Wolverines smelling BCS bowl
From Michigan's suddenly renewed BCS hopes to Penn State's chance for glory, the Big Ten is covered here.
- Wisconsin's loss to Iowa shot adrenaline into Michigan's preparations for Ohio State at The Big House. With a victory in the 1 p.m. kickoff, Michigan would position itself for the Big Ten's BCS bowl berth, should Penn State lose in a 4 p.m. game at Michigan State. A loss to OSU would make Lloyd Carr a John Cooper-esque 1-4 against Jim Tressel. Carr's team lost a share of the league title when it fell at home to the Buckeyes in Tressel's first season, 2001, and the loss last year in Columbus forced Michigan to share the conference crown with Iowa. The Wolverines' hopes to turn around their recent misfortune against their border rival hinge on the health of their offensive line and tailback Mike Hart. Hart hasn't played in 11 quarters and is battling a sprained ankle. Up front, right guard Matt Lentz and left tackle Jake Long are hobbling and center Adam Kraus did not play in a 41-14 victory over Indiana.
The Spartans can spoil the feel-good story of the season if they upset Penn State, which would then surrender a BCS berth to the Ohio State-Michigan winner. MSU was the feel-good story itself way back in September after a 4-0 start brought a No. 11 ranking, but Sparty has lost 5 of 6 games since then and must shock Penn State to gain bowl eligibility. That slide has stoked the furnace under head coach John L. Smith, who is 18-17 in three seasons. His predecessor, Bobby Williams, was fired with a 16-17 record and three games left to play. Smith is an offensive guru, so maybe what he needs is some defensive guidance. His team allowed Minnesota 327 rushing yards and 14-for-17 success converting on third downs in a 41-18 humbling at the Metrodome. Drew Stanton's two touchdown passes give him 21, tying the school record set by Jeff Smoker in 2001 and 2003. MSU has made just 5 of 15 field-goal attempts, four of which have been blocked.
Minnesota hasn't played in a New Year's Day bowl since the 1962 Rose Bowl, and its chances aren't good to break that drought unless something strange happens. The Gophers can get to 8-3 with a win at Iowa, which would land them above Michigan in the standings if the Wovlerines lose to Ohio State. Even then, however, it's unlikely the Outback Bowl would pass on 7-4 Michigan to take 8-3 Minnesota, even though Minnesota won in Ann Arbor. Think that's wrong? Then how come the only bowl scout in attendance Saturday in Minneapolis was from the Motor City Bowl, which picks last among the seven bowls with Big Ten tie-ins? A hard hit forced Gary Russell to the sidelines in a 41-18 win over Michigan State, keeping him 33 yards shy of 1,000. If he gets those at Iowa, Minnesota will become the only school in college football history to have two 1,000-yard rushers in three consecutive seasons. Laurence Maroney already has 1,345 yards, and he teamed with Marion Barber III to go over 1,000 apiece in 2003 and 2004. Maroney sat out the win over MSU with a gimpy ankle, but he'll be back for Iowa. That's bad news for third-teamer Amir Pinnix, who didn't have a carry in Minnesota's first five Big Ten games. He came off the bench Saturday to rush for 206 yards, including 155 in the second half, when he carried on 25 of Minnesota's 31 snaps.
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