College Football Overtime (cont.)
Twelve years ago this New Year's, Wisconsin's Ron Dayne rushed for a Rose Bowl-record 246 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-31 win over 10-1 UCLA. It was the height of Barry Alvarez's tenure (the Badgers returned to Pasadena again the next year), and one defined by a smashmouth style that's become an endangered species in the new century.
Except, of course, at Wisconsin.
Bret Bielema's fifth-ranked Badgers (10-1) stand one win from returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 11 years, and they're doing it the same way they did in the days of Dayne: by bulldozing people. They've run for 357 and 338 yards, respectively, in wins over Indiana (83-20) and Michigan (48-28), their fifth and sixth straight. In the second half Saturday, the Badgers ran on 29 consecutive plays.
"We kept running because we knew we could," said tackle Gabe Carimi.
Note that leading rusher and reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay did not play in either game. But as with the great Wisconsin teams of old, the offensive line is this group's most powerful asset. That line has helped sophomore Montee Ball (155.7 yards over his last three games) and freshman James White (162.5) emerge as the next great Badger backs.
These Badgers do differ from their predecessors in one respect. Whereas Alvarez's teams usually featured a caretaker quarterback to mix things up between runs, present day starter Scott Tolzien is a weapon in his own right. Before Wisconsin went run-heavy in the second half Saturday, Tolzien completed 13 consecutive passes, finishing 14 of 15 in leading Wisconsin to its first victory in Ann Arbor since 1994.
Admittedly, the Badgers' past two wins have come against largely hapless defenses, and they'll face another one in Saturday's finale against Northwestern, which allowed 519 rushing yards to Illinois. Assuming Wisconsin prevails, and Ohio State takes care of Michigan, Wisconsin will punch its ticket to Pasadena, where the competition will be significantly stiffer. At this point, Wisconsin is guaranteed to face one of three opponents: Boise State, which boasts the nation's top rush defense, TCU (No. 5) or Stanford (No. 33).
"I'll put us with anybody," said Bielema. "I know we have one loss [at Michigan State on Oct. 2], but I watch college football and we're a good football team ... In the bigger picture, we're playing as well as anybody out there."
For three years, one word has hovered over Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor: maturity. Do a quick Google search and you'll find the following headlines: "Pryor showing maturity of a leader;" "Buckeyes Will Need a Mature Terrelle Pryor to Succeed;" and "Terrelle Pryor Maturing Before Our Eyes."
Every college student arrives a young pup and comes out a man. In Pryor's case, his maturation has been meticulously chronicled every step of the way.
Saturday's triumph at Iowa marked the latest step in that process. On the field, at least. After three quarters of what appeared to be another big-game flameout (he threw two interceptions), Pryor delivered a defining game-winning drive. After friend DeVier Posey dropped a wide-open 50-yard touchdown (which Pryor admitted made him "mad"), Pryor responded by scrambling 14 yards on a fourth-and-10 from the 50, then later hit Dane Sanzenbacher for a 24-yard strike just inside the sideline en route to the go-ahead touchdown. The seventh-ranked Buckeyes won 20-17 to improve to 10-1.
"I might not be the best quarterback or have the best stats, but I guarantee you I can bring my team back and make them believe we're going to come back," Pryor said.
With a win Saturday against Michigan, Pryor will wrap up at least a share of his third straight Big Ten title and improve his career record as starter to 30-4. By any reasonable measure, he's lived up to the considerable expectations that accompanied his recruitment as the No. 1 prospect in the country in 2008.
And yet, for whatever reason, most of us still haven't fully jumped on the bandwagon. He's no longer mentioned in the same breath as Heisman candidates like Cam Newton, Kellen Moore, Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallett or Denard Robinson. His final stat line Saturday was 18-of-33 for 195 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Until that last drive, his play was undistinguished.
And then there's this: After the game Saturday night, Pryor (@Tpeeze2) took to Twitter to lambast his critics. First: Talk is cheap none of you haters could fit my shoes w ten socks on. Bums. Go Bucks. And later: Heard Kirk herbstreit was dogging us. He a fake buckeye. Fake as hell. (Both have since been deleted.)
The "maturity" thing continues.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: Oregon vs. Auburn
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Boise State
Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Pittsburgh
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. TCU
Sugar: LSU vs. Ohio State
The only change from last week is Oklahoma State replacing Nebraska as the Big 12's representative. The Cowboys are playing well, the Huskers are not. And though a week ago I would have said the Orange Bowl would snap up 11-2 Nebraska if it lost in the conference title game, I can't see it biting if the Huskers drop three.
Having said that, drastic changes could be at hand this time next week, most notably if Auburn loses (Boise would move up to the title game if it beats Nevada, Stanford to the Rose Bowl), Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State (we'll have a new projected Big 12 champ) or Arkansas beats LSU (the Hogs would likely take the Tigers' at-large spot in the Sugar or Orange bowls).
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