Monday, January 12, 2015

College Football Playoff Title Game: Oregon vs. Ohio State

Game is on ESPN between Oregon vs Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff Title Game from Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium.

It's not a Rose Bowl, but the final on College Football Game for the 2014 season is a Pac 12 vs. Big Ten matchup.

Go Buckeyes!

Friday, January 2, 2015

One more time: B1G vs. SEC in the TaxSlayer Bowl from Jacksonville

Jacksonville, FL - - The New Year arrived in B1G style in 2015, with the Big Ten Conference winning three of four bowl games, including the top three match-ups.

Ohio State defeated Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl in the nightcap game to join Oregon, winner of the Rose Bowl, in the first CFP Championship Game on January 12th.

The Big Ten won two of three games against SEC opponents on New Year's Day to take a 5-4 record into the final B1G bowl game. The SEC is now 5-5.

The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) and Tennessee Volunteers (6-6) meet in the TaxSlayer Bowl today at 2:20 p.m. (CT) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The game is televised on ESPN, in the final bowl match-up for each conference, in another B1G vs. SEC game.

For Tennessee it's like taking a trip down memory lane. For Iowa it has become very familiar. But neither school is taking it for granted.

The Hawkeyes are making their 12 bowl game appearance in the last 14 years under head coach Kirk Ferentz. They won games this season, the sixth time in the last seven seasons they've done so, and they're competing in January for the 12th time in program history.

"(Any bowl game) is a great experience," said Ferentz. "It's a chance to be together as a team for another four or five weeks, and to me it's all great."

Even greater has been Iowa's success in bowl games. Since Ferentz defeated Texas Tech at the 2001 Alamo Bowl, no Big Ten team has more bowl wins than Iowa.

"To me it's really about how you approach the month, or in some cases six weeks," said Ferentz. "You have to have a plan, execute that, and communicate that (plan) with your players."

Standing in Iowa's way of its seventh bowl win since 2001 is a Tennessee team that won three of its last four games to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.

The Volunteers are playing in their 50th bowl game in program history -- only Alabama, Texas, and Georgia have appeared in as many -- but they are playing today in the postseason for the first time since a double overtime loss to North Carolina at 2010 Music City Bowl.

That's four years and three days between bowl appearances for a school that is tied with Florida State for sixth all-time with 25 bowl wins.

"Right now these individuals have never played in December or January, nor practiced," said second year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.

"Being a part of this bowl game is very, very special."

Tennessee does not have a player on its roster with bowl experience, a detail that includes 17 seniors. Jones said he has talked to that group about today's chance to leave a legacy, but he's also reminded them it will not come easy.

Tennessee has 24 freshman playing, seven starting for the Volunteers today. Iowa has had some success against younger teams in 2014, with wins at Pittsburgh and at Purdue, two of the younger teams in College Football in 2014.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Ferentz) and the entire (Iowa) football program," said Jones. "This is going to be a great challenge for us. They do a great job running the football, play-action, and they can beat you with the deep ball.

"Defensively they are very sound in what they do and their players execute. At the end of the day it's all about consistency and performance, and execution by performance, and they have that."

The Hawkeyes also have a hunger for a bowl win. Iowa's 16 seniors (10 starters) are playing in their third bowl game, but they are yet to win the final game of the season, and today is their only chance to win the final game of a career.

As true freshmen, the current Iowa fifth-year seniors saw their Iowa teammates finish 8-5, with a bowl win over Missouri to cap off the 2010 season. A win today would leave Iowa with a similar record and finish in a bowl.

"It will be emotional after," said senior Mark Weisman, "but right now it just feels like another game. We'll see how it goes and reflect on it later. Right now we're just trying to get a win against a good Tennessee team."

Iowa has had trouble in trophy games in 2014 though, with four of Iowa's five losses involving a trophy. A bowl trophy will be on the line for Iowa today.

"We have one game left and we want to win it very badly, it’s as simple as that,” Iowa coach Ferentz said. “To me it’s not so much about next year. It’s about finishing for our 16 seniors. It’s important that we play well this game.”

Ferentz teams are seeking their seventh bowl trophy, since 2001. A young Tennessee team stands in the Hawkeyes way in Jacksonville. 

How will the B1G vs. SEC showdown finish the 2014-15 bowl season for each conference?

Iowa vs. Tennessee TaxSlayer Bowl Preview

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year's as B1G plays in four of five Bowls to welcome in 2015!

Cedar Rapids, IA - - The new College Football Playoff officially kicks off today in 2015, with the Sugar and Rose Bowls, serving as semi-final match ups. In addition, three other bowl games will feature Big Ten teams, as College Football welcomes in 2015!

Who will win the first CFP National Championship?

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State

The Rose Bowl will field Oregon vs. Florida State, while the night cap in the Sugar Bowl features Alabama vs. Ohio State. The winners will play Monday, January 12th in the Championship Game.

“Every great team has a routine,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “It's our job not to disrupt the routine. We do that the best we can when we're on the road, whether it be State College or East Lansing or New Orleans for a bowl game. So we're a real stickler about that, our routine is best Fridays in football and it starts today. … Our players enjoy the routine on Friday. The most important thing, task at hand, is we get our meetings done quickly. We have a run through, walk through, and then we have to make sure they sleep.”

How will 2015 be for these football programs, along with us all?

Will it be routine, special, up or down?

The season is done for most College Football programs.

The Big Ten has four games to celebrate the New Year today and one final bowl game on Friday, featuring the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Preview of Iowa vs. Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on 1/2.

First up:
11 a.m. from Tampa on ESPN2 is the Outback Bowl:
Wisconsin vs. Auburn, as the Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez (0-1 in '12) leads UW into another bowl game serving as interim coach.

Auburn vs. Wisconsin Outback Bowl Preview

At 11:30 a.m. from Dallas on EPSN is the Cotton Bowl:
Michigan State vs. Baylor, as the Spartans face the Big 12's co-champion, who won the head to head match-up, with TCU.

Baylor vs. Michigan State Cotton Bowl Preview

At Noon from Orlando on ABC is the Citrus Bowl:
Minnesota vs. Missouri, as the Golden Gophers enjoy a rare New Year's Day on the gridiron against a SEC opponent. It has been over 50 years for the Golden Gophers ...

Minnesota vs. Missouri Citrus Bowl Preview

The Big Ten vs. SEC in the final four of five bowl match ups for the respective conferences. There will be some big time bragging rights on the line.

The SEC West has witnessed LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all fall thus far during the 2014-15 bowl season. What happens today?

The first semi-final comes from the Granddaddy of all bowl games from Pasadena, California. It will be a 4 p.m. kickoff on ESPN as the ACC champ faces the traditional entry from the Pac 12 in the Rose Bowl.

Rose Bowl:
4 p.m. on ESPN
Florida State vs. Oregon
The undefeated, defending BCS champion Seminoles travel across the country to face the Ducks in the Granddaddy!

The final game of the New Year's Day will take place in New Orleans as the SEC champion takes on the Big Ten champion in the Heart of the SEC, the Sugar Bowl.

Sugar Bowl:
7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Alabama vs. Ohio State
Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer

The 2015 New Year's Day bowl line up should make for an exciting day. The new College Football Playoff and bowl lineup has been outstanding thus far in Year 1.

It should only help make 2015 a great year. Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TaxSlayer Bowl Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Jacksonville, FL - - The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) and the Tennessee Volunteers (6-6) have meet twice before  in football back in 1982 and 1987. The first meeting was in the 1982 Peach Bowl and the later game in the 1987 Kickoff Classic, back when current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was an offensive line coach for J. Hayden Fry.

The Hawkeyes and Volunteers will meet in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, the 70th edition of the event, formerly known as the  Gator Bowl. The Game will air on ESPN on Friday, January 2nd at 2:20 p.m. frok Ever-Bank Field (77,511) in Jacksonville, Florida.

Ferentz is the Dean of Big Ten Conference head coaches, in his 16th season as head coach and 25th season overall at Iowa.

For Tennessee, Johnny Majors was head coach at the time back when these two programs meet previously. Today, Butch Jones is head coach for Tennessee, leading the Volunteers to their first bowl, since the 2010 season, in his second season at the helm at this SEC school, since moving over from Cincinnati.

The Volunteers carry a 25-24 program record in bowl games, while Iowa is 6-5 under Ferentz and 14-12-1 overall as a program in bowl games. The series is tied at 1-1, with Iowa owning the 28-22 Peach Bowl win in 1982. The Volunteers won 23-22 in the Kickoff Classic Game in 1987, played in the Meadowlands.

The Iowa vs. Tennessee game should be  a classic Big Ten vs. SEC match up. During the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament earlier this year, Tennessee ended Iowa's basketball season. Each team now will finish their 2014 football season head to head in Jacksonville.

Coach Jones thoughts on Iowa ahead of the TaxSlayer Bowl:

"It is a great challenge and they are a very physical football (Iowa) team and we are going to be challenged on each and every snap and they know that. So there is a lot of physicality, a lot of mental toughness, the physical toughness, everything that goes into playing a line of scrimmage game like this game will be and it will be a line of scrimmage game. Obviously they have our respect and they have our attention, all you need to do is watch them on video. Very, very imposing offensive line and defensive line as well."

University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz announced Tuesday that junior Jake Rudock will start at quarterback for an eighth consecutive time and the 25th time in his career Friday when the University of Iowa faces Tennessee.

Ferentz named Rudock the starter and echoed what offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Monday that Rudock and sophomore C.J. Beathard would see action in the first half against the Volunteers.

"Jake will start and they will both play," Ferentz said before the Hawkeyes practiced at Fernandina Beach High School. "I don't think it's a huge deal and it won't be a huge deal for our opponent, either, when they look at us. I'll go back to what I said in August: we have two really good quarterbacks; I wish we had this depth at every position. They both have practiced well and competed well and that's all we could ask. Our whole team has made a good effort this month; they have prepared well."

"We will be prepared for both," Tennessee coach Jones said. "Again, they are going to run what they run and there is a reason why they have been successful. They have systems in place. They are an older veteran football team so their players they are able to redshirt their players and their players grow up in their systems. When you watch them on film you see a football team that is very, very fundamentally sound in all aspects of football. The way they use their hands, their overall pad level in the line of scrimmage. They have done a great job of developing that, that is a product of their systems and their systems being in place for many, many years."

Both teams have 16 seniors on their bowl roster, but Tennessee has used 23 true freshmen compared to three by Iowa.

"They have young guys playing, but most of those guys are four and five-star recruits," Ferentz said. "There is a reason we redshirt our guys. We're two different operations that way, but I don't think anybody has an advantage. You could say they are going to be more enthused, although we're enthused to be playing this game; we're excited about the opportunity."

The senior members of the Iowa football program will play their final game as a Hawkeye at the TaxSlayer Bowl. They include LB Quinton Alston, RB Damon Bullock, DT Carl Davis, OL Andrew Donnal, OL Tommy Gaul, LB Chad Gilson, TE Ray Hamilton, DL Mike Hardy, DB John Lowdermilk, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR Damond Powell, DL Wil Rathjen, OL Brandon Scherff, DL Louis Trinca-Pasat, RB Mark Weisman, and WR Drew Zaun. Alston, Scherff, Trica-Pasat and Weisman will also serve as game captains for the Hawkeyes.

Ferentz compares Tennessee's offense to that of Big Ten Conference opponents Maryland and Minnesota.

"They would be foolish not to attack us in a similar manner," Ferentz said. "I'm sure we'll get tested in the same way, the question is, can we respond to that? Can we do a better job of taking away some of the things that hurt us in those two games?"

Iowa lost to Maryland, 38-31, on Oct. 18, and to Minnesota, 51-14, on Nov. 8. Both games were on the road. Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown threw for 120 yards and ran for 99; Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner threw for 138 yards and ran for 77.

Defensively, Ferentz said the Volunteers remind him of Nebraska.

"They are talented and have good looking guys on defense," Ferentz said. "They run around and they are pretty experienced in the secondary. They are athletic."

Speaking of Nebraska, it is a game and outcome that has served as extra motivation during the bowl preparation period. The Hawkeyes led 24-7 midway through the third quarter, but lost, 37-34, in overtime, on Nov. 28.

"It's not like we had a banner game that day. The shame is, we didn't play as well as we could have," Ferentz said. "We were disappointed with that last football game for sure. We were sloppy in a lot of areas, coaching included. The team has responded. They have practiced and competed well and hopefully we'll be a better football team Friday than we were the last time we were out."

This is the eighth bowl trip to the state of Florida for the Hawkeyes with Ferentz as head coach. Iowa is making its second appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Iowa lost to Florida, 14-6, in the 1983 Gator Bowl. Tennessee is making its sixth TaxSlayer Bowl appearance. The Volunteers beat Virginia Tech, 45-23, in 1994, when the game was known as the Gator Bowl, in their most recent appearance.

"I can't say enough about the job the TaxSlayer people have done," Ferentz said. "The hospitality has been first class and the place we're staying (Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort) is unbelievable. Everything has been great. The practice site is great, the guys are having a good time, and they are working hard, so everybody is getting eager for the game now."

Iowa is 11-12-0 all-time against the SEC, including a 4-3 mark in bowl games. Following are Iowa’s bowl results against SEC opponents:

2014 Outback Bowl LSU L, 14-21
2009 Outback Bowl South Carolina W, 31-10
2006 Outback Bowl Florida L, 24-31
2005 Capital One Bowl LSU W, 30-25
2004 Outback Bowl Florida W, 37-17
1983 Gator Bowl Florida L, 6-14
1982 Peach Bowl Tennessee W, 28-22

"They have great, great leadership. Again, they are a very well-coached football team, they are very, very experienced and they played a very tough and demanding schedule as well. Again, everyone is good when you go to the bowl season. We are going to get their `A' game and it is going to be a challenge for us to try to bring out A game as well," Tennessee coach Jones said when discussing Iowa, as an opponent.

Iowa best success in 2014 came against a couple of young teams they played earlier in the year in wins at Pittsburgh and at Purdue. Will Tennessee prove similar for Iowa?

Iowa opens B1G Basketball at Ohio State; while Maryland vs. Stanford in Foster Farms Bowl tonight

Columbus, OH - - Iowa (9-4, 0-0) opens conference basketball play at No. 18/21 Ohio State (11-2, 0-0) with a Tuesday Noon tipoff on ESPN2 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Iowa won last year's contest in Columbus.

Tuesday will mark the first time since the 2008-09 season that the Hawkeyes will open league play on the road.  Coincidentally, Iowa opened Big Ten play that season also at Ohio State. The Buckeyes edged the Hawkeyes, 68-65, on Dec. 31, 2008. 

Ohio State is 28-3 at home since the start of the 2013-14 season. The Hawkeyes were one of the three teams to beat the Buckeyes during that span at Value City Arena. Iowa won 84-74 on Jan. 12, 2014. 

Big Ten basketball tips off conference play with four games today, and three more games on Wednesday opposite the Big East Conference, who open with five games on FS1, also on Wednesday.

On the B1G Football side, the conference takes a 2-2 record into the conference's fifth bowl game, as Maryland (7-5) faces Stanford (7-5) at Levi Field in San Francisco with a 9 p.m. kickoff on ESPN in the Foster Farms Bowl.

"This has been a great week that we've been out here,” said Maryland head coach Randy Edsall. “Our guys got a chance to go to Alcatraz and go to St. Anthony's. It is very rewarding to do those things and it's great that the bowl is able to provide this. I don't know how many of our guys would be able to get there and do these types of things if it wasn't for what has taken place this week. They have worked hard this week and I am sure they've played hard when they have had the free time to do that. We are very, very grateful for the opportunity."

Maryland vs. Stanford Bowl Game Preview

Back to basketball, Ohio State has played 11 of its first 13 games at home in Value City Arena. The Buckeyes are a perfect 11-0 at home, winning their last game, 100-55, over Wright State on Dec. 27. 

Both Iowa and Ohio State have played North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat the Buckeyes (82-74) on Dec. 20 in Chicago, while the Hawkeyes won in Chapel Hill (60-55) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3. 

Three Buckeyes average double figures in scoring: D'Angelo Russell (17.7 ppg), Marc Loving (12.4 ppg), and Sam Thompson (10.2 ppg). 

Iowa will have five days to prepare for its next conference opponent when it hosts Nebraska on Monday, Jan. 5, in the Hawkeyes' conference home opener. Iowa will play Michigan State at home next week on Thursday, Jan. 8.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Iowa Hawkeyes will face another former B1G coordinator in 2015, when Pittsburgh comes to Kinnick

PITTSBURGH -- Nationally recognized as one of college football's brightest coaching talents, Pat Narduzzi Friday was named the new head coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Narduzzi will return to Big Ten county in 2015, when Pittsburgh (6-6 in '14) travels to play Iowa (7-5 in '14) during a ACC/Big Ten match up at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

A coach's son who grew up 70 miles from Pittsburgh in Youngstown, Ohio--a city that also takes pride in its industrial heritage and football tradition--Narduzzi has spent the past eight years orchestrating Michigan State's perennially devastating defense. Under his direction, the Spartans are the only team to rank in the nation's top 10 in total defense and rushing defense each season from 2011-14.

Working under two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Mark Dantonio, Narduzzi has helped Michigan State to Top 25 finishes in four of the past six seasons. The Spartans finished No. 3 in both polls last year following a Big Ten title and 24-20 victory over No. 5 Stanford in the Rose Bowl. In the wake of that championship season, Narduzzi was named the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Broyles Award, annually presented to the country's top assistant coach.     

This season, Michigan State is ranked No. 8 in the country with a 10-2 record and will face No. 5 Baylor (11-1) in the 2015 AT&T Cotton Bowl on January 1 in Dallas, Texas. The Spartans once again boast an exceptional defense that yields just 293.5 yards per game (seventh best in FBS) and has forced a Big Ten-high 33 turnovers.

"Our goal was not only to find the best football coach but also a person who would uphold the values and mission of the University of Pittsburgh. In Pat Narduzzi we have found that person," said Pitt's Acting Athletic Director Dr. Randy Juhl. "His achievements on the football field are well documented. Pat is widely regarded as a rising star in the coaching profession who is ready to lead his own program. It was obvious from our conversations that he also embraces the responsibilities he has beyond the game. Pat wants to impact the lives of his student-athletes long after their Pitt careers end. We are excited about what our young men can accomplish, on and off the field, under his watch."

Narduzzi has been a highly respected Big Ten defensive coordinator at Michigan State. The game in Iowa City in 2015 should take on even more interest with Narduzzi's first game against a Big Ten opponent. During the 2014 season, Iowa enjoyed a comeback to defeat at Pittsburgh from a 10 point second half deficit 24-20 on the road. Wisconsin hired back their former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, after three seasons as Pittsburgh's head coach.
"The selection of Pat Narduzzi as our head football coach gave us an exceptionally satisfying conclusion to a very gratifying search," Pitt Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran said. "As we began the process, we believed the Pitt head coaching position was a highly attractive opportunity. That belief was only reinforced by the tremendous interest we received from sitting head coaches as well as offensive and defensive coordinators from across the country. Ultimately, our feeling was unanimous that Pat was the best person to lead our program into what will be a very exciting future."

"I am very honored to be the new head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh," said Narduzzi, the 37thhead coach in the program's history.  "I want to thank Chancellor Gallagher, Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran, Dr. Randy Juhl and Donna Sanft for providing me with this tremendous opportunity. It is an honor to join a program with such great history and tradition. I am very eager to begin working with the young men who are already in the program and meet people throughout the Pitt community. We are going to work very hard on the field, in the classroom and in the community to make the University of Pittsburgh proud."

Narduzzi has tutored an impressive list of decorated defensive players, including first team All-Americans in cornerback Darqueze Dennard, safety Kurtis Drummond, linebacker Greg Jones and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.

Dennard was a unanimous All-American in 2013, becoming the first Michigan State cornerback to earn that distinction. He also was the school's first winner of theJim Thorpe Award, annually given to college football's top defensive back. Dennard was a first-round NFL Draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014, the first Spartans DB taken in the initial round since 1961.

Narduzzi has coached 19 first-team All-Big Ten selections. Four players have won the conference's top individual awards under his watch, including the past two Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honorees (Dennard in 2013 and Drummond in 2014). Shilique Calhoun was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013 while Greg Jones was the overall Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.

Prior to Michigan State, Narduzzi spent three years (2004-06) as defensive coordinator under Dantonio at Cincinnati, helping the Bearcats to a pair of bowl invitations.

In 2003, Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator at Miami-Ohio under the late Terry Hoeppner. The RedHawks stormed to a 13-1 record that season, capturing the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship and defeating nationally ranked Louisville in the GMAC Bowl to finish No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger headlined Miami's offense, Narduzzi's stout unit topped the MAC in rushing defense (19th nationally), scoring defense (22nd nationally) and pass efficiency defense (34th nationally).

Narduzzi served as linebackers coach at Northern Illinois for three seasons (2000-02). NIU won a pair of MAC divisional titles during his tenure and in 2002 had the league's top rushing defense.

From 1993-98, Narduzzi coached at his alma mater, Rhode Island, serving as the Rams' defensive coordinator his final two seasons. He began his coaching career at Miami-Ohio, working as a graduate assistant in 1990 and 1991, before earning his first full-time position as receivers coach for the 1992 season.

Narduzzi was an all-state performer at Youngstown's Ursuline High School, leading the Irish to the Steel Valley championship and Ohio state playoffs as a senior in 1984. He was a starting linebacker under his father, the late Bill Narduzzi, as a freshman at Youngstown State University in 1985 before transferring to Rhode Island and became a three-year starter for the Rams from 1987-89.

Bill Narduzzi was head coach at YSU from 1975-85. He led the Penguins to two NCAA Division II playoff appearances, including the national championship game in 1979, and twice was named the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Coach of the Year. 

Pat Narduzzi completed his bachelor's degree in physical education at Rhode Island in 1990 and later earned a Master of Science in sports studies at Miami-Ohio in 1992. He and his wife Donna have four children: Arianna, Christina, Patrick and Isabella.

Narduzzi will finish out his role as Michigan State defensive coordinator against Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl.


Born: April 22, 1966

Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio

Alma Mater: Rhode Island, 1990

Family: Narduzzi and his wife Donna have four children: Arianna, Christina, Patrick and Isabella.


Rhode Island, three-year starter at linebacker (1987-89).

Youngstown State, starter at linebacker (1985).


Miami (Ohio), 1990-91, graduate assistant; 1992, wide receivers.

Rhode Island, 1993-97, linebackers; 1998-99, defensive coordinator.

Northern Illinois, 2000-02, linebackers.

Miami (Ohio), 2003, defensive coordinator.

Cincinnati, 2004-06, defensive coordinator.

Michigan State, 2007-14, defensive coordinator, 2013-14, assistant head coach.

Pittsburgh, 2015, head coach.


2003 GMAC Bowl

2004 Fort Worth Bowl

2007 Champs Sports Bowl

2009 Capital One Bowl

2010 Valero Alamo Bowl

2011 Capital One Bowl

2012 Outback Bowl

2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

2014 Rose Bowl

2015 Cotton Bowl

Big Ten split first 2 bowl games, Hawkeyes prepare, as next two B1G bowl games are to be played Saturday

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. -- Blue sky, sunshine, and a cool breeze greeted the University of Iowa football team at its first practice in the state of Florida on Friday. The Iowa Hawkeyes opened practice on Pirate Field at Fernandina Beach High School.

It is less than one week until kickoff of the TaxSlayer Bowl that pits the 7-5 Iowa Hawkeyes against the 6-6 Tennessee Volunteers. It will be one of several Big Ten/SEC showdowns.

On Friday, the Big Ten Conference split their first two of ten bowl games the conference will play during the 2014-15 bowl season.

In Dallas on Friday, Illinois (6-7) senior QB Reilly O'Toole threw for 295 yards and a touchdown for the Fighting Illini and fellow seniors Jon Davis and Donovonn Young each found the end zone in their final game for the Orange and Blue.

But special teams and big plays burned Illinois in a 35-18 loss in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl on Friday afternoon.

Louisiana Tech (9-5) saw senior Cody Sokol throw a 80 yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Dixon to put the Bulldogs up 14-3 early. The former Iowa reserve QB finished 14-28 for 287 yards with the lone touchdown pass against the Fighting Illini.

The Bulldogs are now 2-0 in the Illini series and against Illinois head coach Tim Beckman.

In Detroit on Friday afternoon, the Big Ten picked up their first win. The Rutgers program closed their inaugural B1G season on a highly positive note.

It was almost impossible to come away from Rutgers’ dominant 40-21 victory over North Carolina today in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field without feeling the program’s future is bright.

How can it not feel that way when a couple of Rutgers freshmen running backs turn in the type of performances that Josh Hicks and Robert Martin did, accomplishing something only Ray Rice had before them – followed by star wide receiver Leonte Carroo’s locker room announcement that he will return for his senior season?

But this wasn’t just about what’s ahead. For the 19 departing seniors it was a reminder of the mark they left on the program, helping to put an exclamation point on Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season.

Tabbed by many to finish last in the East Division of the Big Ten and to be a sub-.500 team, the Scarlet Knights finished a rousing 8-5.

“We stayed strong as a team,” said Rutgers senior left guard Kaleb Johnson. “There were ups and downs this season but this team stayed together, never got down on each other. That’s what strong senior leadership can do for you.

“When you have that and you stay together through the tough times you have a chance to accomplish the things we did this year. That’s what stands out to me about this team.”

At one point in this bowl victory, Rutgers had a 40-7 lead and had turned in what was arguably its most complete performance of the season to that point. Only a couple of touchdowns by North Carolina (6-7) in the final 6:45 spoiled that.

But it didn’t take away from the dominance. Hicks (who was named the game's MVP) rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and Martin added 100 yards and two scores on 19 carries as the Scarlet Knights – powered by an offensive line featuring three seniors – rolled up 340 rushing yards.

That’s a school record for a bowl, the most rushing yards by the Scarlet Knights since 2007 (against Army) and Hicks and Martin joined Rice as the only true freshmen in school history to rush for 100 yards in a bowl game.

“When you see 300-plus on that rushing stat you know you did your job,” said fifth-year Rutgers senior right tackle Taj Alexander. “To go out like this it feels great. Being here five years you think about everything it took to get to this point and you really appreciate it when you have a game like this, especially when it’s your last one.”

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova didn’t dazzle in his final game (9-of-20 for 184 yards with two touchdown passes) but he didn’t have to. And he was good with that. 

“I think this senior class deserved this bowl win,” he said. “I think we deserved to go out like this. That’s all that matters.”

Because the running game was so good, Nova only needed to complete two passes in the second half. But the damage was done by then. Rutgers’ 23-0 halftime lead was its largest ever in a bowl game, and it was 37-7 with 14:11 to play after a 34-yard Nova-to-Andrew Turzilli touchdown strike and a 28-yard scoring run by Martin. Kyle Federico added a 31-yard field goal with 10:04 remaining to make it 40-7.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this football team and what they accomplished today,” said Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood. “They’re a special group of young people.”

The defensive side did more than its share, quieting a North Carolina offense that is the most productive in school history. Rutgers fifth-year senior strong safety Lorenzo Waters played a major role in that, collecting 14 tackles, recovering two fumbles and blocking a field goal attempt.

“It doesn’t get any better than this if you’re a fifth-year senior playing your last college game,” Waters said. “A lot of people get caught up in statistics but it’s not about that. All I did was make plays that were available to me and the way the scheme dictated things.

“They put a lot of my shoulders today, asking me to make a lot of open-field tackles so we could do a few other things on defense, and I was able to do that.”

Carroo’s announcement that he is returning means that Rutgers will be brimming with as much talent at wide receiver as it will at running back.

“I’m very excited about the future for Rutgers. I know we’ll have a great team next year,” said Carroo, who finished with 55 catches for 1,086 yards with nine touchdowns.

Illinois and Rutgers have closed out their 2014 seasons, along with Big Ten peers Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue, who each failed to reach a 6-6 season in 2014.

Up next on Saturday are Penn State and Nebraska, as each squares off in their respective bowl games.

Out East on Saturday afternoon, Penn State (6-6) will be making its 45th bowl appearance in program history when they face Boston College (7-5) in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

The game will close out the Nittany Lions era a probation. As the bowl ban was lifted earlier in the season for Penn State.

"We've had a fantastic week," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "To spend a week in New York City during the Christmas holiday has been unbelievable...It's been first class from top to bottom, so I'm thankful for that. We've had a great week, and we are looking forward to getting out there to play the game."

The Pinstripe Bowl will mark the 24th all-time meeting between the two Eastern rivals. Penn State owns a 19-4 edge in the all-time series, but Boston College has won the last three meetings. The first meeting came during the 1946 season, a 32-14 Penn State win, and the last occurred on Sept. 11, 2004, a 21-7 BC victory.

Penn State enters with one of the nation's top defensive units; ranking No. 1 in rushing defense (84.8 ypg), No. 2 passing efficiency defense (99.71) and total defense (269.8 ypg), and the No. 7 scoring defense (17.7 ppg).

"This is an opportunity to get out there and play the way we are capable of playing and finish on a positive note," Franklin said. "I'm really, really proud of our guys and thankful for the opportunity to be here."

Boston College leans on the running game and the two-headed attack of quarterback Tyler Murphy and running back Jon Hilliman. As a team, Boston College ranks 14th nationally with 251.8 rushing yards per game, with 29 of their 40 offensive scores coming on the ground. The defense is also stout against the run, sitting No. 4 nationally with just 95.5 yards per game allowed. They also rank 12th in the FBS with just 313.5 yards of total offense allowed.

Boston College - Penn State Bowl Game Preview

Out West on Saturday night, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3) will kick off at 7 p.m. on ESPN, in the Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans (8-4). The Trojans, like USC, are recently familiar to bowl bans.

“It helps on some level, we have a bit or familiarity with Coach Sarkisian’s offense,” Papuchis said. “I’m sure they’re going to have a unique plan this time though.”

The Huskers will be working with a linebacker unit that is banged up and will need contributions from players who may see an expanded role on Saturday.

“We’re a bit thin at linebacker right now,” Papuchis said. “We can’t go get any free agents. We’re preparing all hands on deck to be ready. (Josh) Banderas will play, Austin Williams may play, and we’re one snap away from Chris Weber and Marcus Newby being on the field.

With the dismissal of seventh year coach Bo Pelini, after the Iowa game, the Cornhuskers will turn to interim coach Barney Cotton before the Mike Riley era begins for the 2015 season in Nebraska.

Nebraska - Southern California Bowl Game Preview

The University of Iowa looks to rebound from its season ending Big Ten loss to Nebraska, in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

"Since the end of the Nebraska game (Nov. 28) we have been pushing toward this game, counting down the days until we get to face a good opponent," Iowa junior wide receiver Jacob Hillyer said. "It's good to get (practice) started. Some of the guys were a little sore coming off a five-day block of practice. It's exciting to come into game week and get ready for Tennessee."

Hillyer, from Somerset, Texas, caught 10 passes this season, including one for a touchdown at Maryland.

Facing good opponents is nothing new for the Hawkeyes. Six teams on their 2014 schedule (including four in a row to end the month of November) are bowl bound; Northern Iowa -- its season-opening opponent -- advanced to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Iowa sophomore cornerback Desmond King is in the midst of his second bowl preparation. One difference from last year is the weather: the Hawkeyes often battled rain showers in Tampa while getting ready for the 2014 Outback Bowl against LSU.

"Last year it was raining so it was a little slippery and we had trouble seeing the ball," King said. "Today was sunny with a cool wind. We had people paying more attention and everybody was focused."

King had two interceptions (one for a 35-yard Pick 6 against Indiana), 54 tackles, and five pass breakups this season. Even though the season has less than six days remaining, King said the Hawkeyes are treating it as another week and not getting ahead of themselves.

"We're getting comfortable in the playbook and trying to get ready for Tennessee on Jan. 2," King said. "It's another step forward."

King said the team got off to a quick start with Friday's practice, calling it a "good, up-tempo day."

Iowa is playing its 12th bowl game in the last 14 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes are 6-5 in those postseason games -- more wins than any other program in the Big Ten Conference during that span.

The TaxSlayer Bowl will kick off at 2:20 p.m. on ESPN from EverBank Field in Jacksonville on Friday, Jan. 2.

How strong will the Big Ten close out the 2014-15 bowl season?