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Michigan State’s Rose Bowl showing can help repair Big Ten’s rep

Minnesotv Michigan State

Minnesota v Michigan State

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The facts: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN.

The records: Baylor 11-1, 8-1 Big 12; UCF 11-1, 8-0 American.

The story line: If the Knights’ victory total doesn’t impress you, if their puny ‘‘major’’ conference makes you want to look the other way, if their future NFL quarterback, Blake Bortles, strikes you as just another name . . . well, you’re not alone. Consider two scores then: 28-25 in UCF’s lone loss, against South Carolina, and 38-35 in its biggest win, at Louisville. So why are many expecting a blowout? Baylor’s offense, led by quarterback Bryce Petty and tailback Lache Seastrunk, is from some planet where 53.3 points per game makes sense. Art Briles’ Bears are underappreciated on defense, too, though so are George O’Leary’s Knights.

The line: Baylor by 17.

Greenberg’s pick: Baylor, 38-35.


The facts: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN.

The records: Alabama 11-1, 7-1 SEC; Oklahoma 10-2, 7-2 Big 12.

The story line: For all the great achievements Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has had in his coaching career, a victory here probably would be his second-biggest ever. As upsets go, it might rank above the one he scored 13 seasons ago over Florida State for his only national championship. But it’s not going to happen — unless Alabama keeps hitting the snooze button, as it did in a shocking Sugar Bowl loss to Utah to cap the 2008 season. The Tide hasn’t lost a bowl game since, and there have been three BCS titles. This Nick Saban team, though plenty disappointed about losing to Auburn last time out, is as potent as any Saban has had.

The line: Alabama by 16.

Greenberg’s pick: Alabama, 37-14.


The facts: 7:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN.

The records: Ohio State 12-1, 8-0 Big Ten; Clemson 10-2, 7-1 ACC.

The story line: Let’s assume quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes have pulled themselves off the mat since being upset by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, which wrecked their hopes for a national title. They still have to wrangle a Clemson team whose offensive playmakers simply are more dangerous than any OSU has dealt with the last two seasons under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes’ offense should fare well, but their defense — suspect against the pass — will be severely tested by Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and blazing receiver Sammy Watkins. The Tigers failed spectacularly this season against Florida State, but OSU is no FSU.

The line: Ohio State by 3.

Greenberg’s pick: Clemson, 34-31.

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Updated: February 3, 2014 3:18PM

The Big Ten is off and bumbling this bowl season. On the not-so-broad backs of Minnesota and Michigan, the league is 0-2 thus far — or 0-4 if you want to count Rutgers and Maryland, which will join this sometimes-pitiable party via conference expansion in 2014.

Not that there’s any need to inflate the Big Ten’s negative numbers. Starting with the 2010 season, the league is 9-18 in all bowl games. After New Year’s Eve, the record gets even worse: 4-13. Most painful of all is what has gone down in Pasadena, Calif. In their last 10 Rose Bowls, Big Ten teams are a combined 1-9.

One stinking victory, by Ohio State (over Oregon) four years ago.

Yep, reality has been more than harsh enough.

So to say the Big Ten has an opportunity to help its reputation this New Year’s Day — and two days later, when Ohio State takes on Clemson in the Orange Bowl — is an understatement. Not much could go wrong that would make the league look any worse in the eyes of doubters, but a sudden string of victories would surprise, even shock, a whole lot of people.

Jan. 1 offers opportunity in the form of a Big Ten-Southeastern Conference showdown: Nebraska-Georgia in the Gator Bowl (11  a.m., ESPN2), Iowa-LSU in the Outback Bowl (noon, ESPN) and Wisconsin-South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl (noon, Ch.  7). Your distant cousins Cletus and Bubba are anticipating a clean SEC sweep. Just imagine how they’d get their overalls in a bunch if it turned out the other way around.

The Buckeyes’ game against Clemson is significant for the Big Ten, mainly because Urban Meyer still casts a nationally recognizable shadow. A bounce-back performance after its only loss in two seasons under Meyer would leave OSU in the top five of the final polls — not bad at all.

But what matters most of all to the Big Ten this postseason is the Rose Bowl. Maybe that’s obvious, but this granddaddy — No. 100 — feels especially big. It’s not just about Michigan State and Stanford. For the Big Ten and its supporters, it’s a chance to ball up a lot of disappointment and frustration and stuff it into a physical battle that promises to be unlike any other high-profile game this postseason.

‘‘I see a lot of bruises, a lot of blood, a lot of dust,’’ said Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney, a workhorse like no other in the country. ‘‘It’s going to come down to who is tougher, who is going to execute more, who is going to crumble and who is going to stay strong.”

That sounds about dead-on. No team in America lines up and runs more deliberately than Stanford, which routinely puts extra 300-pound linemen into its formations. Gaffney carried 33 times against Notre Dame, 36 times against UCLA and, unforgettably, 45 times against Oregon. All were victories.

As for the game plan against the Spartans, Stanford coach David Shaw said this: ‘‘I mean, it’s no secret. We’re not trying to trick anybody.’’

Pretty cold-blooded, but so is MSU. Statistically, the Spartans have the nation’s best defense. Against the run, they’ve allowed an almost absurdly low 80.8 yards per game. Their own running back, Jeremy Langford, is on an eight-game streak with at least 100 yards rushing — though Stanford’s rush ‘D’ ranks third in the country, allowing just 91.6 yards per game.

Hut, hut, hit. Look away if you don’t have the stomach for it.

‘‘I think we understand what we’re playing for,’’ Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. ‘‘We play for the people in our little bubble, but there are a lot of people that are touching the bubble right now that we play for as well.’’

That was a nod to the rest of the Big Ten, a league that hasn’t produced a Rose Bowl winner other than Ohio State this century. The reality is harsh. The Spartans can begin to make things better.


Twitter: @slgreenberg


Avg Pvs

1. Florida State .9957 1

2. Auburn .9638 3

3. Alabama .9061 4

4. Michigan State .8600 10

5. Stanford .8191 7

6. Baylor .7722 9

7. Ohio State .7705 2

8. Missouri .7256 5

9. South Carolina .7152 8

10. Oregon .5811 12

11. Oklahoma .5756 17

12. Clemson .5553 13

13. Oklahoma State .5233 6

14. Arizona State .4416 11

15. UCF .4343 16

16. LSU .4322 15

17. UCLA .3703 18

18. Louisville .3199 19

19. Wisconsin .2365 21

20. Fresno State .1675 23

21. Texas A&M .1663 24

22. Georgia .1594 22

23. Northern Illinois .1572 14

24. Duke .1134 20

25. USC .0672 NR


Record Pts Pv

1. Florida State (56) 13-0 1,496 1

2. Auburn (4) 12-1 1,444 3

3. Alabama 11-1 1,376 4

4. Michigan State 12-1 1,278 10

5. Stanford 11-2 1,217 7

6. Baylor 11-1 1,185 9

7. Ohio State 12-1 1,130 2

8. South Carolina 10-2 1,099 8

9. Missouri 11-2 1,066 5

10. Oregon 10-2 880 12

11. Oklahoma 10-2 878 18

12. Clemson 10-2 848 13

13. Oklahoma State 10-2 797 6

14. LSU 9-3 726 14

15. UCF 11-1 629 15

16. Arizona State 10-3 614 11

17. UCLA 9-3 544 17

18. Louisville 11-1 525 19

19. Wisconsin 9-3 383 21

20. Texas A&M 8-4 282 22

21. Fresno State 11-1 227 24

22. Duke 10-3 201 20

23. Georgia 8-4 196 25

24. Northern Illinois 12-1 144 16

25. Notre Dame 8-4 76 NR

Others: USC 74, Iowa 48, Miami 47, Vanderbilt 25, Texas 22, Cincinnati 11, Bowling Green 10, Washington 9, Rice 7, North Dakota State 4, Minnesota 2.

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