Merriman: My top 10 B1G bowl performances

Big Ten bowl season is officially in the books as Ohio State closed out the conference postseason with a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday night’s Discover Orange Bowl. While it wasn’t a great showing for the Big Ten, going 2-5 in conference bowl games, there were still plenty of outstanding individual performances this year. Without further ado, here are my top-10 Big Ten bowl performances.

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10. Anthony Hitchens, LB, Iowa

Outback Bowl stats: 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss

Hitchens was outstanding for the Hawkeyes this season, and it was the same story in Iowa’s 21-14 loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes defense held the Tigers to just 21 points, which was 15 below their season average, and 302 total yards. Hitchens closes out his Iowa playing career with 270 career tackles, which is among the best in school history.

9. Kyler Elsworth, LB, Michigan State

Rose Bowl stats: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss

The stats certainly don’t stand out, but Elsworth’s Rose Bowl performance was so much more than just his individual stat line. The fifth-year senior made his first career start in his last game as a Spartan in MSU’s memorable 24-20 victory over Stanford in the 100th annual Rose Bowl game. His leaping tackle of Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 with 1:43 remaining in the game sealed the victory and will go down as one of the most memorable plays in program history.

8. Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Rose Bowl stats: 84 rushing yards, 1 touchdown; 5 catches, 17 yards

After getting off to a slow start, Langford exploded in the second half of the Rose Bowl, carrying the Spartans’ offense on his back. The talented junior halfback had 63 of his 101 total yards in the second half. Langford closed out the 2013 season with nine straight 100-yard games (total offense), which is one of the most impressive stats not only in the Big Ten, but throughout all of college football. And the best news for Spartans fans is that he will be back for another season.

7. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Capital One Bowl stats: 143 rushing yards; 1 catch, 5 yards

Gordon was one of the top running backs in the conference this season and he was outstanding again in Wisconsin’s 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Gordon had been splitting carries with James White throughout the season, but the Badgers went to Gordon early and often in this game, and it paid off. The Badgers’ bruising back averaged 5.7 yards per carry, including five runs of 10-or-more yards in the game. Despite trailing late in the game, it is still fair to question why Wisconsin only put the ball in Gordon’s hands five total times in the fourth quarter.

6. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

Orange Bowl stats: 113 rushing yards, 1 touchdown; 2 catches, 39 yards, 1 touchdown

As poor as Ohio State was on the defensive side of the ball in Friday night’s Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, the Buckeyes offense was nothing to frown about. Much of that credit can be given to senior tailback Carlos Hyde, who was outstanding from start to finish. Hyde totaled 152 yards (113 rushing, 39 receiving) and two touchdowns in the game. Hyde totaled 100-plus rushing yards in nine straight games to close out the season and should be an early pick in this year’s 2014 NFL Draft.

5. Cedric Thompson, DB, Minnesota

Texas Bowl stats: 14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery

Thompson closed out his season with a bang, recording a career-high 14 tackles in Minnesota’s 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. Make no mistake about it, defense was certainly not the issue in Minnesota’s Texas Bowl loss. The Gophers held Syracuse to just 188 yards passing in the loss. Thompson played a huge role in holding Syracuse’s passing game in check in this one. He was all over the field, recording the highest tackle total of any Big Ten player this bowl season.

4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Orange Bowl stats: 16-of-24, 234 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns; 35 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Miller played good enough to lead his team to a win, but the defense was non-existent in Ohio State’s 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Miller totaled 269 yards (234 passing, 35 rushing) and four touchdowns in what could be his final collegiate game, if he decides to leave early and enter the NFL Draft. The All-Big Ten quarterback would probably be higher on this list if it weren’t for his two interceptions, one of which came on the Buckeyes’ final drive of the game and ultimately sealed the win for Clemson in this one.

3. Ameer Abduallah, RB, Nebraska

Gator Bowl stats: 122 rushing yards, 1 touchdown

Abdullah was named an All-Big Ten running back last month and he certainly played like one in the Huskers’ 24-19 win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Abdullah was a workhorse in Nebraska’s backfield, carrying the ball 27 times for 122 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per tote. The Huskers’ talented junior back topped the 100-yard mark in 11 of Nebraska’s 13 games, with the lone exceptions being 98- and 85-yard efforts vs. UCLA and Iowa, respectively. Abdullah’s 1,690 rushing yards was the eighth highest total in Division I college football this season.

2. Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska

Gator Bowl stats: 4 catches, 129 yards, 2 touchdowns

With freshman Tommy Armstong Jr. under center, many wondered if this Nebraska would be able to pass on Georgia’s challenging SEC defense. Armstong Jr. only completed six passes for 163 yards, but Quincy Enunwa was on the receiving end of four throws that accounted for 129 receiving yards. Enunwa hauled in two touchdowns, including a 99-yard TD late in the third quarter, which was the longest play in school and Gator Bowl history.

1. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Rose Bowl stats: 22-of-36, 332 yards, 2 touchdowns

How fitting that Connor Cook closed out a memorable season with his best performance in the biggest game of his life. Cook was outstanding in the Spartans’ unforgettable 24-20 win over Stanford in the 100th annual Rose Bowl Game. The sophomore signal caller completed 61 percent of his passes for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning 25 yard touchdown strike to Tony Lippett in the fourth quarter. Cook has two 300 yard passing games in his career, the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl. Cook was honored as the offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl, an award that was certainly well-deserved for the Spartans quarterback.

About Sean Merriman BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman covers football and men’s basketball and provides original content for BTN.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BTNSean.

Originally from Farmington Hills, MI, I have worked at the Big Ten Network since 2012 and took over my role as web editor and blogger in August, 2013. Follow me on twitter for constant Big Ten updates @srmerriman. Thanks and enjoy!!

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7 Comments

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Staci on 1/4/2014 @ 9:18pm EST Said:

What about Iowa’s King? You continuously heard he name any time an LSU play was broken up.

Rick Lamp on 1/4/2014 @ 9:25pm EST Said:

All them kids deserve kudos for playing hard and tough, as a Nebraska fan, every one of them Big Ten teams are very good and competitive. I hope the following year the Big Ten will be the best conference in the nation.

Jan on 1/5/2014 @ 4:55am EST Said:

While I am glad Braxton is coming back, I will truly miss Carlos Hyde. He gave his heart and soul to this team, and I for one am proud of him. Good luck in the next phase of your life

MSU-Rose Bowl Champs! 13-1! 41 wins in 4 years! on 1/5/2014 @ 3:01pm EST Said:

MSU is the BEST B1G football program! Go Green!

Jonathan on 1/6/2014 @ 12:52am EST Said:

It’s great to see Langford get the due he deserves. But no running back can do what he did without an under rated line. So here is a shout out to the MSU line. Jeremy wasn’t touched on some of his runs until he got to the secondary.

Mary Brennan on 1/6/2014 @ 4:21pm EST Said:

Ameer Abdullah is the heart and soul of the Nebraska team. Couldn’t have done it without his heart and talent.

cp4ab0lishm3nt on 1/6/2014 @ 10:07pm EST Said:

The Spartans did the B1G proud with a conscientious achievement.