Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, December 26, 2013
Bowl season is officially here. Can you feel it, Big Ten fans?
Minnesota will kick off the Big Ten bowl season on Friday night against Syracuse in the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium. The Gophers are one of seven Big Ten teams playing in bowl games this season.
There has been plenty of news and notes leading up to bowl season, but what are the major storylines facing every Big Ten bowl team?
Let's have a look.
Major storyline: Can Minnesota take the next step?
Minnesota had a memorable 2013 regular season, posting the program's first eight-win season in a decade. This is the second straight year that the Gophers have appeared in a bowl game under head coach Jerry Kill, but the postseason has not been pleasant for this program as of late. How unpleasant has it been? The Gophers have lost each of their past five bowl appearance, with the program's last postseason win coming in the 2004 Music City Bowl. This is a winnable matchup that should help the Gophers get past this postseason losing streak and continue to establish creditability as an up-and-coming program under Kill's guidance.
Major storyline: How will Michigan's offense respond without quarterback Devin Gardner?
While Devin Gardner didn't have the type of season that many Michigan football fans expected of him, he was still the engine that made this Wolverines' offense go. Gardner was responsible for 75 percent of Michigan's offensive production this season, which is near impossible to replace. True freshman Shane Morris will be called upon to replace Gardner as the Wolverines' starting quarterback, but how will he react in his first start of the season? Completing just 5 of 9 passes for 65 yards and an interception is far too small of a sample size to answer that big of a question. The Wolverines will have to get some help from a running game that has been near non-existent this season.
Major storyline: Who will win the battle of backup quarterbacks?
Can you remember a bowl game with this many major injuries for each team? Both Nebraska and Georgia limped their way to the regular-season finish line, the Huskers losing two of their last three, while Georgia fell in three of its last seven contests. Most notably, both teams will be playing without their starting quarterbacks, Taylor Martinez for Nebraska and Aaron Murray for Georgia. The Huskers will rely on redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who needs to play well if Nebraska is going to have a chance in this one. A win over an SEC power like Georgia will put a positive stamp on what has otherwise been a disappointing season for Nebraska and head coach Bo Pelini.
[ MORE: Gator Bowl Preview: Nebraska vs. Georgia ]
Major storyline: Can Iowa's offensive line handle LSU's defensive front?
Talk about two powerhouse units going up against one another. Iowa featured one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten this season, led by All-Big Ten offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. This unit paved the way for three 400-plus yard rushers, including bruising junior tailback Mark Weisman. But will this Iowa offensive line be able to contain LSU's defensive front, led by All-SEC performer Anthony Johnson, who is an exceptional run-stopper. If Iowa can control the line of scrimmage, the Hawkeyes will have a chance to pull off what would be one of the biggest wins in Kirk Ferentz's storied coaching career.
[ MORE: Outback Bowl Preview: Iowa vs. LSU ]
Major storyline: What is Wisconsin's mind-set?
The Badgers entered the final week of the Big Ten season poised to play in a BCS Bowl. Many Big Ten fans were talking out scenarios of where the Badgers would end up, pending the result of the Big Ten Championship clash between Ohio State and Michigan State. But in the end, it was just that, talk. Wisconsin closed out the regular season with an unforeseen 31-24 home loss to Penn State, knocking the Badgers out of any type of BCS discussion. Now, Gary Andersen's club will face a South Carolina team loaded with NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball. Will the Badgers be able to put that season-ending loss behind them and finally put an end to their three-year bowl skid? We sure hope so.
Major storyline: How will Michigan State respond after the suspension of senior captain Max Bullough?
The Spartans' memorable 2013 season took a big hit on Thursday morning when it was announced that senior linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for the remainder of the season for a violation of team rules. Head coach Mark Dantonio released a brief statement to the media, but did not to provide any type of details on the suspension. Bullough was the heart and soul of this dominant Spartan defense, serving as a two-time team captain and first-team All-Big Ten choice. So, how will the Spartans react without the quarterback of their defense out on the field? Make no mistake about it, this defense is still loaded with talent. But as Tom Dienhart said in this column, none of them are Max Bullough.
Major storyline: Which defense will be able to make a big stop?
Find me a game this bowl season that will be more entertaining to watch than this one? Both Ohio State and Clemson feature explosive offenses, with each team averaging more than 40 points per contest. Each team features a star quarterback, Braxton Miller for Ohio State and Tajh Boyd for Clemson. The two have accounted for a total of 70 touchdowns this season. We know what to expect on the offensive side of the ball, but will Ohio State's defense be able to step up and make a big stop in this game? The Buckeyes defense held opponents to just over 21 points per game, which is respectable. However, their last two opponents, Michigan and Michigan State, combined for 75 points, which isn't going to get it done in this matchup. Keep an eye on the defenses and if either can force a turnover at a crucial point in the game. That team will likely come out on top when all is said and done in this one.
|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.|