Penn State Nittany Lions: Malik McDowell
Illinois: This is a significant concern for the Illini, especially after the recent departure of Houston Bates, who started last season at the Leo (defensive end/outside linebacker) spot. Illinois also loses its other starting defensive end, Tim Kynard. The team will rely heavily on junior-college players such as Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu, but it also needs holdovers like Dawuane Smoot and Paul James III to step up on the perimeter. Illinois returns more experience inside with Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell, but there should be plenty of competition, especially with the juco arrivals, after finishing 116th nationally against the run.
Indiana: The anticipated move to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Brian Knorr creates a different dynamic for the line this spring. Indiana must identify options at the all-important nose tackle spot, and possibilities include sophomores Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, both of whom are big bodies. Nick Mangieri had a nice sophomore season and should be in the mix for a starting job on the perimeter (end or outside linebacker), while David Kenney could be a good fit as a 3-4 end. Defensive end Ryan Phillis is the team's most experienced lineman, and Zack Shaw also has some starting experience.
Iowa: This group should be the strength of the defense as Iowa returns three full-time starters -- tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, and end Drew Ott -- as well as Mike Hardy, who started the second half of the season opposite Ott. End Dominic Alvis departs, but Iowa brings back almost everyone else from a line that allowed only eight rushing touchdowns in 2013. Junior Darian Cooper could have a bigger role and push for more playing time inside, and Nate Meier provides some depth on the perimeter after recording two sacks in 2013. Iowa is in good shape here.
Maryland: The Terrapins employ a 3-4 scheme and appear to be in good shape up front, as reserve Zeke Riser is the only rotation player to depart. Andre Monroe leads the way at defensive end after an excellent junior season in which he led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). Quinton Jefferson started at defensive end last season and recorded three sacks. There should be some good competition this spring at nose tackle between Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo, both of whom had more than 30 tackles last season. The challenge is building greater depth with players such as end Roman Braglio.
Michigan: If the Wolverines intend to make a big step in 2014, they'll need more from the front four, which didn't impact games nearly enough last fall. Michigan's strength appears to be on the edges as veteran Frank Clark returns after starting every game in 2013 and recording a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Brennen Beyer, who started the second half of last season, is back at the other end spot, and Michigan has depth with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. There are more questions inside as Willie Henry, Chris Wormley and others compete for the starting job. Young tackles such as Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst Jr. also are in the mix, and Ondre Pipkins should be a factor when he recovers from ACL surgery.
Michigan State: The Spartans return the best defensive end tandem in the league as Shilique Calhoun, a second-team All-American in 2013, returns alongside Marcus Rush, one of the Big Ten's most experienced defenders. Joel Heath, Brandon Clemons and others provide some depth on the perimeter. It's a different story inside as MSU loses both starters (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover), as well as reserve Mark Scarpinato. Damon Knox, James Kittredge and Lawrence Thomas, who has played on both sides of the ball, are among those who will compete for the starting tackle spots. If Malik McDowell signs with MSU, he could work his way into the rotation.
Minnesota: Defensive tackles like Ra'Shede Hageman don't come around every year, and he leaves a big void in the middle of Minnesota's line. The Gophers will look to several players to replace Hageman's production, including senior Cameron Botticelli, who started opposite Hageman last season. Other options at tackle include Scott Ekpe and Harold Legania, a big body at 308 pounds. Minnesota is in much better shape at end with Theiren Cockran, arguably the Big Ten's most underrated defensive lineman. Cockran and Michael Amaefula both started every game last season, and Alex Keith provides another solid option after recording five tackles for loss in 2013.
Nebraska: Other than MSU's Calhoun, Nebraska returns the most dynamic defensive lineman in the league in Randy Gregory, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his first FBS season. If the Huskers can build around Gregory, they should be very stout up front this fall. Nebraska won't have Avery Moss, suspended for the 2014 season, and players such as Greg McMullen and junior-college transfer Joe Keels will compete to start opposite Gregory. The competition inside should be fascinating as junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Vincent Valentine both have starting experience, but Maliek Collins came on strong at the end of his first season and will push for a top job.
Northwestern: It will be tough to get a clear picture of this group in the spring because of several postseason surgeries, but Northwestern should be fine at defensive end despite the loss of Tyler Scott. Dean Lowry, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Deonte Gibson all have significant experience and the ability to pressure quarterbacks. Odenigbo, who had 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, could become a star. The bigger questions are inside as Northwestern must build depth. Sean McEvilly is a solid option but must stay healthy. Chance Carter and Max Chapman are among those competing for starting jobs at tackle.
Ohio State: A total mystery last spring, the defensive line should be one of Ohio State's strengths in 2014. Noah Spence and Joey Bosa could become the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem, and the Buckeyes have depth there with Jamal Marcus, Adolphus Washington and others. Returning starter Michael Bennett is back at defensive tackle, and while Joel Hale might move to offense, there should be enough depth inside with Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter and Washington, who could slide inside. Nose tackle is the only question mark, but new line coach Larry Johnson inherits a lot of talent.
Penn State: Like the rest of the Lions defense, the line struggled at times last season and now much replace its top player in tackle DaQuan Jones. The new coaching staff has some potentially good pieces, namely defensive end Deion Barnes, who won 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors but slumped as a sophomore. Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan could form a dangerous pass-rushing tandem, but they'll need support on the inside, where there should be plenty of competition. Austin Johnson will be in the mix for a starting tackle spot, and early enrollees Tarow Barney and Antoine White also should push for time. Anthony Zettel provides some depth on the perimeter.
Purdue: The line endured a tough 2013 campaign and loses two full-time starters (tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. and end Greg Latta), and a part-time starter (end Ryan Isaac). Competition should be ramped up at all four spots this spring. Senior end Ryan Russell is the most experienced member of the group must take a step this offseason. Evan Panfil and Jalani Phillips will push for time at the end spots, along with Kentucky transfer Langston Newton. The group at tackle includes Ryan Watson and Michael Rouse III, both of whom started games in 2013.
Rutgers: Keep a close eye on this group in the spring as Rutgers begins the transition to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lose two starters in end Marcus Thompson and tackle Isaac Holmes, as well as contributor Jamil Merrell at tackle. Darius Hamilton provides a building block on the inside after recording 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013, and end Djwany Mera is back after starting throughout last season. David Milewski played tackle last year, but both he and Hamilton likely need to add weight for their new league. Rutgers has some talent in the younger classes and needs players such as Sebastian Joseph, Kemoko Turay and Julian Pinnix-Odrick to emerge.
Wisconsin: Linebacker Chris Borland is the biggest single departure for the Badgers' defense, but the no position group loses more than the line. Wisconsin must replace several mainstays, most notably nose tackle Beau Allen, who performed well in the first year of the 3-4 set under coordinator Dave Aranda. Senior Warren Herring will step in for Allen after three years as a reserve. Konrad Zagzebski is a good bet to fill one of the end spots, but there will be plenty of competition with players such as Jake Keefer, James Adeyanju, Arthur Goldberg and Chikwe Obasih.
- Ohio State's Braxton Miller likely will be limited this spring after shoulder surgery Friday.
- Former Northwestern stars support the school in the unionization debate. Northwestern might be taking its case too far, Lester Munson writes.
- Former Michigan star lineman Taylor Lewan denies intimidating a woman who accused Brendan Gibbons of rape. Linebacker Jake Ryan is moving to the middle for the Wolverines.
- Audrey Snyder details plenty of Penn State-related story lines at the NFL combine.
- It's still unclear how Rutgers QB Gary Nova will respond from last year's benching.
- Brush up on the last six years of Iowa recruits, thanks to Marc Morehouse.
- Dennis Dodd wonders if college football has reached its peak.
- There's still no decision from Michigan State recruiting target Malik McDowell.
- Indiana completes its staff with safeties coach Noah Joseph.
- The always entertaining Ed Orgeron will speak at Nebraska's coaching clinic next month.
- An interesting take on whether Illinois should loosen its admissions standards for athletes.
- The son of a Purdue basketball star will play football for the Boilers, and he can wrestle, too.
- Great work by Teddy Greenstein, who catches up with former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and details how the Wildcats' unionization movement came together.
- Malik McDowell tells 247sports.com that he won't be visiting other schools and remains committed to playing for Michigan State.
- Penn State's next president has faced similar athletics challenges before.
- Assistant coach Larry Johnson now wears scarlet and gray, but his job hasn't changed. Former Ohio State lineman Marcus Hall is cashing in on his double-bird salute.
- Dirk Chatelain has an excellent look at the most important states for Nebraska's recruiting efforts.
- Wisconsin's recruiting efforts have taken a step forward under Gary Andersen.
- Unless there's another conference reshuffle, the Cy-Hawk series should continue as normal.
- After a rough season, Michigan's offensive line has no choice but to move forward.
- Most Rutgers fans don't want to see the school move any home games to MetLife Stadium.
- The Rose Bowl produced some new selling points for Michigan State on the recruiting front. The Spartans still wait for word from Malik McDowell, but they did sign two other defensive ends.
- Minnesota is working hard to try and keep ESPN's No. 1 prospect for 2015 at home.
- Star rankings are an inexact science, Sam McKewon writes, and not necessarily a good gauge for Nebraska's new class. Bo Pelini's respect for the SEC can be seen in his recruiting blueprint.
- Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon talked about his soon-to-be new boss and the job he has done in Ann Arbor. Brady Hoke says five or six true freshmen could play right away.
- Looking at the top-10 targets in the Class of 2015 for Ohio State.
- Purdue hopes its new recruits bring a winning attitude to the program.
- Gary Andersen plans some position changes on Wisconsin's defense.
- Former Illinois coach Ron Zook is ready for a new challenge with the Green Bay Packers.
- Twenty Penn State players remain from the Joe Paterno era.
- Malik McDowell's commitment was perhaps the highlight of the class for Michigan State, but the wait for a signature added even more drama to his recruitment.
- All of Michigan's signees were committed before new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was hired last month, but he appears to be having an impact already on next year's class.
- James Franklin emphasized the importance of the Penn State family as the program celebrated its new class with its "Signature Event."
- The Class of 2014 might turn out to be Urban Meyer's finest with Ohio State, but he wasn't thrilled it didn't go down as the best in the country this year.
- Upgrading the speed on the roster was the top priority for Wisconsin, and it appears Gary Andersen accomplished that goal.
- Nebraska signed players from 13 different states, suggesting again that the program is recruiting nationally perhaps more than it ever has before.
- Purdue was looking for natural leaders to fill out its class, and Darrell Hazell signed 18 players who were captains of their high school teams.
- Pat Fitzgerald might not have landed every recruit in his backyard, but he felt Northwestern "dominated Chicagoland again" in the last cycle.
- Jerry Kill puts plenty of stock in the importance of the third recruiting class in building a program, and he picked up some valuable pieces this year for Minnesota.
- Illinois inked five players out of junior colleges, and Tim Beckman acknowledged it was because those players know there is plenty of opportunity to play quickly.
Signing day certainly lived up to the hype. With commitments, decommitments and drama across the board, there was a ton of action throughout the day within the Big Ten.
The biggest news on the day was when ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) committed to Michigan State, but never sent in his national letter of intent. Before the announcement, McDowell's parents were open about the fact they did not want their son to pick the Spartans.
The Spartans' coaching staff has been working feverishly to get the parents on board, but it has been an uphill battle.
Amidst the McDowell drama, Ohio State snuck in and was able to get three-star defensive end Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J./Montclair) to flip from Michigan State.
Slade initially said he wanted to wait on signing with the Spartans and visit the Buckeyes after signing day. The Michigan State staff spoke with Slade and decided to move on once Slade said he wanted to take the trip to Columbus.
The Buckeyes reaped the rewards as Slade then sent in his letter of intent to the Ohio State fax machine and is signed for the 2014 class.
There must have been something in the water with Big Ten defensive end commits as former Nebraska commit Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped to South Carolina.
The three-star defensive end had been committed to Florida State at one point, then decommitted and chose the Cornhuskers. All seemed to be well until signing day when McClain flipped to the Gamecocks. It is a significant loss for Nebraska at an inconvenient time.
Michigan State saw a huge rise in the class rankings, moving up 10 spots to No. 29 overall. A big part of that increase was due to McDowell. If the Spartans can keep him on board it will be a huge coup.
Michigan State also landed three-star athlete T.J. Harrell (Tampa, Fla./Tampa Catholic), giving the coaching staff 14 three-star commits to go along with eight four-stars in this class. Defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wisc./Sun Prairie) didn't commit on signing day, but he was a late flip, switching from Wisconsin.
Northwestern dropped four spots, but that was essentially due to the lower numbers in the class and the fact that the Wildcats had closed out their class.
Future is bright at Penn State
The Nittany Lions picked up a commitment from linebacker Torrence Brown (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Tuscaloosa Academy) to cap off James Franklin's first class as Penn State's head coach.
Franklin was not only able to keep the class intact, but added some outstanding prospects.
ESPN 300 defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) did decommit, but the addition of ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) and three-star athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) helped Penn State finish No. 24 in the class rankings.
Franklin and his staff have already hit the ground running for the 2015 class as well and several junior prospects reported the Penn State coaches even spoke with them on signing day. There are apparently no brakes for this staff as they look to start building their first full class at Penn State.
Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) faxed in his letter of intent to Michigan on signing day. On the surface that might not seem like much, but right up until the night before signing day Peppers had been contemplating holding off on putting ink to paper.
The nation’s No. 2 prospect had heard from a few other schools, but ultimately decided Tuesday night that he would sign with the Wolverines.
That was a crisis averted for Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who brought in the No. 18 class in the country. The Wolverines hadn't landed a commitment in the 2014 class since August and most recently fell from No. 12 overall. That is significant given the fact that Michigan at one point had the No. 1 ranked class for 2014.
Minnesota was also able to hang on to its biggest commitment with running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn). The ESPN 300 prospect had been wavering and hearing from a few schools, but announced he would stay committed with the Gophers during a ceremony at his school.
That is as good a commitment as coach Jerry Kill and his staff have landed. Jones is an explosive back.
All in all it was an exciting day for the future of the Big Ten. The conference ended with 34 ESPN 300 prospects and three teams -- Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State -- ranked in the top 25 of the class rankings.
National signing day is less than 24 hours away and there's still plenty of recruiting action that could take place in the final hours. The Big Ten still has some big questions and storylines leading up to the big day.
College decisions are often unpredictable, but here are five signing day predictions for the Big Ten.
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- Thanks to Russell Wilson and others, Wisconsin received some excellent pub during Super Bowl XLVIII. Badgers recruit Dareian Watkins overcame some rough obstacles early in his life.
- Doug Lesmerises projects Ohio State's offensive depth chart in 2014 following signing day. Buckeyes AD Gene Smith talks football expectations and other topics in a Q&A.
- Nebraska had a very busy weekend on the recruiting trail.
- Michigan State's recruiting profile is on the rise, Mike Griffith writes.
- Matt Daniels lists 10 reasons why Illinois fans will praise or curse Tim Beckman's name.
- Nick Baumgardner looks at where Michigan's 2014 recruits might fit in next season.
- Malik McDowell's father has some interesting thoughts on what the top recruit is thinking as signing day approaches.
- Indiana adds three more recruits, including one who flipped from Purdue, on the final weekend before signing day.
- New Penn State assistant Herb Hand makes a bigger impact off the field. A look at how the NCAA sanctions are still impacting Penn State.
- A good look at questions surrounding the Northwestern unionizing attempt.
Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:
Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?
He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.
Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.
What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?
TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).
TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.
How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?
TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.
TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.
How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?
TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.
TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.
How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?
TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.
TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.
What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?
TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.
TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.
Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.
TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.
TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.
Biggest commitment: Nebraska went on a frenzy this past weekend, landing six total commitments. The biggest came from ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Eric Lee (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian), the No. 217 prospect, and ESPN Junior 300 athlete Avery Anderson (Colorado Springs, Colo./Pine Creek), ranked No. 235 in his class.
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- Stud defensive end Malik McDowll's final four list of schools includes Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will be his final official visit. Jeff Heuerman broke the Ohio State tight end hex.
- Nebraska flipped a defensive end who'd been committed to Central Florida after a hush-hush visit to Lincoln.
- With Damien Harris out of the fold (for now), Michigan still has recruiting options at running back.
- Minnesota landed a coveted receiver and an offensive lineman on the recruiting front. Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson is interested in Rutgers and Kansas State as transfer destinations.
- James Franklin and his Penn State assistants are cleaning up on the recruiting trail. Franklin will attend tonight's State of the Union address.
- An offensive lineman committed to Iowa, but whether he'll grayshirt remains to be seen.
- New Indiana defensive coordinator Brian Knorr hopes an aggressive style will help fix the Hoosiers defense (subscription required).
- Wisconsin is a big part of Super Bowl media day.
Here is a look at some of the most important targets remaining within the conference.
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Here is a look at what happened within the Big Ten this past week.
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There are only two visit weekends left before signing day, so teams are scrambling to get the last few chances in front of prospects. Here is a look at the bigger weekend visitors within the Big Ten.
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Challenges Facing Franklin at Penn State
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35