It took a long time to research this bowl. Not because I find the matchup overly interesting, but because I got distracted by the Outback menu. There’s a hot take for you: looking at the Outback menu is going to be more exciting than the Outback Bowl.
Throw out the garbage non-conference games at the beginning of the season and Florida and Iowa have only scored more than 20 points a combined five times. That’s five out of 19 games. If you want to get technical, Iowa did score 21 in a loss to North Dakota State which everyone saw coming. Head coach Kirk Ferentz just doesn’t believe in consistency from year to year. Play in the Big Ten Championship one year, get knocked off by an FCS school the next.
But back to those point things. See, you need a lot of them to win the game usually and scoring lots of them is what makes games exciting. Well in addition to not scoring a lot of points, both of these school have highly ranked defense. Florida ranks sixth in overall defense according to ESPN and Iowa ranks 21st. They’re actually tied for eighth in points allowed.
It’s not really Florida’s fault that the team can’t score points. The Gators were 5-1 with Luke Del Rio at quarterback but an injury to him against Arkansas has forced Purdue-transfer Austin Appleby into the starting spot. With Appleby at the helm, the Gators went 3-3 with two devastating losses to Florida State and Alabama.
Would Florida have defeated either of those teams with Del Rio? Maybe Florida State but there probably would’ve been at least a better showing by the Gators.
Iowa, on the other hand, has no excuse. The Hawkeyes are coming into the Outback Bowl after thrashing Nebraska but let’s be real here: Nebraska was a fraud and we all knew it. Starting quarterback C.J. Beathard just didn’t put up the stats like he did in the Hawkeyes undefeated 2015 regular season. He had a pair of backs that accumulated almost 2000 yards and 20 scores but he had that last year too, only with three backs instead.
The real downfall for Iowa was the loss of 2015’s leading receiver, Matt VandeBerg, for most of the season. VandeBerg only has 19 receptions this year compared to 65 the previous year. That was double the catches of the next closest receiver. He’s missed eight games this season and is still tied for third in touchdown receptions. How sad is that? He’ll be back in 2017 but for the regular season, not the bowl game.
The moral of the story? This game is probably going to be brutal to watch.
How do you make an unwatchable game watchable? With gambling!
The line has actually dropped to Florida being a 2.5 point favorite depending on where you look, but for all intents and purposes, we’re going to call it three since that’s what most sites and bowl challenges have it listed at. That’s probably a fair line since there’s bound to be mostly field goals kicked in this game. I’ve also learned that if it starts dropping, Vegas is trying to get you to pick the underdog. I’m onto you, Vegas.
What you’ve got to watch out for is the defensive scores, though. Florida has 13 interceptions and eight fumbles that have been converted into three touchdowns, tying them for ninth in the nation. Iowa has recovered one more fumble but only seven interceptions for one score. The Outback Bowl is going to come down to one team turning it over in the other’s territory. My money’s on Florida to create that turnover so I’m going saying to take Florida and the points.
For some hilarious reason, the over/under has been set at 21. I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time on this. If you’ve gotten to this point, you already know I’m not expecting a lot of points to be scored. You can take the under with confidence in the Outback Bowl.
That’s all the official bets for you but if you need some other things to make wagers on with your friends, enjoy these prop bets I just made up and have fun watching the Outback Bowl:
Times Jim Harbaugh is mentioned: over/under, 3
Someone picks Alabama to win it all: over/under, 6.5
Higher total: touchdowns or turnovers
Higher total: Appleby passing yards or LeShaun Daniels rushing yards
There might not be two more opposite teams coming into this game.
Northwestern was the team that no one was talking about because to be perfectly honest, Northwestern is usually not so good. They’re usually good for about one magical win a year and every once in awhile a decent season. On the other hand you have Tennessee who, every year, people are talking about taking the next step and really ascending to the top of the SEC.
Well, neither of those things happened.
Tennessee did take a step forward but not as big as many predicted. Instead, they found ways to squander big leads in the second half. With the exception of Georgia, they really didn’t beat anyone of note. They didn’t get blown out by Alabama and depending on who you talk to, that’s basically a win.
Northwestern on the other hand shocked everyone. They started off with an upset victory over Stanford that had everyone questioning just how good Stanford really was. It turned out that they were very good and so was Northwestern. Northwestern lost only two games this season, one to a red-hot Michigan team and one to the eventual Big East West Champions Iowa. That’s a pretty successful season for anyone.
To be honest, this game is going to get ugly.
Both teams boast strong defenses with Northwestern 11th in total defense. Tennessee’s numbers look good when you look at points scored against them where they rank 25th but the SEC wasn’t nearly as good as people liked to pretend it was this season. Even the almighty Alabama didn’t have the usual juggernaut offense that people are used to seeing.
Northwestern is going to get their stops but it’s all going to come down to whether or not they can score. Earlier in the season when the Wildcats ran into a stiff defense they crumbled. They’re a more experienced team now but against the three tough defenses of Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin they scored a combined total of 13 points. That’s not good. If they want to win, Northwestern is going to have to lean heavily on its defense and get some turnovers to put their offense in good starting positions. If that offense gets pinned deep in its own territory repeatedly, they’re going to struggle to score.
Northwestern is coming into the Outback Bowl a 9-point dog to Tennessee which is actually a little surprising. I actually figured it might be a bigger spread as no one likes to give Northwestern any credit at all. Even in other bowl previews Tennessee is being talked about as putting its name into the national conversation for next year. If Tennessee is thinking like its fans and its media, their confidence will be their weakness. I’d like to think that Butch Jones is a better coach than that though. However, I still think Northwestern covers the spread.
The over/under is set at 47 which most people are probably counting on Tennessee to cover. I think the Northwestern defense doesn’t let that happen though. Look for a low-scoring game, maybe first team to 20 wins.
I’ve been on the Northwestern bandwagon all season and it was pretty lonely on here for most of it. The Wildcats are probably a better team than anyone gives them credit for. That said, they just don’t have the offensive firepower to win the big games yet. Tennessee wins in an ugly one, 24-17.
Well folks, 2015 is in our rear-view mirror and 2016 is upon us. As the Grateful Dead ponders the passage of time in their song, Uncle John’s Band, “Oh, oh but I want to know, where does the time go?”
Beats me. And when you’re well to the north side of of six decades on this spinning blue marble, that line rings ever so true. I’m running as fast as I can, but I often feel like I can’t keep up. ZOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Collecting Social Security? WHOOOOSSSSHHHH!!! Looking down the barrel of sixty-five turns-around-the-horn in a mere twenty months?
Life did, that’s what. Fine. Carpe diem! Rock ‘N Roll, Mick! I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it and I plan to keep on doing just that!
Now, let’s take a quick glance back at 2015, and Auburn, before we turn the page to 2016.
It truly does seem like yesterday that we were about to make our way to Tampa for the Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn was flush with promise. Will Muschamp had just been hired as the defensive coordinator on The Plains and things were looking up.
That bowl game, in hindsight, was a portent of things to come. Daniel Carlson, a superb placekicker, bounced a field goal attempt off the goalpost, at Raymond James Stadium in overtime, and the Tigers found itself on the losing end of its first bowl game of 2015. They will play their SECOND bowl game of the year in the Birmingham Bowl. The opponent is the Memphis Tigers. That game is either in progress, or has been completed, by the time you read this.
Then came recruiting. Gus and company landed an excellent class. Check it out!
The A-Day game, in mid-April, gave Auburn fans more reason to hope as Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, Duke Williams, Roc Thomas, and company lit it up! Woo Hooo!
SEC Media Days ushered in a blast of unabated enthusiasm for Auburn Tiger fans all across this spinning globe. They were picked, by the media, to win the SEC and advance to the College Football Playoff. I was, and many of you were, so stoked by this time that we could hardly contain ourselves. Auburn’s in the top five and Jeremy Johnson is getting Heisman hype!
GULP! We know, all too well, what transpired next and continued throughout the entire autumn.
So, where does that leave us? In Birmingham, that’s where.
I was once told, by an attendant at what was the old Gulf station at College and Glenn, in Auburn, when my old Pontiac Astre broke down, “You have a blew gasket.” That was, of course, spoken to me. I knew my gasket wasn’t the color blue. I knew it was busted, broken, kaput.
And as I peer at 2016 through my orange and blue crystal ball, I’m hoping this thing ain’t “blew”.
I believe Gus will get his bus up and running MUCH more smoothly than it ran in 2015, when it sputtered and spewed and belched forth six regular season wins.
I think he will locate a very good defensive coordinator that will, hopefully, give us the continuity and stability he is looking for.
I think he will come up with an exciting dual threat quarterback, John Franklin?, that will get the offense back in the mode Gus has become known for with his HUNH.
The Tigers have a good nucleus of returning players to build around in 2016. They include Braden Smith, Alex Kozan, Austin Golson, Robert Leff, and Kaleb Kim on the O line. Will Shon Coleman and Avery Young go pro?
The D line should return Carl Lawson (PLEASE!), Gimel President, Raashed Kennion, Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, and Price Tega Wanogho, among others.
Linebackers? Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis, Jeff Holland, and Cameron Toney will make up the core.
How about the secondary? Carlton Davis (BOOM!), T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Johnathan “Rudy” Ford, Tim Irvin, Tray Matthews, and Montavious Atkinson.
And back to the offense. The aforementioned John Franklin, Tyler Queen, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and, the incoming Woody Barrett, are all potential starters at quarterback.
The running back position looks great with Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas, and Kerryon Johnson helping to make up that group.
Jason Smith, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Marcus Davis, Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Gray King will return at wide receiver.
The kicking duties are in excellent hands (or legs?) with Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips coming back.
I expect the tight end and H-back/fullback roles to perform much better with some experience and added talent.
All the guys, just mentioned, were known quantities, for the most part. There are redshirt and incoming freshman that will bolster the talent levels, as well.
What else do the last couple of days in 2015 and the New Year of 2016 hold for those of us who are rabid college football fans.
I have Alabama over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
What will happen in Glendale? Will Nick Saban win one more Natty at Alabama and depart T-Town? Or maybe retire? Possibly?
Who will be the early favorites for the 2016 crown? Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Notre Dame, it appears.
The SEC West? That has to be Bama. The SEC East? I like Tennessee.
Ohio State should get a strong challenge from Michigan and, especially, Michigan State in the Big 10.
Florida State looks set for the long haul in the ACC, after Clemson.
You have to stay with Okie State, TCU, and Baylor to continue to be strong in the Big 12.
The PAC-12? Wide open. USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and, my dark horse, the Washington Huskies, should all contend.
A fly-in-the-ointment? Houston? Boise State?
And what about the Auburn Tigers? You’ve been given a look at some solid returning talent and there are some studs in the 2016 signing class. Only time will tell. But, playing in the SEC West is absolutely brutal.
Where do we find victories on that next schedule?
The Tigers open with my pre-season numero uno, Clemson… in Auburn…on my birthday. I’m not of the mind to pencil that one in as a win.
Let’s go with victories over Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LA-Monroe, Mississippi State (bye, Dak), Vanderbilt, and Alabama A&M. That’s six. I have LSU (in Auburn), and Arkansas (also in Auburn) as, at least, 50/50 shots. Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama? You simply cannot pencil wins in for any of those tough ones. But, I do believe Auburn will have a chance to win any game they play in, with an 8-4 record a good possibility. Anything else will be gravy. Well, bring on the turkey and dressing ’cause we have that gravy awaiting on The Plains.
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.
The week began with an embarrassing loss in the Big Ten Championship, and it ended with a second-place finish in the Heisman voting for its star player. In the middle, a whirlwind of events that changed the national perception of the Wisconsin football program, brought back a legend -again – and might set the school up for further success. So what really happened, and what does it all mean?
Beginning with the disaster in Indy, let’s make this clear: Ohio State was a better team all year and Ohio State was (by far) the better team that night. The Badgers arrived to the title game as a beaten, worn-down team that had just survived three extremely physical “playoff” games to win the Big Ten West. On top of that, they ran into a highly motivated Buckeyes team that was playing for a spot in the College Football Playoffs, united by the recent death of a teammate, and fortified by Vegas making UW the favorite to win. That outcome was not the result of Gary Andersen already being in negotiations with Oregon State to fill their vacancy at head coach.
Since we brought it up, there are many things that need to be said and understood about Andersen’s decision to abruptly exit Madison:
1) It is in no way, shape or form, the same as when Bret Bielema jumped shift for Arkansas in 2012. Bielema bolted without a word to anyone for what he dubbed to be a better school, a better program, and a better conference. Andersen moved on for comfort and familiarity on the west coast.
2) There is nothing “wrong” with the Wisconsin football program, despite what national “pundits” want you to think. While both Bielema (pay for assistants) and Andersen (admissions requirements) reach deep to find something to complain about, both were far from correct. Plus, neither were driven out of town, nor did they leave amidst a haze of investigations, sanctions, or controversy.
3) Getting back to the supposed problem with academic admissions standards at UW, there is no problem. Yes, it may be harder to get a prospective student-athlete into Madison than other schools, the real problem existed in the type of kid Andersen was recruiting. More specifically, it’s hard to get a junior college transfer in UW for several reasons. Just remember that the number one reason – out of a long list of reasons – a high school athlete ends up at a JUCO is because of inferior grades and test scores. And yes, it would be great from a team success standpoint to bring in any player you want, but there is also a pride standpoint to the higher level of person competing for the Cardinal and White. Another reason you rarely hear about UW athletes in the news for incidents off the field.
4) Athletics Director Barry Alvarez is not a micromanager when it comes to the football program. Alvarez let Andersen do what he wanted with the program and how he wanted to continue building it. The likely only suggestion he made was to remember that success at UW was created by taking advantage of the natural resources within the state (i.e. big lineman and a power run game). Alvarez was way more hands on during the Bielema era, but he had to be. Bielema was his hand-picked successor and had never been a head coach before.
Alvarez also announced this week that he’ll return to the sidelines, again, to coach the team in the Outback Bowl against Auburn. It’s great that the seniors wanted him to handle the situation the same as he did for the 2013 Rose Bowl, and even better that Alvarez obliged. What makes this even better is than unlike the last time, the state of Wisconsin’s highest paid public employee says he will not pocket the $118,500, but rather donate it to need-based scholarships. Kudos, Barry!
Though nothing is official yet, all indications are that native son Paul Chryst will return to the city of his birth and take over the UW football program as head coach. A former Badgers quarterback and later the offensive coordinator for some of the greatest Wisconsin offenses ever. He knows the program, its history, the recruiting, the state and its fans, and, most importantly, he’ll want to be the Badgers head coach for a long time. Since nothing is officially on this front, we’ll wait to further dissect this move at a later date.
The final piece to the wild week should have been the highlight, but unfortunately, it was completely overshadowed by the coaching news. Melvin Gordon, arguably the best running back to grace the Camp Randall Stadium turf, was awarded the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best back and finished second in the Heisman voting behind Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Gordon became the third UW tailback to received the Doak Walker in the past 15 years, joining Ron Dayne and Montee Ball. He will likely finish the season as the nation’s leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Gordon became the fastest player to reach 2,000 yards, doing so in 241 carries, and now stands in line to end his collegiate career with the greatest yards per carry average of all-time. The honors were already stacked up after Gordon won the Ameche-Dayne Award as the best RB in the Big Ten, the Graham-George Award as the conference’s offensive player of the year, the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the B1G’s MVP, and was named to the Walter Camp All-America Team. He also finished second to Mariota for the Maxwell Award. Gordon’s season will be remembered as one of the greatest year’s ever put together by a running back, yet it was truly inopportune that those storylines and celebrations were lost in the shuffle.
Losses to LSU, Northwestern, and Ohio State removed a little bit of the shine from a terrific season. The upcoming bowl game now seems to be a simple afterthought as a final stamp on the year, which will actually be punctuated now by the official hiring of Paul…uh, sorry…of the next head coach.
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.
At 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.
Some say the best thing about the BCS is that it exposed the Big Ten, who allegedly received way too much credit for their strength on the football field over the years. I’ve always rejected that notion, but the past couple of years has made it difficult to argue. I still think it’s more of a recent thing than a historic thing, but we live in the present, and it is what it is.
It’s been somewhat of a running joke, between Damien Bowman and I, that the Big Ten is hardly worth our time, here at the College Football Roundtable. For me, it’s basically just satire, but I think the Big Ten shame is all business with my podcast partner. Look, there’s some merit to it, which goes far beyond Ohio State losing back-to-back National Championships; top to bottom, the Big Ten really doesn’t have it, whatever it may be.
For this conference’s Year-In-Review, we’re going to take a sarcastic or satirical approach, to feed the trolls, if you will. I offer you a brief summary of what happened to each team, how they feed that narrative (that the conference should be relegated to the FCS), and why that assessment just might be wrong. Granted, criticism might be natural in some cases and whoever “they” are, “they” might not be wrong in saying whatever negative things they tend to say about some of these programs.
What happened in 2013? It was a rough first year for Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Their lone victory came, and it didn’t come easily in a matchup with in-state FCS rival Indiana State. Indiana State’s only win came over a school named Quincy; I had to look this up, but the Quincy Hawks are a Division II school in Illinois that finished near the bottom of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. A week after holding off a late comeback surge from Indiana State, they lost to Notre Dame by a single touchdown, and then went on to lose to everyone except Illinois by double digits. Their signature moments included the 31-24 loss to Purdue and a 14-0 loss to Michigan State, if that tells you anything about the 2013 Boilermakers.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I had to look up Quincy University to demonstrate how meaningless their win over Indiana State was. They didn’t score a single point between October 12th and November 9th, which was only two games, but still.
That’s wrong, because…it isn’t Purdue’s fault that Indiana State stunk. They did win that game 70-7. And as far as the near-month-long scoring drought is concerned, that was Michigan State, Ohio State, and a bye week, but still.
What happened in 2013? They took down the really bad teams on their schedule, lost to the teams that were heavily favored, and snuck in a few surprises in games that I’d have considered a coin flip. After Cincinnati punished Purdue 42-7 in Week 1, the Illini weren’t ready to let Cincinnati think they were a Big Ten-caliber team, with a 45-17 drubbing of Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats. They had a respectable showing in defeat at Soldier Field, to what we believed to be a pretty good Washington team at the time, losing 34-24. They did what they were supposed to do to Miami, the MAC conference’s bottom feeder, then the Big Ten had their way with them. Tim Beckman is certainly on the hot seat in Champaign, after a week finish that included a 4-point win over hapless Purdue and a loss to a broken Northwestern team at home.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they managed to score 32 points or more in four of their losses, and three of those were by at least 17. It speaks volumes to the level of defense they pretend to play in the Big Ten, when the second worst team in the leauge is putting up video game numbers on offense.
That’s wrong, because…they might have been all that terrible after all; they might just need to work on their defense that allowed 60 points to Ohio State and 56 to Wisconsin. The only utter beating they took was 42-3 loss to Michigan State, magnified by the fact that it was not only a home game, but the Homecoming Game.
What happened in 2013? Northwestern came out of the gate at 4-0, with non-conference wins over the Pac-12 and ACC, and then a couple of tune-up games against the MAC and FCS. They were ranked, and deservedly so, with Ohio State coming to town for a game on national TV; Ohio State outlasted them, winning by 10 on a fluke touchdown in the end. Unfortunately, that was the first of seven straight losses the Wildcats, bitten badly by injury, suffered. The losing streak was gut-wrenching, but not as bad as it might sound. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary, and they took Michigan to three overtimes, before losing 27-19 at home in a game they had plenty of opportunities to win. They salvaged the season, to a certain extent, with a season-ending victory at Illinois.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…the Wildcats were ranked, then lost 7 consecutive games. Now, it isn’t Northwestern’s fault they were, perhaps, overrated. Venric Mark was hurt all year, and Kain Colter missed significant time, but a lack of depth in Evanston really cost Pat Fitzgerald a chance at a good season and a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…they didn’t get to play Purdue, which easily could have been a bowl-clinching sixth win for the Cats. People, over time, forgot how close they came against Ohio State. And, it’s okay to dismiss Ohio State as nothing on the national stage, but in Big Ten-speak, they remain the cream of the crop.
What happened in 2013? If you don’t count Michigan in this group, they were probably the best of the bad teams in the Big Ten. They, like Purdue, had a chance to tee off against Indiana State, then lost a close one to Navy, beat eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, and didn’t play dead against SEC runner-up Missouri. Kevin Wilson has them playing offense; they put up 28 against Michigan State and Missouri, and couldn’t quite finish drives at Ohio State, where they had one of the more impressive 28-point losses you’ll ever see.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…nobody respects Bowling Green or Penn State, easily the Hoosiers best two victories of the year. What people will notice is a 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, and maybe even yielding 36 points to Purdue at home to wrap up another season without a bowl in Bloomington.
That’s wrong, because…they aren’t necessarily waiting for the hoops season to start in August any more. Like I said, the offense can do good things, but the defense needs to do what traditional Big Ten fans so desperately miss about this league, and that’s tackling the ball carrier.
What happened in 2013? What always happens in Ann Arbor? When Michigan beats Notre Dame, everyone is ready to hand them the crystal football, and says never mind that they almost lost to Akron and Connecticut. Then, when they poo the bed in Happy Valley, a 4OT loss, and everyone is canceling their flights from Detroit to Pasadena in January. Their only victory after a 63-47 shootout win over Indiana on October 19th was a triple OT miracle at Northwestern. The highlight of their season might have been a 1-point loss/moral victory at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I asked, and got a serious answer from Lost Letterman’s Jim Weber (a Michigan guy), how much are they missing Rich Rod in Ann Arbor? Brady Hoke’s days are probably numbered at Michigan. I mean, this is supposed to one of the conference’s banner programs!
That’s wrong, because…Notre Dame! They beat #14 Notre Dame in September, the same Notre Dame that just played for a National Championship in January. The Irish came into the Big House, and they lost 41-30. LOUD NOISES!
What happened in 2013? With no big picture to think about for the next three years, Penn State has the advantage of not carrying that burden of what happens to them in December or January. A 3-point loss to Central Florida at home looked a lot worse when it happened in September than it turned out to be. A 20-point loss at Indiana can probably be taken at face value, ditto for the loss at Minnesota, but the Michigan meltdow in quadruple overtime probably would have served at the season’s best moment, if it weren’t for their stunning upset at Camp Randall over Wisconsin, which ended the season for probationary Penn State.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Jerry Sandusky! The kids! The conference advocates that behavior. It really is no joking matter, what happened under Joe Paterno’s watch at Penn State, but it’s time to move forward. In all seriousness, they probably gave the conference a black eye by shocking Wisconsin in Madison; the Big Ten might have been able to boast about three elite teams otherwise.
That’s wrong, because…this probation is going to hit Penn State harder each year, given the scholarship reductions after surviving the intital set of transfers. Ultimately, probation is what made the departure so easy for Bill O’Brien after 2 seasons, but might lead to an upgrade with James Franklin running things now.
What happened in 2013? Jerry Kill spent some time in the hospital, but what else is new? The Gophers did a decent job keeping the out-of-conference schedule soft, so they could enter league play at 4-0. That meant they’d only need to win two games in conference to qualify for the post-season. After a couple of sound beatings from Iowa and Michigan, you wondered how realistic that was, but they didn’t win two games. They won four, in a row, against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State. They dropped their final three contests, including the Texas Bowl, but you have to think they’d take 8-4 with a December bowl every year in those parts.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they feast on the Mountain West, the WAC orphans, and FCS competition. In Minnesota’s case, guilty as charged; the path to 4-0 went through UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.
That’s wrong, because…they’re Minnesota. They were on the level with Syracuse in the bowl game, but no one will be confusing them with Ohio State or Michigan State anytime soon. It’s when they play a non-conference slate like that, and come away 2-2, that they deserve the knock.
What happened in 2013? THey didn’t play a game away from Lincoln until October 12th, which was a layup against Purdue in West Lafayette. They had a good chance to be 5-0, but they couldn’t capitalize on UCLA sleep-walking through the first half, and had their own 2nd half meltdown, allowing the Bruins to escape the Heartland with a 41-21 win. They would lose their second road contest, a 34-23 game at Minnesota, which would have been more of a black eye, if the Gophers didn’t have the great season (by their standards) that they had. No shame in losing to Michigan State, even at home, but beign humiliated in their regular season finale, at home against Iowa, is a different story altogether. Many, perhaps including Bo Pellini, were surprised that Pellini was permitted to coach another game for Big Red, but he answered the call with TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…everyone was a little too proud that the Big Ten achieved victory against an SEC school’s taxi squad in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Nebraska has proven to be very average in the Big Ten, in its first three years since defecting from the Big 12.
That’s wrong, because…Nebraska hadn’t been anything special in the Big 12 for many years either. If anything, the immediate success of Missouri and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference might suggest that the SEC is more sizzle than substance.c
What happened in 2013? Something had to give with Northern Illinois, who had suffered some heart-breaking losses to the Hawkeyes, both at Soldier Field and Kinnick Stadium, and it finally did in this year’s opener in Iowa City. After that, the Hawks had a very respectable season; losing to the consensus Top 3 teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They also made the mistake of scheduling the 2013 chapter of Michigan State for their Homecoming, but who saw them coming? They suffered an unfortunate setback in the Outback Bowl, a game they were very much in, when they lost their starting quarterback and ended up losing the game 21-14.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Iowa is its 4th best team. Iowa can only be viewed in one way to support the narrative; they lost to a MAC school that was clobbered in back-to-back games by Bowling Green and Utah State. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the SEC in a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…expectations were relatively tapered for the 2013 season. Weisman for Heisman was fun to say, but not realistic. I’m sure they would have rather not lost to Northern Illinois, but the way that game was sold, you’d have almost thought Iowa was the underdog in their season opener, and not the other way around.
What happened in 2013? Forget the 93-0 combined scores of the Badgers’ first two games at home against Who and Who Tech, because BYU and Arizona State make for a decent out of conference lineup. Of course, in traveling to Pac-12 country, Gary Andersen’s team had to deal with Pac-12 officials. They played the Sun Devils pretty evenly in Tempe, but most certainly had 18 seconds taken away from them, 18 seconds that may have afforded them the opportunity to win, but instead they lost. A few weeks later, they lost Ohio State, in a game they were expected to lose. Then, they blew everyone out, except BYU, until Penn State shocked them at home to close out the season. They ran into a very tough South Carolina team in Orlando on New Year’s Day, and dropped a game where they lost their starting quarterback.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Wisconsin didn’t even play Michigan State. Their best win was either at Iowa or at Minnesota, and this is the third best team in the Big Ten. That’s a hand down assessment, isn’t it? Would you really argue with anyone that said this 2013 Badger team was on the same level as the previous two, who lost Rose Bowls?
That’s wrong, because…while I think Michigan State would have beaten them, I think they showed that they could hold their own against South Carolina. And while there are no trophies given for moral victories, if you can hang with Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s teams, you could probably hang with every team in the country that didn’t make it to a BCS game. So, this isn’t a ringing endorsement, but how many nice things can you say about a team with these expectations losing to Penn State on Senior Day?
What happened in 2013? Well, the same thing happened with Ohio State in 2013 that happened in 2012; the Buckeyes went 12-0, only this time they were burdened with post-season games. Once again, nobody was blown away by the Buckeyes schedule, both in and out of conference; as it turns out, they got Central Florida a year too soon and the team with the most curb appeal, Cal, in the worst possible year ever. As it turned out, Buffalo and San Diego State both played in a bowl game, the same bowl game, but nobody cares about that. Nobody would have cared about them beating Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and nobody would have cared if they played Nebraska and Minnesota, but since they did not see the Cornhuskers or Golden Gophers, I’m sure someone made a big deal about that. What everyone will remember is the last 3 games, the near-miss in Ann Arbor, and the neutral site whiffs in Indianapolis and Miami, to the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl Champions. Most overrated 24-0 team ever, right?
The Big Ten is terrible, because…TATTOOS, MAURICE CLARETT, RAFFLES AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE! Honestly though, it helps the cause if they regroup from the 34-24 loss in the conference championship and finish against Clemson in a showcase game like the Orange Bowl. If they were the only thing the Big Ten had going for itself, it would be a very sad state of affairs, sadder than it already is.
That’s wrong, because…digging up Tressel era scandals is dumb, and how dare we disrespect Michigan State and Clemson in such ways to suggest the Buckeyes are terrible! Michigan State over Stanford in Pasadena helps their cause; as does Clemson over Georgia in Death Valley, but is there a signature win from any of Ohio State’s other 12 opponents, perhaps one they actually defeated, that gives them a case here?
What happened in 2013? It took Michigan State a few weeks to hit their stride offensively, what to do without Le’veon Bell in the backfield, and they lost a sluggish contest to Notre Dame, 17-13 in South Bend. They figured out the formula was Jeremy Langford running with a slightly different design to the offense, and they never lost again, like ever. However, it wasn’t until November, after holding Michigan to 6 points, that the intimidating Spartans’ D was anything more than a cool story. Personally, I started talking myself into this team beating Ohio State, something that ended up happening. After taking down the Buckeyes, I was convinced they could take down Stanford, my pre-season pick to be the National Champ. They did that too.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they lost to Notre Dame! Stanford lost to Utah! Ohio State lost to Clemson! Nothing they did means anything; the Rose Bowl trophy, the Big Ten Championship, it all meant nothing! I mean, didn’t Purdue play Notre Dame close? Didn’t Notre Dame lost to Pitt? And, what the hell was up with Max Bullough?
That’s wrong, because…they won without Bullough, against one of the better rushing teams in the country. Even if Stanford lost to Utah, they won what everyone seems to believe is the second-best conference in the country. Even if Ohio State had their quirks, and we admit that they did, they weren’t a bad team for losing to the Spartans and Clemson. In a playoff, they’d have had a crack at Auburn or Florida State, but I’m not going to speculate on the results of the unknown in that case. If you think Michigan State stunk, you don’t have an open mind about things.
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