Big Ten Bowl Season Preview: Purdue Boilermakers Kick Off Big Ten Bowl Season

Follow along as we break down all the Big Ten Bowl game action this bowl season.

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Little Caesar's Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Purdue Boilermakers Players to Watch

Western Michigan player to watch: Jordan White, WR, Senior

At 6’0" 215 pounds, White is definitely a guy who is under the NFL radar right now, but a big game on national television could vastly improve his stock. White leads the nation right now with 127 receptions, but he is unlikely to break the record of 155 catches in a season set by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes.

White could struggle to get separation at the NFL level, but at least for this game against Purdue, he has a tall enough task and should be one of the stars of the game. If he can show some quickness and good upper-body strength at the NFL Scouting combine, he could be an interesting player going forward because his size and production are certainly there.

White is a Cleveland, Ohio native and has been dominating at Western Michigan the last couple of years, catching 274 passes since 2009.

Purdue Player to Watch: Kawann Short, DT, Junior

Short is an NFL-ready defensive tackle who was really productive as a sophomore but has been even better as a junior, racking up 53 tackles, 17.5 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks to go along with a blocked kick and a forced fumble.

At 6’3" 310 pounds, this is a guy who could really wind up surprising some people and pop up in the late first round discussion, but I think he would go no later than the third round if he were to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. He should get a lot of opportunities to get to the quarterback with the potent passing attack of Western Michigan.

You can catch these players and the rest of their teammates on ESPN at 4:30 ET. It might not be the premiere bowl you are all waiting for, but if you are a fan of college football or the NFL, it’s a game worth watching.

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Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini vs. UCLA Bruins

It’s not often that two teams with fired coaches will face each other in a bowl game, but that is the case in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl where the UCLA Bruins will take on the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Illinois, formerly led by Ron Zook, and UCLA, formerly led by Rick Neuheisel, have underachieved this season, and predictably so. In fact, that seems to be a reason why Ron Zook was fired, if not the major reason. After starting the season undefeated and atop the Big Ten, Illinois lost its final six games, finishing the year with a record of 6-6.

UCLA didn’t start the year undefeated, they pretty much sprinkled in wins and losses wherever they saw fit, but they actually had a chance to beat Oregon at the end of the year in the Pac 12 title game, if you can believe it.

Of course, Oregon took care of business, and that’s why these two teams will play this game very much looking forward to the future and a fresh start.

Both teams have some very interesting young pieces, and that could make for a very entertaining game. Illinois has the players offensively to be the best team in the Big Ten, and once again, they have a player who came virtually out of nowhere to dominate this season and wow NFL scouts.

That player is defensive end Whitney Mercilus, whose name is fitting since he terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season long, leading the country with 14.5 sacks. His numbers are especially impressive since prior to the season, he lost half of one of his index fingers in a weight-lifting accident.

Mercilus and the Illinois defense need to come up with some big stops early for the offense, because UCLA may have under-performed this season but they can move the ball offensively, thanks to the production of senior receiver Nelson Rosario and the running back duo of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.

One duo I’m looking forward to watching this game is Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who have not hooked up for a touchdown since the team’s last victory against Indiana back on October 8th.

That is a huge reason this team has not been able to win a game the last six weeks, and maybe even more so is the lack of a running game. In year’s past, we’ve seen guys like Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel LeShoure lead an absolutely unstoppable rushing attack for Illinois, and they really don’t have that in 2011.

The team’s leading rusher is Jason Ford, who is averaging less than four yards per carry and has only seven touchdowns and one game over 100 yards this season.

Scheelhaase was also expected to be one of the team’s leaders in rushing this season, and he is, but he’s not getting it done efficiently, averaging just three yards per carry with 18 combined touchdowns this season.

We will see if Illinois can come together and show some of what they were able to do during their six game winning streak to start the season, because they have a really good chance of beating a UCLA team that was 6-7 this season.

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Insight Bowl Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Oklahoma Sooners

If you feel like staying up late over the Christmas season and watching a very underrated college football matchup at 10 PM Eastern time, then the Insight bowl is just for you.

Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes will take on Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners in a matchup of two very under-achieving, inconsistent teams.

Oklahoma was expected by many to be the top team in the country and contend for a national title prior to losing three games. Iowa had a chance to win their division in the newly re-aligned Big Ten, but they squandered it when they lost their first home game of the 2011 season to Michigan State, and then were embarrassed in their latest contest against Nebraska on the road.

Stoops’ Sooners have had a similarly poor month of November, losing on the road against Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor, as well as getting hammered against Oklahoma State 44-10.

One reason for the Sooners’ inconsistencies is injuries, but you have to point back to quarterback Landry Jones, who has attempted close to 150 passes over the last three games and hasn’t thrown a single touchdown.

Still, this is a team full of playmakers and even despite their injuries should be well-prepared for the Hawkeyes, who seem to save their best football for bowl season in recent years.

Iowa is led by junior quarterback James Vandenberg and his sensational receiver Marvin McNutt, as well as sophomore running back Marcus Coker. The Hawkeyes’ three-headed monster is arguably as good as any quarterback/running back/wide receiver trio in the country.

Vandenberg’s receivers have struggled with dropped passes all season, a big reason why his completion percentage is only 59.4 at the moment, but “JVB” makes good decisions with the football, throwing 23 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions this season. His top target is Marvin McNutt, who has established himself as the best wide receiver in the history of Iowa football with a huge senior year.

McNutt’s 78 receptions for 1,269 yards and 12 touchdowns provided fans with plenty of reason to get excited, but he wasn’t the only one on offense producing.

After a slow start to the year, running back Marcus Coker hit his stride and had a sophomore season like many experts and analysts predicted, rushing the ball a whopping 281 times for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns. Coker doesn’t have blazing speed or quickness, but he hits the hole hard and he rarely goes down on initial contact.

If Iowa is going to beat Oklahoma, they are going to have to control the ball offensively and take advantage of their opportunities. Oklahoma has an explosive offensive attack that will look to take advantage of an Iowa defense which has shown a lot of youth and inexperience has been too much to handle at times this season.

Landry Jones has a lot to do on a national stage if he is going to impress NFL scouts, something similar to what Blaine Gabbert did last year against Iowa in the Insight Bowl. Gabbert carved the Hawkeyes defense essentially all game and made two really poor throws that wound up costing Missouri the game.

Jones has been mistake-prone most of the season and is having a year to forget by his standards, and Iowa will have to take advantage of his struggles and not allow him a ton of time to make decisions.

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Northwestern Wildcats vs. Texas A&M Aggies Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview

If anyone in the Big Ten really got the shaft in terms of bowl matchups, it’s got to be Northwestern.

Not only did they get a Texas A&M team that is far better than their 6-6 record indicates, but they essentially have to play the Aggies with a home field advantage, as the Meineke Car Care Bowl will be played in Houston, Texas.

Prior to a late-November loss to Michigan State, Northwestern was one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winning four straight games including a big upset on the road against Nebraska. This is a team that is used to playing spoiler, and despite high expectations for this season, that was pretty much all they were able to be.

Against Texas A&M, they are going to really need to be well-prepared in terms of film study, because the Aggies boast a really potent offensive attack led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is a first round NFL prospect.

Of A&M’s six losses, two were in overtime, and three were by four points or less. Like I said before, this is a team that looks to me to be much better than their record would indicate, and I think they really missed an opportunity this year in their final season in the Big 12.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has enjoyed a solid senior season since transitioning from the wide receiver position just over a year ago. This is a kid who can move around in the pocket, make all the throws, and he also has the athleticism to make plays with his legs.

Surely this will be nothing new for Northwestern and their fans, who are used to dual-threat quarterbacks.

Tannehill has passed for 3,415 yards this season to go along with 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and four rushing touchdowns. His completion percentage is only just over 61 percent, but he is capable of putting up huge numbers and is only getting better as a player.

In terms of a quarterback duel, you might have to look at two different guys from Northwestern, because they boast two excellent dual-threat quarterbacks that they love to utilize on a game-by-game basis.

Senior Dan Persa tore his Achilles on a game-winning touchdown pass to end last season against Iowa, an injury that showed just how tough he is but also hindered what many expected could be a Heisman-caliber season.

Persa has been slow to recover from such a devastating injury, and not coincidentally, so was Northwestern. They started the year 2-5, losing their first four conference games. Despite missing the first three games of the year, Persa has had a solid season, completing over 74 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.

That will be the key in this game, is which quarterback can make more plays. The Wildcats, as I mentioned, have two guys who can do that. Dan Persa’s replacement while he was injured was Kain Colter, who is more of a scrambler than anything else but a good decision maker from the quarterback position as well. He is the team’s leading rusher with 589 yards and eight touchdowns.

This promises to be an intriguing matchup between two slightly struggling defenses against two offenses capable of putting up big numbers. The story throughout this game will always be the play of the quarterbacks, and it might come down to which signal caller makes more plays.

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