Football: Previewing the Big Ten’s bowl season, sans Northwestern

Colin Becht

Insight Bowl – Iowa (7-5, 4-4) vs. No. 12 Missouri (10-2, 6-2) – Tuesday at 9:00pm

The Hawkeyes limp into the bowl matchup, coming off three straight losses including an embarrassing 27-24 loss to Minnesota. However, Missouri similarly enters the bowl game thinking about what could have been. The Tigers seemed poised for a run to a BCS bowl until dropping consecutive contests to Nebraska and Texas Tech. Missouri has since rallied from those defeats, winning its final three games and brings to Arizona one of the best defenses in the nation. The Tigers rank sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed and average more than three sacks per game.

Texas Bowl – Illinois (6-6, 4-4) vs. Baylor (7-5, 4-4) – Wednesday at 5:00pm

This game could be a fun one as both the Fighting Illini and the Bears are capable of putting on a show offensively while at times playing some very lax defense. Illinois will play in its first non-BCS bowl since 1999, yet just its third bowl total since that year – the Illini played in the Sugar Bowl in 2002 and the Rose Bowl in 2008. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has developed immensely over the season as a dual threat, leading the Illini to rank 34th in the FBS in points per game and 13th in rushing yards. Still, as losses to Michigan and Minnesota proved, Illinois can be scored upon with ease at times. Baylor’s dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III could certainly cause Denard Robinson-sized problems for the Illinois. He enters the game with more than 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing, and 30 total touchdowns. But don’t forget, Baylor surrendered more than 40 points in six games this season.

Outback Bowl – Penn State (7-5, 4-4) vs. Florida (7-5, 4-4) – Saturday at noon

This ain’t Tim Tebow’s Florida anymore, and the Gators have struggled with the transition offensively. They scored a touchdown or fewer three times this season and have tried out three different quarterbacks with minimal success. Still, the Gators have ridden a strong defense to a 7-5 season and have held their opponents to fewer than 20 points seven times. This will be the final game at Florida for coach Urban Meyer, who will retire at the season’s conclusion. Penn State made its own quarterback transition from Daryll Clark, but Matt McGloin has demonstrated himself to be a decent replacement. The Nittany Lions also boast a strong rushing attack led by Evan Royster, who holds the school record for career rushing yards. Penn State has won four of its last six games with the only two losses coming to co-Big Ten champs Ohio State and Michigan State.

Capital One Bowl – No. 9 Michigan State (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 16 Alabama (9-3, 5-3) – Saturday at noon

Michigan State played well enough to earn a BCS bid. Unfortunately for the Spartans, so did Ohio State and Wisconsin, leaving Michigan State on the outside looking in. Their consolation prize: A date with the defending national champions who possess one of the nation’s best defenses. The Spartans can’t afford to mope as they will have their hands full with the Crimson Tide. The Alabama defense allowed just over 14 points per game, but an inexperienced secondary could provide a golden opportunity for junior quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Alabama secondary will be especially vulnerable in the bowl game as it will be without safety Mark Barron, who tore his pectoral muscle in the Crimson Tide’s loss to Auburn. Still, Alabama brings a ferocious running attack led by Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, both of whom have shined at times throughout the season.

Gator Bowl – Michigan (7-5, 3-5) vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4) – Saturday at 12:30pm

This bowl matchup should showcase two powerful rushing offenses as both teams rank among the top 15 in the FBS in rushing yards per game. Michigan of course features the multi-talented Denard Robinson at quarterback, who averaged more than 325 yards of total offense per game including more than 130 on the ground. The Bulldogs possess their own dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf with running back Vick Ballard also guiding the Mississippi State ground attack. Despite the two teams’ offensive similarities, Michigan has been routinely exposed as a weak defensive team, giving up more than 33 points per game. With the exception of a 27-16 win over Purdue, the Wolverines have given up 34 points or more in each of their last seven games.

Rose Bowl – No. 5 Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-0, 8-0) – Saturday at 3:30pm

The cliché of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object may have never been more applicable than in this year’s Rose Bowl. The Badgers bring their power running game to Pasadena to match up with the nation’s top defense in points allowed. Wisconsin has looked seemingly relentless down the stretch, posting 70 on Northwestern and 83 on Indiana. The Badgers feature a three-headed monster at running back with John Clay, James White and Montee Ball combining for nearly 3,000 yards rushing. Quarterback Scott Tolzien has also benefited from the superb play of Wisconsin’s offensive line in passing for 2,300 yards, including a Big Ten-record 74.3 percent completion rate. However, the Badgers may have finally met their match in the Horned Frog defense, which allowed just 11.4 points per game this season. Though not playing in a BCS conference, TCU had little trouble with its two BCS opponents, defeating Oregon State 30-21 and Baylor 45-10.

Sugar Bowl – No. 6 Ohio State (11-1, 7-1) vs. No. 8 Arkansas (10-2, 6-2) – Jan. 4 at 7:00pm

Ohio State was shaken up by the news last week that five of its players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Dan Herron, would be ineligible for the first five game of next season. However, all five of those players remain eligible for the Sugar Bowl, so the Buckeyes will still be at full-strength when they take on the Razorbacks. How big of a distraction of the NCAA sanctions have been, we’ll find out next Tuesday. Arkansas boasts one of the nation’s best passers in Ryan Mallett, leading Arkansas to the third most passing yards in the FBS. The Razorbacks have won their past six games, averaging 42.5 points over the winning streak. Ohio State however, presents a huge defensive test for Mallett and crew as the Buckeyes have allowed barely more than 150 yards passing per game this season. Ohio State fans would love to get their first bowl win over an SEC team after failing the previous nine times. If the Buckeyes can forget about their sanctions until they actually take effect, Ohio State just might be able to get the monkey off its back.

The Daily has finished print publication for Fall Quarter. It will resume Tuesday, Jan. 4. Until then, www.dailynorthwestern.com will be updated with breaking news and complete coverage of the TicketCity Bowl.

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