Cus Words: Merry Bowl Season For Big Ten?

In a holiday version of Cus Words, BSB staffer Marcus Hartman breaks down the Big Ten's bowl matchups. The results should be something to make the conferences fans break out in smiles. Well, most of them anyway.

Feeling bad about the Big Ten's national image? Think the conference has gotten a bad rap?

Well, I can't help you in the latter regard – looking at this conference I just can't see much quality overall – but I do have some good news. The bowl season shapes up like a good one for Ohio State and its brethren, in particular early on. In fact, I see Big Ten teams winning all four of their bowl games that precede the start of 2008, and coupled with a 2-2 record in the most recent round of January bowl games (after an 0-3 Dec. 2006), 2007 could shape up like a pretty solid calendar year for Big Ten teams in bowls.

The biggies on New Year's Day 2008 and that little matter of Jan. 7? The crystal ball is a bit less cheery, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Purdue kicks off the Big Ten's bowl season the day after Christmas with a trip to Detroit to take on Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.

These teams should not need much time to get acquainted: They have already faced off once this season. Purdue ran out to a 38-0 lead before cruising to a 45-22 victory in West Lafayette on Sept. 15. Given that the Chippewas were overrun by every BCS team they faced this season (not to mention North Dakota State, too), Joe Tiller's bunch should be able to the Big Ten off on the right foot.

Curtis Painter threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns while Kory Sheets added 144 and two scores on the ground in round one, but Central Michigan can score, too. Though it came while his team was playing catch-up, CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour threw for 364 yards and two TDs against the Boilermakers, and he finished the year fifth in the nation in total offense.

Two days after the Boilermakers get it on, Michigan State will match up with Boston College in the Champs Bowl in Orlando.

Perhaps one would think this is a contest that heavily favors the Golden Eagles, considering they enter as the runners-up from the ACC while the Spartans finished in a four-way tie for seventh in the Big Ten, but I would not say it is so simple.

For all the grief the Big Ten has gotten over the past two seasons, the ACC has been playing even lower-quality football. At least the Big Ten has been good at the top - there just aren't any power teams in the ACC. The only two teams with any claim to such status are Virginia Tech and BC, two teams that managed to pile up 21 wins without beating anyone of consequence whatsoever except (perhaps) each other.

But I digress….

This particular game should be fun because it pits strength on strength with the Michigan State rushing offense against the Eagle rushing defense that ranks No. 1 in the nation from a statistical standpoint.

The Eagles counter with one of the nation's highest profile quarterbacks in Matt Ryan. He will need to have a big day against a so-so Spartan secondary that is propped up by a great pass rush.

I look for MSU to prevail in a low-scoring affair, perhaps with a big play from wide receiver Devin Thomas or tight end Kellen Davis.

One day later, Penn State nears Texas A&M's backyard to take on the Aggies in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

Possible home-field advantage aside, this is another game that pits strength against strength. Texas A&M is 12th in the country in rushing offense while the Nittany Lions are sixth in stopping the run.

The Aggies, though, can't throw it nor can they stop anyone. If erratic PSU quarterback Anthony Morelli can do anything against the nation's 106th pass efficiency defense, the Nittany Lions should be in good shape deep in the heart of Texas.

The final Big Ten bowl game of 2007 is another clash with the Big 12, this one between Indiana and Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

There should be footballs flying all over the place in this game as two very good offenses get together.

The intangibles scream out for a Hoosier triumph here as IU plays to honor former coach Terry Hoeppner and OSU must deal with the loss of offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, who was hired as head coach at Southern Mississippi earlier this month.

Aside from that, it should be fun seeing what dynamic IU quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy can do against one of the nation's worst defenses. In his first year coordinating the Cowboy stop unit, former Ohio State assistant coach Tim Beckman has a group that finished 103rd in the nation in total yards allowed and 108th in pass efficiency defense.

So to reiterate, at this point we're looking at a 4-0 start to the bowl season for the Big Ten. About the time the big ball drops on Times Square things start to get a bit dicier, however.

Call the matchup of Wisconsin and Tennessee in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., the Mediocrity Bowl.

Neither of the Volunteers nor the Badgers seem to do anything terribly well but they aren't bad at much either.

If there is an advantage here, it would seem to be for Wisconsin in the running game. The Badgers, as everyone knows, hang their hat on running the ball while the Volunteers have allowed more than 160 yards on the ground per game this season.

Tennessee, though, has a good quarterback in Erik Ainge and has decisive wins over Georgia and Arkansas this year, so the Vols should not be counted out. They allowed fewer sacks – an eye-popping four in 13 games – than any team in the country, negating a strength of the Wisconsin defense.

I'll take the Badgers in a close one.

Wisconsin has by far the best chance to snag the Big Ten's first win of 2008 because the other two conference teams in action that day face mismatches, though one not as much as many folks probably think.

That would be Illinois. When the Fighting Illini lineup against Southern California in the Rose Bowl, Ron Zook's team will face a talent disparity but not an insurmountable task. Both teams are strong up front on both sides of the ball and Illinois is experienced as well. The Trojans are likely simply deeper.

Expect the Illini to hold their own up front and push the Trojans to the brink, but Illinois will need quarterback Juice Williams to play as well as he did against Ohio State for the team to pull off a shocker of similar magnitude. That is asking a lot.

The Big Ten New Year's Day game yet uncovered here is the Capital One Bowl between Michigan and Florida in Orlando.

How can I possibly give Michigan any shot to win this game?

Well I suppose Florida might not show up, but if the Gators put their best foot forward there will not be much the Wolverines can do.

Triggered by the Heisman Trophy winner, Florida averages more than 43 points per game, and Michigan's defense is talent-challenged. On top of that, is there any more lethal formula to the Wolverines than a spread offense with a run-pass quarterback such as Tim Tebow?

Perhaps if the Michigan offense, presumably as healthy as it will have been since September, can be the high-powered unit it was projected to be in the preseason (by those who disregarded the fact it was just the sixth-best in the Big Ten in terms of yards gained a year ago), the Wolverines will have a chance. Florida's young defense gave up its fair share of points during the year.

As for intangibles, will the disarray of the Michigan coaching staff hurt the Wolverines or will they rally to try to send Lloyd Carr out on a high note? Will Florida be unenthused to play in a non-BCS bowl in its home state less than 365 days since reaching the heights of the college football world out in Glendale?

So there you have it, a Big Ten postseason worth crowing about, perhaps one that will catapult the conference into an offseason that sees it do much to emerge from this two-year funk that has so many across the nation looking down on it.

Oh, wait, have I forgotten a game? Yes, that's right, that little matter of business down on the Bayou. Well, that one is still two weeks away as of this writing, so you'll just have to wait.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and happy football-watching!


Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman@buckeyesports.com.


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