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Big Ten Bowl Report - Part II

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Gator Bowl
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (8-4 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Line: Bulldogs (-9, 60.5)
Venue: EverBank Field
Location: Jacksonville, FL

Haven’t we done this before? Nebraska and Georgia met in the Capital One Bowl on year ago, with Georgia winning 45-31 behind five touchdown passes from Aaron Murray. Despite being just one year removed from that meeting – this game will have a much different feel. Neither of the returning QB’s from last year’s game will play here as Georgia’s QB Murray suffered a torn ACL in the 2nd to last game while Nebraska’s QB Taylor Martinez has not been fully healthy all season (just one appearance in Big Ten play). Nebraska is another Big Ten team that can’t wait to get back on the field. The Huskers lost their final game of the season at home on Black Friday to Iowa, 38-17. After the game, head coach Bo Pelini had to endure questions from the media on if he’d be fired or not. It seems that Nebraska will stick with Pelini, at least for one more game, before heading to the offseason. Nebraska finished 3-3 down the stretch. They lost at Minnesota by 11, vs. Michigan State by 13, and vs. Iowa by 21. Wins over that stretch included home vs. Northwestern by 3, at Michigan by 4, and at Penn State by 3 in overtime – meaning Nebraska came dangerously close to a complete second half breakdown this season.

Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, Jr. will get the start at QB here and he’ll need to throw well for the Huskers to win. He should be ready for action after a late-season ankle injury derailed him after he took over for an injured Taylor Martinez back in October. Armstrong completes just 53 percent of his passes and has seven TD and seven INT. If Armstrong struggles, Nebraska could turn to Ron Kellogg III, who started the finale vs. Iowa, but struggled in hitting 19-of-37 passes for 199 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. RB Ameer Abdullah has been the only constant for this offense. He rushed for 1,568 yards and eight scores this season, hitting the 100-yard mark in all but two games this season. He did that despite Nebraska shifting around its offensive line all season long after a string of injuries.

Speaking of injuries, no team in the nation had it worse than the Georgia Bulldogs. Six starters on offense suffered torn ACL’s this season (!) and high hopes of a national title went quickly out the window after a loss to Clemson in the first week of the season. Credit the Bulldogs for not quitting on the season as they won four of the final five games – including an overtime win over in-state rival Georgia Tech in the final week of the season. QB Hutson Mason will get his 2nd career start here in place of Murray. Mason has completed 64.8% of his passes for 648 yards with 4 TD and 2 INT in a little over two games of work. The offense hasn’t missed much with him under center as he led the team to 59 points and 41 points in his two games that he commandeered the offense. Star RB Gurley battled injuries throughout the year (missed three full games) but should be fully rested and healthy for the bowl game. He still finished with 903 rush yards (6.2 YPC), 344 receiving yards, and 15 total touchdowns (four TD in the finale against GA Tech). He finished with 125 rush yards and a score last year against Nebraska and could have another big day against this struggling Nebraska D.

Georgia’s defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL after last season and it showed early. They allowed 33 PPG through the first seven weeks but showed great improvement over the final five – surrendering just 23.4 PPG. Pelini and the Huskers would like nothing more than to close this season out on a high note with a win here over Georgia, but they’ll have to limit their mistakes. Nebraska finished minus-12 for the year in turnover margin, better than only three teams nationally. Georgia has faced three Big Ten teams in the last five Bowl games – going 2-1 SU & ATS in those games (only loss was a 3-point defeat to Michigan State in the 2011 Outback Bowl. Nebraska is 0-3 SU & ATS in the last three Bowl games, losing the last two to SEC schools.

Capital One Bowl
Wisconsin Badgers (9-3 SU, 9-2-1 ATS) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Badgers (-1, 49.5)
Venue: Florida Citrus Stadium
Location: Orlando, FL

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Both of these squads finished as the third selection out of their respective conferences. Wisconsin’s loss in the final week of the regular season prevented them from being BCS Bowl eligible while South Carolina was behind Auburn & Alabama. No Big Ten team wants to get on the field more than the Badgers, who delivered their worst performance of the season in their final game against Penn State. Their stellar defense picked a bad game to have an off day as PSU racked up 465 yards and 31 points, including 339 pass yards and 4 TD from freshman QB Hackenberg. This UW defense finished 6th in rush defense, total defense, and scoring defense, and 12th against the pass. Seven of their 12 opponents were held to 10 points or fewer and not one surpassed 32 points. Offensively this unit is led by the duo of James White and Melvin Gordon at running back. Both earned 2nd Team Big Ten honors and form the No. 8 run game (283 YPG) in the nation. The speedy duo helped the Badgers average an FBS-best 8.3 yards per carry outside the tackles, and both rushed for more than 1,300 yards and combined for 25 touchdowns. Wisconsin will try to get its running attack going early in this game and take some of the pressure off of QB Stave – who did not play well to close out the season. Stave threw a career-high three interceptions against PSU and practice reports indicate that Wisconsin is giving reps to JUCO-transfer Tanner McEvoy in case Stave underperforms again.

This offense will face one of their toughest tests of the season against this fierce South Carolina defensive front. The Gamecocks ranked 32nd against the run and 18th in total defense despite playing a buzz saw of a schedule in the SEC. Just one of South Carolina’s opponents scored more than 28 points (Georgia back on September 7th) and the Gamecocks held their final five opponents (Missouri, Mississippi State, Florida, Coastal Carolina, and Clemson) to just 16.2 PPG. They won those five games by a combined 181-81 margin. The star of the show for the Gamecocks was supposed to be defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Nagging injuries and constant double-teams left him with a pedestrian season. The real stars were QB Connor Shaw and RB Mike Davis. Shaw continued to show the country why he's one of the most underrated performers. Shaw battled injuries and showed up for the Gamecocks when it mattered most. He finished the year with 2,135 yards with 21 touchdowns to just one interception. Davis, who is as much a home run threat as a legitimate between-the-tackles bruiser, rushed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.

South Carolina’s resume is stronger as it boasts wins against Central Florida (AAC Champ) Missouri (SEC runner-up), and Clemson (playing in the Orange Bowl). Wisconsin lost its two marquee games this season: @Arizona State in a highly controversial ending and @Ohio State by seven points. Despite not returning to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season, all signs point to the Badgers being highly motivated for this game. For one, they lost all three of those Rose Bowls and they have a strong group of seniors (Jared Abbrederis, James White, and Chris Borland to name a few) that want to end their collegiate career with a Bowl victory. South Carolina has won back-to-back Bowl games, both against Big Ten opponents (Nebraska in 2011, Michigan in 2012).

Outback Bowl
Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. LSU Tigers (9-3 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Tigers (-7, 49)
Venue: Raymond James Stadium
Location: Tampa, FL

Iowa bounced back nicely after a dismal 4-8 finish in 2012. Many doubted Kirk Ferentz’s team in the preseason and few had the team pegged as the 2nd best in the Legends division. Stout defensive play and a strong rushing attack led the team to an 8-4 finish, including three straight victories to close out the season. Their four losses came against Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin – who boast a combined record of 45-6. The Hawkeyes' success starts on defense, where they ranked in the top 20 nationally against both the pass and the run (7th overall in yards allowed). Everything revolves around a standout trio of senior linebackers in James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey, who combined for nearly 300 tackles and more than 30 tackles for loss. Rushing yards don’t come easy against this team as opponents average just 3.5 YPC and have scored just 5 rushing touchdowns against this Iowa defense all season long.

LSU will be dependent on running the ball as the Tigers’ starting QB all season, Zach Mettenberger, injured his knee and will miss this game. Freshman Anthony Jennings will get the start under center for LSU. He has attempted just 10 passes in relief duty this season, completing six for 99 yards with one TD. He has two of the nation’s top receivers to throw to in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Both have over 1,100 receiving yards this season with 18 combined touchdowns. Still, expect LSU to lean on a running attack led by RB’s Hill & Magee. Hill (1,185 rush yards) averages 6.8 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns while Magee (614 yards) averages 7.8 YPC with eight touchdowns. This LSU defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL last season and it has not been the dominant unit that we’ve come to expect from LSU. It’s a big testament to defensive coordinator John Chavis that he has this team ranked 20th in total defense and 31st in scoring defense. This defense had its ups (21 points allowed to Auburn, 10 points allowed to Texas A&M) and its downs (44 points allowed to Georgia, 38 points allowed to Alabama), but overall is a pretty stout unit.

Iowa’s offense is far from explosive and LSU’s defense has the talent edge over the Hawkeyes O. The Hawks finished 81st in yards per game and 74th in points per game. The RB trio of Weisman, Bullock, and Canzeri combined for 1,852 rush yards (4.7 YPC) and 10 TD. First year QB Rudock finished with 2,281 pass yards (60.2%) with 18 TD and 12 INT. He has also shown the ability to extend plays with his legs (223 rush yards and 5 scores). LSU had much higher hopes than the Outback Bowl this season while Iowa is thrilled to go Bowling again after a one-year hiatus – so motivation will be a key factor in this game. LSU has dropped three of its last four Bowl games. Iowa has won three of its last four Bowl games, including a 21-point win over SEC South Carolina in the 20089 version of the Outback Bowl. These two last met in 2005 in the Capital One Bowl, with Iowa winning 30-25.

Rose Bowl
Michigan State Spartans (12-1 SU, 8-4-1 ATS) vs. Stanford Cardinal (11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS)
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Time/TV: 5:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Cardinal (-4, 41)
Venue: Rose Bowl
Location: Pasadena, CA

The 100th Rose Bowl in 2014 looks more like a 1950’s style Rose Bowl as it features two suffocating defense and two power-style offenses. The first thing that jumps out about this matchup is the similar styles. Much like Stanford’s 20-14 win against Wisconsin in the Rose last year, points could be at a premium. Both Stanford (18.6 ppg) and Michigan State (12.7) allow fewer than 20 points per game, and the Spartans lead the nation in total defense. Neither team has allowed more than 28 points in a game this year; both allowed 28 on two occasions. Stanford will play in its second consecutive Rose Bowl after a definitive win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Cardinal had +206 yards and had three touchdowns of 22+ yards. Stanford’s stout defense held ASU to just 311 yards and QB Kelly to just 173 pass yards and one TD.

There’s nothing sexy about this team as they use a power-run style behind RB Gaffney. Gaffney has 1,613 rush yards (5.3 YPC) and 20 rush TD this season (rush TD in every game but one this season). QB Hogan manages games well, but the passing attack is where this team struggles. Hogan has completed 61.4% of his passes this year with 20 TD and just 9 INT. He had just 14 TD in conference play and that includes a 5 TD performance against lowly Cal. MSU will be by far the best defense that Stanford faces this season. Rushing yards won’t be easy to come by against the top-ranked rushing defense (80 rush YPG allowed) and Hogan will be forced to make plays with his arm.

Michigan State was able to overcome an uncharacteristically poor performance from its defense to win the Big Ten Championship against previously undefeated Ohio State. OSU was able to gain 273 rush yards on 6.8 YPC, but the Spartans forced a number of key stops as OSU was just 1-of-10 on third down and 0-of-2 on 4th down. Offensively QB Cook passed for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns and RB Langford rushed for over 100 yards for the eighth consecutive game and sealed the game with a 26-yard rush TD with 2:16 remaining to seal the victory. Cook made huge strides this year and has developed into one of the top QB’s in the conference with 20 TD and just 5 INT this season. A balanced offense is the perfect complement to a suffocating defense and allowed the Spartans to win each of their nine Big Ten games by 10 points or more this season.

MSU leads the nation in fewest yards allowed (248.2 ypg), rush yards allowed (80.8 ypg) and third-down conversions allowed (27.7 percent), and ranks second in pass efficiency defense and fourth in points allowed. This is Stanford’s fourth straight BCS game and second straight Rose Bowl. The Spartans will play in their first BCS Bowl and haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, when they beat USC 20-17. The teams’ only common opponent is Notre Dame. The Irish handed Michigan State its only loss of the season, 17-13 on Sept. 21., but fell 27-20 at Stanford on Nov. 30. Stanford has won its last 10 games against ranked opponents, with the last loss coming two years ago in the Fiesta Bowl to Oklahoma State.


  
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Williams: ACC Report - Week 4
Edwards: Oklahoma at West Virginia
ASA: Big Ten Report - Week 4
Williams: Pac-12 Report - Week 4
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