Big Ten Bowl Report - Part I
December 21, 2013
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4 SU, 9-3 ATS) vs. Syracuse Orange (6-6 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)
Date: Friday, Dec. 27
Time/TV: 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Golden Gophers (-4.5, 45.5)
Venue: Reliant Stadium
Location: Houston, Texas
No matter what happens in the Bowl game, Minnesota players and coaches can walk away from the 2013 season successful. They finished with the most wins since 2003 and reached the top 25 poll for the first time since 2008. They’ve now improved their win total each season under Jerry Kill. Still, after dropping the final two games to Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Gophers would like to close out the season on a high note with a Bowl win over Syracuse.
Nothing special stands out about this team, but a bend-but-don’t-break defense and a power-run offense (200.9 YPG) allowed this team to eke out wins. The Gophers ranked 107th in total yards and QB Nelson showed little improvement in his 2nd season with the team. Nelson finished with just 9 TD and 6 INT and a 51.4% completion percentage. RB David Cobb is the star of this offense with 1,111 rush yards (5.1 YPC) and 7 TD. But too few weapons for receivers made this offense one-dimensional (leading receiver had 25 receptions).
Defensively DT Ra'Shede Hageman was a unanimous selection on the All-Big Ten team and he’s one of the most disruptive big men in College Football. He led this defense that ranked 41st in yards allowed, 40th against the pass, 51st against the run, and 28th in points allowed. Over the final three games, the Gophers allowed just 14.6 PPG to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State – three above-average offenses. This defense could have a big day against a Syracuse offense that struggled throughout the year.
Syracuse had a transitional year with a new head coach, new quarterback, a new offensive schemes, and a new conference to call home. Many would’ve doubted Syracuse’s bowl chances to begin the season, but here they are going to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 98-99. The Orange rank 87th in yards per game, 104th in passing, and 100th in scoring. They were held to 20 points or fewer in 7 of 12 games this season.
Much like the Gophers, they are led by the rushing attack with a struggling passing attack. RB’s Smith led the team with 840 yards and 11 touchdowns while QB Hunt contributed 426 yards and 5 scores. Hunt didn’t excel in the passing game. He completed 60.7% of his passes with 10 TD and 8 INT this season and didn’t throw a TD pass in league play until the 2nd to last game of the season.
It was ugly at times for Syracuse with losses to Florida State, Clemson, and Georgia Tech by a combined score of 17-164; but overall this defense ranked statistically strong. They rank 39th in yards allowed, 27th against the run, and 60th in points allowed. The Orange were able to overcome a slew of injuries to win four games in the ACC and secure a bowl berth.
Syracuse is 0-4 SU against Big Ten teams the last two years, including a 17-10 loss to Minnesota in 2012. Minnesota hasn’t won a bowl game since 2004 while Syracuse has won two straight – including a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl last year.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan Wolverines (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Date: Saturday, Dec. 28
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Line: Wildcats (-3.5, 56.5)
Venue: Sun Devil Stadium
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Michigan lost four of its last five games, with the only win over that span an overtime victory over 5-7 Northwestern. Still, they ended the season by taking then-undefeated Ohio State to the brink of an upset in the biggest rivalry in college football. The Wolverines tallied 603 total yards, 31 first downs, and 41 points against the Buckeyes – but a failed two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining cost them the game. Prior to that outburst, Michigan’s offense was really struggling. They averaged just 16.7 PPG, 209 YPG, and 32 rushing YPG over the four games leading up to Ohio State. Still, for a team that had high hopes after a 5-0 start, a 7-5 finish and a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl isn’t what the Wolves had in mind – so motivation will be a factor here.
QB Devin Gardner showed flashes of brilliance this year, like the 4 TD performance against Ohio State, but he was too often under duress behind this subpar offensive line. And because of that, Gardner turned the ball over 17 times this year (11 INT & 6 fumbles).
Defensively the statistics aren’t bad for Michigan, but the Wolverines struggled against the top offenses they faced this season. Notre Dame, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State averaged 38.2 PPG against this Michigan defense this season.
Kansas State will present another stern test for this Wolverine defense. After a 2-4 start which included a loss to FCS North Dakota State, K State was left for dead in the Big 12. Star QB Collin Klein was gone and this offense didn’t have an identity. They found one in Big 12 play as the two-quarterback system with Daniel Sams and Jake Waters worked seamlessly during the final half of the season, leading KSU to 36.7 PPG over the final six games (31+ points in each game). KSU’s 6.54 yards per play during that span led the Big 12, even better than the headline-making crew from Baylor. They reeled off wins in five of their last six Big 12 games to finish 7-5 and earn a berth in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Waters finished the season with 15 TD passes and 2,198 yards while Sams, the better runner, finished with 4 TD passes and 11 rush TD.
The defense performed well despite playing against some of the top offenses in the country. KSU ranked 38th in yards allowed and 36th in points allowed. Defensive end Ryan Mueller is the leader of this defense and he finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. This unit led the Big 12 with just 4.73 yards per play allowed in the final six-game stretch.
While Michigan’s arrow was pointing down to end the regular season, KSU’s is clearly pointing up. Michigan is 1-4 SU & 0-4-1 ATS in its last five bowl games. The Wolves lost to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl last year. Kansas State is 0-5 SU & ATS in its last five bowl appearances (dating back to 2003). They dropped the Fiesta Bowl to Oregon last season after winning the Big 12.