1. Wisconsin can't officially offer its vacant head coaching job to anyone until Wednesday, but all signs still point to Paul Chryst being the guy despite chatter about him being interested in staying at Pitt and athletic director Barry Alvarez talking to Greg Schiano.
The focus now is on hiring assistants, and Jeff Potrykus writes that keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a possibility. If so, that would be a major coup, as Aranda is one of the brightest young defensive minds in the game and is loyal to Gary Andersen. Potrykus also reports that former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph could return to Madison along with Chryst.
2. The Michigan search continues, and the longer this goes on the more you have to think the Wolverines must believe they have a shot at Jim Harbaugh. There's a potential interesting twist to this saga, however, as there are reports the Miami Dolphins could fire coach Joe Philbin and take a run at Harbaugh.
Of course, the Dolphins are owned by Stephen Ross, who is arguably Michigan's most well-known booster. He would naturally be involved in putting together a lucrative package to bring Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. I can't imagine Ross would trap door his alma mater in order to bring Harbaugh to Miami, so if there's more to this pursuit than it indicates that Harbaugh truly is interested in leaving the NFL ranks right now.
3. The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz reports that the Ohio State parents association has written a letter to the Big Ten asking for financial assistance to travel to the Buckeyes' semifinal game against Alabama in New Orleans.
Each family can be reimbursed $800 out of the school's student-assistance fund, but that's still not enough to cover all the travel costs. And things only get more expensive if Ohio State wins and moves on to the national title game in Texas.
Star defensive tackle Michael Bennett's mother, Connie, called it "reprehensible" that players' families aren't helped more when it comes to traveling to watch their sons play.
"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said, according to Dispatch story.
The playoff is a great thing for the sport, but how fans and especially families were going to be able to get to those games has always been a major unanswered question. Neither the Big Ten nor NCAA can change that right now, but given the new autonomy measures the Power 5 conferences have been granted, this needs to become a priority. The playoff will generate an enormous pile of money, and a small part of that should go toward making sure participating players' parents are in the stands.
- Illinois may be playing in a minor bowl game, but the program has to approach it like a major one.
- Iowa could shake up its depth chart for its bowl game.
- Alvarez learned a few things from the last time he stepped in to coach a bowl game, in 2012.
- This is cool: Former Minnesota All-American Bobby Bell finally finished up his college degree -- at age 74.
- Nebraska high school coaches would like to see new coach Mike Riley recruit more in-state kids.
- Purdue picked up a tight end they hope is a Tennessee stud.
- Will change happen at Northwestern?
- Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi would make a lot of sense for Pitt, Joe Rexrode writes, and I totally agree.
- Tom Herman is on the fast track toward becoming a head coach, but Ohio State fans wouldn't mind if he waited another year.
- Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan spoke to the media for the first time since August, and of course Christian Hackenberg was a popular topic.
- Indiana landed a commitment from a former Ohio State pledge.
- Rutgers offensive lineman Kaleb Johnson is about to make his 50th straight start.
- Maryland is hoping to keep more top recruits home and build itself into a Big Ten power.
- Big Ten football is a study in riches and rags, Mike Hlas writes.
Dave in Ohio writes: OK. Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for OSU (not the one we know). He's a western guy. I was more surprised when he took the UW job than I am that he left. The bigger question, to me, is how much longer can Michigan wait to find its new coach? The clock continues to tick, and the longer it waits, the more it looks like another Brady Hoke-type hire.
Dan Murphy: The longer Michigan waits, the more optimistic its fans should be. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett has been on the job for little more than a month; his patience is prudent. Michigan is (and should be) willing to wait for Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles. The school won’t wait if both men have turned the job down through back channels. So, while there’s a chance they’ve already said “no thanks” and the Wolverines are now desperately seeking a Plan B hire, it's more likely that the Wolverines are biding their time and vetting backup plans in case the top choices don’t work out.
There’s a natural tendency to want to pile on the “Michigan can’t get anything right” rhetoric after the past year in Ann Arbor, but this search hasn’t provided any tinder for that fire. There’s no reason to rush a very important decision.
Tom in Berkeley, California, writes: I'm not surprised that Wisconsin lost the [Big Ten championship] to Ohio State, but this is a team that has lost by more than one score once in the past five years. A 59-0 loss is quite a surprise. Is it possible that the head coach, and perhaps many of the assistants, were focused on where they would be coaching next and were neglecting their game prep?
Dan Murphy: Nebraska hired Mike Riley on Thursday night. Virtually no one knew the Oregon State job would be open before then. Did Gary Andersen’s mind wander toward the possibility of a move on Friday? Maybe. Even if it did, I doubt that was a damning distraction for the routine walkthrough most teams hold the day before a game. There’s no way Andersen wasn’t fully focused on winning a conference championship the following day. It takes an incredibly competitive nature and a strong ability to compartmentalize to become a successful head coach. As for his assistants, many of them didn't know until Andersen took the job earlier this week. There are many reasons why Ohio State beat Wisconsin. A distracted coaching staff is not one of them.
@DanMurphyESPN I realize Chryst and WI have history, but wouldn't he be a step down from Bielema and Andersen? PC didn't impress at Pitt. - David (@drhgeronimo) December 12, 2014Dan Murphy: Paul Chryst has a 19-19 record in three years at Pittsburgh while trying to shift from one style of offense to another. Those aren't numbers that were going to shoot him to the top of many coaching search lists. At Wisconsin, though, he provides an opportunity for stability. The Madison native played quarterback for the Badgers and was an offensive coordinator there for seven seasons. After losing two coaches in short time, finding someone who will stick around for a while should be a priority for Wisconsin. He understands the job and knows the administration. Some of the players he recruited are still around. Wisconsin doesn't need someone who can build a team from scratch. The program is in great shape, it just needs someone who can keep things headed in the same direction. It's worth noting here that Wisconsin can't officially offer the job to anyone until Dec. 17 because of university hiring policy.
@DanMurphyESPN @ESPN_BigTen Do you think Aranda will stick around if Chryst comes to Wisconsin? I don't want to lose him as a DC - Timmer Shay (@TimShay17) December 12, 2014Dan Murphy: It's impossible to say definitively, but I wouldn't count on Dave Aranda staying in Madison. He coached with Andersen at Utah and, like Andersen, has spent the majority of his career further West. The California native is probably due for a head coaching job in the near future, but my guess is he's not going to be sticking around at Wisconsin until then.
@DanMurphyESPN @ESPN_BigTen What are the chances OSU OC Tom Herman gets a HC job this year? Or is next year more likely? - MattR (@MattWR32) December 12, 2014Dan Murphy: Herman is the next Urban Meyer disciple in line for a head job. Travis Haney reported earlier today that he impressed Houston's athletic director in a meeting this week, but Herman could help himself down the road by passing during this year's cycle for a couple reasons. Right now his focus is on getting a third-string quarterback ready to face an SEC champion defense for a shot at a national championship. More importantly, the amount of talent coming back for the Buckeyes will put Herman behind the wheel of a frightening offense in 2015. If he hangs on for another year or two, he'll have bigger opportunities than he does now.
Dan Murphy: Nailed it. Now please pass the tin foil, my hat is falling apart.
Our final question of the week is this: What's your early prediction on the Big Ten's bowl record?
Brian Bennett: I'll go with 4-6. And that's if several things go right, especially in the lower-tier bowls. This is once again a very challenging postseason slate for the Big Ten, which will face some elite offenses in Baylor and Auburn, the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama, a seasoned team playing a virtual home game (Stanford) and an SEC division winner, among others. Regardless, the postseason is already a success for the Big Ten because the league got a team into the playoff.
Josh Moyer: The Big Ten certainly didn’t draw an easy lot with these matchups, so it’s difficult envisioning a scenario where the conference ends the bowl season with a winning record. I waffled between three and four wins, but the Big Ten is an underdog in each of its matchups. That doesn't bode well. On the plus side, it should be easier to steal some wins from the lower-tier games. For example, Illinois’ Tim Beckman is facing a Louisiana Tech team that fell to Northwestern State and Old Dominion. A win is a win, right?
Adam Rittenberg: I'll go 4-6. The underdog thing is nothing new in the league, but several games look like toss-ups to me. Both Ohio State and Michigan State have tough tasks in the big bowls, but there are opportunities for wins near the bottom of the lineup.
Mitch Sherman: With its three traditional SEC matchups in addition to the playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl, the Big Ten faces a tough task to get to .500. I think it happens after a strong start that includes at least two wins from the group of Illinois, Rutgers and Penn State. I’ll say 5-5, which -- do the math -- includes an Ohio State loss to Alabama.
Dan Murphy: I'm going with 5-5. The Big Ten shows its teams have, for the most part, improved since the early September disaster by playing competitive games against some quality opponents.
Austin Ward: The most accurate picker on the Big Ten blog this season usually needs a little more time to crack the code and nail down the winners, but initially I would expect the conference to finish with at least 6 wins. Currently that doesn’t include a victory for Ohio State, but Urban Meyer has been masterful as an underdog and I think at a minimum that matchup will be close. I’m reserving the right to change my pick to the Buckeyes later this month.
They added that the 39-year-old Herman impressed athletic director Mack Rhoades and the school’s administration.
Those familiar with the program say it is looking for someone to again make its offense as explosive as it was when Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Baylor’s Art Briles were at UH.
This season, Ohio State finished behind only Oregon in terms of Power 5 yards-per-play offense (7.04). The Buckeyes overcame a lot at the quarterback position to accomplish that.
Ohio State lost Heisman candidate Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury midway through preseason camp in August, but Herman and OSU’s coaching staff were able to turn backup J.T. Barrett into another Heisman hopeful by November.
The win propelled OSU into the first College Football Playoff. Jones, the No. 3 quarterback in August, had 257 yards and three touchdowns against the Badgers.
Herman has some familiarity with the Houston area, as well. He was the offensive coordinator at Rice from 2007-08. Rice and Houston’s campuses are separated by a couple miles.
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It seems like every year, true freshmen are having a greater impact on the game. This season continued that trend. There were so many good first-year running backs that great players such as Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook couldn't find their way to this team. Meanwhile, a trio of SEC pass-rushers had immediate influence, with one even breaking Jadeveon Clowney's freshman sack record. Expect to hear a lot more from this group over the next few years.
QB: Brad Kaaya, Miami
This past summer was a disaster at quarterback for Miami, which lost starter Ryan Williams to injury and prospect Kevin Olsen to off-the-field issues, but Kaaya provided a resounding solution. After some early struggles on the road in his first start, Kaaya was exceptional and led the ACC in touchdowns (25), yards per attempt (8.6) and passer rating (148.2) while proving to be one of the best deep-ball threats in the country.
Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.
Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.
Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.
Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.
Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.
Joey Bosa, No. 56 in 2013 class
Bosa was one of the most heavily recruited defensive line prospects in the 2013 class with offers from many of the nation's top programs. The Under Armour All-America Game selection chose Ohio State in April 2012 over Alabama, Florida State, Florida and Michigan in a recruitment that was essentially over following an unofficial visit to Ohio State in early April. Bosa had family ties to Ohio State; his mom and uncle, former Buckeyes star linebacker Eric Kumerow, attended college in Columbus. Bosa was a member of the Buckeyes 2013 star-studded class that included Vonn Bell, J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple and Dontre Wilson.
Bosa made an immediate impact for the Buckeyes. He started 10 games as a true freshman in 2013, collecting 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, earning Freshman All-American team honors from several publications. He was also named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the league's coaches.
Bosa has followed up on the impressive freshman campaign and become one of college football’s top defensive players in 2014. He was recently named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after recording 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks, which both led the conference. Bosa also made a tackle for loss in 14 straight games dating to last season and has a TFL in 17 of the last 18 contests.
Honorable mention: Reese Dismukes, No. 56 in 2011 class. Dismukes picked Auburn over early favorite Alabama out of Spanish Fort High in April 2010. Dismukes is finishing up his fourth year as the starting center for Auburn and this week took home the Rimington Trophy as the top center in college football after a second straight All-SEC first-team selection. The Auburn 2011 recruiting class included offensive tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason along with Dismukes.
QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.
TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.
OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.
G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.
DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.
DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.
DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.
DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.
DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."
DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.
K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.
P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.
It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.
Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.
Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.
Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.
Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?
Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.
But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.
What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.
Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.
Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.
Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.
Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...
Lots of hardware
What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.
Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.
Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.
Around the league:
- As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
- Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
- A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
- One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
- Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
- The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
- Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
- No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
- The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
- Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
- Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
- Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
- The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.
Today's question: What will be the most lopsided bowl game involving a Big Ten team?
Austin Ward: There’s no question which team will be most excited about its appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and it’s the same one that appears to be trending upward while the other seems mired in mediocrity. Iowa is capable of putting big numbers on the scoreboard and shutting opponents down defensively, but it was perhaps the most inconsistent squad in the Big Ten this season. The Vols, meanwhile, will have no shortage of motivation, they are emerging on both sides of the ball with a lot of young talent and a coming-out party could come at the expense of the Hawkeyes.
Adam Rittenberg: I'm worried about Nebraska. It's always tricky predicting how teams perform in bowls after coaching changes, and I tend to think Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and the other leaders will keep the Huskers grounded. But when USC is on its game, especially offensively, the Trojans are one of the nation's best teams. I don't see Nebraska's defense keeping pace with USC stars Cody Kessler, Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor.
Dan Murphy: There are no guaranteed laughers in this group. One game that has some potential to get out of hand is Tennessee-Iowa. The Hawkeyes have been impossible to predict this season and the Vols have a roster full of young, talented players that could benefit from an extra couple weeks of practice time.
Mitch Sherman: Hate to say it after the good vibes of the Mike Riley hire in recent days, but Nebraska might get exposed against USC. The Huskers, as a program, are in transition as most of the coaches, if not all, in charge of bowl preparation plan for a future at different schools. Organization may suffer. Focus could be a concern for the Huskers, who would likely struggle to slow Kessler and Agholor if none of these exterior issues existed. Nebraska’s best hope is to let it all hang out. Really, there’s nothing to lose -- except the game, by a sizeable margin.
Josh Moyer: Nebraska could have its hands full with USC’s offense, so that one really has the potential to be lopsided. The Trojans boast the nation’s No. 25 scoring offense, and the Huskers haven’t seen a passing attack quite like this all season. Kessler completed 70.7 percent of his passes, while throwing for 3,305 yards, 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Without Bo Pelini, Nebraska isn’t in the best spot, either -- so I think there are simply too many things working against it here.
Brian Bennett: Alabama is nearly a 10-point favorite over Ohio State and I fear this is not a great matchup for the Buckeyes. Giving Nick Saban a month to prepare with a motivated team is hardly ever a recipe for success. Of course, it's also hard to bet against Urban Meyer, and I picked Ohio State to lose to both Michigan State and Wisconsin. So you really don't want to bet on my picks.
That plan quickly fell apart, but it didn't make any difference to the Buckeyes. Joey Bosa just dialed up his own production and effectively crammed the stats sheet with enough numbers for two men.
He finished the regular season with 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks, forced 4 fumbles and returned a recovery for a touchdown as part of the blowout in the Big Ten championship game over Wisconsin. And he wasn't exactly stuffing the box score against just the lightweights on the schedule, proving himself consistently throughout the entire season with a tackle for loss in every game but two and chipping in more than one hit in the backfield on seven different occasions.
Each of his forced fumbles led to points for the Buckeyes. He clinched a critical double-overtime road win against Penn State with a "walk-off" sack. And while his celebratory "shrug" after big plays doesn't count as impacting the game any, it was infectious with the Buckeyes as he blossomed into a fun-loving teammate who could also lead by example with his relentless work ethic.
There's no question that the other two finalists for the Bednarik Award have their strong points. Arizona's Scooby Wright III has eye-popping stats, though his role is different than the one Bosa fills for the Buckeyes and puts him in position to make more plays. And Clemson's Vic Beasley is a handful for any offensive line, but his numbers simply don't match up with Bosa's across the board.
Win or lose, Bosa is probably going to throw up his arms in the same pose and shake it off. He deserves to take home the trophy this year, though, and if he doesn't, count on him making it even more difficult to deny him next season.
If this season proved anything, it's that Bosa is only getting better -- and he's terrifying all on his own.
Players Provide Playoff Picks
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State