Tag Archives: Holiday Bowl

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action is Bullying the Minnesota Gopher Football Team

When Minnesota takes the field for the Holiday Bowl, the Gophers will be without 10 players. The players have been suspended for the bowl game after the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (OEOAA) opened its sexual assault investigation. This is not the first time four of these players have been investigated for alleged sexual assault.

Based on what is currently known, these players are innocent of the charges being brought against them. Minnesota law enforcement has yet to charge any of the players with a crime and no arrests have been made. All of the restraining orders that were in place have also been lifted. But none of that matters to the OEOAA.  The OEOAA considers them all guilty regardless of what the law says and is pursuing expulsion for some of the players and one-year suspensions for the others. Please, don’t forget that all of these players are innocent according to the law.

And now, in a show of solidarity, the remaining football players are considering a boycott of all football activities including the Holiday Bowl. As much as I admire the team for taking a stand for what they, and the law, considers to be right, I would not support a boycott in this instance for reasons I’ll get to later.

The chilling message that the OEOAA is sending to college students is that it can operate outside of the law. In the minds of the OEOAA, a person is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to sexual assault. And a person can actually be considered innocent according to the law and still be viewed as guilty by this administrative activist organization. This should disgust anyone who believes in the rule of law.

If there were a case to be made against these players based on the facts currently available, they would have been arrested with charges pending. But that isn’t the case. And it’s not a case of the alleged victim not wishing to move forward with a sexual assault case because she fears the benefit of the doubt will blindly be given to the football players. Minnesota is a state where the prosecuting attorney can move forward with charges even if the alleged victim chooses to drop the charges. The state of Minnesota takes this stuff seriously. As it should.

As for the boycott of football activities that the Gopher players are considering? That would be a big mistake. There are too many feminist activist groups that see football players and male athletes in general as the root of all evil on campus. These groups would like nothing more than to see football programs shut down in the name of feminist safety. All too often, football players are scapegoated and the best way for the active Gopher players to show solidarity with their falsely accused teammates is to play the game. The football players need to show their university that they won’t be bullied and intimidated.

There isn’t a person alive that should support punishing innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit. But when the alleged crime involves violence against women, universities seem more likely to virtue signal than to stand with the rule of law. I make no apologies for my stance and I refuse to back down from anyone who says that men are guilty simply because they are men. That’s sexist. Plain and simple.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Trojans and Badgers Battle in the Holiday Bowl

We finally made it to the point in the bowl season where the match ups get a bit more interesting and that is exactly what we have in the Holiday Bowl with USC and Wisconsin. Both of these teams have been a bit more up-and-down than some people thought and will be looking to provide a springboard into 2016 with a win at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Haters are going to hate, right? Well, if you’re USC, you have plenty of them and for the most part the Trojans have provided plenty of fuel to the fire for those people who don’t like USC. Between the coaching issues with Steve Sarkisian, the decision making by AD Pat Haden, and even the hiring of Clay Helton, the 2015 season has been one of ups and downs for the storied Pac-12 program. What do they need to do against Wisconsin to win?

The one thing they do have is talent. It’s young talent, but it’s talent that most football programs would die to have.

The aerial attack that USC can throw at opposing teams can cause defensive coordinators to have sleepless nights. It all starts with Cody Kessler who had a solid year, not the Heisman year that some people imagined, but nothing to be ashamed of. When Kessler looks to score quick he looks to JuJu Smith-Schuster who grabbed 85 receptions, 1,389 yards, and scored 10 touchdowns. He has speed that makes other players seem like they are playing with cement tied around their ankles. Not to be outdone is two-way player Adoree’ Jackson who may be the only player to make JuJu look slow. Jackson had 35 receptions for 308 yards while also playing defensive back for USC.

These two give the Trojans so much speed on the outside, it’ll be interesting to see how Wisconsin responds to it. USC also has Steven Mitchell Jr and Darreus Rodgers who combined for 61 receptions, 572 yards, and four touchdowns. Clearly the Trojans pose a problem for the Badgers with this kind of passing attack and since the Badgers have only faced two top-50 passing teams this season in Nebraska and Illinois it will be of utmost importance for the Badgers to limit their success.

When I think of Wisconsin, one of the things that comes to mind is a tough defense with big, stout farm kids from the dairy land. They absolutely have that this year, especially against the run. The Badgers rank fourth nationally against the run. As a complete defense they are first nationally in allowing just 13.1 points a game. The Badgers might want to play to their strengths and stop the run to make Cody Kessler put the entire offense on his shoulders. Every defensive coordinator wants to make the opposing offense one-dimensional, so if they can shut down the Trojan running attack which is good, then they can bring more defensive backs into the game to help limit the USC passing attack. This will be one of things that I will be looking for in this game.

This is that classic Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup that most people see in the Rose Bowl, but with this game there are other aspects that are on the line for both teams. Wisconsin is going for its fifth 10-win season since 2009.  In that time period only Ohio State and Michigan State have more wins. Clay Helton is going for his first win as USC’s official head coach. A win for Helton’s Trojans in this game will quiet many of negative thoughts that some have had since the Trojans removed the interim tag from Helton.

In the end, this is a hard game to figure out. Can a good offense overcome a great defense or does the defense shut the offense down? Most coaches will say defense wins championships, but if you can’t score then the defense is rendered moot. I’m going to Fight On with the Trojans and their offense. USC wins 30-17.

Big Ten Bowl Predictions

Here are my predictions for all ten bowl games.

Holiday Bowl – Wisconsin vs. University of Southern California

It still is unclear to me and many others how good or bad this team really is but they will have a golden opportunity to prove they are for real when they take on USC in the Holiday Bowl . The Badger defense will face its hardest test of the year when they take on the highly-talented Cody Kessler but don’t expect a blowout or for USC to overpower the Wisconsin defense. This defensive unit is extremely talented and aggressive, constantly pressuring the opposition with Joe Schobert and is No.1 nationally in scoring defense. As for USC, the Trojans front seven will be licking their chops as they take on an injury-riddled offensive line, a turnover prone quarterback in Joel Stave and a run game missing its top threat in Cory Clement. Nonetheless, I predict a close game and that the Badger defense will give Stave a chance to atone for his shortcomings this year late in the game. Wisconsin wins 27-24.

Citrus Bowl – Michigan vs. Florida

Both Florida and Michigan made coaching switches before the season and those moves have paid off tremendously as each program shattered expectations. Also, both teams boast killer defenses but are offensively challenged particularly rushing the ball (Florida – 104th, Michigan – 93rd). I’m not sure how well Michigan can move the ball especially going up against a deep, athletic front seven and a secondary that gave up just 175 yards per game even with a healthy Jake Rudock. Conversely, Treon Harris has been highly inconsistent and the Wolverines defense has allowed the opposition to complete just 48% of their passes on the year with seven touchdowns. However, Florida has kicking problems as Austin Hardin has converted just 5/14 field goals and in what looks like a close, defensive battle, points will be hard to come by. I predict a Michigan win because after being humiliated by OSU, I can guarantee this team will not let Harris run free like J.T. Barrett did. Wolverines win 20-10.

Outback Bowl – Northwestern vs. Tennessee

The Northwestern Wildcats are aiming to put an exclamation point on a solid season by winning 11 games for the first time in history and the Tennessee Volunteers want to close out 2015 with six straight victories. The Volunteers high powered offense will have to work hard against one of the country’s stingiest defenses as the Wildcats have allowed just five passing touchdowns and tallied 12 picks while giving up 200 rushing yards twice. However, if Tennessee can somehow manage to solve the defensive puzzle and score, it could be a long day for Northwestern. They do not do well playing from behind as their offense lacks firepower – they only topped 200 passing yards once this year and are No. 120 in passing yards per game. Also, Joshua Dobbs presents problems with his dual-threat ability and has had time to heal. If Dobbs can perform the way he did against Florida and Georgia, it’ll be a tough task for the Wildcats to contain him. I see the Vols taking this one, 24-14.

Pinstripe Bowl – Indiana vs. Duke

Duke comes into this game losing four of its last five games while Indiana is just excited to be in a bowl game since 2007 and a chance for a rare winning season. The Hoosiers are the definition of polar opposites as their defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing 37 points per game while their offense was a high-octane juggernaut, averaging 36 points a contest and scoring 41 points in the final three games even against Michigan. As for the Blue Devils, they will look to exploit the porous defense with dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk, but Duke has yielded 30 or more points in five of their last six games. This game has shootout written all over it and if that’s the case, then I have to give the edge to Indiana, 38-31.

Foster Farms Bowl – Nebraska vs. University of California-Los Angeles

Nebraska is like Jekyll and Hyde. Are they the bad-ass team that beat Michigan State even if it was controversial or are they the soft, pedestrian team that lost to Illinois? Its hard to gauge how good or bad this team is as six of their seven losses were by no more than eight points but will prove its worth versus UCLA. Speaking of which, despite having true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen throw over 3350 yards and 20 touchdowns, they were also inconsistent and had their own hiccups like a 19-point thrashing by USC. I feel the battle in the trenches will play a pivotal role as Nebraska ranked 8th in the country in stopping the run while the O-line was reliable, giving up only 13 sacks. However, Rosen gets to face a suspect Husker defensive backfield that ranks No. 13 in Big Ten pass defense and Tommy Armstrong faces a unit that allowed 394 ypg. Both teams are very evenly matched but I believe in the kid over the veteran and will take UCLA 21-17.

Quick Lane Bowl – Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

Minnesota had a tough year with close losses to TCU and Michigan, the retirement of Jerry Kill and comes in losing five of the last six games. Central Michigan is red-hot, winning five of their past six and features a high flying offense that averages 313 yards passing per game and if they get ahead, Minnesota’s maligned offense will have a hard time keeping up. Also, the Chippewa’s allowed only one 300-yard passing game and Minnesota is not built to go toe-to-toe passing the pigskin either. Their hope lies in getting the ground game going though it ranked 11th in the conference. Now Central Michigan has not yielded over 180 yards rushing in any of the last six games but teams that could pound the ball did against them and Minnesota could have a breakout game on the ground. Plus, the Gophers have a very strong secondary (15th overall) and while I see Cooper Rush making some plays, it won’t be enough as Minnesota ends their season on a positive note, 23-17.

Rose Bowl – Iowa vs. Stanford

Iowa has a chance to prove that they are an elite team and this year wasn’t a fluke in their first Rose Bowl game since 1990 while Stanford wants to make a statement about missing the playoff. The Achilles heel for Stanford has been their run defense as Northwestern ran for 225, Oregon for 231 and Notre Dame for 299, resulting in two losses and a near third. Iowa has manufactured 200 or more rushing yards seven times and averaged 192 per game on the season. If they can run the ball, Stanford could find itself in a hole. On the other side, the stout Iowa defense will have their hands full with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan but if they can force them to pass, they’ll have a chance especially with the Big Ten’s best corner, Desmond King. Both teams will have shining moments in this game but I feel with the defense and C.J. Beathard, Iowa will do just enough to win a close one, 20-17.

Cotton Bowl – Michigan State vs. Alabama

Michigan State will not beat itself with costly turnovers, silly penalties and will control the pace of the game as veteran quarterback Connor Cook is savvy enough to move the chains. Alabama will be looking to attack a weak, suspect secondary that gave up 200 or more passing yards in four of its last six games as the Spartans run defense has been solid all year, and with time to prepare, will be ready for Derrick Henry – though containing him is a different story. I will also be watching how the Spartans offensive line matches up with the athletic front seven that lead the nation in sacks with 46 but keep in mind, MSU’s also one of the few teams that could possibly hold up itself against the Crimson Tide’s lines as it proved that against Ohio State. Now, Michigan State has a chance if it can attack Alabama’s secondary with Aaron Burbridge but I think the Alabama defensive line will apply good pressure and prevent Cook from having a clean pocket. And I think Henry will wear down this defense as the games goes on. Alabama wins 28-20.

Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Ezekiel Elliott is the heart and soul of this offense and considering it’s his final game as a Buckeye, I expect OSU to pound away against Notre Dame and lean on him. If the Irish do succeed in bottling him up, OSU still should be able to control the game with the speed and elusiveness of J.T. Barrett. As for the Irish, I see them pounding the interior of the defensive line as Adolphus Washington will be suspended to set up play action and manageable third downs for quarterback Deshone Kizer. The Buckeyes secondary also hasn’t faced a receiver like Will Fuller, who found the endzone 13 times and averaged 20.5 yards a catch though, the Silver Bullets were second in scoring defense and sixth in efficiency, allowing over 17 points only twice in the last 11 games. With all that said, I think Urban Meyer will have his team focused and ready to play. Plus, Ohio State has more talent. Buckeyes win 35-21.

Taxslayer Bowl – Penn State vs. Georgia

The Nittany Lions have little offense as they rank 110th in total yards per game (325) and score 24 points a game (101st), and to make matters worse, Georgia features the top passing defense in the country, allowing just 146 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are No. 83 in passing offense, averaging 209 yards per game. However, Penn state also has an elite defense (No. 12 in total defense) andGeorgia has a flimsy passing game (103rd; 187 ypg) so it relies on its ground game and I see PSU loading the box to make Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert beat them. Lambert is not an NFL prospect like Christian Hackenberg but he is a good game manager and will take care of the ball. I see this as a low scoring defensive battle with each offense grasping for any foothold and I believe in the Bulldogs run game with Michel running effectively en route to victory. Georgia wins 17-10.

Wisconsin Season Review

Coming into the 2015 season, the Wisconsin Badgers were expected by numerous pundits to win the Big Ten West division and earn another trip to the Big Ten Championship to exact revenge for their 59-0 defeat in last season’s title game against Ohio State.

Instead, the Badgers plans went awry due to untimely injuries, most notably a sports hernia injury to lead back Cory Clement and were thwarted with heartbreaking losses in the waning seconds to Iowa and Northwestern. Furthermore, after leading the Big Ten in rushing in 2014, they fell to tenth overall in the conference and failed to produce a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time in 11 years. Yes, they were mathematically in contention all season for the division but were never the frontrunners as expected as they finished third in the West with a 9-3 record. For most programs, accumulating nine victories would be a formidable accomplishment, especially for a first-year coach, but the season left something to be desired.

Now, Wisconsin heads to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl against University of Southern California with an opportunity to end the season on a high note and reach ten wins. Quarterback Joel Stave would definitely want to nab one more victory, making him the Badgers’ record-holder for career wins.

Offense: C+
On paper, nothing significant stands out for this offensively challenged, imbalanced team. The Badgers ranked 58th in passing, 97th in rushing and 84th in total offense. Stave was the model of inconsistency as he threw 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, including two picks returned for touchdowns. At the same time, the Badgers severely lacked a home-run hitting, dynamic playmaker in the backfield and Wisconsin’s offensive line couldn’t stay healthy, using seven different starting combinations in 12 games and losing three starters including center Dan Voltz for the year to a knee injury. Also, there were injuries to tight end Austin Traylor and wide receiver Rob Wheelwright, so over half of the original starting offensive lineup didn’t play for long periods during this season. Even so, Wisconsin still has yet to beat a winning team this season (the team’s nine wins have come against schools with a combined 33-75 record). The lone bright spot it seemed was first-team all-Big Ten receiver Alex Erickson, who hauled in 72 catches, more than double what anybody else has on the team, catching five or more passes in eight games. His 924 receiving yards ranked third in the league.

Defense: A
Though the offense sputtered and failed to live up to expectations, the defense was consistently reliable and kept the team in games. The defense ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense and No. 3 in total defense, and was especially strong against the run, holding opponents to a conference best 98 yards per game. One of the nation’s most impressive defensive units, this group proved to be a very talented corps with explosive playmaking abilities. Senior Joe Schobert led the defense with 76 tackles on the season, 18.5 for a loss, and 9.5 sacks, in addition to accumulating an interception and five forced fumbles, tying a school record for most fumbles forced this season. Schobert, alongside leading tackler T.J. Edwards (80 tackles) and Vince Biegel (64 tackles) formed a strong, underrated group of linebackers. Dave Aranda’s last three defenses at Wisconsin have ranked in top 7 nationally in total defense and scoring defense and he has never had more than seven returning starters on his defenses. In fact, since Aranda arrived three years ago, the Badgers have given up an average of 17 points per game, second best in the nation.

Special Teams: D+
With the exception of Rafeal Gaglianone’s game-winning field goal against Nebraska and a punt return for a touchdown versus Northwestern that was controversially called back, special teams were a liability for Wisconsin all year long. Its kickoff and punt coverage, kickoff return and field goal numbers (62.5%, 12th in Big Ten, 107th overall) all fall near the bottom of Big Ten schools. Punter Drew Meyer was 12th in the conference for yards per punt at 39.6.

Coaching: B
Even after 12 games, it still is relatively unknown where this Badgers team stands because there are two ways to look at it. Wisconsin could very well have finished 11-1 and be headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl, which many fans expected to happen but Wisconsin’s losses to Iowa and Northwestern came after the Badgers did not score from the goal line late in each contest. Yet, it’s a players game and you can’t blame Paul Chryst and his staff for being unable to pull out victories in close games and with all the injuries and inconsistent offense the Badgers had, 9-3 isn’t so bad. The other way to look at it is that Chryst achieved very little despite going 9-3 this past regular season as Wisconsin did not play any of the East Division powerhouses this season, just barely beat Nebraska with a field goal and struggled mightily with a Maryland team that won one league game all season. Needless to say, it’s not overly impressive and the team could very well be 6-win program, which is unacceptable by Wisconsin standards, first year or not. With all these things in mind, the Badgers still managed to make a decent bowl against a storied USC program and for that, they deserve a solid grade.

Image courtesy of Steve Shupe

The Civil War: Oregon and Oregon State

The Civil War game hits the state of Oregon this week with Oregon State and Oregon going at it on Saturday in Eugene. Does this game mean anything this year? The answer to that question depends on your point of view. To fans of both schools it means bragging rights for an entire year. Duck fans want a good bowl game. Beaver fans (myself included) just want a win to ruin the bowl plans of their hated rival 45 miles to the south of them.

For anybody outside of Oregon, the game doesn’t mean anything, but don’t tell that to the Ducks. Oregon has been playing well and is currently on a five-game winning streak that has included wins over Stanford and USC. This late-season push by the Ducks has put them in a position to earn a decent bowl bid. If they can win on Friday against the Beavers, the Ducks could be looking at one of the bowl tie-ins for the Pac-12 or one of the prestigious “New Year’s Six” bowl games. The Fiesta or the Peach Bowl could be possible landing spots due to those bowls being able to take at-large teams.

The Ducks would much rather go to the Fiesta or Peach Bowl games because of the larger payout financially, the impression it would make with recruits, and the positive reaction of their fans. What happens for the Ducks? That will play itself out here in the next couple weeks. For right now, Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country and they don’t want anything or anyone to derail their big dreams. Especially the Beavers.
If the Beavers somehow pull off a huge upset and overcome being a 33.5 point dog in this game, the consequences for the Ducks would be large. It would mean no Fiesta or Peach Bowl game. Instead, probably the Holiday Day Bowl in San Diego. No disrespect to the City of San Diego, the host of the Holiday Bowl, but that is a huge step down in every way for the Ducks. They will come out to play and look to quickly put Oregon State out of their misery.

Misery. That is an appropriate word for the Oregon State season. They come into the Civil War game as a huge underdog riding an eight-game losing streak. Things have not gone as well as Beaver fans would have wanted under new Head Coach Gary Andersen. Oregon State will be coming into Friday’s game looking to take anything positive into the offseason.

Being a huge underdog in a rivalry game doesn’t give much hope to the fans of Oregon State. Can the Beavers give their fans any hope of a massive upset? Anything can happen on any given day, but in this case I just don’t see that happening. At the end of day, talent wins out and the Ducks have much better talent than the Beavers.

The Beaver defense has struggled mightily in the last three games, during which they’ve given up around 2,000 yards of total offense. Heck, last week the Washington Huskies had 329 yards of offense at halftime. A defense struggling that much is going to have a tough afternoon trying to stop Royce Freeman, Vernon Adams, Bralon Addison, and Darren Carrington.

You always want to make a team one-dimensional. But do the Beavers want to make the Ducks one-dimensional at running the ball or throwing the ball?

Either way, the Ducks should have their way with the young Beaver defense. Head Coach Gary Andersen is extremely impressed with what the Ducks have done this year considering that they were left for dead just about a month ago. Royce Freeman stands out for the Beaver coach.

“He’s one of those guys that’s gonna go on to the NFL and play for a long time. He’s a great running back who can do it all.” Andersen said in his weekly press conference.

When asked about the dynamic play of the Ducks’ quarterback in the last few games, Andersen was just as glowing in his observation of Adams.

“Vernon now seems to be I’m sure exactly what they envisioned at the beginning of the season. He’s completely at peace with the offense.” Andersen said.

Is there anybody who thinks that the Ducks won’t win this game on Friday? Probably not. Not even myself, and I’m an Oregon State alumnus. Oregon State has to play fast, loose, and they have to remind themselves that they have nothing to lose. However, if the Beavers can be competitive and give some hope to Beaver fans, administration, and even their coaches for 2016 then good things can come from the Civil War game.

“I think it would be a good steppingstone going into next season for the younger guys,” said senior OSU defensive end Lavonte Barnett.

The Civil War game will be won by the Ducks fairly handily. Don’t give up on the Beavers though, despite the fact that their season has been a huge struggle, Coach Andersen will get this turned around and the Civil War won’t be so one-sided in the future.

Looking Ahead for USC: Holiday Bowl

The Scoop:

After quite the tumultuous season, USC has been selected to face off against Nebraska (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) in the Holiday Bowl. The game takes place on December 27, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.

This will be the first time the Cornhuskers and Trojans have ever faced each other in a bowl game. USC is a near perfect 3-0-1 over four regular season meetings between the two storied programs.

The Trojans’ 2014:

It’s been an extremely frustrating year for SC fans, in which a talented team ended the regular season with 4 losses. In hindsight, the only unacceptable loss was to Boston College, but the Eagles showed up against the Trojans on the East Coast.

Losses to ranked Arizona State, Utah, and UCLA were really what did the Trojans in, especially with the first two of those games being USC’s to lose. At the beginning of the year, I predicted this team would go 9-3, with losses to Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame. After a huge week to win at Stanford, the Trojans looked capable of winning the Pac-12 south.

The unfortunate reality is that USC couldn’t close out games. the Arizona State loss was the real stab in the heart, with the win coming on a hail mary TD pass. I can’t help but wonder about how different the season would have been if that game and the Utah game had been Trojan wins. We’d be looking at a 10-2 Trojan team that would definitely sit in the top 10. I think this season represents a missed oppurtunity-the amount of talent on this team is enough to make the playoff.

Past 4 games:

USC has gone 3-1 over it’s past 4 games, with the only loss coming to UCLA. Wins over unranked Cal and Washington State preceded the loss, and last weeks blowout of the Irish came the week after.

 

Photo by Flickr user Steve White CC BY 2.0
A USC flag is flown in the teams’ last bout played in Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers’ 2014:

Nebraska’s season has gone a bit differently. After an 8-1 start (with the sole loss coming at #10 Michigan State), the Cornhuskers lost back to back games to ranked Wisconsin and Minnesota. An overtime win against Iowa ended their regular season at 9-3. Due to the late decline and comparably easy schedule, the Cornhuskers ended the season ranked #25 by AP but without a spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Nebraska didn’t manage any wins against Top 25 teams, and only 3 of their victories came against teams with winning records. None of the teams the Cornhuskers beat ended the season with more than 7 wins. Probably their most impressive win of the year came in overtime at then 7-4 Iowa (which kind of goes to show how much they lack a quality win).

The Huskers are, though, ranked 14th in points for per game and 17th in rushing yards per game, coming on the legs of Ameer Abdullah, whose 1523 rushing yards are 11th most in the FBS this year.

Past 4 games:

A home win over lowly Purdue was followed by a thrashing at #20 Wisconsin (aka the Melvin Gordon superman game) and a close home loss to #25 Minnesota. An overtime win at Iowa last weekend capped off the regular season for the Huskers.

Looking ahead:

In my opinion, this game will go to the Trojans without much work. Nebraska has no quality wins, and doesn’t have the passing attack necessary to get the jump on USC. The Trojans have held opponents to 3.9 yards per rush this season and have given up the 27th least yards per game in the FBS. The fact that the game will be played in San Diego, less than a two hour drive from USC’s campus, will give the Trojans a sizable fan base. I think the combo of a home-like atmosphere and USC’s power offense should be enough to give Troy the win.

My Prediction: USC 38, Nebraska 24

 

Badgers Going Bowling…Again

Saturday’s 37-0 shutout of Rutgers featured exactly what we’ve come to expect from this year’s Badgers (great run game, shoddy passing attack, and fast, aggressive defense), plus an added boost from an improving special teams unit that blocked a punt and converted three field goals. Wisconsin has won three straight Big Ten games, the last two by a combine 89-7 differential, and appears to be hitting its stride as the regular season reaches its final month. The last four games will go a long way in determining how the 2014 season is viewed in the future. Win out and UW will have earned a chance at a fourth conference championship in five years, while simultaneously add to the frustration of losses to LSU and Northwestern as it pertains to the College Football Playoff. Suffer a loss in November, and it likely proves that Wisconsin will always remain a better than good team, but never elite without a star at quarterback. Before the games against Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota decide who wins the Big Ten West, let’s celebrate the other significant meaning to the win in New Jersey: bowl eligible.

Michigan State v WisconsinAt 6-2, Gary Andersen’s squad is now bowl eligible for the 13th consecutive year, a streak that stands as the longest current stretch in the Big Ten. This remains a tremendous feat for a program that since its first bowl appearance at the 1953 Rose Bowl, has endured stretches of 19 and 9 years without a postseason berth before Barry Alvarez’s first of three trips to Pasadena. The run of success over the past two decades has made Badger Nation immune to how special that is, taking for granted that every season ends in a bowl appearance. It’s the same under-appreciated reaction to the basketball team’s postseason consistency under Bo Ryan. But back on the gridiron, the current 13 year streak now sits third behind Michigan (33, 1975-2007) and Ohio State (15, 1972-1986) in Big Ten history. (It should be noted that both Nebraska and Penn State had stretches of 35 and 13, respectively, though both came prior to their addition to the conference. This blogger has not, and will not, accept that those marks should transfer into the Big Ten record books.) The Badgers baker’s dozen since 2002 is tied for seventh among longest active in the NCAA.

Naturally, it’s time for a little bowl prognostication! Here are the bowl game possibilities for the 2014 Badgers:

  • College Football Playoff Bowl Game (as B1G champ): A best case scenario for Wisconsin is to win their final four regular season games, followed by a victory in the Big Ten Championship Game. It would give UW the distinction of league champ, which carries different meaning in the inaugural campaign of the College Football Playoff. Since the Rose Bowl is slated as one of this year’s semifinal games, and the Badgers are not Final Four-worthy, the B1G champion will be eligible to play in either the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl. The committee would place the Badgers in one of those three games based on a combination of factors, like geography, rankings, rematches from the regular season or previous bowl games, and trying to create “the most compelling matchups”. There is a lot to be played out before this picture can begin to take shape, though a matchup with an SEC foe in the Fiesta Bowl appears to be a good candidate.
  • CFP Bowl Game (as B1G runner-up): This is a possibility, but with a very small likelihood. Should Wisconsin reach Indianapolis on December 6 and lose, they could still earn an at-large bid into the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl from the CFP selection committee. For this to be a possibility, UW will need to continue to climb back into and up the rankings into December. Since only one of their remaining opponents is ranked, making big jumps will be a challenge without the aid of higher ranked teams losing. Also working against Wisconsin and the Big Ten this year is lack of a limit on teams from a single conference in CFP bowls, meaning the SEC could nab several spots.
  • Citrus Bowl (formerly the Capital One Bowl): Entering November, this seems to be the most likely fit for Bucky. The Citrus will take the highest Big Ten team not in a CFP bowl game, meaning a West Division title would put the Badgers in line for an appearance in Orlando for a second consecutive year, and fifth time since 2005. The real intriguing part to this game is the matchup against an SEC opponent, which could range from that league’s third best team to its fifth or sixth if the committee gets SEC-happy when filling the four non-playoff bowls.
  • Outback Bowl: A trip to Tampa seems plausible should UW: 1) finish second in the West or 2) win the West, but trail the East’s second place team (Michigan State or Ohio State) in the final rankings and have the committee pass that team up. The January 1 game would also be against an SEC school, with a range slightly lower – or wider – than the Citrus.
  • Holiday Bowl: Though it plays on December 27, a visit to San Diego awaits Big Ten’s #4. The Holiday Bowl seems probable if Wisconsin falters twice this month to finish the regular season 8-4. While that would certainly damage faith and optimism in the program, fans would be treated to a new post-season travel venue (Wisconsin has never played a bowl game in San Diego) and a matchup with a Pac-12 opponent.
  • Remaining Bowls: Since anything is possible, the Big Ten has five other bowl game affiliations that could host the Badgers if all hell breaks loose over the final four weeks. Those bowls are (in order): Music City Bowl, San Francisco Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

After two outstanding performances, the Badgers are back in the AP and USA Today Top-25 polls. A spot in Tuesday’s second CFP poll would go a long way to seeing how the committee (which includes UW AD Barry Alvarez) views this team and the league. There is no doubt, the immediate future is brightening, with or without a consistent passing game.

Badger Bites (Weekly nuggets about Wisconsin’s next opponent): Two current trends indicate yet another blowout is expected Saturday in West Lafayette. One is the Badgers performances the past two weeks, and the other is their eight game winning streak against Purdue, with the past six by an average of 29.8 points. The Boilermakers have looked better than expected in Big Ten play, remaining competitive in losses to Michigan State, Minnesota, and Nebraska after beating Illinois on the road. The defense has become their biggest concern, ranking 11th in the league against the run and 13th against the pass. Prediction: Wisconsin 42, Purdue 13.

Time to put up or shut up for the Sun Devils

In the last two years of Sun Devil football they have gone from an 8 win team to a team that played in the Pac-12 Championship game last year. Well, it’s time to see where this program is headed this year.
Since I’ve lived down here in the Valley of the Sun, there always seems like there is a lot of bravado coming out of Tempe every year. It’s always puzzled me because the Sun Devil program has been mired in a sea of mediocrity for a very long time.  When the team takes field this year I will be wondering whether Sun Devil fans will have something to cheer about and have more reasons to attend games and sell out Sun Devil stadium instead of leaving games early or seeing that stadium about half full.
This 2014 team is not perfect, they are not rolling out talent like an Alabama or Oregon, but they have learned that they can compete with anybody. They can compete with anybody given they play with a sense of urgency. That every play matters, every series they get matters because once they play like that, they can beat Stanford, Oregon, UCLA consistently and not beat them every so often. If they do not play with urgency then a repeat of last years Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech will happen. Texas Tech made them look like a JV squad in that game when it should of been the other way around. The Devils should have beat the Red Raiders down convincingly, but we all know it did not happen.
From the start of training camp, to the regular season, to the bowl season the Devils have to play with urgency. There are two people that should stress that urgent play and those people are: Head Coach Todd Graham and quarterback Taylor Kelly. They can not take anybody lightly, does not matter if they are playing the Colorado’s of the world or Stanford. Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday. Graham and Taylor Kelly have to get team ready to play every practice and every game and make them realize urgent play is what is expected with the Sun Devil football program. Here’s to hoping the program puts it up this year!  Just saying…