two leagues will face each other in three Jan. 2 bowls, with South Carolina playing Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Michigan State taking on Georgia in the Outback Bowl and Florida and Ohio State staging a 2007 national title game rematch in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

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

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

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

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

What's your take on that one?

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

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

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

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

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

What's your take on the Urban Meyer Bowl?

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

Can Florida finally put it all together?

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

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

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

Capital One Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:34
PM ET
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)

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

Nebraska take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: After having very different results in the same bowl (Holiday) the past two seasons, Nebraska heads to a new destination looking for its 10th victory.

The Big Ten’s newest member endured some ups and downs in its first season in the conference. Nebraska had two really bad days, getting blown out by both Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, but the Huskers also crushed Legends Division champion Michigan State and looked good in their regular-season finale against Iowa. In many ways, Nebraska has been two different teams in 2011.

If the defense plays to its potential, Nebraska is very tough to beat. Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are two of the best in the country at their respective positions. But depth has been an issue at times, and Nebraska struggled to contain Big Ten offensive stars like Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson. The Blackshirts will need a strong effort against a South Carolina team that plays a little defense of its own.

Nebraska’s young offensive line will be tested by Gamecocks star defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, although a run-heavy scheme will limit their pass-rushing prowess. While South Carolina ranks fourth nationally in total defense, it ranks just 45th nationally against the run, an area Nebraska will try to exploit with junior I-back Rex Burkhead, one of the nation’s most consistent ball carriers, and sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez.

A victory gives Nebraska its third consecutive 10-win season, something the Huskers haven’t done since 1999-2001.


South Carolina take from SEC blogger Chris Low: The Gamecocks and bowl games have historically not mixed very well. They’ve lost four of their past five bowl games, including their past three. They’re just 4-12 all time in bowl games.

This season, though, South Carolina heads into the postseason with some real momentum. They ended the regular season winning six of their final seven games and saved their most complete performance for the finale, a 34-13 beatdown of archrival Clemson.

It’s a season that could have easily gone the other way when you consider that star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game and fifth-year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted from the team a couple of weeks earlier.

The Gamecocks, though, persevered, and won 10 games for only the second time in school history. They were edged out by Georgia for the Eastern Division championship.

Sophomore Connor Shaw took over at quarterback in Week 6, and South Carolina adjusted its offense to Shaw’s dual-purpose talents. The defense has been a force for most of the season. The Gamecocks are ranked fourth nationally in total defense, holding opponents to an average of 268.9 yards per game, and gave up more than 13 points only twice in their final nine contests.

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