Tag:Kirk Cousins
Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:29 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:22 pm
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1-to-35: Ranking the 2011 bowl games



Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Each December, there's plenty of rankings out there as to how good each bowl should be. But if that's the "before," what about the "after"? Here's the Eye on CFB's (highly subjective) ranking of all 35 bowls from the 2011-2012 college football postseason, best game to worst.

1. Rose. Unlike certain other bowls we could name (who happen to rhyme with "Schmalamo"), the Rose's outburst of offense came despite the presence of legitimate championship-level defenses--making the punch and counter-punch between Russell Wilson and Montee Ball on one side and LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas on the other like haymakers in a heavyweight prizefight. Add in college football's greatest venue, a down-to-the-wire ending, and even the aesthetic battle between the Badgers' understated uniforms and the Ducks' glitter factory helmets, and you've got the best bowl-watching experience of the year.

2. Fiesta. Andrew Luck vs. Justin Blackmon at the top of their powers -- at the top of the powers of anyone at their positions in college football -- would be worth a top-five placement alone. Luck vs. Blackmon and 79 points and overtime drama? That's worth top-two.

3. Alamo Bowl. To call the defenses in this game abominably porous would be an insult to pores (and abominations). But the Alamo is a random weeknight bowl game--just as no one wants to watch an Oscar-baiting 17th-century literary adaptation on their Guys' Night Out, so no one tuned into the Alamo for rugged defense and awesome punting. Thankfully, what Baylor and Washington gave us was the college football equivalent of four hours of Jason Statham shooting explosions.

4. Outback. Come for Kirk Cousins leading the most unlikely comeback this side of the whooping crane, stay for Mark Richt nominating himself for the (dis)honor of "World's Fraidiest-Cat Football Coach." Oh, and triple overtime.

5. New Orleans. We'd ask if you could remember this thriller between Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State from the bowl season's opening night, but we don't think anyone who watched could forget Ragin' Cajun kicker Brett Baer deliriously celebrating his last-second game-winner if they tried.

6. Military. One word: #MACtion. And two numbers: 42-41. And, all right, eight more words to help do this game justice: last-minute do-or-die failed fake extra point holder-kicker option.

7. Sun. We're suckers for any game featuring the triple-option (see the Air Force game ranked one spot above), and Utah's 4th-and-14 touchdown conversion to send the game into OT was one of the more dramatic single plays of the entire bowl season. That 3-0 anti-classic between Pitt and Oregon State was a particularly distant memory in El Paso this year.

8. Belk. A matchup of Utterly Average ACC team vs. Utterly Average Big East team -- in a bowl sponsored by a department store that thinks Macy's is way too wild and edgy -- should have been one of the snoozers of the year. Instead, Mike Glennon caught fire, Louisville mounted a spirited comeback, and this wound up one of the better games of the postseason.

9. Little Caesars. The quality of play in this game at times was like ... well, have you ever actually eaten the pizza of the sponsor? But Western Michigan receiver Jordan White put on a spectacular show (13 catches, 249 yards), the teams combined for 69 points, and the Boilers special teams pulled off two onsides kicks and a kick return for TD. Tasty!

10. Famous Idaho Potato. OK, OK: we're giving this game (which was less-than-must-see-viewing for much of the first 55 minutes) a slight bonus for its killer logo. But we're giving it a much bigger bonus for the pulse-pounding final drive from quarterback Tyler Tettleton and the Bobcats for the first bowl win in program history.

11. Armed Forces. If you're going to be a sorta-dull game between two sorta-unmemorable teams, better come up with a memorable play and/or a big finish. Riley Nelson's game-winning fake spike touchdown to become college football's answer to Dan Marino just about did the trick.

12. Sugar. Another for the "ugly game, fascinating ending" file, but this was Michigan doing their damnedest to be Michigan again and Virginia Tech doing their damnedest to avoid the rabbit's feet and horseshoes and four-leaf clovers falling out of the Wolverines' pockets -- Danny Coale most especially -- and it was in New Orleans. You didn't quit watching, did you?

13. Poinsettia. Not a classic, but three-and-a-half back-and-forth hours with a feisty Louisiana Tech team and an underrated TCU squad most definitely qualified as "serviceable." Think of this year's Poinsettia as the quality burger-and-fries plate from the local joint down the street--not mind-blowing, but spend a few weeks in Peru, where they don't have burgers or college football, and you'll crave a Poinsettia Bowl so badly you could scream.

14. Orange. In the space of about an hour, Dana Holgorsen's evisceration of Clemson went from thrilling to discomfiting to boring to morbidly fascinating to -- once we all realized the Mountaineers weren't going to hit triple digits -- back to boring again. Not every game that hits 100 points is one for the DVD vaults, as it turns out.

15. Liberty. Give me Cincinnati defeating Vanderbilt in surprisingly convincing, mildly entertaining fashion or give me death! (Actually, we've got that first thing already, so no need to worry about providing the second, thanks.)

16. Chick-Fil-A. For 2.5 quarters, this was a delightful shootout with all the requisite trickery you'd hope for from a game involving Gus Malzahn. Then Virginia remembered that it was not only Virginia, but proud ACC member Virginia, and the fun was over.

17. Meineke Car Care. Seriously, Texas A&M, we didn't tune in to see you only flirt with blowing a huge lead against a team that hasn't won a bowl game since approximately the Grover Cleveland administration.

18. Capital One. This game featured an abundance of must-watch plays -- Alshon Jeffery catching a  bomb, Alshon Jeffery hauling in a half-ending Hail Mary, Alshon Jeffery getting ejected for fighting -- but aside from, well, Alshon Jeffery, there wasn't much to it.

19. Cotton Bowl. The 15 seconds of Joe Adams' punt return, the 10 seconds of Jarius Wright's touchdown, and the 5 minutes when it looked like Kansas State might mount yet another smashing comeback were riveting stuff. The other 54:35? Not so much.

20. BCS National Championship. A great game, if you're the sort of fan who enjoys watching nature shows where a pride of lions tear a wildebeest to pieces because the wildebeest can't complete a downfield pass to save its life.

21. TicketCity. If he'd stuggled, he'd have been called a fraud; because he ripped Penn State's D into tiny shreds, no one paid attention. Which is why we're working on a sitcom pilot right now called Case Keenum Can't Win.

22. Gator. When one team's special teams scores just one fewer touchdown than the two offenses combined (as Florida's did), it's safe to say you're not watching a classic.

23. GoDaddy.com. Thanks to a 31-0 run from Northern Illinois, what was expected to be a nailbiting shootout ended up the biggest disappointment since that "unrated web content" we checked out.

24. Champs Sports. It wasn't pretty, but at least the Seminoles and Irish were trying their best ... to make us wish they'd just aired a repeat of the 1993 meeting instead.

25. Las Vegas. College football produces a lot of emotions, but from the neutral perspective, it's rare that one of them is outright legitimate anger. Seeing Kellen Moore forced to end his career slumming it against an Arizona State team that checked out in early November sure turned the trick, though.

26. Independence. The Tar Heels came out so flat, and were finished off so quickly, that we're pretty sure the only lovely parting gift they walked away with was "Independence Bowl: the Board Game."

27. Music City. Mississippi State turned the ball over four times, and Wake Forest averaged 2.9 yards per-play. If Hank Williams or some other old-time country artist had come to Nashville to write a sad song about a sad bowl game, this is the game they'd use for inspiration.

28. Insight. Sadly, the only "insight" we got from this game was that Vegas oddsmakers -- who had the Sooners installed as the biggest favorite of the entire bowl season -- know what they're talking about. And who didn't know that already?

29. Holiday. It wasn't that long ago when Jeff Tedford's Cal and Mack Brown's Texas squaring off would have been appointment television. This game was, too, though in the sense that it was the sort of game you made an appointment somewhere else to avoid viewing.

30. Hawaii. Nevada and Southern Mississippi were collectively as sharp as your average butter knife, but let's see you spend a week chilling in Hawaii and then play a quality football game. The best players the NFL has to offer try it every single year and haven't succeeded yet.

31. Pinstripe. The only thing we remember from this game was our wish to travel back to, say, 1998, and explain to a random college football fan that in 2011, Rutgers would win a bowl game in Yankee Stadium that would give them the nation's longest postseason winning streak. (We're still not sure it's actually happening.)

32. Beef 'O' Brady's. Newton's Second Law of Bowl Aesthetics: Whensoever a Game Produces Fewer Offensive Touchdowns Than the Game Has Apostrophes in its Title, That Game Shall Be, Verily, Entirely Terrible.

33. New Mexico. We'd waited so long to be able to sit down and watch a college bowl game, and by halftime we were sort of wishing we'd gotten to wait a little bit longer.

34. BBVA Compass. For two straight years, Pitt has been forced to play in Legion Field on a January weekday afternoon in front of no one under an interim coach against a nondescript opponent. Vs. SMU the Panthers looked like they'd much rather be off somewhere doing something much more fun, like peeling potatoes with their teeth--and we don't blame them a bit.

35. Kraft Fight Hunger. Comedian Patton Oswalt once called a certain famous KFC product a "failure pile in a sadness bowl." Capitalize that B, and we can't think of a better way to describe 2011 Illinois "battling" 2011 UCLA.

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Posted on: January 2, 2012 5:52 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Michigan State 33, Georgia 30, 3OT

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



MICHIGAN STATE WON: Down 16 at halftime, with only 72 yards of offense to their name, and the parallels between their 2012 bowl performance and their 2011 bowl humiliation vs. Alabama looking unavoidable, the Spartans had to be the only people in Tampa thinking they had any shot of coming back and winning the Outback Bowl. But that belief paid off in spades as Kirk Cousins threw for 300 yards and led State to a thrilling 33-30 comeback win in triple overtime. Dan Conroy went 2-for-2 on OT field goals and Rashad White blocked Blair Walsh's 46-yarder on the game's final play to seal the win.

But Georgia fans will argue that the game never should have reached a third overtime after Cousins was picked off on the Spartans' first OT possession. All the Bulldogs needed was a field goal, but Mark Richt chose to have Aaron Murray kneel on second down to set up Walsh on third down--even though the kick was a full 43 yards and Walsh had gone just 19-of-31 this season. To say Walsh's miss will leave Richt in line for some second guessing is an understatement.

WHY MICHIGAN STATE WON: Richt's conservatism -- not just in overtime, but from the moment the Dawgs took that 16-0 lead -- arguably had as much to do with the Spartan win as anything MSU did. But to focus entirely on Georgia's mistakes won't do justice to the determination and guts of Cousins, who took a ton of hits in the early going and was still up for guiding one of the drives of college football's season late--a 10-play, 85-yard masterpiece that took just 1:35 and sent the game to overtime.

Contrast Cousins' poise with that of Murray, whose precision terrorized the Spartans in the first half and much of the second ... but who went an ugly 0-of-4 in overtime and took the sack that led to Walsh's final blocked attempt. Cousins wasn't always exactly John Elway himself -- he finished averaging just 6 yards an attempt and threw three interceptions -- but his cool down the stretch was what ultimately paced his team to the victory.

WHEN MICHIGAN STATE WON: Not until White's block, but that block was set up by William Gholston's crushing sack on third down.

WHAT MICHIGAN STATE WON: An 11th game for the second straight year, but more importantly, the Spartans snapped a five-game bowl losing streak and earned Mark Dantonio his first postseason victory. It also helped the Big Ten avoid an 0-4 start to the day's slate.

WHAT GEORGIA LOST: Not much in the big picture, really; Richt's 10-2 season and SEC East title has already cooled any "hot seat" talk, and win or lose the Dawgs should still enter 2012 as favorites to repeat as divisional champs. But given the ease of Georgia's schedule this past season (and next), the loss may open Richt up to questions as to whether his team is ready to take the next step and beat the high-caliber teams necessary to win the SEC.

THAT WAS CRAZY: It's a shame we haven't even mentioned Georgia corner Brandon Boykin's day yet: all the senior did in his final game as a Bulldog was score on defense (tackling Keshawn Martin on the Spartans' first play from scrimmage for a safety), special teams (on a highlight-reel 92-yard punt return), and offense (catching a 13-yard touchdown out of the backfield after lining up as a running back.)

FINAL GRADE: This one had everything: huge plays, giant momentum swings, NFL-caliber athletes and quarterbacks, seismic coaching decisions, and a desperate team making a desperate comeback for maximum drama. It doesn't get a lot better. A.

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Posted on: December 29, 2011 9:21 am
 

Keys to the game: Outback Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

GEORGIA WILL WIN IF: The Bulldogs' defense continues to perform like it has all season. Though the bookends for the year didn't go as fans had hoped, the team still ran off 10 straight wins and likely saved head coach Mark Richt's job. The biggest reason behind the surge is the defense, which is third in the country in yards allowed and features stud linebacker Jarvis Jones and a secondary led by Brandon Boykin and Bacarri Rambo. The offense has done ok behind quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell but they have a knack for turning the ball over at times and that could prove costly in a close game against a very good team like the one they'll face in the Outback Bowl.

MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: The Spartans have to remain balanced on offense and limit turnovers. This is the first time the team has won 10 games in back-to-back years and given the bad taste left in their mouths in the Big Ten championship game, figures to a game they come out prepared for and ready to win. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has elevated his game this season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and posting a 24-7 TD-INT ratio. If he can make some plays in the passing game to open things up for Le'Von Bell and Edwin Baker on the ground, MSU should have a great chance to win the game given how good their defense is.

X-FACTOR: These two teams met just three years ago at this bowl game so there is some familiarity between them. Both are also coming off championship game losses and while a trip to Tampa isn't bad, it's not exactly what either had in mind at the beginning of the season. The key to winning this game undoubtedly belongs to who can control the trenches. Michigan State appears to be the more physical team but Georgia's front seven is very good and their offensive line has done better than expected over the course of the season. The Spartans also have an impact player on the defensive line in first-team All-America Jerel Worthy, who should be a load to handle for the Bulldogs' offensive line. Both teams want to play sound football and control the clock so winning the battles along the line will be paramount.


Posted on: December 5, 2011 1:38 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 1:58 pm
 

Surveying the Field: End of the season edition



Posted by Bryan Fischer


It's hard to believe, but the college football regular season is over.

Over.

If the finality hasn't hit you, it's ok. Hold on to it, savor it, try not to let it go.

Though things off the field in the sport - realignment, arrests, suspensions, infractions and on and on - may never have been worse, the product on the field was pretty good. There were hail mary's and punt returns, one-handed catches and devastating sacks. There was a Honey Badger, All Russell Wilson Everything and some epic comebacks.

With that in mind, in the final Surveying the Field of 2011, a look back at just about every bowl team and a few lines about them looking forward.

National Championship Game

Looking back: It wasn't pretty at times but the Tigers rolled to the national title game in impressive fashion, dispatching Pac-12 champion Oregon by 13 at a neutral site to open the season, Big East champion West Virginia by 26 on the road, beat their title game foe Alabama at home and rolled over SEC East winner Georgia by 32 in what amounted to their home crowd. Tyrann Mathieu was the ball-hawking fire starter for the team but, gasp, the best player might have been punter Brad Wing who was crucial in establishing good field position every time.

Looking ahead: How much is there left to prove? The rematch in New Orleans can be Les Miles chance to end any doubt as to who was far and away the best team in 2011 by turning the national championship game into a coronation with a convincing win. Lose and an AP National Title likely awaits. The Tigers are in a can't lose situation.

Looking back: Before the season, many in Tuscaloosa said this could be Nick Saban's best defense. It's hard to argue if you look at the numbers, first in rush, pass, total and scoring defense. The most points they gave up the entire year was 21. The offense wasn't too shabby either, not with Heisman candidate Trent Richardson delivering electrifying runs.

Looking ahead: LSU came into their house and won, now it's time for them to do the same for the crystal ball. They might not have won their division but they can win the national title.

Orange Bowl

Looking back: Early on, it seemed like they were going to struggle. A close win against Wofford? Then it seemed like Sammy Watkins started to heat up and the Tigers moved to 8-0 and people were talking titles. But there was also talk of Clemson being Clemson - and it happened at Georgia Tech. And again at N.C. State. And at South Carolina. But the slide ended in Charlotte with another win over Virginia Tech to win the first ACC title since 1991.

Looking ahead: Dabo Swinney said it best after winning the conference championships, saying he's taking his, "Clemson talents to South Beach." The defense shut down the Hokies once again but they are taking a much bigger step up facing Dana Holgorsen with a month to prepare.

Looking back: A 9-3 season, Big East title and BCS bowl berth is not to shabby debut for Dana Holgorsen as a head coach. The offense was as advertised, jumping from 67th last year to 17th at 459.6 yards per game. They were blown out against LSU thanks to turnovers and that was a theme in their losses. The Mountaineers won several close games and that could pay off down the road.

Looking ahead: Given how mediocre the conference was, perhaps this BCS bowl berth should count for the Big 12, the league the school is departing for in 2012. Nothing would be better than for athletic director Oliver Luck to say thanks for the memories like a trophy full of oranges (which he might throw at the Big East offices).

Sugar Bowl

Looking back: They were blitzed at their rival Michigan State and somehow lost to Iowa but the season was certainly a successful inaugural campaign for Brady 'Michigan Man' Hoke. Most of the credit should go to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who has turned around a unit that couldn't tackle to one that finished 7th in the country in total defense. Denard Robinson struggled at times to adapt to a new offense but still manage to deliver thrills such as one of the craziest endings of the year against Notre Dame. It paled in comparison to the final few snaps at the Big House however, as the Wolverines finally beat rival Ohio State.

Looking ahead: Sure this group might be mostly Rich Rodriguez' players but Hoke has taken them to the next level with an easy schedule and tough-love coaching. Winning their first BCS game would send a message to the rest of the country that the program was indeed back.

Looking back: Hokies fans will get upset but it seems pretty accurate to say the team was the least deserving of the at-large selections given their lackluster group of wins (not one BCS team on the non-conference slate, lost to Clemson by a combined margin of 61-13). There were positives on offense, such as Logan Thomas taking over during stretches with his arm or his legs and David Wilson was a tackle-breaking machine. The defense was at normal high standards under Bud Foster.

Looking ahead: Don't belong? Ok, so prove it, it's that easy. Winning the game after last year's bowl performance will also do wonders for Frank Beamer, who enters as the winningest active head coach.

Fiesta Bowl

Looking back: Oh what could have been, Oklahoma State was so close to playing for a national title and would have been headed to New Orleans had it not been for the upset-minded Iowa State team on the road in double overtime. The offense was the second best in the country through the air and elder statesman Brandon Weeden made things click with ease. For all the knocks they were given, the defense was actually impressive when you consider they forced 42 turnovers and allowed a lot of their points and yards when the starters were on the sidelines.

Looking ahead: While Boone Pickens might be upset and threatening to investigate the BCS with his piles of money, the Cowboys can't allow their disappointment to ruin the best season in school history with a Fiesta Bowl loss.

Looking back: It's not often you mention Stanford as a BCS contender but here we are, back-to-back games thanks to Heisman candidate Andrew Luck and despite having a first-time head coach taking over in David Shaw. Though they battled injuries all season long both sides of the ball turned in performances that were fitting of a top five team. The triple overtime thriller against USC might have been the highlight (more points scored against the Trojans than any other team) but a turnover-filled day at home against Oregon was the low-light that prevented them from the conference title. Still it was one of the most impressive seasons in school history.

Looking ahead: No better way for Luck to end his career than a victory against what everybody considers one of the three best teams in the country. In doing so, they'll help the Pac-12's reputation get off to a great start in the league's first year with 12 teams.

Rose Bowl

Looking back: Heisman campaigns were abound in this backfield with the ever efficient Russell Wilson running things at quarterback and Montee Ball finding the end zone more than entire teams did in the regular season. If the defense could have just defended hail mary's better we'd be talking about the national title game for the Badgers but ending up in the granddaddy of them all with a shot to win is the best consolation prize around.

Looking ahead: Despite the two losses on their record, this could still go down as one of the most dominant teams in Wisconsin history with a Rose Bowl win.

Looking back: Their third straight conference title might have been one of the sweetest in school history given the way the season went. The opener was tough as they failed to beat an SEC team and largely fumbled things away. Oregon did what Oregon typically has done under Chip Kelly in conference except for one night at home against USC. Things got a little bit better when the Ducks hoisted the first ever Pac-12 championship up at Autzen Stadium but the program's standards are now so high that the season is sort of considered a disappointment.

Looking ahead: If the program wants to its cement status as one of the game's elite than they're going to have to win the Rose Bowl no if's and's, or but's about it. That it would be the school's second ever win (and first since 1917) would also cement the squad as one of the best in Oregon history.

GoDaddy.com Bowl

Looking back: The MAC champions had a thrilling come-from-behind win to capture the league title thanks in large part to quarterback Chandler Harnish. Northern Illinois also ran off eight straight wins after a narrow loss to Central Michigan earlier in the year.

Looking forward: There was nothing like mid-week MACtion this year and it's up for the Huskies to end the season on a high note.


Looking back: Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze's up-tempo offense produced the school's first winning season since 1995 and a host of records. Quarterback Ryan Aplin is 11th in total offense and was a dual-threat that couldn't be stopped during Sun Belt play. Given that their only two losses were to BCS foes (including a closer than expected loss to BCS-bound Virginia Tech), this is easily the most successful year in the program's history.

Looking forward: Though Freeze will depart for Ole Miss, there will be plenty of players around that can still beat NIU.

BBVA Compass Bowl

Looking back: Things started on the wrong foot in the opener but running back Zach Line was the big star to emerge for SMU as they pulled together a seven win season. The Mustangs had a five game winning streak before coming back to reality later in the year and were actually led by a solid defensive unit.

Looking ahead: Head coach June Jones might be moving on to greener pastures but after 25 years of no bowls, the school's third straight postseason trip is something to cherish.

Looking back: It was an up and down debut season for new head coach Todd Graham as Pitt never could find consistency. They were never blown out, losing four games by 11 points, but couldn't put together back-to-back wins outside of the first two games against lackluster teams.

Looking ahead: The Panthers return to Birmingham for the second straight year trying to give Graham and staff, some of whom are headed to Arizona, momentum heading into the offseason.

Cotton Bowl

Looking back: One of Bill Snyder's best coaching jobs in a career full of them, Kansas State was left out of a BCS bowl but found their way into a de facto one after a 10 win season - the highest win total since 2003. The Wildcats started 7-0 before dropping two straight to the Oklahoma schools before puling things together. Quarterback Collin Klein leads the team in both passing and rushing and has scored an impressive 26 touchdowns. It may not have been the prettiest team in the country but they found every which way to win.

Looking ahead: The team could tie the school-record for wins in a season, a remarkable accomplishment considering they were picked 8th in the preseason.

Looking back: Though they won't be going to the BCS, they can still hang their hats on the fact that their only losses came on the road to the teams ranked first and second. The Razorbacks explosive offense led behind quarterback Tyler Wilson is one reason for their success even if he's been beaten up behind his offensive line.

Looking ahead: They've played in this building before and had a furious comeback against Texas A&M so the stage shouldn't be an issue for the Hogs. They're ranked sixth and could turn in the best season under Bobby Petrino with a win.

Outback Bowl

Looking back: Michigan State fell short of a Big Ten championship but still put together a successful season that included wins over rival Michigan and a thrilling hail mary to beat Wisconsin. The offense is solid with Kirk Cousins at quarterback and Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell in the backfield but the defense is the reason for the success this year. The Spartans not only captured a 10-win season but also won the first ever Legends division title.

Looking ahead: MSU will have to play through the disappointment of their tough championship game loss and refocus for a bowl game. They remember all too well what happened last year so coming out with a win is imperative as the impressive senior group departs.

Looking back: The season started with Mark Richt on the hot seat and two losses to top teams that turned the pressure up a notch. Georgia responded, running off 10 straight thanks to the ease of the schedule and the toughness of their defense. Linebacker Jarvis Jones was a star, leading the SEC in sacks, as the Bulldogs found their way back to Atlanta by winning the East. The lack of depth hurt at times but Aaron Murray was a solid young quarterback and Isaiah Crowell lived up to his billing at running back.

Looking ahead: The Dawgs are playing in January and need a big win to end the year on a high note and make everybody forget about last year.

Gator Bowl

Looking back: A once promising season started to unravel in the offseason, with something negative happening to the program seemingly every month since it became known about the "Buckeye Five." Jim Tressel was out and Luke Fickell was suddenly thrust into the spotlight at head coach. The defense was good but the offense was pretty bad, especially the passing game. Freshman Braxton Miller was a good spark and showed flashes of being something special.

Looking ahead: The Urban Meyer Bowl is an understandable storyline but the Buckeyes won't have their opponent's former head coach on the sidelines coaching them. Showing him what he has to work with will be big for the program however.

Looking back: It was a terrible season by the lofty standards in Gainesville but more than that, it just wasn't fun to watch Florida's offense. John Brantley figured to be a good fit in Charlie Weis' system but wasn't and got hurt. It was tough to produce first downs much less big plays and the defense, though solid, didn't seem to make the stops needed to get some wins. The Gators finished below .500 in the conference, won only three games versus BCS schools and lost four straight to in the middle of a forgettable season.

Looking ahead: The bumps and bruises of the year can all be erased against Ohio State and  a small measure of revenge against their former head coach who left just a year ago.

Capital One Bowl

Looking back: A solid first effort in the Big Ten for Nebraska, which ended with nine wins but seemed to have issues being consistent. Quarterback Taylor Martinez didn't make the leap you'd expect this year and the defense wasn't as impressive as many thought they would be. Injuries played a part but don't explain losses to teams like Northwestern at home or blowouts to Wisconsin and Michigan.

Looking ahead: A rare match up against an SEC team for the Cornhuskers, a win would give them a 10 win season for the third straight year and allow them to count their Big Ten money at home in a much happier mood.

Looking back: There are wild rides and there's South Carolina under the Old Ball Coach Steve Spurrier. They looked a little shaky early but overcame adversity by managing a 10-2 season despite losing their starting quarterback and running back to suspension and injury, respectively. They almost won the division but, in retrospect, perhaps it was better that they didn't face LSU this year.

Looking ahead: The Gamecocks are looking to post their first 11 win season in more than 100 years and end a three-bowl losing streak by riding the momentum of beating rival Clemson at the end of the year.

TicketCity Bowl

Looking back: It looked like it was going to be a surprisingly good season before the Jerry Sandusky scandal showed the world the skeletons locked in Penn State's closets. Joe Paterno is out and the issues facing the program are still very much ongoing.

Looking ahead: Nittany Lions players are not happy to have fallen this far in the bowl pecking order but they're still going to need to show up if they want a 10th win and something positive to think about in the offseason.

Looking back: Oh what could have been. The dream season led by record-setting quarterback Case Keenum ended in a thud in the Conference USA championship game at home. The offense was the focal point with a slew of weapons at wide out and running back but there's no doubt that last game zapped all the positive things gong for a program that almost made the BCS.

Looking ahead: Kevin Sumlin might be at another school by the time the Cougars play but Keenum and the senior class can still go out on top by beating a marquee opponent and posting one of the best year's in school history.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Looking back: It was a successful turnaround for Mike London that had Virginia on the cusp of playing for the ACC title after several upsets along the way. Alas, a loss to the rival Hokies ended that but things are looking up in Charlottesville based on the way the team played week-in and week-out.

Looking ahead: Playing in their first bowl since 2007, the team is hungry to end the year with nine wins and plenty of positive vibes.

Looking back: Earlier this year Auburn was holding up a crystal ball. After a ton of losses on both sides of the ball, the Tigers took their lumps and struggled on offense and defense. The team was ran over in the Iron Bowl and ended the year on a sour note after surprising many with a win over South Carolina and bouncing around the top 25.

Looking ahead: Back to back lopsided losses in the final two SEC games will be a motivating factor for a young team that is looking to move back into contention for a West title next year.

Liberty Bowl

Looking back: Cincinnati surprised many with six straight wins in the middle of the season and appeared to be on their way to a BCS bowl until quarterback Zach Collaros got hurt.

Looking ahead: The Bearcats have a chance at 10 wins and are playing in a bowl after missing one last season.

Looking back: James Franklin had one of the best coaching jobs in the country by taking a team that had gone 4-20 over the past to years to the school's fifth ever bowl game.

Looking ahead: It's all about building up the momentum for the Commodores under Franklin, who just signed a nice new contract. The senior class will be the only one in school history to play in two bowl and want to make sure they are also the first two win two.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Looking back: UCLA represented the Pac-12 South in the championship game thanks to crosstown rival USC's ineligibility but back-to-back bad losses left the Bruins with some lumps on the field and no head coach off it. There were some bright spots in Rick Neuheisel's final season but some bad losses as both sides of the ball struggled.

Looking ahead: The Interim Head Coach Bowl is all about history for UCLA, who received a waiver to play in the game at 6-7. The team is looking to avoid going 6-8 for the first time in NCAA history.

Looking back: A promising 6-0 start was soon undone by a stretch of six straight losses. Things reached a low point after losing to lowly Minnesota to end the season, sealing the fate of head coach Ron Zook after seven seasons.

Looking ahead: Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will lead the program and no doubt wants to leave a good impression, as do the Illini with the chance to go across the country and wind up with a winning season.

Sun Bowl

Looking back: Six straight wins to open the season had many thinking Georgia Tech as a team to watch out for with their option offense. Things hit a rough patch as they lost four of their next six but the Yellow Jackets still managed to upset Clemson and reach their 15th straight bowl game.

Looking ahead: This is the first time they'll head to El Paso and should be excited trying to reach the nine win plateau.

Looking back: It wasn't quite the way Utah wanted their first ever Pac-12 season to go but they still managed to pull out seven wins despite a rash of injuries. The defense wasn't bad at all but the offense struggled to score all year long.

Looking ahead: The Utes hope to enter the offseason healthy, wealthy and with a win.

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl

Looking back: It started out as one of the most promising seasons in recent memory for Texas A&M but ended with quite a thud. There was the move to the SEC that dominated much of the conversation about the Aggies before they turned second half collapses into their trademark. As a result of the fall from grace, head coach Mike Sherman found himself looking for a new job.

Looking ahead: The Aggies are close to home and need a win to provide some sort of momentum as they look to head into the nation's toughest conference.

Looking back: The year began with a Heisman push for quarterback Dan Persa in the form of billboards and barbels touting "Persa Strong." He wasn't however, failing to recover from an Achilles injury soon enough leading to struggles early on. Things got turned around and the Wildcats even pulled off a huge upset against Nebraska.

Looking ahead: The program hasn't won a bowl game since 1948 so ending that streak seems like a good stepping stone into 2012.

Insight Bowl

Looking back: Remember when Oklahoma was the top team in the country? Yeah… Injuries to the Sooners' leading receiver and running back set the offense back a few steps and the defense never lived up to expectations. The trashing in Bedlam was rock bottom for a team that started with aspirations of a national title.

Looking ahead: The team doesn't want to be here and has rarely seen a non-BCS bowl under Bob Stoops so finding motivation will be a challenge. A loss will punctuate one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory so the still-talented Sooners will want to get that important 10th win.

Looking back: Not sure there is a team that could be as average this year as Iowa was. The offense and defense were just about in the middle of FBS and alternated wins and losses down the stretch to finish a game above .500. A win over Michigan was a season highlight but other than that, there wasn't much to get excited about.

Looking ahead: The Hawkeyes are a young team so they could use the trip out West as a building block for 2012.

Music City Bowl

Looking back: Wake Forest finished .500 on the year but managed to pull off some surprises, such as a win against Florida State and some closer than expected losses to Clemson and Notre Dame. The offense and defense were fairly nondescript this season.

Looking ahead: A third place finish in the division was a better than expected result for the regular season but dropping below the .500 mark would diminish things.

Looking back: After last season's banner year, many expected Mississippi State to keep things going under Dan Mullen. Inconsistency on offense, quarterback in particular, was part of the reason why the Bulldogs finished just .500 and had just two wins over BCS teams.

Looking ahead: An Egg Bowl win and second consecutive bowl game are a good thing to note when Mullen hits the recruiting trail.

Pinstripe Bowl

Looking back: Iowa State's season didn't really come down to one game but it's pretty clear that the upset of Oklahoma State at home was the thing the Cyclones held their hats on. Beating Iowa earlier in the year in overtime also made it a successful season despite finishing 6-6.

Looking ahead: Paul Rhodes is building something up in Ames and a bowl win would be a nice capper to the season with such a young team.

Looking back: Hardly anybody gave Rutgers a chance to be more than average this year but they rode a strong defense to an 8-4 year. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was the bright spot, toping 1,110 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.

Looking ahead: Some said that Greg Schiano was on the hot seat but he's moved off of it and can firmly put the talk to bed with a ninth win.

Armed Forces Bowl

Looking back: BYU's first season as an independent didn't quite turn out like they wanted with a narrow loss to Texas and blowout loss to Utah on the schedule. The Cougars still finished up 9-3 and on a three game winning streak.

Looking ahead: Pointing at 10 wins in their first season on their own would be a nice way to end a tumultuous year.

Looking back: Despite changing head coaches, Tulsa had a great run through Conference USA and finished 8-4 with an iffy defense. Their only losses were to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston, whose records aren't too shabby.

Looking ahead: The Golden Hurricanes have won seven of eight and no doubt want to make it eight of nine.

Alamo Bowl

Looking back: Robert Griffin III took a team with a defense ranked 110th in the country and led them to nine wins, including the first in school history over Oklahoma and another over Texas.

Looking ahead: You figure there's a good chance that RGIII wins or comes close to winning the Heisman and this game could be his final swan song if he moves on to the NFL.

Looking back: Everybody though it would be tough for Washington to get back to a bowl game after they lost quarterback Jake Locker but Keith Price took over and actually outperformed everybody's expectations. The defense was shaky and they couldn't come close to the conference's elite but still a nice season in Seattle.

Looking ahead: Steve Sarkisian is building a program up so their second straight bowl win is a great sign of progress but nothing like what a second straight bowl win would be like.

Champs Sports Bowl

Looking back: There was talk of a BCS bowl game this year for Notre Dame but expectations have a habit of being inflated for the Irish. They had a great win (in retrospect) over Michigan State but the season seemed to turn following the loss to USC with the team running off four straight and wind up 8-4.

Looking ahead: In a year considered a disappointment by their own high standards, a win over a team like Florida State will be a nice way to end the season.

Looking back: One of the biggest disappointments in college football, Florida State started in the top five but wind up 8-4 after losses to teams like Wake Forest. Injuries and youth played a part, sure, but it just wasn't the season Jimbo Fisher had hoped for when talking up this team earlier in the year.

Looking ahead: No one is recruiting like the Seminoles are and a big win in their home state while rivals are struggling would go a long ways.

Holiday Bowl

Looking back: Jeff Tedford was likely going to get another year but how California did this season would determine just how hot the seat was. A nice win over Arizona State to end the season and a close than expected loss to Stanford in the Big Game mean it's not too bad for Tedford.

Looking ahead: This is for a little revenge, as Cal no doubt wants to beat Texas after the Longhorns advocated for a BCS bid over them a few years ago.

Looking back: It was a brief hiatus from the postseason for Texas and though they couldn't find a good option at quarterback, the defense was good and they ended the rivalry with Texas A&M with a last second win.

Looking ahead: An eight win season is something most programs would take in a heart beat but it's almost required of Mack Brown this year.

Military Bowl

Looking back: Air Force comes in to the aptly named Military Bowl with the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and option attack that was second in the country in rushing. The defense wasn't up to standards but a solid football team this year.

Looking ahead: They can't lose the Military Bowl, can they?

Looking back: Toledo seemed to go through the ringer this season with a close loss to Ohio State and the fiasco in the Syracuse finish. They ended the season winning seven of eight and have a high-powered offense people have to keep track of.

Looking ahead: They didn't win the MAC but a nine win season and bowl win are a nice thing to have for the Rockets.

Belk Bowl

Looking back: Not much was expected of Louisville this season, especially after losing to FIU at home, but Charlie Strong put together one of the best coaching jobs in the country as the Cardinals won five of their last six and beat champ West Virginia.

Looking ahead: Finishing strong and giving developing freshman Teddy Bridgewater are two things the program can take into the offseason.

Looking back: Despite the record, N.C. State didn't really put together a strong season when you consider they had just four wins over a BCS AQ team, one of whom didn't even go to a bowl game.

Looking ahead: Tom O'Brien is on the hot seat but he's 8-1 in bowl games and hopes an eight win season will cool things off for next year.

Independence Bowl

Looking back: James Franklin was solid in his first season as a starter and Missouri managed to pull out wins against all of the Texas schools except Baylor. The Tigers couldn't beat one of the Big 12's elite teams but it was a good effort for a team that had to replace several pieces on both sides of the ball.

Looking ahead: The school departs to the SEC and would like to have a bowl win on their resume (who knows, it might be awhile before they get back).

Looking back: Given that their coach was fired right after media days, a 7-5 campaign might be considered a success. The offense was surprisingly good with quarterback Bryn Renner, Dwight Jones at wide receiver and Giovani Bernard at running back.

Looking ahead: Who knows what NCAA sanctions might be for the program but a bowl win over an "SEC" team is a nice way to cap an up-and-down year in Chapel Hill.

Hawaii Bowl

Looking back: It's last year's successful campaign but it was a solid one nevertheless that included a five game winning streak led by new quarterback Cody Fajardo.

Looking ahead: They're going to the Hawaii Bowl so plenty of things to look forward to on the islands.

Looking back: Southern Miss had one of the most successful seasons in school history, finishing with 11 wins and the Conference USA championship. They had two puzzling losses, to Marshall and UAB, but upset Houston to throw a wrench into the BCS plans of their conference rival.

Looking ahead: They might be without their head coach but plenty to like about a trip out West.

Maaco Las Vegas Bowl

Looking back: What does it take for Boise State to get a good kicker? The Broncos lost a heartbreaker to TCU at home and that ended what could have been their chance to finally play for the national championship. It was still a very successful season with a big win over an SEC team but that one game against the Horned Frogs seemed to take a lot away.

Looking ahead: Kellen Moore is the winning starting quarterback in FBS history and would like one more to go out in style.

Looking back: It was such a promising year for Arizona State but a stretch run to forget. The offense exceeded expectations but had issues with turnovers and the defense didn't live up to their billing.

Looking ahead: Without a head coach, the Sun Devils don't have much to play for but their fans to get a trip to Vegas out of it.

Poinsettia Bowl

Looking back: Had they not lost to SMU at home, TCU likely would have made the BCS. Instead, they wind up in San Diego but leave the Mountain West in style with conference title in hand and another double-digit win total.

Looking ahead: 11 wins and a top 15 ranking are a nice thing to have when joining the Big 12 next year.

Looking back: Louisiana Tech won the WAC with a 6-1 conference record and seven straight wins to end the season. They almost beat Houston earlier in the year as well.

Looking ahead: A marquee win is something the Bulldogs don't have this year but one over TCU would certainly qualify.

Stat of the week

Via Rivals' David Fox, Landry Jones is 110-of-200 with no touchdowns and seven interceptions in four games since receiver Ryan Broyles got hurt.

Stats of the week

- Wisconsin's Montee Ball led the country in scoring and rushing. He had 38 total touchdowns, which was more than 52 teams.

- Oklahoma State wins a conference title and trip to a major bowl for the first time since 1945.

- The final numbers for Case Keenum: 69% completion, 152 touchdowns-46 interceptions, 18,685 yards passing.

- Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are tied for 7th on the active list with 80 touchdown passes. Luck has been more efficient and has a chance to pass Barkley in the bowl game.

- LaMichael James still lead the country in rushing yards per game. He finished fourth in total yards despite playing fewer games than everybody else.

- Robert Griffin III (192.31) narrowly edged out Russell Wilson (191.60) for the top passing efficiency title. Both marks top the NCAA single season record by a considerable margin. Wilson set an NCAA record with a touchdown pass in 37 straight games.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly finished the year with 191 tackles, 44 more than anybody else.

- Stanford failed to score just once in the red zone (63/64 trips) and had 50 touchdowns and just 13 field goals.

- 46% of Trent Richardson's rushing yards came against North Texas, Ole Miss, Georgia Southern and Auburn.

- First time Texas has finished below .500 in conference in back-to-back years since 1937-38.

Tweets of the week

"Bra we would <s class="hash" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; opacity: 0.7; text-decoration: none; display: inline-block;">#</s>smash OKST......they coach better calm down."

- LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard.

"I have no time for Mike Gundy. Dude just claimed Ok state would score 35 points on LSU..pass me what your drankin coach."

- Alabama tight end Brad Smelley.

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. USC

7. Oregon

8. Wisconsin

9. Arkansas

10. Kansas State

Leaning this way

National championship game: LSU

Rose Bowl: Oregon

Fiesta Bowl: Stanford

Sugar Bowl: Michigan

Orange Bowl: West Virginia

Category: NCAAF
Tags: 2011, Aaron Murray, ACC, Air Force, Alabama, Alamo Bowl, Andrew Luck, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Armed Forces Bowl, Auburn, Autzen Stadium, BBVA Compass Bowl, BCS, Belk Bowl, Big 12, Big East, Big House, Big Ten, Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Boone Pickens, Boston College, Brad Smelly, Brad Wing, Brady Hoke, Brandon Weeden, Bryan Fischer, Bryn Renner, Buckeye Five, Bud Foster, BYU, Cal, California, Capital One Bowl, Case Keenum, Central Michigan, Champs Sports Bowl, Chandler Harnish, Charlie Strong, Charlie Weis, Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Chip Kelly, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cody Fajardo, Collin Klein, Conference USA, Cotton Bowl, Dabo Swinney, Dan Mullen, Dan Persa, Dana Holgorsen, David Shaw, David Wilson, Denard Robinson, Dwight Jones, Edwin Baker, Egg Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, FIU, Florida, Florida State, Frank Beamer, Gator Bowl, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech, Giovani Bernard, GoDaddy.com Bowl, Greg Mattison, Greg Schiano, Hawaii Bowl, Heisman, Heisman Trophy, Holiday Bowl, Honey Badger, Hugh Freeze, Independence Bowl, Insight Bowl, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa State, Iron Bowl, Isaiah Crowell, Jake Locker, James Franklin, James Franklin, Jarvis Jones, Jeff Tedford, Jerry Sandusky, Jim Tressel, Jimbo Fisher, Joe Paterno, John Brantley, June Jones, Kansas State, Keith Price, Kellen Moore, Kevin Sumlin, Kirk Cousins, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Le'Veon Bell, Les Miles, Liberty Bowl, Logan Thomas, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Luke Kuechly, Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, Mack Brown, MACtion, Mark Richt, Marshall, Matt Barkley, Meineke Car Care Bowl, Michigan State, Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Mike London, Mike Sherman, Military Bowl, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Mohamed Sanu, Montee Ball, Mountain West, Music City Bowl, N.C. State, N.C. State, National Championship Game, NCAA, Nebraska, NFL, Nick Saban, North Carolina, North Texas, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oliver Luck, Orange Bowl, Oregon, Outback Bowl, Pac-12, Paul Rhodes, Pinstripe Bowl, Pitt, Poinsettia Bowl, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Ron Zook, Rose Bowl, Russell Shepard, Russell Wilson, Rutgers, Ryan Aplin, Ryan Broyles, Sammy Watkins, SEC, SMU, South Carolina, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Stanford, Steve Sarkisian, Steve Spurrier, Sugar Bowl, Sun Belt, Sun Bowl, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, Taylor Martinez, Teddy Bridgewater, Texas, Texas A&M, TicketCity Bowl, Todd Graham, Toledo, Tom O'Brien, Trent Richardson, Tulsa, Tyrann Mathieu, UAB, UCLA, Urban Meyer, USC, Utah, Vic Koenning, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech, WAC, Washington, West Virginia, Wofford, Zach Collaros, Zach Line
 
Posted on: December 3, 2011 11:55 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 1:53 am
 

Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 39

Posted by Adam Jacobi

In the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin won a slugfest with Michigan State, 42-39. The game lived up to the expectations set by the two teams' first meeting -- a 37-31 Spartan victory that was won on a last-second Hail Mary -- and although this contest didn't come down to a score on the final play of the game, it hardly lacked for excitement.

Wisconsin struck first and struck hard in the first quarter, featuring a punishing rushing attack that had Montee Ball rush for 105 yards and two scores in the opening frame. That quarter ended with Wisconsin up 21-7 and MSU facing a 4th and 1 on its own 30 yard line, and the Badgers looked like the more capable of the two teams.

Michigan State started that second quarter off with a bang, however, scoring on a 30-yard strike from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham off a fake pitch. The Spartan defense stiffened considerably after that, holding Wisconsin without a first down and to -4 yards of total offense in that quarter. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins came alive, going 12-14 for two scores and 137 yards in the quarter, leading Michigan State to 22 straight points and 208 yards of its own. All of a sudden, the 21-7 Badger lead had turned into a 29-21 Spartan advantage, and even that could have been worse; Dan Conroy missed a long field goal for MSU at the end of the half. That missed kick would loom large later.

After the half, Wisconsin answered with a 42-yard score from Wilson to Jared Abbrederis, and the Badgers were within a point. Cousins responded with his third touchdown pass to Cunningham on the night, and momentum was back on the side of Sparty. MSU had held Ball to 10 yards in the second and third quarters combined, and Ball was bottled up on the ensuing drive. But instead, Russell Wilson began to shine,  going 5-5 for 43 yards and a touchdown that put the Badgers in position to tie the game. Alas, Wilson's two-point conversion was dropped, and MSU held a 36-34 lead.

The Spartans would add a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to push the lead to 39-34, and while that gave them considerable breathing room, it also left the door open for the Badgers to make a push toward the lead. And push the Badgers did, with Russell Wilson heaving a deep throw to Jeff Duckworth on 4th and 6, and Duckworth making a fantastic leaping catch to keep the Badgers' hopes alive. Ball waltzed in on the very next play, and after a 2-point conversion, Wisconsin retook the lead with 3:45 left on the clock.

Michigan State's offensed proceeded to sputter, but Keshawn Martin made a highlight-reel catch to keep the drive alive on 3rd and long. Unfortunately for Martin, his foot was judged to be out of bounds on replay, and the Spartans punted the ball away with under three minutes left. They would force a three-and-out, but Isaiah Lewis ran into Brad Nortman on the ensuing punt -- one that was returned inside Wisconsin's 5-yard line by Martin -- and as the penalty gave Wisconsin the first down, the Spartans would not see the ball again. 

For Wisconsin, the victory means a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl and a likely Top 10 ranking -- its first since Keith Nichol broke the Badgers' hearts with his catch at the goal line back on October 8. For Michigan State, there will be no shortage of regret, no paucity of wishing that just one or two things had not gone wrong in those final minutes.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 2:28 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 2:29 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 14

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

It's the final weekend of the season, and therefore it's the final Saturday Meal Plan of 2011. It was a season that went by just a little too quickly for our tastes, but thankfully we have some excellent options on the menu for this weekend. There are some official conference championship games and then a few unofficial conference championship games.

All will leave you feeling full, and with fond memories of the last great Saturday of 2011.

BREAKFAST

#6 Houston vs. #24 Southern Miss - ABC 12pm ET

A BCS bid is on the line as Houston looks to capture the Conference USA title and pick up a school-record 13th win. Case Keenum also hopes to get plenty of Heisman consideration so expect big numbers against a solid Southern Miss defense. The Golden Eagles are ranked in the top 25 and might provide the Cougars their toughest test of the year. - Bryan Fischer

Cincinnati vs. UConn - ESPN 12pm ET

The Big East title race has come down to a noon kickoff between Connecticut and Cincinnati, because that's what kind of year it has been in the conference. With West Virginia's win against South Florida, they likely eliminated Cincinnati from earning the conference's one BCS berth. But the Bearcats can still win a share of the conference title win a win over the Huskies. Louisville is rooting for Connecticut, because a Bearcats loss would give the 7-5 Cardinals the tiebreaker edge over West Virginia and a spot in a BCS bowl game.  The Mountaineers will likely win the three-team tiebreaker if Cincinnati wins. All of these scenarios are in the hands of Munchie Legaux, Jordan Luallen, Johnny McEntee, and Scott McCummings. Tune in for a show, with these four quarterbacks in the game. It'll be...something. - Chip Patterson

LUNCH

#17 Baylor vs. #22 Texas - ABC 3:30pm ET

Quite a bit on the line for both teams in this game, even if neither has a chance at a BCS bowl. There's Baylor's Robert Griffin who gets his final chance to impress a national audience and prove his Heisman case. Not to mention, a win here could possibly catapult the Bears to a Cotton Bowl appearance, and it would be Baylor's ninth win of the season. Meaning that it could finish the year with a double-digit win total. For Texas, following last season's 5-7 debacle, getting to eight wins in 2011 would be a nice turnaround for Mack Brown's program. Not to mention a chance to appear in a higher profile bowl game. - Tom Fornelli

#1 LSU vs. #14 Georgia - CBS 4pm ET

The Tigers might be going to the national championship game win or lose. But with an SEC championship and perfect season on the line in the annually electric atmosphere of the Georgia Dome, motivation is not going to be a problem. What might be: an underrated Georgia defense ranked in the top 10 in rush, total, and pass efficiency defense. Unlike Arkansas, the Dawgs are stout enough on D to make this a close game in the fourth quarter--and if they do, does Les Miles have yet another rabbit to pull out of his late-game hat? - Jerry Hinnen

DINNER

#3 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

The Big 12 may not have an official championship game, but Bedlam will do just fine. Essentially the entire Big 12 season has been building up to this game, and it's a huge game for both schools no matter what the stakes. For the Sooners, it's obvious. Win yet another contest against their state rivals and they'll be Big 12 champions yet again and on their way to the Fiesta Bowl. For Oklahoma State there's even more on the line. It's the chance to finally get the Oklahoma monkey off its back and win its first ever Big 12 title -- and first for any school not named Oklahoma or Texas since 2003. Plus, while their chances may not be great, there's still the possibility that the Cowboys can get to the BCS Championship if their performance in this game is strong enough. So, in a way, there's more on the line in this game than just about any other Saturday night. - TF

#5 Virginia Tech vs. #20 Clemson - ESPN 8pm ET

Clemson finally was accepted as a "legitimate contender" after their 23-3 victory over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. But the two teams have finished the season in very different ways. The Tigers are one last-second field goal away from a four game losing streak, and the Hokies are the hottest team in the ACC on a seven game winning streak. Clemson lost to NC State and South Carolina after locking up the Atlantic Division, while Virginia Tech rocked their in-state rivals from Virginia to win the Coastal Division last weekend. The Tigers are loaded with talent, and possibly as healthy as they have been since October. But can they regain momentum against a Championship Game veteran like Frank Beamer? Beamer has been to five of the last seven ACC Championship Games, and the Hokies are looking to win back-to-back ACC titles for second time in five years. - CP

#13 Michigan State vs. #15 Wisconsin - Fox 8:17pm ET

The inaugural Big Ten Championship promises to be a doozy. It's a reprisal of the conference's best game and best play of the year, a magical 37-31 victory by Michigan State where Keith Nichol caught a deflected Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation and briefly managed to twist across the goal line for the winning score. Montee Ball will make one last bid for Heisman legitimacy, and Kirk Cousins will look for an undisputed conference championship to put an exclamation point on his Big Ten career. A berth in the Rose Bowl awaits the winner, while it's likely going to be a Capital One or Outback bid for the loser. If this game's anything like its first iteration in East Lansing, there won't be a ton of defense in it, but there'll be plenty of points and drama. Don't miss this game. - Adam Jacobi 
Posted on: November 29, 2011 6:18 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 6:22 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Wisconsin vs. Michigan State

Posted by Adam Jacobi

WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: Montee Ball handles a heavy workload. It was plainly apparent in the first game Wisconsin and Michigan State played this year that backup tailback James White was ineffective when Ball was out after (sigh) "getting his bell rung." Ball appeared to lose consciousness on a first-quarter hit, missed roughly two quarters of action, and almost certainly had no business risking further head injury by coming back in the game. We can admit that, right? At any rate, Ball did come back in and led the Badgers back to tie the game, and that probably wouldn't have happened with White staying in at running back. So Ball's going to need to stay healthy and get at least 30 carries this week -- or at the very least Wisconsin's going to need to use White in more unconventional ways -- or the Badger offense is going to be in trouble of sputtering again.

MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: Wisconsin's defense is the same one we saw in October. Wisconsin's defense is not bad, and we've seen the Badgers effectively neutralize many an opponent en route to a lopsided victory this season. But Michigan State took it to them in a big way in the teams' first encounter in October, and it's not exactly an accident that MSU scored 37 points on Wisconsin. Kirk Cousins was able to throw the ball at will against a Badger defense that spent a lot more time chasing than covering ground. Michigan State can't just run the exact same gameplan as the first game; Wisconsin's going to have gameplanned around that. But the end aim has to be the same: a Badger defense on its heels, and MSU receivers running free.

X-FACTOR: Wisconsin center Peter Konz's left ankle. Continuity is crucial for the success of an offensive line, and Wisconsin's has stayed relatively healthy through the courst of the season. Unfortunately, Konz went out with a dislocated left ankle in the Badgers' 42-13 romp over Minnesota on November 13, and while he's eager to get back on the field, there's no guarantee that's going to happen -- he's still not out of a walking boot, much less practicing, and the coaches aren't going to play Konz without practice. The interior of the line has struggled at times in Konz's absence, with Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy having to switch spots between left guard and center at one point because of Groy's difficulties getting a clean snap off. The Badgers did rush for 264 yards on Penn State, but Montee Ball was held under four yards per carry in the first half, and Wisconsin's probably not going to have the luxury of waiting a whole half for Ball to start breaking big runs.

Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Big Ten announces 2011 individual award winners

Posted by Adam Jacobi

On Monday evening, the Big Ten announced its full slate of conference award winners -- the first such slate since the Big Ten added the trophies in addition to expanding to 12 teams and two divisions.

Here's a breakdown of all the trophies handed out by the Big Ten:

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Wilson's resume this year is undeniably brilliant, and he's going to be in line for some national postseason recognition after finishing first nationally in passer efficiency. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, shouldered one of the conference's worst rushing attacks and still finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency and emerged as a solid ambassador for the program, conference, and sport. From a strictly on-field standpoint, Wilson deserves this award to himself, but the Big Ten named its divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"; surely it won't turn around and say its trophies should be restricted to strict on-field accomplishments, will it? All of which is to say, I'd rather the conference had thrown Cousins a bone and split this award between Wilson and him. Wilson would have been an even bigger snub than Cousins, but they're both highly deserving of recognition.

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
ADAM SAYS: McNutt basically rewrote Iowa's receiving record books, and he looked at times like the best player on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes this year. That he was left off the list of 10 Biletnikoff finalists is a joke. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins was a strong contender here, but his inability to get into the end zone even once during the Illini's six-game slump seals his fate as an also-ran. 

Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Rex BurkheadMarcus Coker, and Silas Redd all had admirable efforts this year, but c'mon. Could this trophy possibly go to anybody else? With 1,622 rushing yards (1,870 total from scrimmage) and 34 total touchdowns, Ball is third on my list of 2011 Heisman candidates and far and away the best running back in the Big Ten this year. 

Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
ADAM SAYS: 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns is a great year for a tight end (or superback, as it would be), and to do so in a season with three different quarterbacks seeing significant action is an even better accomplishment. Dunsmore was one of the three or four best TE in the nation this year and a deserving winner of the Kwalick-Clark Trophy.

Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: David Molk, Michigan
ADAM SAYS: If this award were given to entire offensive lines (which I would not mind), it would have to go to Wisconsin. At any rate, though, coming into the season, Ohio State's All-American Mike Brewster was the highest-profile center in the conference. It was Molk, however, who showed the most leadership and mashery over the course of the season. Hopefully, this award translates into All-American attention for Molk; he deserves it for the job Michigan did pushing the line of scrimmage forward on offense this year.

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Devon Still, Penn State
ADAM SAYS: Illinois' terror at DE, Whitney Mercilus, would be the strongest contender for this award if Illinois hadn't collapsed down the stretch, but even that collapse is hardly on the aptly-named Mercilus; he led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles on the year (if Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger for his six forced fumbles, what does that make Mercilus with nine? Galactus?). Devon Still was an absolute beast for Penn State, though, and his presence affected opposing game plans all season long. A split between Still and Mercilus would have been ideal.

Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Lavonte David's been even better than I thought he'd be this year, and he was my top preseason linebacker in the conference. No-doubter here. Look for Wisconsin's Chris Borland to be the leading candidate for this award next year; the former Big Ten defensive freshman of the year was strong in his return from a torn ACL this season, and he's got two more years of eligibility.

Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen is the only guy who could make a decent case for being snubbed here, but Dennard turned this defense into an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He deserves this award.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: The fact that Maher was snubbed for Lou Groza consideration despite missing zero kicks from 50 yards and in this year is an absolute travesty the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, last year, when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was also snubbed from Groza finalist consideration despite being pretty obviously the best kicker in college football. Maher's bona fides aren't as strong as Henery's, but he's still the best kicker in the Big Ten and should have been named a Groza finalist all the same.

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Oh, stop showing off, Nebraska.
 
 
 
 
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