Today's question: Other than Ohio State (for obvious reasons), which Big Ten team would benefit the most from a postseason win?
Josh Moyer: The Spartans are still searching for a marquee win, since the closest they have come is a 27-22 victory against Nebraska. They played just two ranked teams all season -- No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State -- and lost handily in both games. Michigan State just needs to show it won’t struggle against top competition. The defense allowed only 14.4 points per game against unranked opponents, for example. But against Oregon and Ohio State? Try an average of 47.5 points. Not only does Michigan State need this, but so does the Big Ten. A win here would help quiet the College Football Playoff debate by showing the Big 12 isn’t the better conference.
Brian Bennett: Iowa. There's a lot of negativity -- again -- around Kirk Ferentz's program after the Hawkeyes lost their final two games and finished just 7-5 despite a dream schedule. It didn't help that Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst fired Bo Pelini after the Huskers beat Iowa and said he had to evaluate where the Hawkeyes stood in terms of relevance. Iowa fans are very loyal, but they're getting sick of this mediocrity, and a loss to a middling Tennessee team wouldn't help.
Mitch Sherman: Penn State. The Nittany Lions spiraled after a 4-0 start; there’s no other way to spin it. Playing in New York against Boston College, another regional recruiting rival, PSU needs to show it is trending up with James Franklin, who had such momentum through the summer and into late September. The home loss to Maryland hurt. A win to finish this transitional season can ease some of the pain and push Franklin into another productive offseason.
Dan Murphy: Michigan State's only two losses this season came to Ohio State and Oregon. TCU is the only other school in the country that can say it's undefeated against non-playoff teams. A win against Baylor would show that Michigan State deserves to be considered one of the nation's best.
Austin Ward: The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl might not have the most appealing matchup of bowl season, but Illinois should be watched closely in a game that could help shape the trajectory of the team moving forward. Tim Beckman has already been given the green light for another season with the program, but if he can’t knock off a Group of Five team like Louisiana Tech and the Illini finish below .500, those questions about his hot seat could start right back up again quickly.
Adam Rittenberg: Minnesota. The Gophers have dropped consecutive bowl games under Jerry Kill -- they had no business losing last year to Syracuse. It's important for Minnesota to show it can make strides from the end of the regular season into the postseason.
1. The Big Ten announced plans for a conference-wide concussion protocol starting in the 2015 season. The league will have an independent trainer in the press box of every game to monitor for players that show concussion symptoms. The plan is similar to what Michigan instituted in October when quarterback Shane Morris returned to a game with a mild concussion. The Big Ten's new protocol will include disciplinary actions for team's that don't properly report concussions. Having independent concussion monitors on-hand helps trainers on hectic sidelines and it wouldn't be a surprise if other conferences around the country soon followed suit.
2. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman won the Broyles Award Tuesday, given to the nation's top assistant each year. Herman, the architect of the Buckeyes' No. 4-ranked scoring offense, earned the award this season while twice replacing Heisman contenders at quarterback with barely a hiccup in production. Herman is an engaging personality who will likely be a coveted head coaching candidate in the near future. Herman, 39, is young and so is his offense. Ohio State will return almost all of its firepower next season and will likely be considered one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the country to start the year. Herman will have the luxury of being picky, but with the promising future ahead he probably isn't in any rush to get out of Columbus.
3. In other coaching news, the rumor mill continues to churn in Ann Arbor. The top choice for most Wolverines' fans is current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, but former Michigan great Charles Woodson said he's not very optimistic that Harbaugh will take the job. Meanwhile, erstwhile coach Brady Hoke made his final official Michigan appearance Monday night at the team's awards banquet. Hoke's players thanked him for showing up when he easily could have skipped the event. It served as a fitting end for a coach who always put his love for his players first, even when it put him in a bad spot.
Now, on to the links...
- Champagne, blaring television sets and back to work: how Urban Meyer found out Ohio State was headed to the playoff.
- Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook will reunite with training buddy Bryce Petty at the Cotton Bowl.
- James Franklin flirted with the idea of alternative uniforms for Penn State's football team in a recent teleconference.
- Longtime columnist Jerry Izenberg tells Rutgers' fans to quit whining about spending bowl season in Deroit.
- Maryland cut ties with a committed recruit when he visited another school without checking in first.
- Comedian Adam Sandler had some words of advice for Indiana QB and So. Cal. neighbor Zander Diamont.
- Michigan's top receiver, junior Devin Funchess, will enter the NFL draft rather than stick around for his senior season.
- Losses to Ohio State and Duke (in basketball) last week were a reminder of where Wisconsin stands in the recruiting world.
- Minnesota players are happy to be headed to the Citrus Bowl to wrap up the 2014 season.
- Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne gave a short, warm welcome to new Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley.
- It appears that Iowa's quarterback battle will continue into the postseason.
- A bowl bid has provided a boost for Illinois on the recruiting trail.
- Former Purdue star Dave Butz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Tuesday.
The second question in our roundtable series is this: The Big Ten is an underdog in all 10 matchups. Who has the best chance to pull off an upset?
The Big Ten is an underdog in several of these matchups. Who has the best chance for an upset?
Adam Rittenberg: I look at Penn State and Rutgers. Penn State limped down the stretch at the end of the season, but I think bowl practices can be extremely valuable to the offense, especially the line that struggled so much in Big Ten play. Boston College is a physical team but Penn State's defense should be able to limit the Eagles on the scoreboard. If Christian Hackenberg and the offense makes a few more plays, PSU can win. North Carolina has been wildly inconsistent and I like the way Rutgers fought back against Maryland. Rutgers can run on the Heels all day long.
Josh Moyer: Michigan State was an alluring pick, especially because it's only a two-point underdog. But I still think Gary Andersen's squad stands a better chance at the upset against Auburn. Wisconsin is a far better team than the Big Ten championship indicated, and it's difficult to see a repeat performance from a good team with a good coaching staff. Auburn's defense is nothing special, and Melvin Gordon will be running angry on Jan. 1 -- which is bad news for Auburn fans. It's also worth mentioning the Badgers have only once allowed an opponent to score more than 28 points this season. So Dave Aranda's defense should still be one of the best the Tigers have faced.
Brian Bennett: I realize I'm going way out on a limb here, but how about Maryland? Sure, the Terrapins are flying cross-country to play Stanford in a virtual road game. But how motivated will the Cardinal truly be in Santa Clara after they've played in several major bowl games the past few seasons? And other than the rout of UCLA, Stanford wasn't that impressive all season. Maryland is just a crazy enough team to pull it off.
Austin Ward: Perhaps Boston College won't be a significant favorite, but it is absolutely going to have its hands full with Penn State's stonewall defense. And if that's not enough, the Nittany Lions are going to have plenty of motivation and will be thankful for the chance to play thanks to the removal of their NCAA sanctions, their fans will show up in force and James Franklin will have had a month to work out some kinks on that beleaguered offensive line. Penn State is going to be a dangerous opponent in the postseason.
Dan Murphy: Missouri has already set the precedent of being upset by a Big Ten team (Indiana) this season, so it seems logical to believe the Gophers can follow suit. It won't be an easy day for senior David Cobb in his final game as a college running back, but Minnesota should be able to stick with the Tigers in a low-scoring affair.
Mitch Sherman: Sounds crazy after Saturday, but I actually think Wisconsin can rebound and beat Auburn. Everything snowballed on the Badgers in Indianapolis. They're simply not that bad. I realize Wisconsin lost to LSU, which lost 41-7 to Auburn, but bowl games are strange like that. And Auburn, after playing for the title last season, may lack some of its edge. Wisconsin should be out for redemption and to save face. Alabama and Georgia gouged the Tigers on the ground. I think Melvin Gordon can do the same.
Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Urban Meyer and Nick Saban met three times between 2008 and 2010, with the Tide winning the last two meetings. Meyer’s Florida Gators won, 31-20, in the first meeting. … According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Ohio State would be favored over Florida State -- but it would be an underdog against Alabama, Oregon, TCU, Baylor, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Oklahoma. … Meyer is one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award and one of three finalists for the Maxwell Coach of the Year. … Alabama teams that have been ranked in the top 2 of the AP poll are 5-1 in bowl games in New Orleans and boast six national championships. … Ohio State slightly trailed both Baylor and TCU in game control (No. 8) and strength of W-L (No. 6) but had the advantage in strength of schedule (No. 45). Baylor was No. 59 in that category, while TCU was No. 53.
Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic): The Spartans extended a school record this season with their eighth straight bowl appearance. That is the second-longest streak in the Big Ten and the 13th longest in the country. … Michigan State has won its past three bowl games -- against Georgia, TCU and Stanford -- which is also a school record. It’s also the longest active bowl winning streak in the conference. … Michigan State has made 25 bowls in its history, but it’s never been to the Cotton Bowl, which dates back to 1937. … According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Michigan State would’ve been favored over Florida State if it had made the playoff.
Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl): The Gophers last played a January bowl game in 1962, when it beat UCLA, 21-3, in the Rose Bowl. … This is Minnesota’s 17th bowl appearance, but it will be just the second time it plays in Florida. … Jerry Kill became just the second coach to guide Minnesota to three straight bowl games. (Glen Mason was the other.) … ESPN.com conducted a September poll by asking coaches: Who would you want your son to play for? Kill tied Stanford’s David Shaw for third with 7 percent of the vote.
Wisconsin (Outback Bowl): Wisconsin has now made 13 straight bowl games -- the seventh-longest streak in the country -- with the past five taking place in January. … The Badgers have played in the Outback Bowl four other times. They’ve lost the past three (to Georgia twice and to Tennessee). … If Melvin Gordon scores one more TD, he would join Barry Sanders and Kevin Smith as the only players with 2,000 yards and 30 TDs in a single season. … Gordon needs just seven rushing yards to surpass USC’s Marcus Allen (2,342 yards) and move into third on the single-season rushing list.
Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl): This is the Huskers' 51st bowl appearance, the third most in the nation, and their seventh straight appearance. … Mike Riley was named the new head coach Dec. 4 but will not coach in the game. Interim coach Barney Cotton will. … USC and Nebraska have met four other times, including a 2006 and 2007 home-and-home series, and the Trojans hold a 3-0-1 advantage.
Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl): Since 2001, no Big Ten team has won more bowl games or has a higher bowl winning percentage than Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 6-5 during that time. … Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa is 4-2 against current SEC teams in bowl games. … Iowa last played in the TaxSlayer Bowl in 1983 (then known as the Gator Bowl), when it lost to Florida by a score of 14-6.
Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl): This will be the first meeting between Maryland and Stanford. … The Terrapins are the biggest underdog in the conference this postseason, as Stanford is a two-touchdown favorite. … Maryland is 11-12-2 all time in bowls but has won five of its past seven. … Maryland last appeared in San Francisco to face Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl in 2007. It lost 21-14.
Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl): This is the first time the Nittany Lions will be playing in the new Yankee Stadium, but they played three times previously in the old stadium. Of course, that last trip was quite a while ago -- Penn State last played there in 1929 when it lost to NYU, 7-0. … This is Penn State’s 45th bowl game, tied for ninth most in the nation. … The Lions’ defense is one of just two that ranked in the top 10 this season in all of the following categories: rushing defense (No. 1), total defense (No. 2), scoring defense (No. 8), pass efficiency defense (No. 2) and defensive third-down conversion percentage (No. 6).
Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl): This is the ninth bowl appearance in 10 seasons for Rutgers. Prior to the 2005 season, the Knights had played in just one bowl (1978) in school history. … Kyle Flood is the first coach in school history to lead Rutgers to a bowl in his first three seasons. … The Quick Lane is one of five new bowl games in this year’s lineup. … Player gifts for the bowl include a Fathead made in each participant’s likeness; the winner also gets a $25,000 locker room makeover.
Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl): This is Illinois’ first bowl appearance since 2011 and the 18th in program history. Illinois’ bowl record is 8-9 overall. … The Illini are one of just two Big Ten teams with a bowl winning streak – the other is Michigan State – as Illinois won the 2010 Texas Bowl (over Baylor) and the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (over UCLA). … Tim Beckman’s squad has posted five comebacks on the year, and four wins came after trailing in the fourth quarter.
Here is a look at what teams might benefit from the bowl game they will play in and why they could see a positive impact on the recruiting trail.
The regular season might be over, but there is still plenty of recruiting to be done. Here is a look at the biggest recruiting news from the past week and a look ahead within the Big Ten.
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1. 0-10 this postseason?: Call it disrespect, a conspiracy, an underestimation -- or the cold, hard truth. But Vegas currently has the Big Ten as an underdog in every single bowl game. Michigan State (vs. Baylor) and Penn State (vs. Boston College) currently have the best chance to win, according to VegasInsider, as both are just three-point underdogs. The team with the biggest point spread? Maryland. Stanford is a 14-point favorite in that matchup.
The conference didn't draw an easy lot with its top-five bowl matchups, but the other five are somewhat surprising. Louisiana Tech -- which lost to both Northwestern State and Old Dominion -- is a five-point favorite over Illinois, for example. We Big Ten bloggers will submit our bowl predictions in the near future … but I can't see any of us picking the Big Ten to win zero games. That being said, even a .500 record here has to be considered a victory. These opponents certainly aren't push-overs.
2. Coach of the Year: Let's rewind for a second. Remember how Urban Meyer somehow didn't win the Big Ten Coach of the Year award last week, losing out to Minnesota's Jerry Kill? Well, we bloggers all thought that was pretty ridiculous -- but it could look even more out-of-place in the near future. Meyer was named one of eight finalists for the national Eddie Robinson Award, which is given to the nation's best coach on Jan. 10.
He's not a favorite to win, but it's certainly odd to see a coach as a national candidate but not a conference winner. Also odd: ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy recently polled coaches from around the nation on college football's best coach. Meyer placed second, behind only TCU's Gary Patterson. Kill is undoubtedly a great coach and deserves recognition, but can we all agree it was a great disservice not to name Meyer named B1G coach of the year? I still don't understand the decision …
3. Bowl swag: We offered up a list of which B1G teams are getting what gifts this bowl season. And there are three interesting tidbits to point out. First of all, the “coolest gift” award has to go to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl, as each player will get a Fathead made in their likeness. Detroit isn't the best bowl destination -- just ask Central Michigan here -- but Fathead is based there. Maybe a beach destination in exchange for a Fathead would've be a better deal but, hey, it's still a cool gift. The worst gift? That'd probably go to Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, where the Nittany Lions will receive a “variety of New Era products.”
I don't know about you, but hats and T-shirts only get me so excited. I don't know exactly what those New Era gift bags entail, but I can't imagine that “New Era products” beats Minnesota's or Nebraska's $440-plus Best Buy shopping spree. And a final note: What's with the Fossil watches? Half the Big Ten teams are receiving them this year. Let's be honest, wristwatches are like the candy corn of the bowl season.
- The teaching of Ohio State's coaching staff saved the season -- twice.
- Playing Baylor could be good for Michigan State's credibility.
- Tevin Coleman was not named a Heisman finalist, despite Indiana facing three of the Big Ten's top rushing defenses.
- The Quick Lane Bowl was eager to welcome Rutgers.
- Randy Edsall says the Foster Farms Bowl was "at the top of our list."
- Michigan players heaped praise on their former coach, Brady Hoke.
- James Franklin is counting on extra bowl practices to help Penn State in the future.
- Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Auburn's Gus Malzahn remember their first meeting in 2011.
- Minnesota's all-time leading rusher, Darrell Thompson, is "beyond excited" about the Citrus Bowl. Tickets are off to a fast start.
- Mike Riley can work with Nebraska's talent, which it showed against Iowa.
- Illinois is now facing a dilemma at quarterback.
- Iowa's bowl may be flying under the radar, but it could still be a step forward for the program.
- Akeem Hunt was named Purdue's offensive MVP and addressed the media after an awards banquet.
As is the case every season, players will receive gifts from their respective bowls as a reward for competing. Some will attend "gift suites," a private event in which players can pick gifts from an order form, while others will be given souvenirs more reflective of the bowl game. (The Hawaii Beach Bowl gives out sunglasses, swimming trunks and a beach towel, for example.) Some will be fortunate enough to receive both.
The NCAA allows up to $550 to be spent on each player. And the bowls provide gifts for up to 125 participants from each school.
So, without further ado, here's a look at the swag that Big Ten players can expect to receive -- thanks to the annual list published by SportsBusiness Daily:
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State -- Gift suite, Fossil watch, New Era cap
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Baylor -- N/A; bowl committee would not disclose
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: No. 25 Minnesota vs. No. 16 Missouri -- $447 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip, watch, athletic performance shirt
Outback Bowl: No. 18 Wisconsin vs. No. 19 Auburn -- $150 Best Buy gift card, Outback Steakhouse gift card, Fossil watch, Jostens ring, cap
National University Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 24 USC -- $445 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip, Fossil watch, cap
TaxSlayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee -- Panasonic gift suite, Fossil watch
Foster Farms Bowl: Maryland vs. Stanford -- Gift suite, Fossil watch
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Penn State vs. Boston College -- Different New Era products
Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers vs. North Carolina -- $250 Best Buy gift card, Sony headphones, custom-made Fathead for each player in their likeness, various apparel, football
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech -- Gift suite, Ogio Marshall Pack backpack, beanie, Big Game football
1. The Big Ten promised freshness and better matchups with its new bowl lineup, and for the most part, the league delivered.
Minnesota is doing back flips about finally having an attractive bowl destination and its first New Year's Day game since 1962. Wisconsin heads to Tampa for the first time since 2008. Nebraska is going to a familiar spot in the Holiday Bowl, but at least the Huskers aren't traveling to Florida for a fourth straight year (and who could complain about a trip to San Diego?). Iowa will play in Jacksonville for the first time since 1983. Maryland gets a San Francisco treat.
The matchups are appealing as well, not to mention extremely challenging. Add in the major bowls, and Big Ten teams will face Alabama, Baylor, Auburn, USC, Missouri and Stanford, among others. Few if any of these games will be easy, and the Big Ten figures to be an underdog in most of them. That, actually, is not all that new.
2. The College Football Playoff selection committee could have chosen Baylor or TCU over Ohio State and made a perfectly reasonable case for it. The difference between those three teams and their credentials is razor thin.
But all along, we were told that conference championships would matter, and so would strong nonconference schedules. The Big 12 chose to not have a conference title game and further muddled things with its co-champions controversy. Even more damning was Baylor's nonconference schedule (SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo). Though the committee's objective is to select the four best teams and not send messages, choosing a team with Baylor's schedule would have hurt the entire sport. At least Ohio State tried to schedule decent teams, playing Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Navy. If Baylor's approach had succeeded, you could have looked forward to a lot of canceled high-profile matchups and more patsies.
A month ago, with Mississippi State riding a cupcake schedule toward the top at the time, I questioned whether the Big Ten's strategy of adding tough nonconference teams still made sense. We got our answer on Sunday. And it was an answer that will ultimately be good for all of college football.
3. I was very quick to forgive Cardale Jones for his infamous tweet in 2012 ("Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS"). He was young and dumb, and I am eternally grateful that social media wasn't around when I was that age.
There have been no indications of any problems with Jones since, and he earned a place in Buckeyes lore on Saturday night by leading Ohio State to its 59-0 win against Wisconsin in his first career start.
Still, the fact that Jones hoisted the Big Ten title game MVP trophy literally just a few blocks away from NCAA headquarters was at least a little ironic, no? I doubt he will be asked to star in one of those "Most of us are going pro in something other than sports" ads any time soon.
More links ...
- How sweet it is for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had a major advantage over the Big 12.
- Playing Baylor could help build Michigan State's credibility.
- James Franklin is eager to bring Penn State to the Big Apple.
- Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa made major changes this year.
- Michigan's next coach will need to have autonomy.
- Wild but true: Adam Sandler told Indiana QB Zander Diamont to stop smoking cigars.
- Wisconsin has a chance to flush its Big Ten title-game flop against Auburn.
- New Nebraska coach Mike Riley has shown a penchant for developing quarterbacks.
- Purdue added a trio of commitments over the weekend.
- Mike Thomas wants to make sure Illinois is not a one-hit bowl wonder.
- Kirk Ferentz called Iowa's finish "disappointing."
From the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 20 to the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12, here's a look at the 2014-15 college football bowl lineup and playoff schedule.
DEC. 27, 4:30 P.M. ET, YANKEE STADIUM, BRONX, N.Y. (ESPN)
BOSTON COLLEGE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: Few scenes in college football this season could compare to the one in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Sept. 13, as the Eagles upset then-No. 9 USC 37-31, leading to a prime-time field-storming. More special than the victory itself was whom it was for, as BC donned red bandana-themed uniforms in honor of alum and 9/11 hero Welles Crowther, whose family was given a game ball in the locker room from second-year coach Steve Addazio. Beating Virginia Tech for the second straight year, on Nov. 1 in Blacksburg, made the Eagles bowl eligible for the second year in a row.
Season lowlights: A 24-21 home loss to Colorado State on Sept. 27 looked bad at the time, but CSU ended up winning 10 games this season, easing the pain of that defeat. BC played subpar in home losses to Pitt and Louisville, but neither probably hurt more than losses to Clemson (17-13) and Florida State (20-17), division powers that BC was a play away from beating (a year after giving both teams great shots too).
Player to watch: Tyler Murphy is arguably the best transfer pickup in college football this season. The former Florida quarterback -- whom Addazio recruited to Gainesville during his time as an assistant there -- enrolled at BC during the spring semester, won the starting job and hasn't slowed down since. Murphy broke the ACC record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,079) and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,526 yards and 11 scores, with 10 interceptions, as he has given BC a completely different look on offense from a year ago.
Motivation factor: A victory would make BC 8-5 and show improvement over Addazio's first season, when the Eagles went 7-6. It would also be his first bowl victory with the Eagles. More than anything, every little step is a sign of progress for a program that was coming off a two-win season in 2012 when Addazio took over. He has said this is a five-year rebuilding job. If he is winning seven or eight games a year while "rebuilding," the buzz and potential around the program will continue to grow as he lands more recruiting classes.
-- Matt Fortuna
Season highlights: The Nittany Lions’ season started promisingly enough. Christian Hackenberg opened by throwing for 454 yards against UCF in a 26-24 win as he drove the offense downfield and Sam Ficken hit a last-second, game-winning field goal. A few weeks later, Hackenberg was instrumental in guiding Penn State to a last-minute 13-10 win over Rutgers. Since then, the defense has dominated -- but wins have been hard to find. On the bright side, Bill Belton rushed for a 92-yard touchdown against Indiana in a 13-7 win. And the Lions did force Ohio State into double overtime before losing 31-24.
Season lowlights: The offensive line was a bad punch line for much of the season, but it hit a new low against Northwestern in a 29-6 loss. Offensive guard Brian Gaia closed his eyes and inadvertently blocked a teammate as Penn State failed to convert a fourth-and-1 play. (The clip went viral.) A 16-14 loss to Illinois caused alumni -- such as running back Ki-Jana Carter -- to criticize the offense on Twitter; Carter called it “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.” Then there was the loss to Maryland after the Terps’ team captains refused to shake hands.
Player to watch: LB Mike Hull. He was named the Big Ten linebacker of the year, and he is the heart of the nation’s top-ranked rush defense and No. 3 total defense. He has the ability to take over a game and has more than twice as many stops as the No. 2 tackler on Penn State. Hull has 134 tackles, notched 10.5 tackles for loss and had a hand in three turnovers. He’s not the biggest linebacker at 6-foot-0, 223 pounds, but he’s smart, fast and strong.
Motivation factor: This bowl game is a bonus of sorts for Penn State. When the Nittany Lions received sanctions in the summer of 2012, stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, they were also punished with a four-year postseason ban. But that ban was lifted in September. Thousands of Penn State fans crowded the streets in the hours following the announcement, some surfing on mattresses, to celebrate the news. For Penn State, this is its first bowl since the 2011 season. And this team doesn’t want the seniors who stuck with this program to end their careers with a loss.
-- Josh Moyer
As ESPN.com first reported this week, the Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team miss a bowl. If a Big Ten team goes to the Capital One Orange Bowl, the league won't have a participant in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. And if only one other Big Ten team reaches a New Year's Six bowl, it will leave eight eligible teams for only seven spots. Since there are more bowl-eligible teams than spots, and all spots are contracted, there are no at-large selections this year.
Got all that?
Michigan State is virtually assured of an Orange Bowl berth, following Alabama's win against Missouri in the SEC championship. At No. 8, the Spartans should remain ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State in Sunday's rankings -- neither team played this week -- and therefore be the highest ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC.
Big Ten champion Ohio State is the only other league squad heading for the big bowls -- either a Playoff semifinal or a New Year's Six game. After the Buckeyes' 59-0 spanking of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, we project Urban Meyer's squad to the Playoff. Boom.
That means one eligible Big Ten team is out of the bowls. Although Penn State and Illinois both are 6-6 and the Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions, there's no way PSU misses a bowl after being banned the past two years. Illinois, unfortunately, is the odd team out.
Wisconsin's horrific performance in the Big Ten title game drops the Badgers down to the Holiday Bowl, which really, really wants Gary Andersen's team. Minnesota heads to the Outback Bowl, while Nebraska likely would go to the Music City Bowl to avoid a repeat in Jacksonville.
Penn State in the Pinstripe has been a likelihood for weeks, and we have Rutgers going to Detroit and Maryland to Dallas.
Here are our final, final Big Ten bowl projections for the season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual or Allstate Sugar Bowl): Ohio State
Capital One Orange: Michigan State
National University Holiday: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer Bowl/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Iowa
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Maryland
Let’s get ready for a weekend like college football has never seen by hitting the three stories burning hottest in the league.
First up, Nebraska hired a coach. Mike Riley flew into Lincoln on Thursday night and headed straight to a meeting with the Cornhuskers. The former Oregon State coach will introduce himself to the state of Nebraska on Friday morning with a press conference at Memorial Stadium.
If Riley has any doubt about the level of obsession in his new position, he won’t after going through the ringer of obligations in his first full day on the job. I realize he coached in the NFL for three seasons. But he coached in San Diego, where, if fans get disinterested in the Chargers, they head to the beach of the golf course. If they lose interest in Nebraska, it’s statewide emergency.
Lost in the news on Thursday: How did Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst keep everyone in the dark? Riley’s name never surfaced among the dozens of coaches in mainstream speculation for the Nebraska job this week, perhaps because he was 5-7 this season and 61 years old.
The recent whereabouts of Eichorst also remain a mystery. Either he conducted the entire search from the depths of his office or he ought to think about moonlighting as a Homeland Security operative.
A few opinions:
- Eichorst is taking a risk with Riley, writes Dirk Chatelain, but it’s one that illustrates the AD’s apparent lack of a big ego.
- Lee Barfknecht writes of the widespread respect Riley has earned among peers and how his skill at developing quarterbacks could hold the key in the coach’s bid to elevate Nebraska.
- According to George Schroeder, Riley is a great fit at Nebraska. Writes Schroeder: "He's unlikely to be overwhelmed by the expectations or surprised by the obstacles." A rare combination, indeed, that perhaps offers insight into the nature of Eichorst's outside-the-box hire.
- The Lincoln Journal Star compiles more reaction from media and current and former Nebraska players.
- And after some Nebraskans wondered about the star power of their new coach, it’s worth taking this advice: Just chill.
Maybe Les Miles is that slam dunk. Or maybe not. A pair of Louisiana writers provide contrasting opinions: Scott Rabalais tells Miles that the time is right for him to go back to U-M, while Jeff Duncan writes that Miles would be foolish to leave.
Or is Greg Schiano the most realistic of the high-profile candidates?
Regardless, this is a critical hire for Michigan, where fresh starts are getting old. Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, no doubt, agrees. He’s not happy with the firing of Brady Hoke and has no interest in the job in Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, Hoke lands on a list of potential candidates at Colorado State.
Back on the field, Wisconsin and Ohio State battled different kinds of adversity this season to earn trips to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
Don't expect the Buckeyes to hold back on offense because of its quarterback issues. And amid all the talk of Cardale Jones' steep learning curve as he replaces injured J.T. Barrett, the Ohio State defense faces a huge challenge on Saturday. The reason? Melvin Gordon, of course.
The Badgers have concerns with the depth on the offensive line, to the point that Gary Andersen would consider removing the redshirt from freshman Michael Deiter in this 13th game of the season.
On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin's No. 2-ranked defense is again an underappreciated collection of talent.
Looking for predictions? The Cleveland.com writers deliver in their weekly outrageous fashion. And they're bullish on the Buckeyes.
Finally, if Ohio State beats Wisconsin and Michigan State remains ahead of Mississippi State in the playoff rankings, the Big Ten looks set to leave one of its eight-bowl eligible teams at home this postseason. Here's an explanation.
Around the rest of the league:
- Penn State is getting busy again on the recruiting trail.
- Mark Hollis, the Michigan State athletic director, addresses the status of often-sought defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
- Rutgers running back Robert Martin vows to protect his friend -- the football.
- Maryland scores an important local recruit who recently decommitted from Penn State.
- An argument for Tevin Coleman over Wisconsin's Gordon.
- Minnesota might be getting $15 million to go toward the construction of a new football facility.
- What changes would improve the Iowa offense?
- A Purdue running back recruit is named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Indiana.
- Illinois' bowl eligibility is a selling point for Tim Beckman in recruiting.
You're probably wondering, what is this joker talking about?
The Big Ten could have a bowl-eligible team not end up in a bowl game this season. The league outlined the scenario -- and other postseason probables -- in a memo sent to its athletic directors Wednesday and obtained by ESPN.com.
Here's the deal: If Michigan State ends up in the Orange Bowl, a strong possibility, and only one other Big Ten team makes the New Year's six bowls, the Big Ten will be left with eight eligible teams for seven contracted spots. Remember, when the Big Ten sends a team to the Orange Bowl -- the bowl pairs an ACC team with the highest-ranked non-playoff participant from the SEC or Big Ten, or Notre Dame -- it does not fill its spot in the Citrus Bowl.
There are already 80 bowl-eligible teams for 76 available spots, all of which are contracted to certain leagues. So there will be no at-large selections this season.
Michigan State is No. 8 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, two spots ahead of Mississippi State, the other likely candidate for the Orange Bowl. If No. 1 Alabama loses to No. 16 Missouri in the SEC championship game, the Tide almost certainly would go to the Orange Bowl ahead of Michigan State. But if Alabama wins, Michigan State is a virtual lock for the Orange unless the selection committee somehow flip-flops the two MSUs on a weekend when neither plays.
If No. 5 Ohio State beats No. 13 Wisconsin, the Big Ten would be limited to two teams in New Year's Six games. If that's the case and Michigan State makes the Orange Bowl, the league would have an eligible team miss out on a bowl. The likely candidates would be Illinois (6-6), Rutgers (7-5) or Maryland (7-5).
Although the Big Ten has more say in preventing repeat matchups, the bowls still have a decent amount of pull.
"The Conference will not interfere or influence our contract bowls' selection rights, nor does it have any control over the CFP," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, wrote to the athletic directors Wednesday. "Unless a contract bowl selects a team that is over-exposed because of recent trips to the same bowl or same region, we will not interfere with the bowl’s selection."
Rudner goes on to write: "Our bowls have the choice, other than the repeat criteria, to select the team that fits their bowl need on an annual basis. In other words, the number of wins, number of losses, head to head, and schedule strength are advisory only. These factors guide the bowl's selection, but do not direct it. The selection process is intended to move teams and fan bases around the country over the life of these contracts."
The Big Ten memo encourages its schools to "advocate and communicate on behalf of your institution with the bowls in light of this set of circumstances." Put on those sales caps, Mike Thomas, Kevin Andersen and Julie Hermann. You might need them.
Or just root for Wisconsin to beat Ohio State on Saturday night. Although it would eliminate the Big Ten from the playoff picture, it likely would ensure the Big Ten has three teams in New Year's Six games and all eligible teams in bowls.
The Big Ten has contracts with 12 bowls but shares spots in the Orange-Citrus, Gator-Music City and Heart of Dallas-Armed Forces bowls. If a Big Ten team goes to the Orange Bowl, the remaining non-New Year's Six tie-ins would be: Outback, Holiday, Gator or Music City (not both), San Francisco, Pinstripe, Quick Lane and Heart of Dallas.
This situation is far from ideal, especially for a program like Illinois that hasn't gone bowling since 2011. Imagine if Michigan had become bowl eligible, too. The league would have been guaranteed to have one eligible team staying home for the holidays.
"Given this year's circumstances, and the new processes and procedures in place for the college football playoff, the Orange bowl and our other contract bowl arrangements, the Conference office felt it was necessary to reiterate the operational impact so that any hypothetical outcomes could be planned for and covered in advance so the broadest community of people were alerted," the memo reads.
Consider this your alert.
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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
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