Tag:Rex Burkhead
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:58 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: Nebraska



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Nebraska.

Spring Practice Starts: Sunday, March 4

Spring Game: Saturday, April 14

Returning Starters: Seven on offense, seven on defense, both specialists.

Three Things To Watch For:

1. Finding replacements on defense. The Cornhuskers may have seven starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, but there are also four pretty big departures that need to be replaced. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Jared Crick are all gone. That's one key player on each level of the defense and none will be easy to replace. Though having Cameron Meredith on the defensive line will make the loss of Crick easier to absorb. That being said, Dennard and David were two of the best defenders in the Big Ten last season. It's not easy to just plug in new playmakers of that caliber, and as if the job wasn't hard enough, Nebraska will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator this season. John Papuchis was promoted to defensive coordinator after Carl Pelini left to take the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.

2. Rediscovering the T-Magic. Taylor Martinez's first two seasons as Nebraska's quarterback have been a bit of a roller coaster. He was able to stay healthy last year, but he also completed only 56% of his passes, which was actually lower than the 59% he completed as a freshman. Martinez's yards per attempt went down over a full yard as well. Some of this was likely due to it being Martinez's first year in Tim Beck's system, and Nebraska is hoping Martinez will improve in his second season under Beck. In fact, if Nebraska wants to make a serious run at a Big Ten championship in 2011, they'll need him to. So it's important for Martinez to have a strong spring and make sure that the Cornhuskers head into the summer with a clear cut leader at the quarterback position.

3. Giving Burkhead a breather. Rex Burkhead had a great season for Nebraska in 2011, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to making the All-Conference team. While there's no reason to believe Burkhead won't have another solid season in 2012, Nebraska would be better served to find a bit more depth at running back to keep Burkhead fresh. In Nebraska's first 8 games, Burkhead averaged 110.25 yards per game, but that number dropped to 95 yards per game over Nebraska's final five contests. The Huskers went 2-3 in those games. So if backs like Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green can show that they're capable of taking some carries this spring, it could go a long way in the fall.

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Posted on: December 31, 2011 12:57 pm
 

Key Matchup: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Capital One Bowl.

Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead vs. South Carolina S Antonio Allen, S D.J. Swearinger

For most teams, the primary back seven defenders assigned to stop a lethally mobile quarterback and his No. 1 rushing option in the backfield would be a pair of burly run-stuffing linebackers. But South Carolina is not most teams. The Gamecocks run an unusual (especially in the SEC) 4-2-5 scheme in which the "Spur" -- kind of a safety, kind of a linebacker -- ranges back and forth between the front seven and the secondary, and his fellow safeties have more run-stopping duties than usual as the corners play man-to-man. 

Result? "Spur" and nominal safety Antonio Allen led the Gamecocks with 81 tackles, followed closely by safety D.J. Swearinger with 73. That performance earned Allen a second-team All-SEC nod from the league's media, even though Allen -- as you would expect from a player expected to both fly to the ball and play sharp pass coverage -- checks in a relatively light 6'2", 202 pounds. Likewise, if Allen's small by SEC linebacker standards, Swearinger's on the small side even by the SEC's safety standards at 5'10", 208. 

That's caused occasional problems against the power-running games of the SEC the past couple of seasons, but in theory it should be nothing but a positive against a Nebraska team that looks to get their most dangerous rushing threat -- Taylor Martinez -- out in space using the option and various keepers. Where Martinez is able to routinely beat slower defenders one-on-one, Allen and Swearinger's tackle total speak to just how effective they were making exactly those kind of stops against elusive rushers like Martinez.

But here's the bad news for the Gamecocks: the Huskers have Rex Burkhead, too, and aren't afraid of sending the junior battering ram straight ahead in much the same way Auburn spent their entire matchup with South Carolina pounding Michael Dyer into the line. Dyer carried 41 times, gained 141 yards, and powered the Tigers to a major upset; if Burkhead has similar success, it's easy to see him doing the same for the Huskers.

But if Allen and Swearinger can shut down Martinez, hold Burkhead's longer gains in check, and allow the rest of the Gamecocks to do their thing vs. the Husker run, Nebraska may not have much of a chance. As we wrote in our Keys to the Game, the Huskers went 9-0 when they topped 180 yards on the ground, 0-3 when they didn't. Allen and Swearinger will play a major role in whether or not they reach that benchmark.

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Posted on: December 30, 2011 9:19 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Capital One Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: Connor Shaw plays in Orlando the way he has back home at Brice-Williams Stadium. With Marcus Lattimore out and Alshon Jeffery only narrowly showing up on the side of a milk carton, Shaw emerged as the Gamecocks No. 1 offensive threat down the stretch, peaking in the season finale vs. Clemson with a 14-of-20, 210-yard, 3 TD, no pick, 107 rushing yard MVP performance. But that wasn't all that unusual for Shaw when it came to playing in Columbia; in the four games he played at home (plus a cameo against Vanderbilt), Shaw was 63-for-91 (69 percent) for 9.1 yards an attempt and a 10-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, not to mention 341 of his 482 rushing yards. Away from Brice-Williams? Shaw was 49-of-80 (61 percent) for 4.8 yards an attempt and a 2-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio. 

Nebraska has struggled mightily with offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks like Shaw, giving up 418 yards to Denard Robinson's Michigan, 468 to Dan Persa's Northwestern, 486 to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin. If Shaw treats the neutral Citrus Bowl like a home venue, he should have more than enough leeway from the Huskers D to propel the Gamecocks to victory. If he has a relapse of those road blues, though, it's not like there's a whole lot else on the Gamecock offense to save him.

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: they can open up some running holes. This is easier said than done, of course; the Gamecocks boast a veteran senior starter at DT in Travian Robertson and arguably the nation's best set of defensive ends in Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor, and Jadeveon Clowney. But Carolina still finished just 44th in rush defense nationally and sixth in the SEC, giving up 130 yards or more on the ground in seven different games. The option attacks of Navy and the Citadel, in particular, gave them fits, a promising development for the Huskers' read option looks with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead.

But if Martinez and Burkhead can't get it going -- if Robertson can't be moved out of the middle, if Ingram, Taylor and Clowney blow up the option -- the Huskers will be in trouble. Martinez's struggles as a passer meant that when Nebraska ran for 180 yards or more, they were a perfect 9-0. When they didn't? They went an equally imperfect 0-3. Where the Huskers are concerned, it's go nuts on the ground, or go bust.

THE X-FACTOR: Whether or not Carolina wants to play this game. For all the good Steve Spurrier has done at South Carolina, he hasn't yet solved the dilemma of how to get his Gamecocks ready for the postseason; he's 1-4 with the 'Cocks overall and winless against BCS competition, with the last three losses coming by an average of 14.3 points. It goes more-or-less without saying that even with this being Spurrier's first 10-win team with Carolina, they're still nowhere good enough to no-show and still beat a nine-win Big Ten team like Nebraska.

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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.
Posted on: November 28, 2011 1:07 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 13



Posted by Bryan Fischer


There's just something about a few helpings of turkey and some good old fashioned hate for a rival football team.

As the season winds down and, in most cases, ends for teams that don't qualify for a bowl game or conference championship, rivalry week is when many schools put all the eggs in the basket to go into the offseason knowing they went out on a high note.

Because of that, there was no better scene in college football this weekend than Lexington, Kentucky.

Despite using a wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries, Kentucky still managed to pull off a win against Tennessee for the first time since 1984. On the whole, it was a disappointing year but the win over the Volunteers will give the team something positive to think about in the offseason. That AD Mitch Barnhart announced that head coach Joker Phillips would be back for sure next season also added to a historic day for the program.

The scene afterward was what college football was all about. Fans rushed the field to celebrate with players, everyone of whom had a gigantic smile on their face. That they attempted just six passes for 15 yards to win ugly didn't matter, a win is a win and this one meant more than the other four they had during the season.

Perhaps it was appropriate that the Wildcats wore black jerseys because it felt afterward like a funeral for Tennessee, who lost out on a chance to go to a bowl game with the loss. The Derek Dooley era is on shaky ground after barely beating Vanderbilt and, now, ending the streak over Kentucky. No doubt the slick-haired, orange pants wearing Dooley had to take over a difficult situation but it's still Tennessee. There are players there and the defense isn't too bad with Justin Wilcox running things but there has been zero consistency.

The losses are one thing for Dooley but the lack of wins might be the most concerning part if you're a Vols fan. He's never beaten a ranked team and has no signature victory that he can hold his hat on. You can understand why they're clamoring for his head in Knoxville.

It was a slightly different scene in College Station - except for the clamoring for the head coach's head part.

It was once again a second half to forget for Texas A&M, as they ended their final scheduled game with Texas by falling on their face. There was plenty of optimism coming in that the Aggies would get the last laugh before leaving for the SEC but it was the Longhorn players who had no problem starting up an "S-E-C!" chant following the victory.

"Sports can be really cruel," Mack Brown said. "I think it was a time tonight where both teams deserved to win."

After 118 meetings, it was pretty cruel for things to end that way. Kyle Field had erupted following Ryan Tannehill's pass to Jeff Fuller for a 16 yard touchdown to take the lead but was silent after Justin Tucker's 40 yard field goal sailed through the uprights.

"They played their hearts out tonight," Tucker said. "But sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good."

Nothing like beating a rival.

Stat of the week

In 26 games among BCS AQ schools or ranked non-AQ schools on Saturday, just two were within seven points and the average margin of victory was 20 points.

Stats of week

- Alabama held Auburn to a 3-and-out on 7-of-10 drives and now has 72 3-and-outs in 143 opponent drives (50.3%)

- Since 2007, Tennessee and Kentucky are both 33-31. The Wildcats beat the Vols for the first time in 26 games, a span of 9,863 days. Tennessee finishes the year with consecutive losing records for the first time since 1910-11.

- Texas A&M was outscored 76-7 in the third quarter of their losses.

- Via the AP, Nebraska has nine or more wins for the 38th time in 42 seasons (90%).

 - LSU's secondary has scored as many touchdowns (6) as they've allowed.

Yard-by-yard

- Not sure if Trent Richardson helped win the Heisman with his career-high 203 yards in the Iron Bowl but he did nothing but bolster his resume. Remarkably the score at halftime was the same (24-7) as it was a year ago when some guy named Cam wiped out the deficit on the way to a championship. There would be no comeback from the Tigers this time thanks in large part to the suffocating Tide defense that allowed just 140 yards of offense. The lone bright spot for the home team was Onterio McCalebb's 83-yard kick return (the first ever in Iron Bowl history) that seemed to give the team some hope before Alabama quickly closed the door. All in all, a dominating effort for a team that has well over a month to prepare for their rematch with LSU.

- Impressive season for Louisville's Charlie Strong, who has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country by clinching at least a share of the Big East title with a win 34-24 over South Florida. Early losses, including one to FIU, seemed to show that the team was at least a year away from being in contention in the league but Strong righted the ship and freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has really come on as of late, passing for three touchdowns against USF. Amazingly, the win snapped a 16-game losing streak in the state of Florida during the regular season. That the Cardinals are in contention for a BCS bowl berth boggles the mind if you watched this team early in the year.

- You would not have expected Rex Burkhead to play against Iowa if you saw him on Monday when he had his foot in a walking boot. He shredded the boot by Saturday however and had no issues pounding away at the Hawkeyes defense, rushing for 160 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska's 20-7 win. Surprisingly, his 38 carries were a school-record and came just a week after one of his worst games of his career against Michigan. It was just part of a punishing offensive attack against Iowa that gave the team an amazing 16 minute time of possession advantage. You can tell why Bo Pellini decided to keep things on the ground after Taylor Martinez tossed a few arm punts early in the game.

- Andrew Luck's final home game ended on a high note as he passed John Elway's school record for career touchdown passes and gave Heisman voters some more to think about. Beating a marquee opponent like Notre Dame on national television helps too, as the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and never really lost control of the game.

- Down the road in Los Angeles, Matt Barkley made his case to be invited to New York. In what could have been his final game in cardinal and gold, he passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns on a record setting night to throttle UCLA 50-0. "One more year" chants were heard throughout the game but it was a heck of a way for USC to end their bowl ban and put an exclamation point on what has been a terrific season under Lane Kiffin. Things aren't too pretty for the other side as the Bruins were not only humiliated at the Coliseum, but likely will be blitzed just as bad in the Pac-12 Championship game. The "gap" between the two programs that Rick Neuheisel talked about being closed appeared to have never been wider than it was Saturday night.

- Tulsa was supposed to represent Houston's stiffest test of the season but the trip to Oklahoma proved to be anything but as the Cougars rolled in the second half to secure Conference USA hosting duties. As good as Case Keenum was at quarterback, Patrick Edwards was the star of the show, grabbing four touchdowns and 181 yards to break the conference career record for receiving yards. The Golden Hurricanes had been undefeated in league play but Keenum found Edwards on 4th down in the 3rd quarter and it was away they go. Houston converted several 4th downs and built up style points as Keenum threw for 457 yards and a ho-hum five touchdowns before being pulled. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Cougars defense, who held a normally high-scoring Tulsa attack to just 16 points.

- When Arkansas came into Baton Rouge, the Hogs represented the toughest passing attack LSU would see all season. Luckily the Tigers had the nation's best secondary and one player in particular - the Honey Badger. Tyrann Mathieu is simply a playmaker whenever his team needs it most and you could tell Friday when he returned a punt 92 yards for a touchdown that seemed to turn the tide just when it looked like Arkansas was making a game of it. The offense was pretty good too, with Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and even Jordan Jefferson (despite a boneheaded play or two) causing the Razorbacks defense issues. The 21 third quarter points - keyed in part by Mathieu - might have pushed LSU ahead but it was the rushing attack in the 4th quarter that turned a solid win into a blowout. It's no surprise that plenty of people invoked the name Billy Cannon after the game considering that the last time there was a top-three match up in Death Valley, Cannon returned a punt for a score against Ole Miss. Of course it was Mathieu doing the honors this time as the Tigers kept their record perfect on the road to Atlanta and on to New Orleans.

- If you had to say a team was due before the year was up, Colorado was a good choice. The Buffaloes, despite their record, had a pretty decent offense but just couldn't perform on defense or on the road. Although Utah was at home and playing for a chance to go to the Pac-12 title game, the Buffs jumped out to an early lead and managed to hang on to beat the Utes 17-14. Normally reliable field goal kicker Coleman Petersen missed the final kick with seconds left to go 0-3 on the day and diminish Utah's hopes of a solid debut season in a BCS conference. What was billed as the start of a new rivalry between new conference foes turned out to be a historic win for Colorado, as the team ended a 23-game road losing streak. Utah was hampered by the loss of running back John White but there was no question that they should have won this game but a few breaks went the way of CU. Before the season head coach Jon Embree talked about putting up bricks to build a wall of success that the program had done in its glory days and on a chilly Friday afternoon, he added one more thanks to the upset on the road.

- The Countdown Clock on the Columbus Dispatch's website was probably already setup to change following Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan game. Things were closer than expected in the Wolverines 40-34 win at the Big House, a testament to just how hard the Buckeyes fought to keep their streak alive. Braxton Miller was great until his final play, an interception to seal the game, and out-played his counterpart Denard Robinson for much of the afternoon. UM got the last laugh when the gun sounded by ending a streak that had gone nearly 3,000 days but if there was one take away from the annual rivalry game, it's that Miller should be fun to watch in Urban Meyer's offense.

- Most impressive victory this weekend might have been Wisconsin throttling Penn State 45-7. The Nittany Lions have the best defense in the Big Ten but they were ran over by Montee Ball, who scored four touchdowns and has a chance at setting the NCAA single-season record. The rematch with Michigan State for a trip to the Rose Bowl just got a little more interesting.

- If you haven't been able to watch Luke Kuechly play linebacker at Boston College, you missed out on one of the hardest working players in the game. Don't worry, he'll probably be a 10+ year vet in the NFL so there should be plenty of chances to see him in the future though. Surprisingly, Kuechly didn't reach the double-digit tackles plateau for the first time since his freshman year but he did run back an interception for a touchdown and made life tough for Miami in a 24-17 upset. The talented 'backer also became the school's all-time tackles leader and showed why he could be a potential first round pick if he decides to leave school early. On the flip side, Jacory Harris - after perhaps his best season - reverted to the Harris of old by tossing four interceptions in his final college game. While there were not many people watching (in the stands or on TV), the result was overshadowed by the news of the day as Miami announced head coach Al Golden had agreed to a four-year extension that would keep in in Coral Gables until 2020.

- In a/the Backyard Brawl, all rules are off. The intense series between Pitt and West Virginia faced an uncertain future with both moving to different conferences but on the field in 2011 the two had no problem giving everybody a compelling game. The Panthers had jumped out to a 17-7 half-time lead but were simply shut down by a swarming Mountaineers defense in the second half that kept things close enough that the sputtering WVU offense could eventually cash-in a game-winning touchdown. It was a wild ending in a series full of them but Dana Holgorsen's squad managed to pull things out. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri had a rough night, being sacked 10 (!) times, four of which came on a crazy final drive.

- If you want to know why Dennis Erickson was shown the door at Arizona State, look no further than the late night showdown against an improving California team. It was in many ways it was young (Bears) against and the old (Sun Devils). Erickson's squad was trying to salvage the season and his job, Jeff Tedford's group was trying to build upon the second half of their season. It was a defense-optional shootout like the Pac-10 days of old but Cal managed to force four turnovers that likely ended up as the deciding factor. Credit to Tedford who helped his cause while Erickson killed his, this was a fun game but defense - surprisingly - decided things and that ended up in Cal's favor.

- In terms of surprises, Virginia Tech shutting out a hot Virginia team at home might be highly ranked on the list. It was the Cavaliers first home shutout loss since 1984 and they had zero ground game to speak of (30 yards on 26 carries). It was likely the Hokies best win of the season to date and continued a strong run by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Tweet of the week

"USC card stunts say "We run LA." Based on how poorly the city is run, I would not brag about that.

- Chris Huston, The Hesiman Pundit

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. USC

6. Oregon

7. Boise State

8. Arkansas

9. Houston

10. Virginia Tech


Where we'll be this week

I draw the early assignment and will head up Eugene for the Pac-12 Championship game with Oregon and UCLA on Friday. Eye on College Football bloggers Chip Patterson and Adam Jacobi will head to the ACC and Big Ten Championships respectively. Brett McMurphy makes the trip to see Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State while Dennis Dodd joins Tony Barnhart in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Leaning this way

Georgia vs. LSU

Do the Bulldogs have a chance? No, not really. Even if they did, it appears the Tigers are locked into a trip to the BCS National Championship game in New Orleans either way. Les Miles' secondary already took care of the best quarterback in the SEC West last week and will do pretty much the same to the best quarterback in the SEC East down in Atlanta.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State

Don't let the loss to Iowa State fool you, Oklahoma State is still a very good team and their opportunistic defense should enjoy playing Landry Jones on the road. The Sooners haven't really been the same team they were earlier in the season thanks to several injuries - their top running back and wide receiver among them - and they've had their troubles at Boone Pickens Stadium before. Expect it to be close but ultimately the Cowboys will win the game and the Big 12.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State

These teams are so evenly matched that it took a hail mary for the Spartans to beat the Badgers the first time. That pass isn't something that Wisconsin players forgot about and have a chance to avenge it for a trip to the Rose Bowl. The offense has been rolling the past couple of weeks behind Montee Ball and Russell Wilson so look for them to do some damage against Michigan State the second time around.


Posted on: November 27, 2011 3:47 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Adam Jacobi

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

WINNER: Wisconsin's lust for revenge

The two heart-breaking losses Wisconsin absorbed in the middle of what was supposed to be a special season have never really let the Badgers go. Oh, the Badgers got over them, to be sure; they won their next four Big Ten games by an average score of 44-14, and of those only the 28-17 win over Illinois was even halfway competitive. And yet, Wisconsin has struggled in vain to so much as crack the Top 15 of the polls, as its only win against a ranked opponent all year was a 48-17 dismantling of then-No. 8 Nebraska in Week 5. That's it.

Or, that was it until Saturday, anyway, when Wisconsin officially ended Penn State's conference title aspirations (and the Nittany Lions' stint in the Top 25) with a 45-7 shellacking. Wisconsin's now the (sigh) Leaders Division winner and all set for the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday. And wouldn't you know it, Michigan State -- the team that dealt Wisconsin its first, most crushing loss will be waiting in Indianapolis for the Badgers.

And there's probably no team Bret Bielema and his Badgers would rather face.

The first meeting of the two teams was an outright classic, with Wisconsin going up 14-0 early before a Montee Ball injury derailed the Badgers' offense to the point that MSU was able to open up a 31-17 lead. But it wasn't until a deflected Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins found its way into the arms of Keith Nichol and Nichol twisted the ball across the plane while being tackled that the Spartans could sew up the victory. It was as slim a margin of victory could be in regulation, and it doomed Wisconsin's highest aspirations for the season. What more could you ask for after a game like that than a rematch? And if there must be a rematch, why not do it with everything in the Big Ten on the line? This week should be great.  

LOSER: The so, so, so fired Ron Zook

Ron Zook's Illinois squad just put the finishing touches on a 6-6 campaign, one that would probably be a little more palatable if it hadn't finished in six straight losses where a formerly formidable offense just plain cratered. The last effort that'll likely be on Ron Zook's resume is a 27-7 throttling at the hands of a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten a Big Ten opponent by that many points since it beat Indiana 63-26... in 2006, when Glen Mason was still at the helm. We'll have more on the Gopher revival in a bit, but suffice it to say that Zook is going to be fired very, very soon. 

There's no up side for this Illinois team's collapse. Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from a future first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to a potential second-team quarterback for the Illini in 2012. A.J. Jenkins scored zero touchdowns in the last six games after a scintillating first half of the season. The Illinois rush defense -- ranked second in the Big Ten -- ceded 248 yards to Minnesota, which was a season high for the Gophers. Whitney Mercilus was a terror all year long, racking up 9.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles, but now there's almost no chance he'll be back in 2012. So what is there to look forward to with this team in 2012 regardless of who's coach? And the fact that such a question is being asked in a coach's seventh year in a program probably means he won't be around for an eighth.

WINNER: Michigan Men (even when they're not)

Much was made about Brady Hoke's ties to the Michigan program when he was hired after the 2010 season, with the phrase "Michigan Man" bandied about liberally. And to be sure, that's exactly what Hoke is -- right down to his insistence on calling Ohio State "Ohio" and never wearing red.

But when it came to hiring coordinators, Hoke wasn't dumb enough to limit himself to fellow Michigan Men. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is, if anything, a "Chico State Man," graduating from there in 1981 and spending the next 30 years bouncing around various schools as offensive coordinator (usually on the west coast, and never at Michigan). Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spent five years at Michigan back in the '90s, sure, but he also spent more time than that at Notre Dame. -- and did so more recently than his first Michigan stint. Is Mattison a Michigan Man? A Notre Dame Man? Both? He couldn't be both, could he? Anyway, all told, only three of Hoke's nine assistants have any prior ties to the program.

And yet, the difference in quality between last year's team and this year's is inestimable. The Michigan defense has gone from putrid to passable in just one season, and while it's not a championship-caliber unit just yet, it is good enough to get the Wolverines to 10-2 in the regular season and in immediate division contention -- back where the Big Ten figured Michigan would be when these division lines were drawn in the first place. And oh yes, there is that 40-34 victory over Ohio State that the Wolverines clawed for this year, their first over OSU in almost a decade.

LOSER: Will Hagerup

Welp, guess I'm just gonna punt this here ball away, just gonna do my job as punteWHAT AWWW HAMBURGERS OHHHHH NOOOOO

WINNER: Montee Ball's Heisman campaign

Montee Ball's probably not going to win the Heisman this year. That honor will probably go to someone in the trio of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson. But at the very least, Ball probably bought* himself a ticket today with a 156-yard, four touchdown effort that pushed his season numbers to 248 carries, 1622 yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 17 catches, 248 receiving yards, and five more receiving touchdowns. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana (which doesn't count for Ball in total touchdowns, only Wilson), a sure sign that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was very bored that day.

So that makes 34 total touchdowns on the season for Ball, a mark that only Barry Sanders has bested with his other-worldly 39 scores in 1988 (which doesn't even count his five touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, as bowl games weren't counted in official statistics back then). And Ball isn't just pushing scores in from a yard out, either; nine of his 25 rushing touchdowns have come from more than five yards out, and his 6.75-yard rushing average was fourth in the FBS among 1000-yard rushers coming into Saturday's action. Ball isn't a touchdown machine, he's an everything machine, and now that it's been him front and center in Wisconsin's push to Indianapolis, voters are likely to take notice.

*Metaphorically speaking, NCAA! We never meant to imply that Ball or anybody around him has ever so much has handled a dollar bill. We understand that the sanctity of this game can only be achieved if everybody involved is dead broke and rejects capitalism outright, and we assure you that Ball has not been tainted by the immoral slime of legal tender. They're student-athletes, not money-recipient-athletes. We get it. 

LOSER: The "Heroes Game"


What seemed like an intriguing new rivalry -- Iowa vs. Nebraska, every year, with the Missouri River set to be the most hotly contested border waterway since the Rhine. Whereas the French had the mighty but tragically immobile Maginot Line to protect themselves, though, Iowa's line just plain couldn't stop anyone coming right up the middle, either on Saturday or all year long. Rex Burkhead set a Nebraska record with 38 carries, and his 160 yards and a touchdown wore down the Iowa defense to the point of surrender. 20-7 was the final, and it really wasn't that close.

Next year's game might be more competitive simply because it's in Iowa City, but the 2012 Hawkeyes probably won't be any better than this year's iteration, and if this rivalry starts off lopsided it'll be hard to get the fanbases worked into the lather necessary for a lasting rivalry. Nebraska's never going to get tired of 13-point wins that are more one-sided than the final score indicates, of course, but the Huskers aren't really going to care about beating Iowa until they can't take it for granted anymore.

WINNER: Jerry Kill, eh?

It looks like everything Jerry Kill's been telling his team since he inherited it last December might yet be sinking in. After a 1-6 (0-3) start to the season where none of the Gophers' conference losses were even competitive, Minnesota turned the boat around in a big way with a 22-21 comeback win over Iowa. After that, Minnesota looked like a different team, hanging tough with Michigan State and Northwestern in losses and at the very least losing to Wisconsin by a smaller margin than Penn State just did. And now, the Gophers have closed the season out with the aforementioned 27-7 drubbing of listless Illinois. MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, threw for 85 more, and accounted for all three of the Gopher's touchdowns in the victory without turning the ball over.

This Gopher team has a long way to go in order to start hanging with its Legends Division rivals on a weekly basis. The lines are a mess, there's a dearth of experience on both sides of the ball, and Kill isn't drawing high-quality recruits yet. He's got a complete overhaul on his hands, and those don't happen in a year at a school like Minnesota. But there's two ways to overhaul a program: spend four years recruiting "your" players into the system, or change the program's culture so substantially that the old coach's players buy in and become "your" players. Kill seems to be on that path, and that bodes well. Doesn't seem like something we thought we'd be saying just a couple months ago, when Kill was talking about needing to "babysit" his players and losing every game by 30 or so, but here we are.

LOSER: Michigan's classless fans

Look at them, rushing the field and celebrating after Michigan beats a 6-6 team. Act like you've been there, guys, right? The nerve of it all!

We're kidding, of course, because the cathartic value of a win like that, erasing eight years of misery and futility hard-wired into to Michigan's identity as a football program, would be off the charts even if Ohio State were coming into the game 0-11. But we're still talking about a bowl team here in OSU, and one that gave Michigan all sorts of fits over the course of the game. You have our full blessing on this field-storming, Michigan. And if anyone says otherwise, well, haters gonna hate. Feels nice to have haters again, doesn't it?



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Posted on: November 18, 2011 4:26 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 12

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 a bit of a low-carb diet this week thanks to most of the SEC deciding to take the week off and test itself against stalwarts like Georgia Southern and Furman, but that doesn't mean there aren't games out there worthy of your time. Besides, let's be honest with ourselves. We didn't really want to say anything to you about it, but you've been gorging on some great games the last few months and you're starting to get a bit pudgy around the edges.

You could use some lighter fare this weekend.

BREAKFAST

#18 Michigan vs. #16 Nebraska - ESPN 12pm ET

Michigan State may have the Legends division title all but sewn up, but if there's an at-large BCS bid to be had, it'll probably come from the winner of this game. As for reasons to watch instead of just care, come on. It's Denard Robinson. It's Rex Burkhead. There'll be some highlight plays in this one. - Adam Jacobi

Illinois vs. #17 Wisconsin - ESPN2 12pm ET

It's probably no exaggeration to say that Ron Zook's job at Illinois is on the line in this game; Zook, now the second-most tenured coach in the Big Ten, has seen his team drop four straight games and look listless in the process. Montee Ball would be happy to contribute a touchdown or five to Zook's going-away party, but can Illinois' stout defense save the day -- and the coach? - AJ

Rutgers vs. Cincinnati - ESPNU 12pm ET

After only winning one conference game in 2010 (Greg Schiano's worst conference record since 2004) and finishing dead last, the Scarlet Knights are in the hunt for BCS bowl bid.  The Bearcats have lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros for the season to an ankle injury, and now sophomore Munchie Legaux will face a the best defense in the conference to try and bounce back from their first league loss.  Cincinnati still holds one game on the rest of the conference, and can win the title outright if they win out.  Rutgers needs to win out as well, but also get some help to win the tie-breaker. The Big East slate is thin this weekend, but there will be enough on the line to expect the best effort from both teams. - Chip Patterson

#14 Georgia vs. Kentucky - SEC Network 12:21pm ET

There's one reason to tune into this game and one reason alone: to see how the Bulldogs react to winning the SEC East for the first time since 2005. As a competitive contest, well, one of these teams defeated Auburn by 38 points last week, while the other lost by 30 to Vanderbilt. Still, it's not every day you get to see how Mark Richt reacts to a Gatorade shower. - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

#6 Arkansas vs. Mississippi State - CBS 3:30pm ET

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs gave Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks fits last season, taking the eventual Sugar Bowl representatives into overtime. Could they do the same this year, with a potential SEC West title still on the line for the Hogs and the game in Little Rock? A somnabulant offense says "probably not", but in corner Johnathan Banks and tackle Fletcher Cox, the Bulldogs do have the defensive weapons to at least slow down Tyler Wilson and Co. - JH

Ohio State vs. #21 Penn State - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

For the multitudes of distractions facing Penn State, it still has two tough games to play, and it still has a division lead to protect. The Nittany Lions' first step is taking on an up-and-down Ohio State team that's going to try to wear down the PSU defense with its troika of tailbacks and dual-threat (if you can call his arm a threat) QB Braxton Miller. This'll be a classic Big Ten game, with pads a-popping, defenses a-stifling, and running backs a-barreling for four quarters. - AJ

N.C. State vs. #7 Clemson - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

This all be the ultimate test of focus for Dabo Swinney's young squad.  The Tigers set goals to win the division, state championship, and ACC Championship.  With the division clinched and South Carolina waiting next week, Clemson could lose to the Wolfpack and still accomplish their goals.  NC State needs to beat Clemson and Maryland in order to be bowl eligible for the second straight season.  The Tigers have an outside shot to still make a BCS bowl game if they lose in the ACC Championship, but even those long odds would be erased with a loss on Saturday.  Both teams are explosive and capable of scoring quickly, so expect the unexpected in this ACC battle. - CP

Missouri vs. Texas Tech - ABC 3:30pm ET

A bit of a last stand for Texas Tech, which has lost five of its last six games after starting the season 4-0. The Red Raiders still need one more win to become bowl eligible, and it won't be easy to get there. Missouri is a team that's proven it's capable of beating anybody in the Big 12 on any given Saturday, though you do have to wonder how this team will perform on its Senior Day without Gary Pinkel who is serving a suspension for a DWI arrest earlier this week. - Tom Fornelli

DINNER

#25 Florida State vs. Virginia - ESPN2 7:30pm ET

The Seminoles are on a five-game game winning streak since EJ Manuel returned to the starting lineup, averaging over 35 points per game.  But the "turnaround" from the early season setbacks has been not only the result of improved play from Florida State, but also the advantage of facing much more favorable competition.  Four the teams in the streak have defenses ranked in the bottom half of the ACC, and other game was the 34-0 shutout of NC State at home.  Virginia's defense ranks third in the ACC, and the Cavaliers are arguably just as hot winning five of their last six.  Mike London's new power rushing attack has helped the team reach bowl eligibility in just his second year, but Saturday will be a true test of how "legit" this ACC Coastal contender is heading into the postseason. - CP

#4 Oregon vs. USC - ABC 8pm ET

Like offense? This game is for you. The Ducks are well on their way to another conference title and can clinch hosting the first ever Pac-12 Championship game with a win. The Trojans have designs on an upset however and it's not out of the realm of possibilities with Matt Barkley and Robert Woods on the field. - Bryan Fischer

#22 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

So far this season Baylor has lived on beating the lower-tiered teams of the Big 12 and struggling against the conference's best. This is the Bears last chance at a marquee victory in 2011, and it's probably catching Oklahoma at the best possible time. The Sooners have lost Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles to knee injuries the last couple of weeks, and while there's never a good time to suffer such blows on offense, it hurts a bit more when you have to go head-to-head with Baylor's offense. There could be a big upset brewing in Waco. - TF

#23 Texas vs. #13 Kansas State - FX 8pm ET

Here's something you might not know: Kansas State has beaten Texas the last three times the schools have met, with Texas' last victory over the Wildcats coming in 2003. It's a losing streak that the Longhorns would really like to put an end to, though it won't be easy against a Kansas State offense built around Collin Klein. This should be a pretty interesting matchup boasting the Big 12's best run defense and its best running quarterback/battering ram. - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

#9 Stanford vs. Cal - ESPN 10:15pm ET

The band won't be on the field for this one (well, they will, but at halftime not on the final play) but the Big Game will still have plenty of memorable moments when you consider that Andrew Luck is playing and looking to make up for last week's loss. - BF 
Posted on: November 16, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Nebraska at Michigan

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Yes, Nebraska has a gifted option quarterback, but that doesn't mean that his passing skills are up to par with... Hang on a second. If this is Nebraska's key, then what's Michigan's...


MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF:
Its mobile quarterback can curtail his errant throws and open up easy passes with his running ability. Glitch! We have a glitch! 


In all seriousness, Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson aren't that similar as players, and the Nebraska and Michigan offenses are fundamentally dissimilar as well. While Nebraska doesn't run an offense heavy on wishbone or I-formation triple option like the days of yore, it does utilize heavy amounts of read option between Martinez and Rex Burkhead. Martinez is also being trusted to throw the ball more often, and he's been improving in that facet over the last couple weeks.

Still, Martinez is most dangerous as a runner at this point, and if you give him a lane, he'll take it -- and Nebraska's downfield blocking is good enough that Martinez can potentially take that open lane for a score from any point on the field. Thus, the key for the Michigan defense is to get Martinez out of his comfort zone and force him to make split-second decisions to do something with the ball -- a pitch on the option, a check-down in his pass progression, a scramble to the outside when, say, Mike Martin blows up the front of the pocket. Those are situations that turn Martinez into a less effective player, and that's what defensive coordinator Greg Mattison needs to strive for.

On the other sideline, Nebraska's aims on defense should be different. Denard Robinson is a wonderfully gifted improviser with the football, so quite unlike Martinez, Nebraska should make sure Robinson doesn't have to make the split-second decisions. That's what he's good at! No, the lesson defensive coordinator Carl Pelini should have taken from Michigan's losses is that you don't give Robinson the edge; it's all contain, contain, contain, then funnel, funnel, funnel to the middle of the field. Lavonte David needs to have about 30 tackles in this game. 

X-FACTOR: The tailbacks. Both Michigan and Nebraska also have hard-nosed running backs that will probably be getting 20 carries in this game -- Burkhead for Nebraska, and Fitz Toussaint for Michigan -- and while Burkhead's much more of a focal point of the Nebraska offense than Toussaint is, Toussaint is certainly capable of breaking a long run or two and getting over 100 yards. Both players are tough to bring down once they get a full head of steam, but Burkhead in particular is the kind of guy you need to bring down at the line or prior, or he's getting 5-10 yards and that drive's going to keep going. So if Michigan lets Nebraska move the point of attack, it might not be enough to just wait for Taylor Martinez to make a bad play or three.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com