Around the Big Ten: Bowl Week

Story posted December 27, 2011 in CommRadio, Sports by Mike Esse

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7)

Illinois and UCLA can’t wait to bring in the New Year after two disappointing seasons leading to the firings of their head coaches, but they will have one last chance on New Year’s Eve to end the season and year on a high note. Both teams have set records they aren’t particularly proud of: UCLA is the first team in ten years to earn a bowl bid after finishing the season with a losing record and Illinois is the first FBS team to lose six straight regular season games after starting the season 6-0. It will be an interesting matchup at AT&T Park in San Francisco as the game features a struggling UCLA defense and a struggling Illinois offense, as well as two interim coaches. UCLA has allowed a combined 99 points in their last two games and Illinois has scored more than 17 points since early October and both teams would like to get improve in both categories this weekend. However, it won’t be an easy task for Illinois as they will be without leading rusher Jason Ford due to academic ineligibility. It will now be up to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to lead the Illini on the ground and through the air and to a winning season.

Insight Bowl: Iowa (7-5) vs. No. 14 Oklahoma (9-3)

In what could be one of the most unevenly matched Big Ten bowl games this season, the Iowa Hawkeyes plan to shock Oklahoma Sooners in Tempe on Friday night as they did last year to #14 ranked Missouri. Oklahoma started the season ranked atop the AP polls, but dropped three games this season and lost its leading receiver in the process. However, they still have outstanding talent particularly with quarterback Landry Jones. Iowa will have to find a way to slow down Jones and the Sooner offense if they want to end their season on a high note and they will have to do it without sophomore running back Marcus Coker due to a suspension.  In return, the pressure will be on senior wide receiver Marvin McNutt and junior quarterback James Vandenberg to carry the load for the Hawkeyes and get the school’s fourth straight bowl win. Turnovers will be a key in the game, especially for Oklahoma. The Sooners forced 24 turnovers in their nine wins but only one in their three losses. Vandenberg hasn’t been turnover prone with only six interceptions this year and Kirk Ferentz will be looking for his quarterback to make smart decisions Friday night. A win in the desert would mean a lot to not only Iowa’s reputation, but also the Big Ten’s bowl reputation, which is usually not a positive one.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 13 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2)

After three disappointing seasons under former head coach Rich Rodriguez, new head coach Brady Hoke has led Michigan to their first BCS bowl appearance in the post Lloyd Carr era behind a vastly improved defense. Quarterback Denard Robinson and the Wolverines have found the path to success in a new offense with the emergence of a true running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint. The Wolverines are 5-0 when the sophomore running back rushes for over 100 yards and they will need another 100 yard performance if they want to secure a BCS win under their first year head coach. Defensively for Michigan, the upstart Wolverines will face their toughest task all season against Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson. Thomas, a dual threat quarterback, teamed up with Wilson to combine for 19 touchdowns on the ground and over 2000 yards this season and it will be interesting to see how they matchup against Greg Mattison’s Wolverine run defense. The Michigan run defense led by senior Mike Martin has been the team’s strength this season and will be able to matchup nicely against the Virginia Tech offense if they can stop the run. It will be a dogfight in New Orleans and if Michigan wants to come out on top and return the program to its glory days, it will be the defense that will get them there.

Outback Bowl: No. 17 Michigan State (10-3) vs. No. 16 Georgia (10-3)

After being left out of the BCS conversation last year with an 11-1 record, the Spartans found themselves in a similar situation this year after losing the Big Ten championship to Wisconsin 42-39 on Dec. 3. The Spartans will look to play better in their bowl game this season and not repeat last year’s dismal performance against Alabama. The Spartans will simply rely on their star-studded defense to lead them to their first bowl win since 2001. Junior All-American Jerel Worthy and the fifth ranked Michigan State Defense will look to stop Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense and give senior quarterback Kirk Cousins one last chance to prove how good he and his Spartan team really are. The game will also mark the last time Spartan fans will see the dynamic duo of Cousins and wide receiver B.J. Cunningham which has given teams problems the past two years. They will have to do it against the 3rd ranked defense of Georgia led by All-American Jarvis Jones. Amidst a defensive battle, the better offensive performance could be the difference maker under the sun in Florida on the second day of 2012.

Capital One Bowl: No. 20 Nebraska (9-3) vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2)

Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers didn’t live up to the pre-season hype in 2011, but a win over a top 10 SEC team, something the Big Ten doesn’t do very often, could prove their addition to the conference even more effective than it already has. Taylor Martinez and the Huskers will need a similar performance they had against a tough Michigan State defense on Halloween weekend in order to score points against the fourth ranked rush defense and second ranked pass defense that the Gamecocks will bring to Orlando. Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez will attack Steve Spurrier’s defense, but look for the offense to also play a big part in the outcome of the 2012 Capital One Bowl.  

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

It has been over 62 years since Northwestern has last won a bowl game and they will have a good opportunity to celebrate a win on New Year’s Eve against the Texas A&M Aggies, who are without former head coach Mike Sherman. Quarterback Dan Persa will be making his last appearance in a Wildcat uniform against the Aggies and has plans to end his injury prone career with an exclamation point. The key for Northwestern will be the running game. When the Wildcats have ran for over 170 yards rushing they are 4-0 and 2-6 in games that they have not. Sophomore Kain Kolter and senior Jacob Schmidt will look to lead the team on the ground as they have all season and provide balance for Persa and receiver Drake Dunsmore through the air and score points to keep up with the 11th ranked Aggie scoring attack. Defensively, Northwestern will have to find a way to stop the explosive tandem of Ryan Tannehill through the air and Cyrus Gray on the ground. Gray and Tannehill have combined for 44 touchdowns this season and have provided more than enough points to win games, but the defense hasn’t done their part. If Northwestern can keep up with the Aggies, Pat Fitzgerald and his team will have a very good chance to celebrate their first bowl win in over a half a century. Gator Bowl: Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6)

In 2007 the Florida Gators, led by Urban Meyer, defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship game in the only matchup between the two storied programs. This year, Meyer is now the upcoming coach at Ohio State, and before he can get started in Columbus, the Buckeyes will have to get through Meyer’s former team. Both teams have had down years under first year head coaches and look to use the Gator Bowl as a stepping stone for the 2012 season. For Ohio State, this game will be a real test for freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who has shown flashes of being the next great quarterback at Ohio State. Differently for Florida, it has been a string of quarterbacks that have gotten them to a bowl game in 2012 and they will rely mainly on the dual threat attack of Chris Rainey. The Ohio State defense has struggled against the run in their past three games and will need to stop Rainey if they want to give Miller a chance to win his first career bowl game.

Little Caesars Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

The last time the Purdue Boilermakers were playing in December, it was in Detroit in what was then the Motor City Bowl in 2007. It took a field goal to fight off MAC opponent Central Michigan 51-48. This year the Boilermakers will play at the same stadium, against the same conference, just a different team and a different bowl name. Perhaps, they will also be facing an easier opponent in the 7-5 Western Michigan Broncos, but Purdue fans shouldn’t write the Broncos off yet as their fast paced offense looks to shock the Big Ten as the conference debuts in the 2011-2012 bowl season. Purdue will have to find a way to stop the passing combination of quarterback Alex Carder and All-American wide receiver Jordan White, something the University of Michigan could not do in their shortened season opening win against the Broncos in September. Purdue will also need to find a way to score points, something they have struggled to do early this season, but they did manage to go on a scoring outburst in their final three games. Danny Hope and his team are most likely without leading rusher Ralph Bolden and will look to freshman Akeem Shavers to get their rushing attack going due to a flawed passing game. Overall, it will be Purdue’s ability or inability to stop White and the eighth ranked (nationally) Bronco passing attack that will determine the champion in Detroit on Tuesday.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio: No. 10 Wisconsin (11-2) vs. No. 5 Oregon (11-2)

Last year the Wisconsin Badgers went to Pasadena and dropped a thriller to TCU, but this year under star transfer quarterback Russell Wilson and Heisman finalist Montee Ball they will have a chance to redeem themselves in football’s biggest stage. Ball and Wilson will present a tough task for a struggling Oregon defense and will have the size advantage on both sides of the ball, but as Oregon as proved all season, size doesn’t necessarily matter. LaMichael James and Darron Thomas are electrifying and a fast paced offense, but haven’t seen a defense like Wisconsin’s yet this year. It will be a matchup of strength vs. strength in Pasadena and ironically enough, the better weakness might determine the winner on the second day of January.

Mike Esse is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email