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The College Football Notebook


November 22, 2009 6:15 PM

Ready For Kentucky & Northwestern?

It's New Year's Day and you're rousting yourself from bed after the party the night before, slugging down some aspirin to kill the hangover and turning on the TV to start a day of football. And your first game is...Kentucky & Northwestern? Well, it's not a guarantee, but big wins by both schools made it a real possibility that they'll meet at 11 AM ET on January 1 in the Outback Bowl.

Kentucky rallied from deficits of 20-6 & 27-13 on the road in Georgia to pull out a 34-27 win. The Wildcats took care of the ball and let the hosts beat themselves. This hugely disappointing year for the Bulldogs took another setback thanks to four turnovers. The Bulldogs fell to 6-5 and still have Georgia Tech ahead next week. Kentucky moved to 7-4. Tennessee & South Carolina are also at 6-5. The Outback Bowl will have to take one of these four teams. Why not the 'Cats? UK will play Tennessee next in a game that could settle this bid head-to-head. Tennessee beat up on Vanderbilt 31-16 thanks to a huge day from running back Montario Hardesty, who racked up 171 yards on the ground. 

The SEC East likely pairs up with the fourth place team from the Big Ten. Wisconsin has had the inside track on this bid for a few weeks now, but Northwestern upset the Badgers 33-31 in Evanston. It's now anybody's guess what the Outback will do. Both teams are 5-3 in conference play, while the Wildcats have the head-to-head win. Neither team played much of anyone in non-conference, but Northwestern's nothingness is a little worse than Wisconsin's nothingness--the Badgers survived Fresno State, while NU couldn't beat Syracuse. Wisconsin is a half-game ahead overall (8-3 to 8-4) with a road trip to Hawaii in two weeks. It might come down to that. Or the Outback could fear Wisconsin fans won't travel to Florida for a sixth straight year and opt for a new team. However the bowl politics shake out, it shouldn't take away from what was one of the best games of the day. Scott Tolzien and Mike Kafka, the best two quarterbacks in the league (sorry Ohio State fans) kept firing away and played great games. Finally a fumble recovery by Northwestern at midfield sealed it.

Either team making it to Tampa on January 1 hinges on the Big Ten getting an at-large BCS bowl invitiation and moving all teams one rung up the bowl ladder. Penn State & Iowa made sure that the at-large is very likely. Penn State blew out Michigan State, an outcome that surprised me. MSU did nothing offensively, while Daryl Clark played one of the best games of his two-year tenure as a starter, going 19/27 for 310 yards. Evan Royster went over the 100-yard mark and made his own case in what should be an interesting race between him and Wisconsin's John Clay for league MVP. Iowa won a defensive struggle with Minnesota 12-0, holding Adam Weber to 14-for-40 passing. Both Iowa and Penn State are 10-2. It's almost assured the BCS will choose one of them, and now it's just a question of which. PSU is the politically easier choice--Eastern TV markets, big fan base, you never know when it's Joe Pa's last game. Iowa's got only the big fan base. They also have a head-to-head win over the Nittany Lions, plus a non-conference win over Arizona, far more impressive than anything Penn State did outside the league. Choosing Iowa would be the right thing, as opposed to the politically convenient thing. But the bowls' track record makes it a 100 percent likelihood that convenience will triumph.

And Ohio State wrapped up the outright league championship with another win over Michigan. I watched this game and it was one of the dullest OSU-Michigan games I've ever seen, livened up only by Tate Forcier's tossing the ball into coverage, as he threw for four interceptions. So much for the spread offense being the wave of the future in the Big Ten.

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