Opponent Watch: Big Ten Bowl Edition Comment Count

BiSB December 12th, 2013 at 10:48 AM

The regular season is behind us, and as such there isn't much to watch in terms of opponents. So for now, we have a brief primer on the Big Ten bowl season. I'm sure the Copper Bowl will be covered in great detail by people who know more about such things.

Rose Bowl: #5 Michigan State vs. #4 Stanford

Rose Bowl

Michigan State is the outright, undisputed, no takesies-backsies Big Ten Champion. They went undefeated in conference and rolled over Ohio State in the conference championship game. There was much celebration, which would have been a The-Who's-on-Christmas-Morning arm-in-arm singing if it weren’t for this guy informing everyone that couches were flammable. Way to ruin it for everyone, guy.

Stanford, meanwhile, had as many impressive victories as anyone in the country. They took down Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Notre Dame, and Arizona State twice. But they also lost to USC (post Kiffin) and… Utah. Utah finished 2-7 in the PAC 12, with their only other win coming against Colorado. If they don’t lose that game, are they playing Florida State in the title game?

One nice thing for traditionalists is that the Rose Bowl (the most expensive ticket of the season, by the way) will actually feature the Big Ten Champion and the PAC 12 Champion, which has happened only 5 of the previous 12 seasons. And as the playoff system picks up steam, this might be the last of its kind.

When the MSU has the ball:

  MSU   Stanford
Points Per Game 29.8 PPG Against 18.6
Yards Per Game 385 YPG Against 339
Offensive FEI 38 Defensive FEI 2

Given the level of competition Stanford has faced, their defense has been downright stifling. They held Oregon to 20 (after shutting them out through three quarters), UCLA to 10, and Arizona State to 14 in the conference title game. Stanford runs a 3-4, but often puts a fourth hand in the dirt in the person of world-destroying Trent Murphy (14 sacks, 21.5 TFL). Murphy will be a real test for Sparty’s tackles, who haven’t been as consistent as the interior guys.

Michigan State, meanwhile, didn’t decide it needed to score offensive points until October, at which point they became decent but not good enough to save their advanced stats for the year. Nevertheless, they made huge strides as the year went on, especially on the offensive line. We have discussed this. It made you anger vomit, remember?

When the Stanford has the ball:

  MSU   Stanford
PPG Against 12.7 Points Per Game 33.2
YPG Against 248 Yards Per Game 413
Defensive FEI 3 Offensive FEI 16

Sweet mercy this is going to be violent. Stanford plays the downhilliest of downhill football. Look at the offensive line splits here:


There is very little confusion about what the Cardinal is going to try to do. This is Brady Hoke’s vision for a utopian society, the difference being that Stanford has the horses to run it (Josh Garnett reference. Drink). And you all know how Michigan State’s defense rolls. They’ve shown a little vulnerability (relatively speaking, of course) to power running schemes, but with their ability to leave their corners on an island, this is going to be 8 or 9 men colliding with 8 or 9 men all damn day.

So? It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan State reacts to their new defensive staff given Pat Narduzzi’s TOTALLY IMMINENT departure. Probably about as poor as can be expected, which is to say they will only hit Devin Gardner 8 or 9 times. Stanford 7, Michigan State 6


Orange Bowl: #7 Ohio State vs. #12 Clemson

Sad Urban

Sad Urban Meyer is sadder than the saddest Keanu Reeves. There is no spiritual fulfillment in that pizza, good sir.

Ohio State won 24 games in a row, including its first 12 games this year, and doesn’t even have a conference title to show for it. An Orange Bowl is a pretty decent consolation prize, but try telling that to a bunch of guys who were up a touchdown late in the third quarter of a game that would have won the Big Ten and sent them to Pasadena with a shot at the belt.

Clemson peaked early this year. They opened with a win over then-#5 Georgia (a ranking that was probably legitimate before Georgia tore its Everything Ligament), and after that they dropped their only two marquee matchups to Florida State (51-14) and South Carolina (31-17). Their second-best win was probably either over Boston College or Georgia Tech. The ACC wasn’t exactly the Running Man course this year.

When Ohio State has the ball:

  Ohio State   Clemson
Points Per Game 46.3 PPG Against 21.1
Yards Per Game 518 YPG Against 351
Offensive FEI 4 Defensive FEI 16

The Buckeyes were among the most dangerous offenses in the country this year. You know this. It has been well documented. We can stop talking about it now.

Clemson’s defense held up pretty well statistically. They are led by DE Vic Beasley, who led the ACC with 12 sacks. Florida State ripped them to pieces, but Florida State ripped every defense to pieces. South Carolina put up a bunch of points but only 318 yards. Georgia put up 38 points and a bunch of yards, but against a healthy Todd Gurley that wasn’t much of a sin.

When Clemson has the ball:

  Ohio State   Clemson
PPG Against 21.3 Points Per Game 40.2
YPG Against 362 Yards Per Game 502
Defensive FEI 36 Offensive FEI 27

Clemson will be limited through the air. Because they only count the yards until you hit the end zone. Otherwise we would be measuring in furlongs.

Ohio State’s pass defense was never stellar this year, but things really fell apart at the tail end of the year. In the last four weeks they gave up 35 points and 288 yards passing to Scheelhaase and Illinois, 320 yards passing to Indiana, 451 yards passing and 43 41 points to Michigan, and 34 points and over 300 yards to Michigan State. The entire secondary struggles to tackle, with Bradley Roby being a primary culprit. He was supposed to be an All-American-caliber corner, but instead he has been an All-American- caliber athlete trying to play corner. There's a big difference.

On the other side of the ball, Clemson was an aerial machine this year, led by Tajh Boyd’s nearly 3,500 passing yards and 29 TDs against only 9 picks. Boyd’s weapons include the no-you’ve-never-heard-of-him-before Sammy Watkins (1237 yards and 10 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (800 yards at 20.5 ypc). It is worth noting that Clemson has an excellent kicker in Chandler Catanzaro, who will come in extremely handy with all of the extra points.

So? Ohio State is probably banking on Tajh Boyd’s arm falling off before the game ends. Plus, at some point Sammy Watkins has to get tired or bored or something. Clemson 94, Ohio State 83 (OT)

Capital One Bowl: #19 Wisconsin vs. #9 South Carolina


Clowney. Clowney Clowney. Jadeveon. Clowney. Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney Clowney bo bowney banana fana fo fowney mi my mo mowney. Clowney. Conditioning. Draft. Clowney. Vincent Smith’s helmet.


When South Carolina has the ball:

  Wisconsin   South Carolina
PPG Against 14.8 Points Per Game 34.1
YPG Against 294 Yards Per Game 454
Defensive FEI 8 Offensive FEI 8

Quarterback Connor Shaw has thrown for 21 TDs and only 1 interception. He only throws for 8.24 YPA despite completing 61% of his passes, so he isn’t asked to do a huge amount with the ball. Still, 21/1 is a rather impressive ratio. Running back Mike Davis was the workhorse for the Cocks, racking up over 1100 yards at 5.8 YPC. South Carolina runs primarily an inside zone scheme, with Shaw and Davis running read option, speed option and a little bit of everything else. This is a really well-balanced team.

When Wisconsin has the ball:

  Wisconsin   South Carolina
Points Per Game 35.8 PPG Against 20
Yards Per Game 487 YPG Against 345
Offensive FEI 26 Defensive FEI 18

/deep breath


So? When it comes right down to it, you can’t Clowney on the Clowney to continue to succeed with Clowney. At some point, Clowney is going to Clowney, ya know? Still, all things considered, there’s always a chance that Clowney. Clowney 27.

Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. #16 LSU


The important thing to know about this game is that Raymond James Stadium has real grass, and was once rated the 2nd best turf in the NFL. Will a grazing Les Miles be distracted, or will a well-fed Les Miles be sharper and more focused? We asked Miles that question, and he responded by talking about the Punic War for a minute and a half, pausing for seven minutes, and concluding by requesting an additional copy of the in-flight magazine because the crossword was already filled out in his copy.

When Iowa has the ball:

  Iowa   LSU
Points Per Game 27.3 PPG Against 22.7
Yards Per Game 389 YPG Against 350
Offensive FEI 45 Defensive FEI 49

LSU’s defense was pretty good in terms of yards and points, but advanced statistics don’t care for them; they were 49th in Defensive FEI and 48th in Defensive S&P+. They have a couple of quality interior guys in Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, but they’ve struggled against the run.

For Iowa, Greg Davis remains thoroughly Greg Davis, with his leading receiver (Kevonte Martin-Manley) averaging under 10 yards per catch. Jake Ruddock completed 60.2% of his passes, but for only 7.0 yards per attempt. HOW DID THIS TEAM MAKE THE OUTBACK BOWL? They did run the ball pretty well with a three-headed (and more importantly, six-functional-legged) group of Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, and Jordan Canzeri. Star left tackle Brandon Scherff has announced he’s gonna go all Taylor Lewan and stay for his Senior year, so yippee.

When LSU has the ball:

  Iowa   LSU
PPG Against 18.8 Points Per Game 37.0
YPG Against 303 Yards Per Game 466
Defensive FEI 29 Offensive FEI 6

This one would have been a lot more fun before Zach Mettenberger got hurt. The Senior QB tore up his knee in a season-ending victory over Arkansas. His backup, freshman Anthony Jennings, led that comeback over Bret Bielema’s ‘football team,’ but has thrown only 10 passes in his brief career to this point.

LSU runs a pretty standard pro-style offense, except it does so with ridiculous levels of talent. Find me a better receiving tandem than Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and I’ll buy you a Pepsi. Both went over 1100 yards, and did so in shiny, happy fashion:

After Landry and Beckham, LSU’s next leading wide receiver had 7 catches for 145 yards ALL SEASON. This is indicative of the fact that (a) LSU doesn’t run many 3- and 4-wide sets, and (b) damn these guys are good. They’re a home-run type of team, and they’re pretty good at it.

So? I’m predicting Iowa 12, LSU 4. Wait, you get points for punting, right? No? Oops, my mistake. LSU 31, Iowa 14.

Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. #22 Georgia

Gator Bowl

Mark Richt has lost control of Bo Pelini.

Both Nebraska and Georgia suffered through moderately disappointing and turbulent seasons. In Georgia’s case, it was because of a confluence of injuries not seen since Leroy Jenkins went rogue. In Nebraska’s case, it was because a suspect run defense, a quarterback carrousel, and the fact that their head coach is, to use an industry term, a wanker.

When Nebraska has the ball:

  Nebraska   Georgia
Points Per Game 32.6 PPG Against 29.4
Yards Per Game 421 YPG Against 381
Offensive FEI 67 Defensive FEI 52

The loss of Taylor Martinez hurt Nebraska something fierce. Last year, Nebraska was #8 in offensive FEI and 8th in offensive S&P+. This year, with Martinez out and Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong Jr. splitting snaps, they finished 67th in offensive FEI and 47th in S&P+. And that is despite the Ameer Abdullah’s breakout year. There’s no way they miss Rex Burkhead that bad. That said, Georgia hasn’t been that great defensively. Some of this is due to injury (more on this in a moment), but they gave up more points per game than any Big Ten bowl opponent this year.

When Georgia has the ball:

  Nebraska   Georgia
PPG Against 25.3 Points Per Game 38.2
YPG Against 367 Yards Per Game 490
Defensive FEI 31 Offensive FEI 5

If Jourdan Lewis offended the gypsy, Georgia built a Piggly Wiggly on top of the gypsy’s mother. In a display that would make AIRBHG blush, the Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, their top two running backs, a starting tight end, and quarterback Aaron Murray for significant chunks of the season. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin-Scott Wesley, Keith Marshall, and Murray were all lost for the year and won’t play in this one.

Georgia’s offense couldn’t have drawn a better matchup though. Junior Hutson Mason will take the snaps for Georgia, but that probably means he’ll be the guy handing the ball to Todd Gurley. Georgia’s line remains quite solid, and Nebraska’s interior is still gooey soft (does anyone else hear a ringing sound in their ears?). Georgia ran about 51% of the time this year, but I’d guess that number heads north of 60% in this one.

So? This one is a matter of nature vs. nurture. I don’t care how much corn you eat. You won’t look like this kid. Gurley 28, Nebraska 13

Texas Bowl: Minnesota vs. Syracuse

Texas Bowl, December 27

This one features two teams who overachieved based on pre-season expectations. Which is nice… but that doesn’t necessarily make the game ‘good’ or anything. Syracuse’s six wins came over teams who were a combined SUUUUUUUCK, with Boston College probably being the most impressive despite their lack of Doug Flutie, or even a Matt Ryan. Minnesota padded their stats with wins over four non-conference snacky-cakes, though they did have wins over Nebraska and Penn State which is something. Syracuse has the lowest FEI, by a healthy margin, of any Big Ten bowl team or opponent. Syracuse and Minnesota have the two lowest offensive FEI totals of any Big Ten bowl team or opponent. Like I said, this game probably won’t be good.

When Minnesota has the ball:

  Minnesota   Syracuse
Points Per Game 26.4 PPG Against 26.1
Yards Per Game 343 YPG Against 369
Offensive FEI 73 Defensive FEI 64

They will run the ball. A lot.

When Syracuse has the ball:

  Minnesota   Syracuse
PPG Against 22.3 Points Per Game 22.8
YPG Against 371 Yards Per Game 375
Defensive FEI 33 Offensive FEI 92

They will also run the ball. A lot.

So? This is the football version of “eat your vegetables because there are starving people in other countries.” It’s football, and soon there will be no football. Just watch it. It’ll be like a 15 possession game. You’ll live. Minnesota 13, Syracuse 10.



December 12th, 2013 at 10:52 AM ^


It makes me sick that Sparty won the conference and is in the Rose Bowl, but beating OSU was the lesser of two evils. I don't think MSU will ever win a conference title again with the new alignment next year. It has been too long since Michigan won the freaking conference.


December 12th, 2013 at 11:17 AM ^

I'm not entirely convinced their success is sustainable year in and year out just quite yet. There's no question Dantonio has brought an identity and a competency to their program. They'll continue to be a thorn in our side, as they've always been, but I just don't see them maintaining an elite defense like they have this year, especially with Narduzzi with one foot out the door. Most years, if we're good enough to beat Ohio, we'll be good enough to beat everyone else.


December 12th, 2013 at 12:32 PM ^

Bingo. It's getting harder to ignore. MSU has built its rise off of talent development. Until further notice, I'm going to assume that Dantonio can get good replacements (Roushar with Bollman was mocked by the entire B1G blog network, turned out Dantonio knew what he was doing.)

Zone Left

December 12th, 2013 at 4:10 PM ^

Yeah, they're following the Wisconsin player retention model and executing quite well. I do think the multiple 11 win seasons will be very hard to sustain simply because the talent level isn't high enough. Their group of seniors on defense has been starting for about 8 years now (give or take) and they don't really play anyone else on that side of the ball.

MSU has certainly earned a lot of respect and they definitely won't crater, but a drop back to 7-9 wins / year is probably realistic--especially given their schedule may be the toughest in the conference going forward with ND, OSU, and Michigan every season.


December 12th, 2013 at 2:12 PM ^

The prerequisite for someone questioning the sustainability of your success is to have success in the first place. :)

I wouldn't call a 4 year span (with one pretty miserable season) sustained quite yet, especially when it conicides with a down period for it's biggest rival (and to a lesser extent to Ohio) which probably gave them a boost in recruiting and weaker schedule. It'll be interesting to see where they are next year with (probably) Narduzzi gone and some of the key guys on defense leaving.

Ron Utah

December 12th, 2013 at 1:32 PM ^

Yes, they've had three 11 win sesason in the last four years, but they were also 6-6 in last year's regular season.

No one in the B1G has more riding on their bowl game this year than MSU.  A Rose Bowl win puts them in the national elite; a loss and we'll hear more, "almost there" talk.  They badly need the boost in the national spotlight and the recruiting bona fides it would bring.

Next year, MSU loses three starters on the O-Line and a starting WR.  On defense, it's worse: they lose both starting DTs, two amazing LBs, and a safety and CB.

Expecting MSU's defense to be as good without Bullough is like expecting Michigan's offense to be as good without Trey Burke.  Ain't gonna happen.  They'll also lose Allen, Lewis, and Dennard--all legitimate stars.

Dantonio is a very good coach, but next year will tell us if he can maintain consistent defensive dominance with some lesser players.

If MSU loses the Rose Bowl and wins eight or fewer games next year, a lot of people will shake their heads and say, "Same old Michigan State."  They are still a second-tier program until they win a big bowl game (which they have a chance to do this year) and follow that with a strong season.

You'll know they've arrived when top-tier recruits from outside the midwest take them more seriously.

One Inch Woody…

December 12th, 2013 at 11:00 AM ^

I will eat a steaming pile of dog shit if Ohio loses to Clemson. This will also happen if Minnesota doesn't beat Syracuse by at least 30. This will also happen if MSU doesn't score at least 28 on Stanford. Bring it on!

One Inch Woody…

December 12th, 2013 at 12:46 PM ^

Oh I KNOW that Tahj Boyd will light up the Ohio State secondary. The difference is the run game - running helps control the clock and is generally has less variance than passing. As Ohio's offense is pretty stably built on running the ball, I have no doubt that they will be able to control the ball effectively and limit the opportunities for Boyd to torch them.


December 12th, 2013 at 11:40 AM ^

Mind you I think he's overrated, but that doesn't make him any less than very good.  It's the rest of the SC D-line that couldn't pull their weight.

Consider how much Gallon struggled until Funchess emerged as a threat.  If you're the best player on a sub-unit by so much, teams will scheme by just running away from you.  In Gallon's case, secondaries bracketed him AND shaded to his side until Funchess started burning them for it.  In the case of Clowney, I hear OCs just optioned him off and SC never had an answer.


December 12th, 2013 at 11:28 AM ^

I wouldn't be surprised if the BIG gets blanked this year in bowls. I have a nagging suspicion we, as a conference, are extremely weak this year. Michigan State seems to be the only consistently legit team, but then again their offense still seems like it's a few steps away from moving the ball on a quality defense like Stanford's.


December 12th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

Last year the SEC was laughably overrated and got exposed.  What happened is they were top-heavy and everyone else rode Alabama's coattails.

This season's weirdness is that now EVERY conference looks only two deep, at most.  Most of the 2-loss teams look like they may as well be 3-4 loss teams with Stanford and Oregon being notable exceptions, because dropping one game to a vastly inferior opponent is a longstanding tradition in the Pac-12.

Of course, it's hard to tell because contenders go out of their way to avoid playing each other these days, so heck if I know what's a strong conference these days.


December 12th, 2013 at 11:57 AM ^

You win the internet today with this:


This is Brady Hoke’s vision for a utopian society, the difference being that Stanford has the horses to run it (Josh Garnett reference. Drink).




December 12th, 2013 at 1:00 PM ^

Stanford vs. MSU is a very intriguing matchup to me.  The MSU defense DARES you to throw deep with the style of play it uses.  Interestingly, Kevin Hogan, the Stanford QB throws deep exceptionally well.  If his line can give him the time, he will complete some passes.  Where Hogan struggles is with the short to medium passes when pressured.  If MSU can constantly hurry Hogan and get in his head, Stanford will struggle against MSU.

I got my RB tickets day before yesterday and can't wait to be there.  Go Card!