The seven games of Big Ten bowl season

The seven games of Big Ten bowl season
December 24, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Vinnie Duber

It's the two most wonderful times of the year.

First comes the holiday season, with all its merriment, then comes bowl season and the slate of games featuring Big Ten teams.

As you get ready for both, whether wrapping presents in green and red or preparing for the Rose Bowl with your finest green and white, this festive list of what Big Ten teams could give their fans this bowl season ought to get you in the holiday spirit as well as the school spirit.

Feel free to sing along.

In 2013-14, the Big Ten bowl season gave to me ...

Seven from the booth

After suffering another seizure before Minnesota's game against Michigan, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence to better handle his epilepsy. But the coach couldn't completely remove himself from his football team and began assisting his assistants from the press box. It's since then that the Gophers turned their season around. Starting with the Oct. 19 game against Northwestern, the Gophers rattled off four straight wins to eventually reach the 8-4 mark, the program's first eight-win season since 2003. The Texas Bowl will mark the seventh game since Kill's leave of absence, and given the success his team has had, it's likely Kill will be back in the booth.

Six nine-win seasons

Nebraska fans might not want to hear it, but a win in the Gator Bowl means the sixth nine-win season in six seasons under Bo Pelini. Many in the fan base and the media are calling for a new head coach to return the Huskers to their former glory, but the reality is that Pelini is doing a pretty good job. Sure, he's never been to a BCS bowl, but he has been to the postseason in all six seasons. Nebraska made it pretty clear that Pelini isn't going anywhere, so fans upset with five — and potentially six — nine-win seasons will have to hold on for at least little longer.

[MORE: Bill Cubit rewarded for transforming Illini offense]

Five 21st-century bowl wins

For a team that tops the list of the all-time winningest college football programs, Michigan's postseason success in the 21st century has been limited. Since the year 2000, the Wolverines are just 4-6 in bowl games, with three of those coming under Lloyd Carr, whose tenure ended in 2007. That leaves just one, a 2011 Sugar Bowl victory, for Brady Hoke. This year's opportunity comes on a smaller stage than Michigan is used to -- a date with Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl -- but a win would be an important one, just the fifth bowl victory in the last 14 years.

Four offensive stars

Ohio State thrived this season thanks to the efforts of quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, an explosive offensive duo who both landed on the All-Big Ten First Team. Hyde led the conference with 140.8 rushing yards per game, while Miller proved to be a true dual threat, torching opposing defenses with his arm and his feet. Well, those two will have their talents on full display in the Orange Bowl, but opponent Clemson has its own dynamic duo in quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Boyd led the ACC in total offensive yards per game, accounting for 312.2 each week. Watkins, meanwhile, led the conference with 103.1 receiving yards per game. The Orange Bowl's marquee names should provide for offensive fireworks in South Florida.

Three senior linebackers

Iowa had the third-best defense in the Big Ten this season, and they have a trio of senior linebackers to thank for it. Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey were the Hawkeyes' three leading tacklers during the regular season, combining for 297 tackles. Hitchens and Morris each tallied more than 13 tackles for loss, and Morris hauled in four interceptions (the other two each had one). Each of the three linebackers had a pair of forced fumbles and combined to recover four. The Hawkeyes will need more of that kind of play in a tough Outback Bowl matchup with LSU. The Tigers ranked sixth in the high-powered SEC in both scoring and total offense, scoring an average of 37 points per game.

[RELATED: Big Ten well represented on All-America rosters]

Two stud backs

There were a lot of talented running backs in the Big Ten this season, but no one had more rushing yards than Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. And Gordon was the only one who had more than James White, also of Wisconsin. The Badgers boasted the two best backs in the conference in total rushing yards, and the pair combined for 25 scores on the ground. They averaged 233.6 yards rushing each game. The Badgers were underrated throughout the season though missed out on any chance at a BCS bowl game with a season-ending loss to Penn State. But if Gordon and White can have the same success they had all year against a top-10 South Carolina team in the Capital One Bowl, they'll prove Wisconsin belongs with the big boys.

And a Rose Bowl win for Sparty

Mark Dantonio has had great success as the Michigan State head coach, but he's never been to a BCS bowl game. That will all change when the Spartans play in Pasadena on New Year's Day for the first time since 1988. The win in the Big Ten Championship Game already secured the program's first 12-win season, and a 13th victory added to that would be another feather in Dantonio's already plumage-heavy cap. While opponent Stanford boasts a strong defense and a physical style, Michigan State has the nation's No. 1 defense and a cadre of defensive stars, led by cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun. Given the consistency in winning Dantonio has shown in recent years — this is the third 11-win season in the last four campaigns — a Rose Bowl win could put the Spartans into the category of perennial Big Ten power. A win in the 100th "Granddaddy of Them All" would also be the conference's first since 2009 and just the second since 2000.