Big Ten Football Winners and Losers for the Month of January 2013
Another season is in the books, and for the Big Ten the grand finale of it all was the usual five-game bowl bonanza. We'll just have to talk about how exactly the Big Ten did in the postseason, but it was one heck of a way to kick off a month of January that stayed interesting long after the games had ceased.
Here's a look back at the month that was, and the winners and losers in this great and beautiful conference.
Winner: The Northwestern Wildcats
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The Big Ten went just 1-4 in its January bowl outings (though three of the bowl losses were close, nail-biting affairs), and the lone victor in the proceedings was Northwestern.
Yes, the team that hadn't won a bowl game since 1948.
When the Gator Bowl rolled around, however, it was Northwestern and not SEC opponent Mississippi State who looked to be the team that belonged on the field that day, with the young and dangerous Wildcat defense picking off the Bulldogs four times in a 34-20 romp.
Now, in the grand scheme of things that was just one game. But for Northwestern, it meant the bowl game issue was resolved. The monkey was finally off the school's back. It also meant the team had a double-digit win season for only the second time in modern football history, and it showed that the team's surprising season and flirtations with the Capital One Bowl had been no fluke.
Getting to a high level of play like this and staying there are two vastly different tasks, obviously, but one thing's certain: Northwestern's here now.
Loser: Poor, Poor Vincent Smith
You knew exactly what that video was going to be, you've seen it dozens of times by now, and you just watched it again, didn't you? Yes, because it's one of the most gigantic hits we've ever seen, and Michigan tailback just so happened to be the ball-carrier that wandered in front of the runaway freight train that is an unblocked Jadeveon Clowney.
Vincent Smith, the ball-carrier, was fine by the way, even though it wouldn't have been a surprise if his head had still been in the helmet that flew off about 10 yards after the collision. That's probably the only reason we're still talking about that hit in terms of "football is awesome" and not "football is horribly violent."
But again—Smith's fine, so football is still awesome for now.
Winner: Michigan Recruiting
Michigan put quite the cherry on top of its recruiting sundae by landing the top running back in the nation in Derrick Green, a Virginia product who selected the Wolverines over SEC also-rans Tennessee and Auburn.
As you can see in the video above Green is a surprisingly fluid and fast runner for his size, and that size is exactly what you'd want in a bruiser like Green. He gets compared to Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy and Ladell Betts (who was a lot better than you'd think) by announcers in the All-American Bowl game highlights shown above. We're thinking Bryce Brown.
Either way, he's got NFL talent for sure, and he should be a fantastic addition to the Michigan ground game.
Winner: Bo Pelini
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Nebraska's firebrand coach couldn't get a win in his team's Capital One Bowl appearance against Georgia, but the Huskers showed a lot more fight in their eventual 45-31 loss than they did in their shellacking at the hands of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Pelini shook off the loss and went nuts on the recruiting trail, nabbing nine commitments and sending the Huskers 2013 class to third place in the Big Ten on the 247Sports.com composite team recruiting rankings.
Three more prospects enrolled for classes early, including the amazingly-named Courtney Love. Tailback Terrell Newby is the class of the nine January commits; he's a 4-star speed demon out of California, who selected the Huskers over UCLA, Washington and other Pac-12 suitors.
Another late commitment from the West Coast was safety Drake Martinez, and if that last name sounds familiar, yep—it's Taylor Martinez's brother. Being that he's on the other side of the ball, the nickname "D-Magic" is perfect, right?
Or should we wait to make sure that he's good first? Backups don't get great nicknames, right?
Loser: Bo Pelini
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Yes, we did just get done saying Bo Pelini was a winner for January. But it's not always sunny in Lincoln, and Pelini took a few gut punches this January as well.
First and foremost was the loss to Georgia itself. Nebraska had been competitive, but Georgia lit that once-vaunted defense up in the fourth quarter to catapult itself to victory. Pelini's background was as a defensive coordinator at Nebraska and LSU; Georgia's offensive outburst doesn't do much for that defensive reputation.
Oh, and Nebraska gets only four starters back from that oft-torched defense in 2013. The only thing worse than seeing your defense go out with a 45-point performance is then saying goodbye to all the impact players on that defense. Pelini's now forced to build his 2013 defense around Ciante Evans, and good luck building your defense around a nickelback.
Things weren't all great thereafter, either. Yes, Nebraska went out and cleaned up in filling out its recruiting class, but RB Braylon Heard reportedly decided to transfer, and per CBSSports.com, Pelini wasn't aware that Heard was even considering a move.
But Pelini was pretty well aware when former verbal commit Dominic Walker decided to head to Auburn. Per the Orlando Sentinel, when Walker informed Pelini of his decision, Pelini was "very mad" and told Walker, "best of luck; you're going to need it."
Not a good look.
Winner: Penn State's Run-on Program
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Hey, here's a story from PennLive.com on Wednesday about Penn State adding two "run-on" players, which is what Bill O'Brien calls all his walk-on players. Walking is a sin on a football field, you see.
Hey, here's a story from PennLive.com on Wednesday about Penn State adding two "run-on" players. No, this is not a repeat of the first link.
Hey, here's a story from PennLive.com on Wednesday about Penn State adding four "run-on" players. No, this is not a repeat of the first two links.
Yes, Penn State locked up eight "run-ons" this week, running the total to 11 in this year's class and helping bolster the roster for the foreseeable future.
This surge of player additions is crucial for Penn State's health and viability as a football program. The NCAA sanctions against Penn State docked the Nittany Lions 20 scholarships per year, and the difference between an 85-player team and a 65-player team isn't so much evident in the starting lineups as it is in depth and the things a team is capable of doing on the practice field.
As more and more players volunteer to pay their way onto the Penn State team, O'Brien's squad can look more and more like one that isn't under crippling sanctions.
Moreover, not all of these guys are going to be stars or even starters. Most won't. But if two out of 20 such players work their way into the starting lineup and end up earning a scholarship for it (if the scholarships are earned after two years in the program, they don't count against the limit of 15 scholarships per recruiting class) then, hey, free starters.
That's why this program is so crucial for Penn State going forward, and O'Brien's working hard at making it strong.
Winner: Kawann Short's Draft Stock
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The big man out of Purdue had a strong Senior Bowl showing, and as a result it looks as if he may have played his way into a first-round draft spot. WalterFootball.com has Short going at No. 29 to the New England Patriots, while NFL.com has him going one spot later to the Atlanta Falcons.
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang is now the most bullish on Short, sending him to Dallas with the No. 18 overall pick.
We'll see if Short's stock keeps rising after the NFL Combine in February, but if he looked good at the Senior Bowl, his upward momentum may only be beginning.