Just a quick update on what is going on with the Big Ten teams as they get ready for their upcoming bowl games.
vs. LSU on January 1st in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando
Current Line: LSU -7
** The Hawkeyes will AGAIN have a chip on their shoulder heading into this year’s post season. A year ago, Iowa was a four-point dog to another SEC team (Florida) in the Outback Bowl. Iowa won the game, 37-17. The Hawkeyes are again an underdog to another SEC team in LSU. Many of the players are baffled by their apparent lack of respect after going to three consecutive January bowls, however they will again use it and come in with a "chip on their shoulders." Head coach Kirk Ferentz has had great success getting his team ready as underdogs. In fact, since the start of the 2000 season, Iowa is 20-8-1 ATS (71%) when getting points. Not only that, Iowa has simply been a spread juggernaut in general covering 71% of its games since the start of the 2000 season (42-17 ATS).
** LSU could have a distraction for this game as head coach Nick Saban has just accepted the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. While Saban has said he is completely focused on preparing LSU for its bowl game, the talks between him and the Dolphins brass were going on for a few weeks. That has to be somewhat of a distraction when preparing for a game. Saban will attempt to use his leaving as motivation for his team. We’ll have to wait and see if it works.
** Iowa expects a huge contingent of fans in Orlando. Upwards of 25,000 Iowa supporters are expected to be at the game.
** Both teams come into this game red hot, with Iowa winning seven straight games to close out the season and LSU winning its last six.
vs. Texas on January 1st in the Rose Bowl
Current Line: Texas -6
** If you’re playing Texas, you’d better be able to stop the run. The Horns average a whopping 302 YPG RUSHING which is good for second in the nation. The Wolverines give up 121 YPG on the ground which looks OK at first glance, but they really struggled to stop the run down the stretch. In the first eight games of the season, Michigan gave up an average of just 71 YPG rushing. However, in the final three games, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State banged the Wolverines for an average of 254 YPG. Head coach Lloyd Carr is trying to get this straightened out in practice because he knows if that trend continues, the Wolverines have little chance of beating Texas. Carr has said that practices have been very intense up to this point.
** Starting left tackle Adam Stenavich (an All Big Ten player) will be replaced in the starting line up by sophomore Mike Kolodziej in the Rose Bowl. Stenavich, who started every game the last two seasons, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in his hometown of Marshfield, WI over the Thanksgiving break and has yet to be reinstated to the team. He has not been practicing with the team and Carr has not yet decided whether Stenavich will even make the trip to Pasadena.
** Defensive tackle Larry Harrison, who started six games this year, will not make the trip to Pasadena. Harrison, who had 24 tackles, has been charged with indecent exposure and is now a suspect in 14 similar unsolved cases in the Ann Arbor area.
** Both teams will be highly motivated for this game, however Texas has been waiting three years for a shot at a BCS game. The Longhorns have fallen just short on each occasion and this time they "leap frogged" California in the final BCS poll to get a shot at the Wolverines. The UT players are calling this a "dream come true" so you can bet they’ll be ready to prove they belong.
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
vs. Alabama in the Music City Bowl on December 31st in Nashville
Current Line: Alabama -3
** Are the Gophers happy to be in Nashville for the Holidays? That is a very key question that will affect the outcome of this game. Our early take after following the situation closely is that they may not be. Minny came into this season with high hopes of contending for a Big Ten Title. After starting the season 5-0 heading into their HUGE match up with Michigan, the Gopher players were talking Rose Bowl. After their 27-24 loss at Michigan, the team basically collapsed. The Gophers lost five of their last six games and were outgained in four of their last six. Their defense gave up 27 points or more in each of their final five losses. Now they must try and regroup and prepare for a bowl game they may not be all that excited to be in. That will be tough. They better be emotionally ready because Alabama will be after not reaching a bowl since 2001.
** An interesting note on the preparation for this game. Minnesota defensive coordinator Greg Hudson has left the team to take the same job with East Carolina. His longtime friend, Skip Holtz, was named the head coach at ECU and asked Hudson to be his DC. How that will affect the Minnesota defense is yet to be seen. However, for a team that gave up an average of 483 YPG in their final five losses, it may not be a bad thing.
** Head coach Glen Mason has made some position changes on defense since the end of the regular season to try and shore up his stop unit. Most notably, he moved starting linebacker Terrance Campbell (the team’s second leading tackler) to strong safety. He also moved Brandon Owens, who played a lot this season as a linebacker, to the defensive backfield. The Gophers lost starting free safety John Pawielski for the bowl game due to a broken leg he suffered in the season finale vs. Iowa.
** While Bama’ has struggled on offense this season averaging just 332 total YPG, they do have a HUGE edge on defense vs. Minnesota. The Tide gives up just 236 YPG on defense compared to the Gophers 408. They key will be if they can stop Minnesota’s vaunted rushing attack which comes in averaging 255 YPG on the ground. If they can, the Gophers will have very little chance as they do not pass the ball very well (190 YPG) and Alabama has the top-ranked pass defense in the country allowing only 116 YPG.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
vs. Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29th in San Antonio
Current Line: Oklahoma State -3.5
** OSU took a big blow earlier this week when starting QB Troy Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl due to team rules violations and an NCAA rules violation. He will not make the trip with the team. Since taking over for Justin Zwick (who started the first six games), Smith led the Buckeyes to wins in four of their last five games. Zwick was just 3-3 in his six starts, and he will behind center to start the Alamo Bowl. OSU has requested to the NCAA that Smith be reinstated for next football season. A decision on that will be coming in the near future.
** Let’s take a quick look at Troy Smith’s impact on the OSU offense after taking over vs. Indiana on October 23rd. In his five starts, the OSU offense averaged 21 PPG and 347 yards of total offense. The Buckeyes were 4-1 in those games. With Justin Zwick at the helm, in his three Big Ten starts, the Buckeyes were 0-3 averaging just 15 PPG and only 236 YPG.
** Okie State played in the toughest division in college football this year, the Big 12 South. The Cowboys' four losses were to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Texas, all bowl teams (including two BCS Bowl teams). They lost to Oklahoma by just three points, they led Texas 35-7 before collapsing and getting outscored 49-0 the rest of the way. The overall record of the team’s that gave Oklahoma State its four losses this year is 35-9 straight up. In comparison, the Buckeyes four losses were to Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern who combined for a 31-14 overall SU record which is also pretty good.
vs. Arizona State in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31st in El Paso, TX
Current Line: Purdue -7.5
** As you may have noticed, Purdue is the ONLY Big Ten team that is favored in a bowl game.
** The Boilers are definitely getting used to playing in the post season, as this will be their seventh consecutive bowl appearance. One thing they want to change this year? Get off to a fast start which has not happened recently. In fact, Purdue has been terrible at the start of each of its last four bowl games. The Boilers have been outscored 59-0 in their last four bowl games. That’s right, the vaunted PU offense HAS NOT scored a point in the first quarter the last four years of postseason play. They have outscored their opponents 112-66 in the final three quarters, however their slow starts have cost them. They are just 1-3 SU in those games losing to Washington 34-24 in the Rose Bowl following the 2000 season, losing 33-27 to Washington State in the Sun Bowl following the 2001 season, coming from behind to beat Washington 34-24 in the Sun Bowl following the 2002 season and losing 34-27 to Georgia in last year’s Capital One Bowl.
** This year head coach Joe Tiller is emphasizing a fast start and has changed a few things in practice to try and accomplish that. One possible reason that Tiller sited for their slow starts in bowl games is due to their precision passing attack which involves the timing of the QB and receivers to be at a very high level. The month layoff before the bowl game tends to affect that. Their practice time simply does not duplicate what happens in game conditions. Thus, the slow starts. We’ll see if he’s rectified that this year by changing up some of his former practice "habits" in bowl preparation.
** The Boilers were hoping to have starting LB Bobby Iwuchukwu back in the line up for the Sun Bowl. That now looks like it probably won’t happen. Iwuchukwu started Purdue’s first eight games before injuring his knee. He is currently eighth on the team with 40 tackles, despite missing the final three games of the season. Tiller was hoping he’d be back, however he has not progressed as expected. Despite not practicing, Tiller said he will travel with the team and they will see how he responds. Odds are he will not play.
vs. Georgia in the Outback Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 1st in Tampa, FL
** Wisconsin HAS TO have RB Anthony Davis healthy to have a chance in this one. Davis has missed four of the Badgers 11 games this season and they simply were not very effective on offense when he was out. In the seven games the Davis played, UW averaged 25 PPG and 386 YPG on offense. In the four games he missed, Wisconsin averaged only 12 PPG and just 251 YPG of total offense. The Badger offense has very little chance to put points on the board vs. Georgia if Davis, who sat out the season finale vs. Iowa with a quadriceps injury. They simply have a HUGE drop off at the RB position behind Davis and the opposing defense doesn’t have to worry as much about their running game. UW QB Stocco is efficient, however if the running game is not working, he will not be able to win the game on his own.
** P.S. Davis has been practicing and head coach Barry Alvarez has said that he "has that bounce in his step" once again. Expect him to be at 100 percent for this game. Also, on a sidenote, the Badger RB situation is not quite as "dire" as I stated above for next year. The starter at tailback will be Brian Calhoun who is a transfer from Colorado. Calhoun, who is from Wisconsin, was the leading rusher for the Buffs in 2003 tallying nearly 1,000 yards. Badger defensive coordinator, Bret Bielema, whose defense went against Calhoun all year on the scout team, has said that Calhoun is the best RB his defense has faced this season.
** The fan base for each team should be close to equal with Georgia probably having a few more in the stands. Wisconsin has currently sold 10,000 tickets for the game while UGA is at about 15,000. The walk up will probably help Georgia who is obviously much closer to Tampa that Wisconsin is.
** UW All-American DE Erasmus James who injured his ankle in the Purdue game has simply not been the same since. He was absolutely dominating up to that point in the season. After the injury, he has not been able to get fully healed until now. He will be at full strength for this game for the first time since October 16th.
** Barry Alvarez is a very solid 7-2 SU in bowl games. He has had a problem with SEC teams however as they have given him his only two losses to date. Wisconsin lost to Georgia in the 1998 Outback Bowl 33-6. Last year, Auburn beat UW 28-14 in the Music City Bowl.