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5 Reasons to Watch Penn State vs. USC in the Rose Bowl

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We continue to whet your palate for the postseason by looking at the bowl match-ups involving Big Ten teams. Today our previews head into the big bowls with The Granddaddy of Them All in Pasadena, where the Nittany Lions will take on the Trojans.

This game pairs two of the hottest teams in the country and possibly two of the best teams left out of the playoff…will it live up to the hype?

Even in the BCS and Playoff era, this game still often matches one of the best teams from the Big Ten against one of the best from the Pac-12 conference. Unfortunately, the long trip to Pasadena has not tended to end well for the team from the Midwest, as Big Ten teams are 2-6 in the eight traditional games held between these conferences in the last 10 Rose Bowl games.

That includes the 45-16 beating Iowa took last year from Stanford in a similar situation as this year, with the Rose Bowl hosting two hot teams that just missed the playoff. However, while the Hawkeyes were seemingly just happy to make the trip for the first time in 25 years, USC and Penn State have both gone an equal 8 years since playing in this game. The Trojans won that game and are 2-0 against the Lions in Rose Bowl game history.

Here are five reasons to tune in and see if Penn State can break that streak and win its first Rose Bowl title since the 1994 season:

— It’s the last B1G bowl game and possibly the last Big Ten game until August 31, 2017

As mentioned in my Quick Lane Bowl preview last week, Big Ten football fans often want to watch all of the B1G postseason football, and this would be the last of 10 games in 8 days during the most wonderful time of the year. Unless the Big Ten also makes the Playoff Championship on January 9, this is the final fix before a dreadfully-long 8 month time period known as the college football offseason.

Plus, there’s no prettier setting to watch a football game than Pasadena in the late afternoon of an early January day.

Add to that the two traditional college football power programs with their iconic uniforms and great history, and this is exactly the type of top-level bowl game we wait all bowl season to see. Indeed, this is widely considered to be the best bowl game outside the playoff for this season, so why wouldn’t a Big Ten fan (or any college football fan, for that matter) not want to tune in?

Savor every drop of this season before it’s gone. However, that’s far from the only reason to see the Rose Bowl.

— A battle of two teams who haven’t lost since September

On the last weekend of September, both of these teams looked to have lost seasons following incredibly tough opening months. USC lost at Utah to fall to 1-3 (following earlier blowout losses against Alabama and Stanford), but in that game found a new leader in freshman QB Sam Darnold. The Trojans have ripped off 8 straight victories since then, narrowly missing an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship thanks to two early conference losses.

Meanwhile at another tough road venue in Ann Arbor, Penn State was busy shuffling in any bodies available to play linebacker while getting run over by 39 points by the Wolverines (following an earlier loss to Pittsburgh). The Nittany Lions had all kinds of holes thanks to injuries and looked to be headed for another mediocre season of about 7 wins following the 2-2 start. Just like USC, Penn State did not lose again, with 9 straight victories including a Big Ten Championship game win.

These are the two hottest teams in college football not named Alabama and Western Michigan. During these hot streaks, these teams have given playoff competitors Washington and Ohio State their only losses on the season. Is there any doubt nobody (including Alabama) wants to play these teams with how the season ended for both?

The long win streaks add up to a chance for huge momentum with a Rose Bowl win perhaps making an early top-level contender for next season’s playoff. The stakes are high and so is the level of play from both these squads.

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— Two future QB stars duel in the national spotlight of a January 2 bowl game

Although both of these programs turned to new leaders on offense this season, the results have to have fans optimistic considering that both quarterbacks are still underclassmen. Sam Darnold (USC) is a freshman, while Trace McSorely (PSU) is at the end of his sophomore season. You wouldn’t know it from the numbers.

Darnold played sparingly in three of the 12 Trojan games this season, but he still had sufficient time to rack up 2633 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions on the season. He’s also good with his feet, eluding pressure and only succumbing to 5 sacks on the season while adding about 250 rushing yards on the ground during the season.

Similarly, McSorley has also taken advantage of teams with his feet as well as his arm this season. The Penn State quarterback has about 350 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns to go with his 3360 passing yards and 25 touchdowns (only 5 interceptions) in 13 games. His talents were on full display against Wisconsin in his last game in the national spotlight, although he was also impressive on a couple of drives that made the difference in the important win over OSU as well.

Both these guys are difference makers who have not made many critical mistakes, even when faced with great opposing defenses. That’s a battle worth watching, to be sure, as both try to become one of the top quarterbacks in the country heading into 2017.

— See if Saquon Barkley can find his October groove to take over this game

One area where Penn State should have an advantage is at running back, where Saquon Barkley comes in leading the Big Ten in 2016. His 1650 yards from scrimmage (1300 rushing) and contributions in special teams make him a constant threat to score and/or take over a game. Once Penn State’s offensive line became healthy in October and beyond, Barkley exploded in effectiveness.

To this end, during the month of October and the first week of November, Barkley had four games of 99 or more rushing yards, including two games over 200 yards. While his November numbers after that were not as dazzling, he still was the best running back in the conference known for tough running games.

Now he has a chance to really have a big game in front of a national audience.

As much as the quarterbacks look to cement their star status, the Lions could dominate time of possession if the offensive line opens big holes for Barkley to grind out many first downs. That may end up being more of an X-factor with two teams that appear to be equally balanced otherwise (including both still recovering somewhat from NCAA scholarship reductions).

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— Young head coaches seeking their first major bowl victory

Just like with the teams that were struggling, there were open questions about whether Clay Helton (USC) or James Franklin (PSU) would actually survive to coach their teams another season at the end of September. How quickly things change, as both these young 44-year-old head coaches now seem on solid ground for years to come following the respective strong finishes to get to Pasadena.

James Franklin has led Vanderbilt and Penn State to bowl games in each of the last 6 seasons, but this is by far the best postseason game he has faced. It appears Franklin loves to play the underdog card, even relishing in the doubters heading into and out of the Big Ten Championship a couple weeks ago (which was also was arguably his biggest postseason game to date). Perhaps the most important thing for Franklin was revamping his coordinators and coaching staff, which appears to have paid big dividends in 2016.

Before this season, Clay Helton had only led a college football team on an interim basis thanks to flame-outs by former USC coaches Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. In those 2013 and 2015 seasons, Helton did not reach a major bowl game and lost his only conference championship appearance last year. Nevertheless, making and potentially winning a Rose Bowl in your first full season as a head coach is an opportunity not many coaches will ever have.

One of these coaches is about to secure even more job security, which is a welcome change from just three months ago. It will be fascinating to see which one of them raises their game of schemes and play calling to meet the big moment.


Enjoy this great Rose Bowl match up, as I’m sure I did not have to actually convince you to tune in. It will be a great finish to the regular bowl season and hopefully a successful one for the Big Ten conference.

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there's plenty of B1G running through his blood. Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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Big Ten

Penn State Shows The Heart Of A Champion In Iowa City

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Penn State went to Iowa City, stared down defeat and didn’t blink. Teams that end up playing for the championships often have to go through one or more defining games like Saturday’s to reach the ultimate pinnacle, and the Nittany Lions got through the fire with the biggest of goals still alive.

I don’t know if Saturday’s instant classic in Iowa City is going to mean a more than a hill of beans to Penn State when it’s all said and done, but there’s a good chance it will. You can point to almost any team that goes through a championship run, and there’s more than likely at least one game in which adversity strikes, putting dreams and goals in serious jeopardy.

NC State put a scare in Clemson last year. In 2015, Alabama dodged a checkerboard bullet in a close one with Tennessee. Ditto for Ohio State who lost to Virginia Tech in 2014 and also needed double OT to beat Penn State on the road.

Ah, Penn State. That’s where we pick up this little story.

Make no mistake about it, Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and company dominated the game in Iowa City, but here we were late in the fourth quarter, and thanks to an Iowa team that fought like crazy to hang around, the game was in doubt. When Iowa running back Akrum Wadley found a seam through the left side of the line and down the sideline to pay dirt with just 1:42 left, Iowa finally wrangled away the lead, and potentially the game. The score stood at 19-15.

It all happened despite the human highlight, Saquon Barkley coming out of a telephone booth to make no less than five sick plays that cemented his status as the Heisman front-runner.

A loss on the road wouldn’t have completely dashed the hopes of a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance for Penn State, but it would have made the margin for error razor thin with many big tests against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and potentially the Big Ten West champion in Indy still to go.

But it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because Penn State did what championship ball clubs do. It took possession with the sands of the hourglass running out and everything on the line, and moved the ball efficiently down the field. It did it against a defense that had given up yards but stiffened when it really mattered.

Then, somehow, someway, with just :04 left when everything mattered the most, Trace McSorley delivered a throw off the back foot on fourth and goal from the seven, through a mass of arms and bodies, and into the hands of wide receiver Juwan Johnson for a walk-off game winner. The game will likely be replayed on BTN, ESPN Classic and many DVRs in and around Penn State fan households for years to come.

And say what you will about breaks, bounces of the ball, luck or whatever else you want to call it. Teams cut out of championship cloth are the ones that always seem to be on the right side of the inches game, and make their own breaks and bounces.

And it happened Saturday night for the team wearing the Plane Jane uniforms that are as timeless as the game itself.

So off we go, onto the next chapter in this season that could prove to be a very special one for Penn State. After all, it’s got superhuman running back Saquon Barkley and a supporting cast that can move the ball on anyone. It’s also got a defense that looks to be much more improved over the version from last year.

This is a complete team, or so it appears four games into the season.

More importantly though, because of what we saw in Iowa City, it appears to have the hear of a champion that believes it can win with the chips down and the stakes all in. This team is good enough to win it all, and thanks to the clutch 65 yard drive that sent Hawkeye fans home in despair, there’s still plenty to play for.

They are …  Penn State.

 

***

Phil Harrison is a contributor to Talking10 and the featured Big Ten writer for Collegefootballnews.com. You can get his analysis and opinion all year long on Talking10.com. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB

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Big Ten

Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s 20-16

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It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.

Top 25 List: No’s 25-21 |

After unveiling the first five players for the 2017 season, we continue our annual countdown of the best the Big Ten has to offer according to our staff.

Don’t forget to follow our staff of Andy Coppens, Phil Harrison, Philip Rossman-Reich and Zach Worthington on Twitter for their breakdowns of the Top 25 and their individual lists.

No. 20 — Michael Deiter, OC/G (Wisconsin)

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2016 Season Stats: Started all fourteen games in 2016 (ten at center and four at left guard). He was a consensus all-Big Ten honorable mention for the second year in a row, and anchored a line that saw the Badgers rush for 203.1 yards per game.
Best Game: vs. Illinois (led the O-line in a team effort of 363 yards rushing, 6TDs and no INTs)

Deiter is the arguably the most valuable and versatile player on the offensive line. He returns for his third year, so there’s also tons of experience to draw from. Wisconsin will always be a run first team, but we can’t forget about the passing game. To that end, he has been worked at left tackle some in the spring, so there’s a good shot he’ll at least be seeing some time against edge rushers that will be hell-bent on getting to the quarterback.

He’s played the interior of the line, has had to call out blocking assignments, and is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer. He’ll be counted on again to be the leader of Wisconsin’s vaunted offensive line tradition in 2017.

No. 19 — David Blough, QB (Purdue)

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2016 Season Stats: 3,352 passing yards, 295 for 517 (57.1%), 25 TDs, 21 INTs, 4 TDs rushing
Best Game: vs. Iowa (458 yards passing on 30 for 59 (50.8%), 5 TDS, 1 INT

There’s no questioning the talent No. 11 possesses. But up until last year, it had just been potential with a lot of inconsistent play. While the decision making still needs to get better, Blough can make all the throws in the book. He is accurate deep, has a big arm, and when hot, can give even the best of secondaries fits.

Purdue has long been known as the cradle of quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and if Blough can cut down on the interceptions and learn the new system head coach Jeff Brohm, we might be looking at a first team All-Big Ten type talent. He’ll get the volume, he just needs to grow as a decision maker and be more consistent — especially against the better defenses in the league.

No. 18 — D’Cota Dixon, S (Wisconsin)

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2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 4 PBs, 1 FF, and 1 recovered fumble
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (9 total tackles, 1 INT)

Dixon is the steady safety that never misses an assignment and seems to have a knack for the big play. His interception late in the game sealed the win over LSU on September 3, and another INT in the end zone in overtime ended Nebraska’s bid for an upset in Camp Randall on October 29.

He earned third team All-Big Ten as well as Academic All-Big Ten last year. He is a great leader on and off the field and is very involved in the community, but it’s his play on the field that gets him the recognition in our Top 25. As the game has progressed to more and more spread attacks — with the Big Ten being no exception — having a safety as a leader and big-play guy who can read things is paramount to the success of the defense. Dixon fits that bill.

He’s already been named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watchlist this preseason. The award is given annually to the player judged to be the best defensive player in the country, and is handed out by the Football Writers Association of America. The Badger D is counting on his steady play in the back-end of the defense to keep up the high level they’ve been playing at over the last few years.

No. 17 — Jack Cichy, LB (Wisconsin)

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2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 7 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (15 tackles, 3.5 TFLs)

Cichy probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Part of that is likely because of his size, and another part is largely due to an injury that cut his season short last year. Still, No. 48 is another hard-nosed, 100% effort Wisconsin inside linebacker who is not afraid to throw his body into the fray.

In 2016, he was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy quarter-finalist, and All Big Ten honorable mention. And that was in just seven games of duty.

He’ll once again be looking to anchor a defense that has set the template for being stingy and aggressive. If he can stay healthy in 2017, he will be a force once again, and get further notoriety than what he already has.

As far as the preseason awards go, he is on the Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch-lists, and for good reason.

No. 16 — Marcus Allen, S (Penn State)

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2016 Season Stats: 110 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Minnesota (22 tackles)

Allen led the Nittany Lions in tackles last year — as a safety. Yes, a player out of the secondary led the entire defense in tackles. Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s the first time a safety has done that in Happy Valley since James Boyd did it in 2000.

Allen is very good at diagnosing plays on the back-end, but even better at coming up in run support, and off his initial read to make stops closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s not afraid to stick his head in on bigger players, and has great break and explosion after recognition.

In 2016, he was named All-Big Ten third team by the Coaches, and so far in 2017 he is on the Nagurski, Lott IMPACT, and Bednarik watch-lists. He is another talented defender on the back end that should play a huge part in the continuation of the Penn State resurgence.

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Buckeyes Hockey

2017 NCAA Hockey Tournament: A Big Ten Primer

Can the Big Ten represent well after a great regular season showing for the conference?

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If the 2016-17 season has taught us anything, it is that it appears Big Ten hockey is alive and well. Three teams are in the 2017 NCAA tournament, including the once upstart Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State earned their way in thanks to a victory in the Big Ten tournament finale, one that PSU didn’t necessarily have to win to get in, but one that made their tournament appearance a lock.

As the tournament draws near, let’s take a look at the details for the three Big Ten teams in the tournament.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Seed: No. 1 seed in Northeast Regional (No. 4 overall seed)
1st Round Matchup: vs. Notre Dame
When: Saturday, March 25; 3:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Cornell and UMass Lowell
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 3:30p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

You would think the Big Ten regular season champion would get some more love. However, off to New Hampshire are the Gophers. No matter, because there isn’t a more dedicated group of hockey fans in the country (sorry, not sorry, North Dakota). There’s also the fact that Minnesota is the last of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. You aren’t going to get your choice of places to play in that scenario.

That said, the Gophers are also in the second-most loaded regional in the tournament. Blue blood names like Notre Dame and Cornell is bad enough, but UMass Lowell are quickly becoming a powerhouse and a mainstay in the NCAA tournament over the past 6-7 years.

Getting out of this group likely makes the winner a favorite to take home the national championship.

As for the Gophers’ chances, well they haven’t seen any of the teams in its regional yet this season. They are 7-4-1 against fellow NCAA tournament teams though, while first round opponent Notre Dame is just 7-6-1 and come out of the equally loaded Hockey East. However, the Golden Domers come in to the tournament having gone 5-1-2 over the last 11 games of the regular season before dropping a game to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East semi-finals.

It will also be a matchup of future Big Ten teams, and one that will likely come down style of play. Minnesota and Notre Dame are both averaging over three goals a game and come in with top 25 defenses as well. Something is going to have to give and it could be the most intriguing of the first round matchups in this year’s tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Seed: No. 4 in West Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 1 Minnesota Duluth (25-6-7 overall record)
When: Friday, March 24; 6:30p.m.
Where: Fargo, North Dakota; Scheels Arena
TV/Streaming: ESPNU/watchESPN

Other Teams in Regional: Boston University vs. North Dakota
Regional Championship: Saturday, March 25, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/watchESPN

When you are one of the last at-large bids, draws like Ohio State got are what will happen. Being unable to play in Cincinnati was a big blow, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice for the selection committee.

As a result, the Buckeyes are off to the hostile confines in Fargo, where they must face UMD. Get past that and there’s a likely date with home-state UND in the following round. To say the deck is stacked against the Buckeyes in this regional isn’t an understatement.

Minnesota-Duluth is battle-tested this season, winning a rough NCHC tournament title and coming in at No. 3 in the latest USCHO.com national poll. Oh, and that NCHC title? It came over fellow West regional squad North Dakota.

Ohio State loves to bang and loves to score goals, but this is going to be a tough regional to get through. In fact, it is arguably the toughest quartet to predict a winner out of.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Seed: No. 3 seed in Midwest Regional
1st Round Matchup: vs. No. 2 seed Union
When: Saturday, March 25; 4:30p.m. ET
TV/Streaming: ESPN3

Other Teams in Regional: Denver and Michigan Tech
Regional Championship: Sunday, March 26; 6p.m. ET (ESPNU/watchESPN)

Penn State didn’t need the Big Ten tournament title win, but it got it. Sure, it took two games of double-overtime to achieve it, but here are the Nittany Lions as Big Ten title holders in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

Unfortunately it will happen in a regional with the No. 1 overall seed and against a team that historically hasn’t been kind to the Nittany Lions. Union is 4-0-0 all-time against Penn State, but they haven’t met since the 2013-14 season.

Let’s just say the Nittany Lions are no longer a building program like they were back then, while Union is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since winning the national championship that same season.

Penn State comes in to this tournament as one of the best offensive teams in the country. The team is tied for second nationally, averaging 3.97 goals per game. Defensively the team is just 22nd and gives up 2.68 goals per game as well. Union features a Hoby Baker Award finalist in Mike Vecchione, and he too can score — notching 29 goals alone this season.

Doubting the upstarts has been a bad idea most of this season, but this is one of the harshest spots the Nittany Lions could find themselves in. Can they make a run like they did last weekend and rep the Big Ten in Chicago for the Frozen Four? That certainly will be interesting.

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Badgers Basketball

2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special

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The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?

Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.

So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.

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