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  • Fear The Boilers

    With March Madness upon us and all the fervor surrounding the Big Ten as a power conference in both men’s and women’s basketball, one member school decided to fire up a little reminder.

    In case you had forgotten, Purdue University knows a thing or two about roundball.

    The men ended up finishing sixth in the league standings and lost their regular-season finale to rival Indiana, which isn’t exactly headline-inducing. However, many believe head coach Matt Painter did an admirable job this season.

    In fact, prior to the loss to IU, the Boilermakers won five of six games including an upset of ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor to secure a 20-win season and winning mark in arguably the best conference in the country. That’s pretty good production for a team that lost superstars JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore to the NBA and also dealt with the dismissal of junior guard Kelsey Barlow due to a violation of team rules.

    Purdue still holds the Big Ten standard with 22 league titles and has the only men’s basketball program in the conference that owns a break-even or winning mark against every other member school.

    The women, meanwhile, also came to the forefront on Sunday when they cut down the nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis after triumphing at the Big Ten Tournament in thrilling fashion.

    Rranked No. 21 coming into the week, PU got 19 points from KK Houser and hung on to defeat No. 24 Nebraska 74-70 in two overtimes in the tourney final.

    Houser, ironically who hails from Lincoln, Neb., also had five steals against her hometown team. Chantel Poston had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Sam Ostarello added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Boilermakers (24-8), who won the tournament for the eighth time in 17 years.

    The win was a bit of a payback as Purdue lost its regular-season matchup with the Cornhuskers, 93-89 in triple-overtime.

    Nebraska, which had dumped Ohio State in the semifinals, also left Indy at 24-8. Lindsey Moore scored 27 points and Jordan Hooper added 25 for the ’Huskers, who caught fire during the week. They had lost four of six heading into the tournament but averaged 82 points in their three wins to reach the final. The Big Ten newbies came up just short in their bid to become the first women’s team to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

    At the end of the first overtime, Nebraska’s Kaitlyn Burke missed an open three-pointer with fives seconds remaining and the score tied.

    Purdue entered the postseason as the 4-seed for the conference tournament. In the semifinals on Saturday, the Boilermakers eliminated top-seeded Penn State. Brittany Rayburn, who scored nine points and hit the game winner against the Nittany Lions, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

    Penn State earned the top seed for the fifth time in program history after winning the outright regular-season crown with a 13-3 mark in conference play. The Lady Lions will head to the NCAA Tournament with an overall mark of 24-6

    Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue all put together 11-5 conference records, creating a four-way tie for second place. The Buckeyes earned the 2-seed by virtue of their 3-0 combined record against the other three teams. However, OSU could not add to its run of three consecutive tournament titles after losing grip of a double-digit lead in the first half against Nebraska.

    Six conference teams have taken home the Big Ten Tournament title since the event’s inception in 1995, led by Purdue’s record seven titles (1998-99-00-03-04-07-08). Ohio State is next with four tournament titles (2006-09-10-11) while Iowa (1997-01) and Penn State (1995-96) have each won the title twice. Indiana earned the crown in 2002 and Michigan State took home the title in 2005.

    The Big Ten sold all-session passes for $70 and single-session tickets were either $10 or $16 depending upon seat location.

    Located in downtown Indianapolis – and formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse – Bankers Life Fieldhouse also will host the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament March 8-11 with an unprecedented four games on the first day and four more for the Friday quarterfinals. CBS will nationally televise the Saturday semifinals beginning at 1:40 p.m. Eastern and the Sunday championship game beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

    Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000, and through the Bankers Life Fieldhouse box office.

    Stay tuned to SportsRappUp.com for a preview of the men’s tournament including predictions for each game.

    For a look at postseason awards for Big Ten men’s basketball, click here.

    Bucks And Wolves Tops Again

    After Urban Meyer was hired as Ohio State’s new football coach and Brady Hoke was a smashing success in his first year heading up the program at Michigan, Big Ten fans had reason to believe that the rivalry between the two schools and their level of play would soon be on the rise and back to an elite level.

    If the results of 2012 recruiting are any indication, The Game is about to be loaded with quality players on both sides once again. In fact, according to Rivals.com, only two Big Ten schools closed on classes that ranked among the top 25 in the country – Ohio State at No. 6 and Michigan at No. 7.

    Rivals, like many sites that analyze football recruiting, tabbed Alabama’s class as tops in the country followed by Florida State, Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Joining Ohio State and Michigan in the top 10 were Miami (Fla.), Clemson, and Notre Dame.

    The rest of the Rivals top 25 is as follows: 11) Oklahoma, 12) Stanford, 13) Southern Cal, 14) LSU, 15) Texas A&M, 16) South Carolina, 17) Auburn, 18) Oregon, 19) UCLA, 20) Texas Tech, 21) Tennessee, 22) California, 23) Washington, 24) Rutgers, and 25) Virginia Tech.

    Meyer’s initial OSU class was headlined by bookend defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, each considered five-star talents. Analysts were amazed that he was able to land the top haul in the Big Ten considering Ohio State’s current plight with NCAA sanctions including a postseason ban that goes into effect this year.

    Conversely, Hoke and his staff pinned down 20 of their commitments in the spring and summer prior to the 2011 season, although four-star running back Dennis Norfleet was added on National Signing Day. The class is balanced and loaded. Defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins is among those expected to make an immediate impact.

    The remainder of the Big Ten was ranked thusly by ESPN.com: 3) Nebraska, 4) Purdue, 5) Michigan State, 6) Iowa, 7) Penn State, 8) Northwestern, 9) Illinois, 10) Wisconsin, 11) Minnesota, 12) Indiana.

    The Hoosiers not only ranked last compared to their league brethren, they also were left to lament the loss of in-state quarterback Gunner Kiel, a five-star talent who originally committed to IU. However, Indiana was put in topflight company when LSU also was spurned by Kiel, who finally signed with Notre Dame.

    Recruiting Tension

    Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who lost grip of Kiel, wasn’t the only Big Ten coach who came away less than elated from the entire experience.

    New Penn State coach Bill O’Brien – who left his post as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots to help guide the Lions through troubled waters – blasted critics of the PSU class.

    “I could care less about player rankings,” O’Brien said on conference call from the Patriots team hotel in Indianapolis the week of the Super Bowl. “What I care about is that we found the right fit for Penn State with all these prospects.”

    Scout.com has Penn State’s class ranked No. 49 nationally and No. 6 in the Big Ten, while Rivals.com ranks the group No. 50 nationally and, as previously mentioned, No. 7 in the conference.

    Rivals only ranks two prospects in the class, wide receiver Eugene Lewis and defensive tackle Jamil Pollard, as recruits worthy of at least four stars. Scout had only Lewis attaining a four-star rating and everyone else falling in line as a three-star or lower.

    But O’Brien’s testy response was nothing compared to the firestorm that surrounded Meyer’s recruiting tactics. The former Florida coach, who cited the dog-eat-dog approach of the SEC as a concern when he took time away from coaching, came out guns a-blazin’ on the recruiting trail and actually flipped no less than seven prospects who previously had committed elsewhere.

    The two that caused the most reaction were offensive lineman Kyle Dodson – an original Wisconsin commitment who ended up announcing a change of heart and inking a letter-of-intent with OSU on signing day – and defensive end  Se’Von Pittman of Canton McKinley, who appeared to be a solid verbal to Michigan State for months but changed his mind and opted for the homestate Buckeyes.

    “Se’Von Pittman had a relationship with Luke Fickell,” Meyer explained as the keynote speaker of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association clinic in February. “I think we helped it when I made that phone call. He recruited us after a little bit. The phone call went something like this: ‘Are you interested?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Come on down for a visit.’

    “I get a phone call the next few days. ‘Come on up, we’ve got good news for you.’ Can’t say I had a lot to do with that other than, Hey, let’s go. He always wanted to be an Ohio State Buckeye.

    In response to comments by Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Meyer also reportedly said, “You’re pissed because we went after a committed guy? Guess what, we’ve got nine guys who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time.”

    Bielema made pointed remarks after signing his class, which forced Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to bring up the issue while meeting with the football coaches in Chicago days later and asking them to play nice.

    That discussion was somewhat productive.

    “There are a few things that happened early on that I made people aware of that I didn’t want to see in this league,” Bielema said, “that I had seen take place in other leagues, other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal.”

    Bielema went on to mention Meyer specifically.

    “I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact, actually reached out to Coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him,” Bielema said. “The situation got rectified.”

    Meyer, though, doesn’t sound like someone who is backing down.

    “We’re hired to go after recruits as hard as we can,” Meyer said. “I mean as hard as we can.”

    OSU also received signatures from two players who originally committed to Notre Dame – including well-rated OL Taylor Decker – and three who once had pegged Penn State. It’s long been suggested that there’s an unwritten agreement within the Big Ten that once a recruit commits to a school, all other Big Ten coaches will leave the player alone.

    Two coaches who steadfastly adhered to that policy, Dantonio and former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, were especially careful about how they contacted prospects that were committed to MSU and OSU.

    “(The agreement) has been between the coaches,” Narduzzi said while speaking at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Ohio, according to the Canton Repository. “Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio would never call or talk to each other’s commitments. People coach Dantonio knows well don’t come in and take players away. When you do, you lose friendships over that.

    “It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry. I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”

    Meyer intimated that he believes there is an ethical way to recruit committed players.

    “There are some people that say, ‘How can you go and recruit a young guy that’s committed to another school?’ ” he said. “You ask a question, ‘Are you interested?’ If they say no, you move on. If they say, ‘Yes, very interested,’ then you throw that hook out there. If they’re interested, absolutely, especially if they are from your home state.

    “Is it gratifying to go a take a guy from another school? Not at all. Is it gratifying to know that we got the two offensive tackles that we went out (for) from day one? That amazes me.”

    Furthering his point, Meyer added, “We went after a young guy in Cleveland, Ohio. I asked him if he was interested in Ohio State. He said no. I wished him the best of luck, do well in school, move on. If a kid isn’t interested, we’re done. We move on.”

    Meyer likely was referring to five-star OL Kyle Kalis of Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward, who signed with and pledges his allegiance to Michigan.

    Meyer did receive some support during the controversy, including a comment from, of all people, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.

    “Recruiting is recruiting until they sign,” the AD said. “If we had somebody who changed their mind and came to us, that’s OK.”

    Ohio State AD Gene Smith also had his coach’s back.

    “I am disappointed that negative references have been made about our football coaches, and particularly head coach Urban Meyer regarding recruiting,” Smith said in a statement. “In our league appropriate protocol, if you have concerns, is to share those concerns with your athletic director. Then your AD will make the determination on the appropriate communication from that point forward. The ADs in our league are professionals and communicate with each other extremely well. Urban Meyer and his staff have had a compliance conscience since they have arrived.”

    Hot Streaks

    Northwestern forward John Shurna, the Big Ten’s leading scorer this season, was particularly warm in wins over Nebraska and Illinois at the outset of the Wildcats’ February schedule.

    He played all but two minutes in those victories and scored 52 points on 20-of-28 shooting (71.4 percent). He also was 5 of 10 from three-point range in the two contests.

    Penn State leading scorer Tim Frazier had a four-game blitz this year in which he scored 81 points, which is 37.2 percent of the Nittany Lions’ total points in that span. The junior guard also added 17 assists in the four games.

    Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas was held under double digits in a home loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11 but caught fire after that in the Buckeyes’ remaining six league games. He scored 12 points in a win at Minnesota on Feb. 14 then followed that up with 25 points – and a career-high 13 rebounds – against Michigan on Feb. 18. He closed out the regular season with 19 points, 23, 19 and 12 to give him a scoring average of 18.3 ppg in those final six games.

    In those game, the 6-7 left forward hit 41 of 76 shots, good for 53.9 percent from the field.

    Quick Hitters

    * Ohio State’s victory at Wisconsin was the Buckeyes’ 20th of the season, giving Thad Matta’s Buckeyes their eighth consecutive 20-win season. That is the longest active streak in the Big Ten and also the second-longest in conference history, trailing only Illinois, which did it nine times (1983-91).

    * On Feb. 17, Painter announced that Barlow had been dismissed from the program and that junior guard/forward D.J. Byrd had been suspended for the team’s subsequent game against Michigan State. Both actions were a result of violation of team rules.

    “This is an unfortunate situation, but we will move forward as a program,” Painter said. “We expect our student-athletes to live up to a high standard, and when their actions become detrimental to the program, there are consequences.”

    The West Lafayette Police Department is investigating allegations that Byrd assaulted a bouncer at Where Else bar near campus. Byrd, 21, was under suspicion of public intoxication at the time of the incident.

    A spokesperson for local police said Barlow had been at Where Else earlier but either left or got kicked out of the establishment. Barlow then came back, believing he left his wallet there. Where Else, however, refused to let him back in.

    Barlow left and returned later accompanied by Byrd, teammate Robbie Hummel and other members of the basketball team. This resulted in some type of confrontation, during which Byrd is suspected of assaulting a bouncer.

    Byrd was booked into the Tippecanoe County Jail and released five hours later.

    * Several Big Ten players were named as members of the United States Basketball Writers Association All-District team for District V, which includes student-athletes in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The USBWA unveiled all of the all-district coaches and players on March 6.

    The District V winners were as follows:

    PLAYER OF THE YEAR
    Draymond Green, Michigan State

    COACH OF THE YEAR
    Tom Izzo, Michigan State

    ALL-DISTRICT TEAM
    William Buford, Ohio State
    Trey Burke, Michigan
    Jae Crowder, Marquette
    Draymond Green, Michigan State
    Robbie Hummel, Purdue
    Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette
    John Shurna, Northwestern
    Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
    Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
    Cody Zeller, Indiana

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  • Record 10 B1G Teams Go Bowling

    Most observers labeled Big Ten football as “down” again this season, and it would be hard to argue the point given the hardship beset on marquee programs Ohio State and Penn State and the disappointment in Illinois that led to the ouster of head coach Ron Zook.

    Plus, just when it looked like Wisconsin was a legitimate national championship contender, the Badgers lost consecutive games in the final minute on desperation touchdown passes by Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.

    And when the Spartans went to the head of the class and provided the conference with a team that looked ready for the top 10, they also faltered, losing in grand fashion at Nebraska.

    Still, MSU held onto the lead in the Legends Division and Wisconsin emerged from the rubble in the Leaders Division, setting up a rather tasty rematch in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

    Many followers of the league were just hoping for a competitive and entertaining tilt with the two teams battling in prime time on FOX on Dec. 3. They got it – and then some.

    In a highly dramatic affair in which the Badgers battled from behind, fell in another hole, took a late lead and then held on thanks in large part to a horribly ill-timed MSU penalty, UW managed to produce a 42-39 Rose Bowl-clinching victory. Perhaps the last time two conference teams were on such a high stage was when No. 1 Ohio State held off rival and No. 2 Michigan in 2006. The score of that game – 42-39.

    Despite the turmoil surrounding some of the top programs, commissioner Jim Delany at least could hang his hat on a record 10 conference teams advancing to bowl games, including troubled Ohio State and Illinois, and doubly troubled Penn State.

    The previous Big Ten record for bowl teams was eight in 2003 and 2007. The 2011-12 bowl season marks the seventh straight season that seven or more Big Ten programs have earned postseason berths, continuing the longest streak in conference history.

    Including the coming bowl season, conference programs will have made 74 bowl appearances over a 10-year span (2002-11) and 266 appearances all-time.

    And even though no Big Ten teams were able to remain in national championship contention, two of them – Wisconsin, which is headed to the Rose Bowl, and Michigan, which will play in the Sugar Bowl – will be showcased in BCS bowls. That marks the 10th time in the 14-year history of the BCS that two Big Ten teams have participated in a top-five postseason game.

    Other current conference institutions to play in BCS games are Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue. The Big Ten’s total of eight BCS participants ranks second only to the Pac-12, which added Colorado and Utah this season and now has nine different schools with BCS appearances.

    The only other conferences with six or more current schools boasting at least one BCS berth are the ACC and SEC with seven teams each and the Big 12 and Big East with six participants each.

    For the seventh consecutive season, at least two of the Big Ten bowl matchups will be virtual road games, with conference teams facing schools from the state in which the bowl will be played.

    One such matchup, of course, pits Ohio State against Florida in the Gator Bowl. EverBank Field is located in Jacksonville, Fla., just a short drive away from UF’s Gainesville campus.

    Also, Penn State will be facing a highly successful Houston squad in the TicketCity Bowl the same afternoon. That contest will be staged at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

    The nation, no doubt, will be interested to see how interim head coaches Luke Fickell of Ohio State and Tom Bradley of Penn State fare, and Michigan State and Nebraska also will be on display on Jan. 2. However, the biggest stage for a Big Ten team will be the Rose Bowl.

    The Badgers lost to TCU in Pasadena last January and they are the underdog once again as they face Pac-12 champ Oregon this time. However, UW will have Russell Wilson at the controls of one of the nation’s top offenses and can’t be taken lightly.

    “They do a good job with play-action and protecting their quarterback,” Fickell said of Wilson back in October. “Ultimately it comes down to that with the quarterback. You have to find ways to get to him, whether it’s picking a ball off, sacking him, getting hits on him, getting guys in front of his face. There’s all different kind of ways, but most importantly you have to be able to affect the quarterback.”

    Can a sometimes soft Oregon defense rattle Wilson or can the Ducks survive the more comfortable way – in a shootout?

    We shall see.

    The following is a sneak peek at all 10 bowl games involving Big Ten teams, starting with Tuesday night’s matchup between Purdue and MAC counterpart Western Michigan:

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

    Date, Time (TV): Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
    Location: Ford Field; Detroit
    Line: Purdue by 2½
    AP Rankings: Both teams unranked
    Outlook: Purdue will play in its 16th bowl game in history but first since 2007, when the Boilermakers defeated Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl, where it defeated Central Michigan in a wild 51-48 party. Top tackler Dwayne Beckford (suspension after drunken driving arrest) and top runner Ralph Bolden (injured) will not play for PU, which will make matters tougher. Plus, the Boilers will try to slow down Western QB Alex Carder, who threw for 3,434 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Western was eighth nationally in passing yards per game.

    Insight Bowl
    Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)

    Date, Time (TV): Friday, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
    Location: Sun Devil Stadium; Tempe, Ariz.
    Line: Oklahoma by 14
    AP Rankings: Oklahoma, 19th; Iowa, unranked
    Outlook: The Hawkeyes, who had a break-even mark of 4-4 in the Big Ten this season, have been rewarded by having to face the nation’s preseason No. 1 team. Also, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops will want to take down his alma mater and post another 10-win season. Iowa, though, has played admirably in the postseason and owns an overall mark of 14-10-1 in bowls. The Hawkeyes were 27-24 winners over Missouri in last year’s Insight Bowl. The Big Ten is 3-4 in the Insight. Oklahoma hasn’t quite reached its potential offensively, mostly because of the loss of star receiver Ryan Broyles, but QB Landry Jones still managed to compile 4,302 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. Plus top Iowa rusher Marcus Coker has been suspended.

    Meinke Car Care Bowl
    Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

    Date, Time (TV): Saturday, noon (ESPN)
    Location: Reliant Stadium; Houston
    Line: Texas A&M by 10
    AP Rankings: Both teams unranked
    Outlook: The Wildcats actually will appear in their fourth straight bowl game for the first time in program history. It’s NU’s 10th bowl game overall. Illinois won the TicketCity last year by knocking off Baylor. A&M is about to head off to the SEC and would like to do so on a good note. Houston’s Kevin Sumlin has been tabbed to replace the fired Mike Sherman but defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will handle the head coaching duties for the bowl game. The Aggies come into the postseason with four losses in the their last five games while Northwestern has won four of its last five. NU’s lone loss since a 2-5 start was a hardfought 31-17 setback vs. Michigan State.

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

    Date, Time (TV): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
    Location: AT&T Park; San Francisco
    Line: Illinois by 2½
    AP Rankings: Both teams unranked
    Outlook: Even though this was not a season of notable success for the Illini, they will be compete in a bowl game for the second straight year for the first time since 1991-92. Like UI, the Bruins let go of their head coach as Rick Neuheisel wasn’t about to survive a 50-0 lashing at the hands of rival USC. The last time a Big Ten team played in a bowl game in the state of California that was not the Rose Bowl Game was when Michigan State competed in the Silicon Valley Classic in 2001. The Illini are 7-9 in bowl games all-time. UCLA leads the series between the two schools, 6-5. Illinois became the first team in I-A history to open 6-0 and finish 6-6. UCLA is the first-ever 6-7 team to make a bowl.

    TicketCity Bowl
    Penn State (9-3) vs. Houston (12-1)

    Date, Time (TV): Mon. Jan. 2; noon (ESPNU)
    Location: Cotton Bowl Stadium; Dallas
    Line: Houston by 6½
    AP Rankings: Penn State, 24th; Houston, 20th
    Outlook: Penn State is bowl-bound for the 44th time in program history, the eighth most in college football history, but this probably won’t feel like a celebration. Scandal dating back more than a decade of alleged hideous acts by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has rocked Happy Valley and cost legendary coach Joe Paterno and others their jobs. After that story unfolded, the Nittany Lions lost grip of first place in the Leaders Division with losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Now they are the proverbial underdogs with record-setting QB Case Keenum  (5,099 yards, 45 TDs) leading the Cougars. Penn State returns to the Lone Star State for a postseason game for the first time since 2007, when it defeated Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl. In its history, Penn State is undefeated in bowl games in Texas with a 4-0-1 mark. Houston was dumped by Southern Miss in the Conference USA title game, missing out on a chance at an undefeated season.

    Gator Bowl
    Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6)

    Date, Time (TV): Mon., Jan. 2; 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
    Location: EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Fla.
    Line: Florida by 2½
    AP Rankings: Both teams unranked
    Outlook: The last time the Buckeyes played in the Gator Bowl it signaled an inglorious ending to the career of 28-year head coach Woody Hayes, who infamously punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman after a late interception. This time, OSU is not itself once again as the program has been hit with a multitude of NCAA sanctions and won’t usher in new head coach Urban Meyer, UF’s six-year coach, until after the game. Florida, meanwhile, will have the homefield advantage. Still, we’re talking about Ohio State here. Buckeye fans will travel just as they have for the school’s previous 41 bowl appearances. Plus, the offense finally some teeth in the loss at Michigan in late November, putting 34 points on the board and showing that freshman QB Miller and senior wideout DeVier Posey can be a lethal combination. Florida won the only previous meeting between the two schools on the gridiron, a dominant 41-14 decision in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. The winner of the “Urban Bowl” will go out with a 7-6 record; the loser will suffer the ignominy of a 6-7 mark.

    Outback Bowl
    Georgia (10-3) vs. Michigan State (10-3)

    Date, Time (TV): Mon., Jan. 2; 1 p.m. (ABC)
    Location: Raymond James Stadium; Tampa, Fla.
    Line: Georgia by 3½
    AP Rankings: Georgia, 18th; Michigan State, 12th
    Outlook: The Spartans are going to have to get over their disappointment of a near-miss in the Big Ten title game or they could suffer a similar fate, or worse, in Tampa. Georgia comes into this matchup as one of the nation’s hottest teams and leads the series 2-0, including a 24-12 win over MSU in the Jan. 1, 2009 Capital One Bowl. The Bulldogs own a sterling mark 26-17-3 in bowl games while MSU is just 7-14. Still, Sparty has a chance to do well here and may want to prove a point considering it took down Michigan in the regular season and the Wolverines are the ones going to a BCS game. Seniors Cousins and WR B.J. Cunningham might be able to exploit Georgia with big plays the way LSU did in the SEC championship.

    Capital One Bowl
    Nebraska (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)

    Date, Time (TV): Mon., Jan. 2; 1 p.m. (ESPN)
    Location: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium; Orlando, Fla.
    Line: South Carolina by 2½
    AP Rankings: Nebraska, 21st; South Carolina, 10th
    Outlook: Nebraska will make its 48th bowl appearance but first as a member of the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers certainly have a rough assignment as South Carolina, but the Big Ten actually holds a slight edge of 11-10 at the Capital One. Plus, the ’Huskers lead the all-time series 3-0, though the two teams haven’t met since 1987. The Gamecocks’ two defeats were against Auburn (16-13) and Arkansas (44-28) this season. They have won just four bowl games in 16 tries, two of them coming in back-to-back years at the expense of Ohio State following the 2000 and ’01 seasons. Nebraska will rely on the option running attack of QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead as well as the defensive prowess of star LB Lavonte David.

    Rose Bowl
    Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2)

    Date, Time (TV): Mon., Jan. 2; 5 p.m. (ESPN)
    Location: Rose Bowl; Pasadena, Calif.
    Line: Oregon by 6
    AP Rankings: Oregon, 6th; Wisconsin, 9th
    Outlook: Even with the two hard-to-swallow defeats, the Badgers are confident if not cocky and shouldn’t intimidated to face Oregon’s high-octane attack, even on Pac-12 turf. UW has earned a bowl berth for the 10th consecutive year and will be on display in the Rose Bowl for the eighth time. UW is 3-4 in the game and the Big Ten is 30-34. Oregon is 9-15 in bowl games including as loss to Auburn in last season’s BCS title game. Oregon will enter town averaging 46.2 ppg, just ahead of Wisconsin’s 44.6 ppg average. It’s a perfect setting for Wisconsin running back Montee Ball to set NCAA history. He’s just one touchdown away from equaling Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season mark of 39 TDs.

    Sugar Bowl
    Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)

    Date, Time (TV): Tues., Jan. 3; 8 p.m. (ESPN)
    Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans, La.
    Line: Michigan by 2½
    AP Rankings: Michigan, 13th; Virginia Tech, 17th
    Outlook: Some have questioned Michigan’s inclusion in this game but the Hokies also have looked pretty mortal at times. Plus, the Wolverines are entertaining if nothing else with Denard Robinson under center. With Robinson a dual threat at QB and Fitzgerald Toussaint adding into the mix, UM ended up 12th nationally in rushing yards per game (235.7). Michigan is 19-21 in bowl games while Tech has struggled with a 9-15 showing. The Hokies can run it, too, with RB David Wilson (1,627 yards, nine TDs) while QB Logan Thomas (2,799 passing yards, 19 TDs) also can make plays. Tech came on if late but had a preconference schedule that included games with Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall. The Hokies were bombed by Clemson.

    Football Notes

    * Zook was fired after Illinois’ second-half collapse but took the high road. Despite a sometimes tumultuous relationship with the media and fans, he thanked both factions for their support in his seven years in Champaign. The university tabbed Toledo head coach Tim Beckman as his replacement.

    * Michigan State senior offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. was named the winner of the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award. Ray, who hails from Chicago, returned to football this season four years after bone cancer derailed his career and caused him to undergo nine surgeries.

    The award will be presented Jan. 3, 2012, at the AVMed Orange Bowl Coaches Luncheon in Miami. Ray will be honored again Jan. 4 on the field during the Discover Orange Bowl.

    “This is a tremendous award for a young man who has conquered all of the odds up against him,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

    Ray had been given a medical waiver but remained on scholarship with Michigan State. Last April, doctors cleared him to resume football.

    “I was in class, and I just cried tears of joy,” Ray told the Associated Press.

    * The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) put out a statement in early December with regard to the recent developments at Penn State matter:

    “The Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors express their sincere concern for any harm done to innocent young victims and their families. Protection of our children is one of society’s most central responsibilities and institutions of higher education should be particularly vigilant. We are committed to examining our own institutions to assure that effective measures are taken to assure the safety of children on our campuses.”

    The COP/C also determined it will work in coordination with the state grand jury, but “will reserve the right to impose sanctions, corrective or other disciplinary measures in the event that adverse findings are made in the areas of institutional control, ethical conduct and/or other conference-related matters.”

    * Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was expected to receive overtures for a head-coaching job after a very impressive season guiding the Spartan defense. Sure enough, Akron came calling with an offer. Narduzzi reportedly met with Akron officials and had a contract in hand to sign but decided to stay on Dantonio’s staff.

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