Tag:Le'Veon Bell
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
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Posted on: November 13, 2011 5:15 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 11



Posted by Adam Jacobi


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNERS: Nebraska and Penn State

It's hard to know what to say about the Nebraska-Penn State game. It was obviously important strictly from a football sense, as it might well be the exact same matchup that we'll see for the inaugural Big Ten Championship in December. It proved that Penn State's defense couldn't just plain win every game by itself if the Nittany Lion offense was struggling. It even marked a decent enough debut performance for Tom Bradley as a D-I head coach, even though his team eventually fell short.

It's just that today, nobody believed what happened on that field was the most important thing going on. Not with the headlines bringing terrible news about the victims of Jerry Sandusky on a daily basis (today being no exception, sadly). Not with the scandal costing Joe Paterno his job after an unbelievable 46 years atop the program. 

The reminders that this was about more than football came even on gameday, with the constant reminders from announcers, the blue-out engineered by the Penn State fans, and the remarkable scene of both teams meeting each other at midfield for a pregame prayer (shown above). Even when the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter, Penn State fans exhorted their team to victory by chanting the name of the coach wasn't there anymore -- Joe Paterno.

The chants did not propel Penn State to the comeback win, of course -- chants rarely do -- but they did underscore just how deeply intertwined Paterno is with the program. If a man embodies a football program as completely as Paterno did with PSU, then his bosses inform everybody that he doesn't anymore, how are fans supposed to react? Take some time to answer that. Take a few days. Everyone in Happy Valley's had at least that long, and nobody seems to have a good answer yet. Is there even one to be found?

LOSERS: Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern

Michigan State whipped Iowa at Kinnick. Purdue managed a huge overtime win against Ohio State. Northwestern fried Rice (sorry) (not actually sorry). All three wins were immensely consequential as the postseason goes (more on all that later) ... and just about nobody watched, thanks to the Nebraska-Penn State game dominating the common fan's attention. To be sure, that's where most eyes should have been trained, but fans of these three squads have the right to feel a little ignored and annoyed all the same; again, this was a big win for all three teams!

WINNER: Michigan State's division title chances
LOSERS: Iowa and Michigan's division title chances

With this win, Michigan State has effectively dispatched two of the three teams it was competing with for the Legends Division crown. At three losses, Iowa's out of the running; the division's competitive, but it's not that competitive, and Iowa cannot surpass MSU now. Michigan can pass MSU in the standings, technically -- it's just going to take Spartan losses to Indiana and Northwestern in the coming weeks. We're prepared to assume MSU wins at least one of the two.

That just leaves Nebraska as a potential spoiler to the Sparty Party, and aside from one game, the Huskers are playing what's easily their best football of the season. But that one game, the terrible, terrible home loss to Northwestern last week, is likely going to doom Nebraska unless the 'Cats (hey, them again) want to play spoiler one more time. It's not out of the question; Northwestern is typically a beast in November under Pat Fitzgerald. But considering what MSU did to the Iowa secondary this week and what Northwestern's secondary has suffered through, it might be too much to ask the Wildcats to pull one more upset.

WINNER: The Michigan State ground game

Coming into the week, the Spartans were the worst rushing team in the Big Ten. There are plenty of factors going into that: a retooling offensive line, a brand new offensive coordinator and system, and a schedule full of tough defenses, for three examples. But still, no matter how valid the explanations are, at the end of the day you need an effective running game if you're going to keep the ball on the ground 30+ times a game, otherwise those sticks just aren't moving very often.

So it was heartening to see the Spartans rush for 155 yards -- 25 yards above their season average, and 35 yards above their conference average -- in Saturday's 37-21 win at Iowa. Le'Veon Bell in particular was a beast between the tackles, running for 112 yards with one particularly demoralizing 25-yard score late in the first half (shown above at right). No, it's not like MSU put up 250 yards or otherwise let Kirk Cousins take the day off or anything -- it wasn't that big of a day on the ground -- but after three straight games of scarecely topping 100 yards for the day, 155 yards on 39 carries is a message that Sparty's rushing attack might be living up to its potential at the most important part of the season.

LOSER: The Ron Zook Experience

Remember when Ron Zook was proving everybody wrong about Illinois and, by extension, himself? Remember thinking that if you give any coach (Zook included) a dynamic quarterback, a top-level receiver, and a world-crushing defense, you'd get 9-10 wins, and that Zook was over halfway there? Remember? Those sure were nice days.

Then the losses started piling up, and they've shown no signs of abating -- quite the opposite, really. And now one can't help but think that this monumental collapse is going to mean the end for Zook. In all likelihood, Wisconsin's going to push the Illini's losing streak to five games next Saturday, and now even a road trip to Minnesota doesn't seem like a sure thing. No, the Gophers aren't good yet, despite beating Iowa and hanging with MSU. But they're at the least interested in playing well, and that's a sentiment that seems hard to come by in Champaign these days. 

WINNER: Bowl eligibility

Two teams we didn't expect to see on the brink of bowl eligibility are Northwestern and Purdue, two teams that struggled mightily in the early conference season but that have logged important upset victories in recent weeks -- Northwestern over Nebraska last week, and now Purdue salvaging a regulation tie with OSU by blocking a last-minute extra point, then finishing the Buckeyes off in overtime.

So assuming that Northwestern can beat Minnesota at home and Purdue can win at Indiana, there'll be an astonishing 10 bowl-eligible teams out of 12 in the B1G. If that's the case, it would be appropriate that the conference is based out of Chicago, because Oprah Winfrey is too, and she says you get bowl eligibility! You get bowl eligibility! Everybody gets bowl eligibility! And if the Big Ten had 10 bowl tie-ins, well, that would automatically make 10 bowls very happy hosts and 10 teams very happy guests, would it not? 

LOSER: Well, probably Northwestern or Purdue

Of course, the Big Ten does not have 10 bowl tie-ins, so if the conference has that many bowl-eligible teams this season, someone's going to be left out of the Big Ten bowl lineup. Even assuming two BCS teams come from the Big Ten (a travesty if ever there was one, this year), the most teams the conference can assuredly accommodate is nine. So depending on which bowls take which schools, we're going to be looking at one or two Big Ten teams stuck at six wins and hoping a mid-major bowl has a spot free.

Knowing how bowls make their selections, and thinking about how the standings are likely to shake out by the end of the season, it seems rather clear that Northwestern and Purdue are not only the most likely six-win teams in the conference, they're also the two least desirable potential bowl teams for a committee making its selection. Neither travels particularly well or grabs great ratings, and with Dan Persa still not 100%, both teams are badly lacking a high-profile player that casual fans would make time to watch.

We hope both teams can find their way into bowls, and not just because we're bitter Big Ten partisans to the very end -- it's that it'd be great to see them both make one last push for a bowl victory and a happy ending to the season. Dan Persa has obviously not had the senior campaign he or anybody else wanted, but considering his issues are related to rehab and chronic injuries, it seems like a late December Persa would probably be the best-healed Persa we've seen all season. Considering what he was doing on a football season pre-injury, the closest he can come to that, the pre-injury form, would be nice to see one last time.

Meanwhile, Purdue has scrapped and clawed hard to get to .500 on the season at this point. It was easy to dismiss the Boilermakers after they dropped a game at Rice early on, and the 62-17 whipping Wisconsin handed them seemed to underscore how far away they is from respectability. And yet, Purdue held off a furious rally to beat Illinois back when that still meant something, and a home game against Iowa might be an opportunity for a tone-setting win. Purdue didn't lose to Rice or Penn State by very much -- both games went down to the final possession -- so it's really not far from a 7-3 record right now. If the Boilers can get to a bowl game and come away with a win, it'll be a welcome end to a season that looked bleak at numerous times. How can you not want that? 
Posted on: November 12, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 6:18 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Michigan State 37, Iowa 21

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN STATE WON. 13th-ranked Michigan State won at Iowa for the first time in over 20 years, weathering a second-half rally to close out a 37-21 victory. Kirk Cousins was stellar in the victory, throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions.

WHY MICHIGAN STATE WON: There were two basic factors that MSU took care of and Iowa didn't: line play and turnovers. The Spartans had struggled all year to establish a ground game, but Le'Veon Bell gashed Iowa for 112 yards and a score as the Spartans rushed for 155 yards altogether. Meanwhile, Iowa committed three turnovers to none for MSU; the Spartans turned the first two into first-half touchdowns, while the last was important in its own right (more on that in a bit). All in all, Michigan State played like a division champion, and it's en route to fulfilling that destiny in just two weeks.

WHEN MICHIGAN STATE WON: When Iowa TE Zach Derby fumbled inside the 10-yard line, Iowa's third turnover of the game. Derby had just converted a 3rd and 5 on the play and Iowa was close to scoring and had a chance to make it a one-possession ballgame, but there would be no chance for victory after that last turnover.

WHAT MICHIGAN STATE WON: The Spartans took care of their biggest hurdle to a division title this week, as only games against Indiana and Northwestern remain. Northwestern is feisty in November, so it's not time for Spartan fans to start buying hotel rooms in Indianapolis just yet... but it is probably time to start figuring out a budget for that trip.

WHAT IOWA LOST: The notion of Iowa as a Legends Division contender is now, mercifully, over; the Hawkeyes had been in control of their own destiny with the MSU and Nebraska games yet to play, but any team that loses to Minnesota and Iowa State in the same season probably isn't a worthy contender for a conference championship. So that's done. More than that, with the fourth loss on the books, Iowa probably lost a shot at most of the big-name bowls; don't cry, Hawkeye fans, but this might be a Pizza Pizza Bowl kind of season.

THAT WAS CRAZY: One of the worst-kept secrets in the Big Ten is the disdain Kirk Ferentz and Mark Dantonio have for each other, despite basically being the same exact person. Ferentz calling a reverse pass with a 30-point lead last year has something to do with that. So with a routine field goal cued up and Michigan State leading 31-7 in the third quarter, Dantonio tried to exact revenge, and called a fake field goal of his own. It worked, but MSU would still only get three points out of the drive, and the insult seemed to wake up the Hawkeyes. Iowa responded with two quick touchdowns and a drive into Spartan territory immediately afterwards, and even though Iowa's rally fell short, it was still a reminder that midway through the third quarter is just a little bit early to start calling the proverbial "middle-finger" plays.
Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:27 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Michigan State at Nebraska

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: The rushing game starts living up to its preseason billing. Coming into the season, the general consensus was that Wisconsin had the best stable of running backs, but Michigan State with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, and Larry Caper was a close second. Well, we're halfway into the season, and guess who's dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense? Indeed: Sparty, at a paltry 138 yards a pop. Nebraska's defensive line is still reeling from the loss of Jared Crick, but it's generally good enough to keep blockers off Lavonte David so the dynamic linebacker can make plays. The challenge to MSU's offensive line is clear: blow open holes and let the running backs do their thing.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: It avoids 3rd and long. Taylor Martinez's passing numbers as a whole aren't horrible this season; he's 67th nationwide in passing efficiency, and his interception rate of 3.93% is downright palatable. Still, Martinez struggles mightily when the opponent knows he needs to throw; he's been chided by announcers for his entire career for his unique mix of poor mechanics and bad read progressions. Getting Nebraska to 3rd and long is much easier said than done, however, with both Martinez and Rex Burkhead so adept at moving the chains on the ground. 

X-FACTOR: As opposed to most of the Big Ten's top games of the season, this matchup between No. 9 MSU and No. 13 Nebraska won't exactly be under the lights; the two teams are kicking off at 11:00 a.m. local time. Usually, the early games are reserved for non-conference cupcakes and basement dwellers. Will the two teams be able to put forth their best 60 minutes with such an early kickoff? Or will it be a 17-point game one way or the other halfway through the second quarter with an announcer snarkily wondering whether the losing team left its effort on the bus?
Posted on: August 12, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 4:57 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big Ten team

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here are one writer's choices for the preseason All-Big Ten team. 

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Kirk Cousins, Senior, Michigan State

For as many high-level quarterbacks as there are in the Big Ten, it looks as if the stars have aligned the best for Kirk Cousins this year. Cousins returns his stable of running backs, two of his top three wideouts (and experienced senior backups at the third receiver and starting tight end), and his same offense from 2010. Cousins also didn't suffer a catastrophic injury last year. Oh, and Cousins is a very, very good passer. There isn't another quarterback in the conference that can make all of those claims, so while the MSU schedule is just brutal this year, if any losses occur, it's unlikely that a healthy Cousins will be to blame for any of them.

Also watch for: Even without Terrelle Pryor lining up under center, this is a loaded position in the conference. Denard Robinson and Dan Persa can also make legitimate claims as the top quarterback in the conference, and Wisconsin newcomer Russell Wilson might get there by the end of the year. This is a conference where Nathan Scheelhaase and Taylor Martinez are competing to even be mentioned in the top five quarterbacks. Big Ten secondaries, beware.

RUNNING BACK

Edwin Baker, Junior, Michigan State

In a Spartan backfield loaded with depth, Baker is the best of the bunch, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 13 TDs in his sophomore campaign. Baker is a low, powerful rusher with some of the best instincts in the conference, and he’ll be counted on to produce even more -- provided he can keep his talented teammates from stealing even more carries in 2011.

Montee Ball, Junior, Wisconsin

Ball gets the nod here just for being a year ahead of his teammate listed below, but the truth is both are going to be major weapons for the Badgers this year. Ball was a hair away from hitting 1,000 yards rushing last year, but his nose for the end zone is impeccable; he scored 18 rushing touchdowns last year, which is even more ridiculous considering half-man, half-truck John Clay was also a Badger last year and scored 14 TDs of his own. 20 touchdowns is totally in play for Ball this year.

Also watch for: All the true sophomores. There's a lot of them. First of all, both Baker and Bell have superlatively talented teammates in their backfields; Ball's partner in crime is reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who racked up 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman. Meanwhile, the Spartans have true sophomore big back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 605 yards at 5.7 yards a carry last year. Iowa boasted its own a true freshman breakout star in Marcus Coker, who scorched Missouri for 219 yards and two scores in the Insight Bowl. Penn State's starting tailback Silas Redd was also a true freshman in 2010, looking impressive as he tallied 437 yards (5.7 yards per carry) in relief of since-departed Evan Royster. Ohio State has a trio of workhorses in its backfield in Rod Smith, Jaamal Berry (8.3 ypc as, yep, a true freshman in 2010), and suspended starter Boom Herron. Meanwhile, junior Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) and senior Jason Ford (Illinois) have been significant contributors in the backfield for years, and both have opportunities to put forward a big year.

WIDE RECEIVER

Derek Moye, Senior, Penn State

Penn State may not have its quarterback situation shored up just yet, but one thing for sure is that whoever steps forward will have the conference's best target to aim at. Moye is 6'5" and fast, and he led the Nittany Lions' receiving corps with 53 catches, 885 yards, and eight TDs -- all team highs last year. Ostensibly, both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin (PSU's dueling QBs) have an even better rapport with Moye than they did last year, so don't be surprised to see all three of Moye's stats rise in his senior campaign.

Marvin McNutt, Senior, Iowa

McNutt first came onto the scene in 2009, when he was listed ahead of returning starter (and future Iowa record-holder in career receptions and receiving yards) Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on Iowa's depth chart coming out of camp. McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos eventually played their way into starting roles alongside each other, but the more surprising aspect was that McNutt -- recruited as a quarterback out of high school, and the Hawkeyes' 3rd stringer under center the year prior -- could work his way into the starting lineup that easily. McNutt quickly emerged as the surest catcher on the team, and his big play ability has put the Hawkeyes' career touchdown reception record in dire jeopardy (he needs just five scores to match Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes at 21).

Also watch for: Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern has a record of production that's as good as just about anybody else in the conference, and his familiarity with Dan Persa is going to be key as Persa continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. Ohio State wideout DeVier Posey was a favorite target -- by a pretty wide margin -- of Terrelle Pryor, and it's hardly a stretch to think that whoever OSU's new QB might be will depend on Posey often (once Posey comes back from suspension, anyway). 6'5" Indiana WR Damarlo Belcher would probably be in the NFL today if he had held onto a game-winning 4th down pass against Iowa last season. He didn't, the Hawkeyes won, new Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson convinced Belcher to stay, and here we are. Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham should both put up big numbers for Kirk Cousins at MSU.  

TIGHT END

Drake Dunsmore, Senior, Northwestern

From a purist's standpoint, Dunsmore is not technically a tight end; he's classified by Northwestern as a "superback," which means he can be found all over the place in the Wildcats' different offensive sets. He fits the same role that a tight end usually does, however, mixing a healthy amount of both blocking and receiving. Think of Dunsmore as Northwestern's Frank Wycheck. Also, think of him as Dan Persa's safety valve, being the second-leading receiver returning to the Wildcats and by far the leader among Big Ten tight ends with 40 receptions in 2010.

Also watch for: If Dunsmore's role as "superback" is too much of a departure from tight end for comfort, Nebraska TE Kyler Reed could easily take Dunsmore's place on this list. Reed's athleticism makes him one of the toughest tight ends to cover in the league, and at 18 yards per reception in 2010, he's proven the ability to move chains as well as any end in the conference. His eight touchdowns (tops among Big Ten TEs) don't hurt either.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Center Mike Brewster, Senior, Ohio State

Forget the Big Ten, Mike Brewster might well be the best center in the nation. In a position that usually attracts shorter linemen, Brewster stands tall at 6'5" 305 and still boasts elite technique. The four-year starter has become something of a folk hero in Columbus, and for good reason: he's probably going to be an All-Pro at the next level.

Guard Kevin Zeitler, Senior, Wisconsin

Now that First Team All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt are gone to the NFL, the Wisconsin offensive line needs a new anchor, and Zeitler likely fits that bill. Zeitler is the most experienced offensive lineman on the Badgers, with 22 starts to his name, and his senior season should be his best.

Guard Joel Foreman, Senior, Michigan State

Foreman worked his way into the starting lineup early in his redshirt freshman season, and never relinquished the role. 36 starts later, he's the premier guard in the Big Ten, and his ability to get to the second level has been critical to Michigan State's considerable success rushing the ball. Foreman's pass protection skills are also stellar; it's no accident that Kirk Cousins has flourished as a passer over the last few years.

Tackle Mike Adams, Senior, Ohio State

Mike Adams shouldn't be on this list. He should be in the NFL, because he likely would have been a first-round pick last year. His role in the tattoo scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation led Jim Tressel to demand Adams return for his suspension-shortened senior season, and here we are. With the aforementioned Carimi off in the NFL, Adams takes over the mantle as the best tackle in college football, and his return to the Buckeyes' lineup after his five-game suspension is going to be a major factor in the Buckeyes' fight to stay atop the conference.

Tackle Riley Reiff, Junior, Iowa

As Iowa's left tackle, there's no denying Reiff has big shoes to fill; his recent predecessors include former All-Americans (and first-round NFL draft picks) Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga. Reiff could soon fit that bill himself; he's a big, mean masher who excels in downfield blocking and at the point of attack. Reiff's pass protection isn't as impressive quite yet, but he's still got two seasons left at Iowa to take that next step. He may not need two before the NFL comes calling.

Also watch for: Michigan center David Molk would probably be first-team in just about any other conference, but with Brewster manning the role for OSU, Molk is relegated to second-team status here. RT J.B. Shugarts is a third senior starter on the line for the Buckeyes, and if his foot injury is healed, he'll likely have a big year. Wisconsin RT Josh Oglesby is back from an injury that robbed him of all but two games in 2010, and he could easily play his way into all-conference consideration.  

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE Cameron Meredith, Junior, Nebraska

In Meredith’s first year starting in 2010, he racked up 10 quarterback hurries and 6.5 TFLs. That would be disconcerting enough by itself, but with the bevy of talent in the front seven, most of the help blocking will have to be devoted to other defenders -- meaning Meredith will likely be on an island with his opposing tackles, terrorizing them and opposing quarterbacks all season long. Look for his sack numbers to go way up in 2011.

DE Vince Browne, Senior, Northwestern

One of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten is probably Vince Browne, who registered seven sacks and 15.5 TFL in relative obscurity last year. The spotlight's on Browne now as a consensus preseason first-team all-Big Ten player, and his production continues to improve, he'll quickly make Wildcats fans forget about former all-conference DE Corey Wootton.

DT Jared Crick, Senior, Nebraska

It's slightly unfair to Crick (pictured above right) that he shared a defensive front with former Heisman candidate DT Ndamukong Suh, because it only invites comparisons between the two rather than letting Crick define his own legacy at Nebraska. On the other hand, earning comparisons to Suh is fantastic news for Nebraska, because it means Crick's incredible. Crick is a likely All-American at DT, with 32 TFLs to his name over the last two seasons and the potential to pass 20 TFLs this year. He's big, strong, and disruptive, which probably means instant double-teams on the majority of snaps in 2011. That still might not be enough to slow Crick down.

DT Mike Martin, Senior, Michigan

Last year, Mike Martin faced the same challenge that former teammate Brandon Graham did in 2009: being the best defensive lineman on a truly terrible defense. At the very least, Martin gets another crack at helping the Wolverines turn their defense around, and with the arrival of Greg Mattison as defensive coordinator, that looks to be a real possibility. Martin wasn't at 100% very often last year, but he's healthy right now, and that plus the move back to a 4-3 lineup (with space eater William Campbell next to him at NT) should be enough to propel Martin and the Wolverines DL to a much-improved season.

Also watch for: Jerel Worthy is a monster on the interior for Michigan State and may supplant Martin as a first-team DT by season's end; Worthy's production needs to improve, though. Iowa DT Mike Daniels is in his second year of starting, and the aggressive senior showed flashes of potential last season. He's going from the "fifth starter" in 2010 to the leader of the retooling Iowa defensive line. Ohio State DE Nathan Williams is in his second year starting for the Buckeyes, and he's expected to put together a solid senior year.

LINEBACKER

Michael Mauti, Junior, Penn State

When healthy, Mauti is one of the most fearsome linebackers in the Big Ten. It's that health that poses a bit of an issue. Mauti missed all of 2009 with an ACL injury, then struggled through various maladies last season -- including a shoulder injury suffered against Ohio State. Sheer probability suggests Mauti will have better luck with injuries this year, and he's manning the inside linebacker spot in a defense that puts the ILB in the best position to make plays. Tackles will be plentiful for the talented junior this year.

Lavonte David, Senior, Nebraska

It's bad enough for Nebraska's opposing offensive linemen that they have to deal with Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler at defensive tackle at the same time. It's worse that behind them lurks All-American candidate MLB Lavonte David. With needing three blockers to engage Crick and Steinkuhler a near-certainty, Davis will be free to get to the edges and and hit the point of attack, both things the speedy linebacker can do extremely well. Look for unholy amounts of production from David in 2011.

Chris Borland, Sophomore, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's defense wasn't spectacular last year, but with an offense scoring over 30 points in all but one Big Ten game, it didn't need to be. That defense is getting a major boost this year as 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Borland returns after taking a medical redshirt last season. Borland is strong and aggressive, and he represents a significant step up from departing MLB Culmer St. Jean. It wasn't exactly easy to run on Wisconsin last year, but it'll be legitimately tough now.

Also watch for: Andrew Sweat takes over as the leader of Ohio State's defense now, and the rangy OLB is poised for a big year. Iowa MLB James Morris stepped in as a 215-pound true freshman last year, and now that he's bigger, he may never leave the starting lineup; Iowa coaches are especially high on him. Senior Nate Stupar is versatile and productive, and he'll help bolster the Penn State linebacking corps in a big way.

SECONDARY

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Senior, Nebraska

With former teammate and All-American CB Prince Amukamara off to the NFL, it's Dennard's time to shine as Nebraska's lockdown cornerback. He showed all the necessary potential last year as opposing quarterbacks threw for under 50% all season long (tops among BCS teams), and while the loss of Amukamara might push opposing passer ratings up a bit, throwing at Dennard is still going to be a terrible, terrible idea. 

Cornerback Shaun Prater, Senior, Iowa

Prater's interceptions are about to drop precipitously. Not because the returning All-Big Ten cornerback is about to get any worse, but with his accolades and the uncertainty in the rest of the Iowa secondary, there isn't going to be a whole lot of sense in testing Prater anymore.

Safety Aaron Henry, Senior, Wisconsin

Henry, a cornerback for the Badgers until 2010, made a successful transition to safety by registering 58 tackles, seven PBUs, and a pair of interceptions last year. With a year of experience at free safety under his belt and a wealth of athleticism to boot, Henry should be even better in 2011.

Safety Trenton Robinson, Senior, Michigan State

It's hard to argue with results, so it's hard to argue with Trenton Robinson's eight passes broken up and four interceptions; only Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin had more passes defended last season, with 14 PBUs and a pick. Robinson is also the leading tackler among returning MSU starters, so look for a big senior year in center field for him.

Also watch for: Iowa CB-turned-safety Micah Hyde might have a case for being on this list after scoring two touchdowns off interceptions last year, but he’ll need to produce at his new position for Iowa before any accolades come his way. True sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen is a rising star in Purdue’s secondary after two defensive scores of his own; he’ll be getting All-American consideration before his career’s over. Also, as mentioned before, Jordan Mabin led the conference in passes broken up by a pretty substantial margin. That's worth something.

Specialists

KICKER

Derek Dimke, Senior, Illinois

Dimke is the returning first-team All-Big Ten kicker, and for good reason; the Lou Groza watch list member was 24-29 on field goals last year, and he's got one of the strongest legs in the conference. Look for another all-conference performance this year.

PUNTER

Brad Nortman, Senior, Wisconsin

Not only is Nortman one of the best (if not often-used) punters in the conference, he also led the Big Ten in rushing average after gaining 17 yards on a fake punt in Wisconsin's 31-30 win over Iowa last year. Sadly, Nortman's one rushing attempt did not qualify him for the official league crown. With the top three punters in the 2010 Big Ten all graduating, Nortman has an opportunity to step up and put together a big senior year.

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:03 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:56 am
 

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 80-71

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 100 99 98 days remaining until the first Saturday of the new college football season, this is the CBSSports.com College Football 100: our countdown of the 2011 season's 100 most influential players, coaches, administrators, venues, or any other related
things in college football. It's like that other "most influential" list, but, you know, more important. Also: it's supposed to be fun. Enjoy.

80. KIRK COUSINS, quarterback, Michigan State. Saying a team has "a lot to prove" after an 11-win season usually bodes poorly for how the season ended, and for Michigan State, that's no exception; the Spartans went 11-2, but those two losses were a 37-6 shellacking by Iowa and a 49-7 massacre in the Capital One Bowl against Alabama that didn't even seem that close. It was bad. Fortunately, MSU has the personnel to put together another strong showing in 2011.

The backfield hydra of Le'Veon Bell, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will be the main focus of MSU's offense, but just like with Wisconsin's massive rushing attack last year, it's the senior quarterback at the helm that'll really keep defensive coordinators up at night. Not only that, but Cousins' arm is better than Scott Tolzien's. Significantly better. This'll be Cousins' third season starting, too, and though Mark Dantonio may not need his senior QB to average over 200 passing yards per game again, it'll be hard to keep Cousins' production down--especially when he's facing eight men in the box half the time. It's not a stretch to think Cousins could lead the Big Ten in passing efficiency in 2011--and even less of a stretch to think he could lead his men to double-digit wins once again. -- AJ

79. JOE PATERNO, head coach, Penn State. JoePa gets his own special Memorial Day weekend breakout entry; read it here.

78. BRANDON LINDSEY, defensive end, Pitt. The Pittsburgh defensive end had a stellar junior season in 2010, leading the Big East in tackles for loss (18.0) and finishing second in sacks (10.0). The Panthers have all new leadership up top, with Todd Graham in as head coach and Keith Patterson coming with him from Tulsa as defensive coordinator. Patterson is moving Pitt to a 3-4 defense that utilizes a hybrid "Panther linebacker," one often standing at the line of scrimmage.

The plan, according to Patterson and Graham, is to put Lindsey's explosiveness to use at that new "Panther" position. Graham compared Lindsey's role in 2011 to that of James Harrison--the ultimate playmaking linebacker in the city. Unfortunately, Lindsey missed spring practice with a shoulder injury. But the coaching staff is still counting on his frightening burst and ability to swarm to the ball in the backfield once fall camp opens. If Lindsey racked up 18 tackles for loss coming off the line, it would not be surprising to see the senior among the nation's leaders in his new role. -- CP

77. TRAVIS LEWIS, linebacker, Oklahoma. Travis Lewis's importance to the Oklahoma defense was already enough to warrant his inclusion on this list before the tragic recent death of fellow linebacker Austin Box. Now, not only will Lewis be looked to to lead the defense, but also help his teammates get over the loss of a teammate. He's the senior member of the Oklahoma linebacking corps, racking up an impressive 360 tackles (47.5 for loss), 6 sacks and 8 interceptions in his first three seasons.

As impressive as Lewis has been, though, he'll have to help improve one key part of Oklahoma's defense in 2011: stopping the run. The Sooners gave up 151.8 yards per-game on the ground last season, and while that number isn't terrible, it's not good for Oklahoma on the whole. Why? Because when teams are running on Oklahoma they're killing the clock, and every second that ticks away is a second that the Sooners' high-powered offense isn't on the field. As the leader of the linebacking corps, it will be up to Lewis to help stuff the run and get the Sooner offense back on the field. Whether he's able to do this or not could be the deciding factor between a Big 12 championship and a national championship in Norman. -- TF

76. "THE FLORIDA WAY," team code of conduct, Florida. So how, exactly, did one of the nation's most talented teams suffer five regular season losses in 2010, one shy of their total for the previous four years combined? As per usual with questions like these, it wasn't one factor but a perfect [deleted]storm for the Gators: poor coaching from the coaches, poor execution from the players, poor treatment from the football gods. (How many times out of 100 does LSU's accidental bounce-pass to their kicker on their game-deciding fake field goal actually wind up in the hands of the kicker?) But in retrospect, it appeared to be poor focus that cost the Gators more than anything. With Urban Meyer at the end of his coaching rope, Florida frayed in all kinds of directions: transfer rumors, sloppy fundamentals, petty arrests, Twitter embarrassments. The effort on gameday was there; the discipline needed for it to produce Meyer's usual results was not.

Enter Will Muschamp and the "Florida Way," his name for the team's new all-encompassing code of conduct. With most coaches and most teams, we'd call this sort of thing a P.R. sop for the coaching honeymoon, and move on to on-field matters. But when it comes to the Gators, 2010 proved this is an on-field matter. Before Charlie Weis's schemes can take root, before Muschamp can create his usual teeth-rattling D, the Gators have to rebuild the foundation of focus and discipline forged in the Tim Tebow days. If they do, though -- if the still supremely-talented Gators can follow through on the "Florida Way" -- expect them to follow it right back up the SEC East standings. -- JH

75. PRESEASON TOP 25'S, polls, mid-August.  To some extent, the polls will always be the most influential component of all college football--they're what ultimately awards that national championship everybody's after, after all. (Or do through the BCS middleman, anyway.) But it's also true that the polls, for the most part, respond to the events on the field rather than vice versa.

But there's one set of ballots that not only wind up shaping the narrative of the entire season, but can and do influence results between the lines. Those are the preseason top 25's, easily the most influential polls of the season. Not do only do they establish a blueprint that forms the basis for every ballot that comes afterwards, but seemingly every year they build a wave of hype and expectation that drowns some team's championship season before it even begins. Ask Ole Miss in 2009 (the most recent, striking example) about the latter phenomenon. Ask Auburn in 2004 -- and their inability to overturn the two teams entrenched at the the top of the polls since preseason -- about the former. In college football, polls matter; the preseason variety matter even more than most. -- JH

74. JEFF GODFREY, quarterback, UCF. How do these stats sound for a starting freshman quarterback? 168-294, 2,071 passing yards, 12 TDs, 122.9 passing efficiency, 17 rushing yards, and 5 rushing TDs. Pretty solid production overall for a freshman, no? Probably one of the best freshman seasons in UCF history, right? Yes, it was one of the best: that was Daunte Culpepper's freshman year at UCF. Godfrey's, meanwhile, was better across the board.

Here's what Godfrey put up: 159-238, 2,159 passing yards, 15 TDs, 154.3 passing efficiency, 566 rushing yards, and 10 rushing TDs. Godfrey's throwing motion needs work, but the arm strength is there; he's surprisingly adept at the deep ball. Then there's the rushing. Godfrey doesn't have Denard Robinson's level of speed, but he's still darn fast--fast enough to be a nightmare for opposing secondaries when he's scrambling. Put it all together, and Godfrey -- as a true freshman -- was a more efficient passer than super-sophs Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Robinson, Darron Thomas and even Godfrey's closest prototype: Robert Griffin III. Godfrey is already one of the brightest stars in Conference USA, and we have a feeling he's nowhere near done collecting accolades. -- AJ

73. KYLE WHITTINGHAM, head coach, Utah. One of two coaches to join the Pac-12 this year, Whittingham has been around the block before. He's got a BCS bowl win and undefeated season on his resume already, making him one of the most accomplished coaches in his new league from the get-go. His first task is trying to avoid the terrible stretch run the Utes had last season (losing three of their last five) and get them back to where they were earlier in the season.

The seventh-year head coach has plenty of weapons at his proposal and has brought in one of the school's most well known alums, Norm Chow, as offense coordinator to give the Utes a boost. Whittingham should be able to lean on Chow, who comes over from UCLA has has years of experience in the Utes' new conference. Whittingham is known more for his defensive instincts and he'll have to get the pass defense up to speed before jumping into league play and facing the Pac-12's the plethora of good quarterbacks. The schedule is manageable but most of the tough games are on the road. Welcome to the league, Kyle. -- BF

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72. GARRETT GILBERT, quarterback, Texas. It wouldn't be fair to pin the entirety of Texas' 5-7 season in 2010 on Garrett Gilbert, but it wouldn't be honest to say the young quarterback didn't have a substantial role in it either. It was never goign to be easy to just walk onto the field and fill the formidable shoes of Colt McCoy ... and Gilbert proved it. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, but he also completed quite a few to the wrong team, throwing 17 interceptions to only 10 touchdowns.

Obviously, if Texas is going to rebound in 2011 and get back to playing for a Big 12 title, then Gilbert is going to have to perform a lot better. Odds are he will. He has a year of experience under his belt now, and has a new offensive coordinator in Bryan Harsin, a coordinator that had quite a bit of success with quarterbacks at Boise State. If Gilbert can improve his grasp of the offense, be more efficient with his throws, and -- most importantly -- turn the ball over less, life should be a lot happier in Austin this fall. If not? Well, then heads are going to roll. -- TF

71. JAKE BEQUETTE, defensive end, Arkansas. Is it possible the fate of the SEC West -- a division featuring two consensus top-five teams -- could rest in the hands of a second-team all-conference end few fans outside the SEC (and even a good number in it) have ever heard of? It might not be likely; Alabama and LSU have the hype they have for a reason. But it's certainly possible, ironically enough because of the Razorbacks' offense.

Trust us: Ryan Mallett or no Ryan Mallett, no attack with arguably the nation's best receiving corps receiving, Knile Davis running, a veteran line blocking and (most of all) Bobby Petrino coaching will be less than outstanding. All the Hogs need to make a serious run at Atlanta is the top-drawer SEC defense they've lacked the last couple of seasons ... and Bequette, their most explosive pass rusher, is the key. The Hogs have loads of experience in the secondary and two rock-solid linebackers in Jerico Nelson and Jerry Franklin. If Bequette can more consistently generate the devastating bull rush he showed in flashes in 2010, the Hogs will have a defense that can look their SEC West rivals in the eye--and, when paired with that offense, take them right back into the BCS bowl hunt. -- JH

The 100 will return here to Eye on CFB Tuesday after the holiday. Until then, check out Nos. 100-91 and 90-81, and follow us on Twitter.

Posted on: December 31, 2010 9:27 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Basics: Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1), Jan. 1, 1pm ET

Why You Should Watch: If you're a fan of defensive football, then this game may be your dream matchup. Now, on the surface, not many people seem to be giving Michigan State a chance in this game, and it's understandable.  After all, Alabama is the defending national champ and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder following what it feels is a disappointing season.  Nobody seems to be paying much attention to the fact that Michigan State has only one loss, and has been a very solid team all season.  This one could turn out to be one of those New Year's Day shockers.

Keys to Victory for Alabama: I think the biggest key for Alabama in this game is that it wants to play in it.  It's not crazy to think that the Tide might show some disinterest in this one.  After all, this is a team that feels it's supposed to be getting ready to defend its title in ten days, or at least in a BCS bowl game.  Not playing in Orlando in the "second-tier" Capital One Bowl.

Of course, on the flip side of that, this could be an angry team.  One hell-bent on destroying the Spartans.  If Alabama cares then I see no reason why it shouldn't pick up the victory.  The Tide are more talented than Michigan State at just about every position.  Plus, one of Alabama's weakness is it's pass protection and Michigan State hasn't had much of a pass rush all season.  Still, that doesn't mean Alabama should fall into the trap of trying to throw all day.  Yes, Julio Jones is a monster, but the secondary is probably the one aspect of this game in which Michigan State has an advantage on the Tide.

Instead we should get a healthy dose of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and seeing those two matchup against MSU's Greg Jones is something that every college football fan should enjoy.

Keys to Victory for Michigan State: The Spartans have used a balanced offense to find success all season, and that shouldn't change in this game if they want to pull off the upset.  Yes, Alabama is tough against the run, but the Spartans have a few options at running back with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper and have the ability to wear the Tide down.

Also, just because the Spartans will be without B.J. Cunningham -- the teams leading receiver -- that doesn't mean they don't have options in the passing game.  Plus the Tide will be without Mark Barron, which will only help matters.  Kirk Cousins has been one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football this season, and he'll still have plenty of weapons at his disposal in Mark Dell, Keith Nichol, Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.

The X-factor could be the speedster Keshawn Martin. He's very dangerous in space, so look for the Spartans to try and find him some.

The Capital One Bowl is like: the movie 300.  The Spartans will be playing the role of the Spartans, and Alabama is the giant Persian army marching in looking to crush everything and everyone in its path.  All that's missing are the air-brushed abs and gratuitous nudity.  Will these Spartans emerge victorious, or end up in a pile of bodies?
Posted on: October 9, 2010 5:20 pm
 

Spartans up by a touchdown at the half

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Coming into today, Michigan's pass defense was ranked dead last in the FBS, allowing over 300 yards a game through the air. But while the Michigan pass defense has been adequate today, the Michigan State Spartans have used two big rushes to take a 17-10 lead into the locker room at the break.

Edwin Baker ran untouched for a 61-yard score in the second quarter, and on Sparty's next drive, freshman sensation Le'Veon Bell took one to the house from 41 yards out. On both of those plays, Michigan State was able to get Michigan's linebackers moving in the wrong direction, and a hole opened wide for the tailback. And really, tricking the Michigan linebackers into running themselves out of a play has been pretty easy over the last few years.

As for Denard Robinson, he's looked shockingly human so far. Robinson threw an awful interception in the end zone in the first quarter, then overthrew another sure TD later in the first quarter. He's only rushed for 49 yards on 12 carries, and only one of his 11 completions has been for more than 15 yards. Not many big plays here.

But that won't keep up forever, in all likelihood; Robinson's too good of a player to be bottled up for 60 minutes, even against a real defense like Michigan State's. It just remains to be seen if MSU can keep victimizing the Michigan defense well enough to maintain their lead.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com