Dienhart: My best of 2013-14 Big Ten bowls

The dust has settled on another disappointing postseason for the Big Ten, which went 2-5 in bowl games. The lone victors: Michigan State in the Rose Bowl and Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. Still, there were many noteworthy things. Here’s my Best of the Big Ten Bowls.

[ MORE: View our full 2013-14 bowl schedule ]

Best game: The Orange Bowl was off-the-charts spectacular. Clemson’s 40-35 win over Ohio State featured four lead changes, over 1,000 combined yards and enough electricity to light the BTN offices in downtown Chicago. The game lived up to its hype as a quarterback-fueled shootout. And, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd outplayed Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, as Boyd hit 77 percent of his passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns while running for 127 yards and a score. Boyd looked like a Heisman winner. Miller got banged around and was ineffective as a runner with 35 yards on 18 carries. Over its last three games, OSU allowed a combined 115 points and 1,617 yards as the Buckeyes now have a two-game losing skid after winning 24 in a row.

Best ending: Let’s go with Minnesota’s 21-17 loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. It got off to a slow start, with the Orange leading 7-3 at halftime and 14-3 after three quarters. But, things heated up in the fourth quarter with 21 combined points and a fun finish. The Golden Gophers battled back to take a 17-14 lead with under two minutes to go. But Minnesota allowed a 70-yard punt return shortly after it tallied the go-ahead TD. Syracuse proceeded to notch a touchdown to win the game, hanging on after Minnesota wideout Drew Wolitarsky let a potential game-winning touchdown catch slip through his hands from 39 yards out in the dying moments.

Best win: Let’s go with Michigan State’s triumph over Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl Game. The Spartans entered the game as an underdog—but they left as clearly the better team. The Cardinal took the opening kickoff and scored a TD. After the first quarter, Stanford basically was shut down by MSU’s stellar defense in a 24-20 victory. It was MSU’s first trip to Pasadena in 26 years, and it was just the Big Ten’s second win in its last 11 Rose Bowls.

[ MORE: Twitter: Reaction to Rose Bowl Game win | Rose Bowl gallery ]

Best catch: Nebraska fans never will forget the 99-yard touchdown hook up between Tommy Armstrong Jr., and Quincy Enunwa in the third quarter of the Gator Bowl. It was the longest touchdown catch in bowl history. Enunwa finished the season with a school single-season record 12 touchdown catches.

Best gaffe: Iowa safety John Lowdermilk is the runaway winner here. He picked off a LSU pass in the third quarter and was racing toward pay dirt. But, he inexplicably dropped the ball before crossing the goal line, thinking he already was in the end zone. Big mistake. Lucky for him, the Hawkeyes eventually scored.

Best stat: The 250 combined rushing yards for Wisconsin backs Melvin Gordon (143) and James White (107), which gave the Badgers the first tandem of 1,400-yard rushers in FBS history. Alas, it wasn’t enough in a 34-24 loss to South Carolina, as Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw hit 88 percent of his passes (22-of-25) for 312 yards and three TDs and was responsible for five touchdowns all together. The Badgers made Shaw look like Dan Marino. So, if you are scoring in Madison, Wisconsin allowed an aggregate 65 points and 651 passing yards in losses to Penn State and South Carolina.

Best return: Wisconsin’s Kenzel Doe looked spectacular racing by South Carolina defenders on the way to a 91-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the Capital One Bowl. Special mention to Iowa’s Jordan Cotton, who ran 96 yards with a fourth-quarter kickoff to setup the Hawkeyes’ last touchdown.

Best moment: When Minnesota’s Jerry Kill coached from the sideline in the second half. He had relegated himself to the press box since his return for a leave to tend to his health. His presence helped spark the Gophers to 14 second-half points.

Best tackle: Michigan State linebacker Kyler Elsworth was an anonymous player most of his career, arriving in East Lansing as a walk-on fullback before eventually moving to linebacker. With senior captain linebacker Max Bullough suspended for the Rose Bowl, Elsworth saw ample action and earned a spot in Spartan lore with a flying tackle on a 4th-and-one that stuffed Stanford’s final drive to preserve victory. Elsworth finished the game with 10 stops and earned Defensive Player of the Game accolades. No doubt, Elsworth epitomized this Spartan program under Mark Dantonio: tough, gritty, blue collar, never quit.

Best almost Gatorade bath: The Michigan State players tried. Really, they did. But, Mark Dantonio deftly dodged a celebratory Gatorade bath in the waning moments of the Rose Bowl. Impressive.

Best disappointment: Yes, I know, it’s a strange category. But, I have to find a way to mention the horrendous Michigan effort in a 31-14 loss to 7-5 Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl that wasn’t really that close. Michigan started true freshman Shane Morris at quarterback with Devin Gardner out with injury, which made an already struggling offense more vulnerable. How bad was it? The Wolverines had 261 yards. And 82 of those came on a meaningless final drive of the game that resulted in a garbage TD. The defense was every bit as bad—and it really had no excuse–getting shredded by a good-but-not-great K-State offense for 420 yards. The Wolverines went 2-6 in their last eight games and lost their last three.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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12 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (12 Comments)
huskerfanbb on 1/6/2014 @ 11:26am EST Said:

Wow. How can you have two “best” moments featuring the Minnesota game. That was BY FAR the biggest stinker for the B1G. Minnesota had the weakest opponent (and it’s not close)–and they laid a proverbial egg. They were just happy to be there, and it showed. I don’t care if they win 9 games next year, they don’t deserve another bowl after that miserable showing.

Scott on 1/6/2014 @ 1:32pm EST Said:

TOTALLY AGREE!!!

Hank Moody on 1/6/2014 @ 3:18pm EST Said:

Tom….MSU was the best game. Best ending. Best win. I’m embarrassed for the BTN after reading this nonsense.

Greeneyes on 1/6/2014 @ 3:51pm EST Said:

Best game – OSU????? What’s the matter with you? You like watching the BIG lose and OSU self destruct in the final quarter???
Best Ending – Minnesota???? Best would imply… Best? You don’t think MSU stopping Stanford with a fourth down for the ages is the best ending??? What are you thinking? or drinking?

vaudvillain on 1/6/2014 @ 5:07pm EST Said:

I’m no Spartan, but I absolutely agree with the commenters above that the Rose Bowl was the best game with the best ending. The Orange Bowl was exciting, sure, but it wasn’t a “good” game. It was a slopfest with a million flags and mistakes galore as both teams tried to out-Clemson each other. The Rose Bowl was a football game, plain and simple, and it was glorious. And it was the ROSE BOWL.

Dave Kirkpatrick on 1/6/2014 @ 5:57pm EST Said:

The Rose Bowl was the best game, the best ending, the best win .. really almost the best everything. If you want to exclude that awesome game and rank the others, feel free – but it is not even close. By the way, the Rose Bowl attracted 18,636,000 viewers and was the highest-rated bowl game on ESPN — ever! It was also the most expensive Rose bowl ticket — ever — according to FORBES.

http://alumni.msu.edu/blog/post.cfm/the-grandest-of-em-all

huskerdude on 1/6/2014 @ 8:46pm EST Said:

Best moment: osu losing

cp4ab0lishm3nt on 1/6/2014 @ 10:03pm EST Said:

The two B1G disappointments MI and OSU not making the grade off-season.

budgerfan on 1/6/2014 @ 11:10pm EST Said:

Hey at least he wasn’t on his knees this time for Wisky and the Idiots Out Wandering Around.

Doug on 1/7/2014 @ 10:26am EST Said:

Michigan finished this season where everyone but Michigan and big ten writers thought they would. The have all these supposed great recruits, but look at the results. Bring back Rich Rod !

Tony Smith on 1/7/2014 @ 1:47pm EST Said:

Wow !!! That is Horrible!!!…..The Orange Bowl !! Really..an insult to Big Ten Football fans!! BTN..please!!! get someone else to write for you

Moonunit on 1/7/2014 @ 3:42pm EST Said:

None of you understand. OSU could have played in the toilet bowl and this spawn of Buckeye would have still found a way to give them the highest praise. he can’t start a single paragraph without it having to do with Ohio State…..followed by Michigan……followed by Wisconsin.