Rashod Bateman

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CFT Previews: Outback Bowl

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WHO: Minnesota (10-2) vs. Auburn (9-3)
WHAT: The 34th Outback Bowl
WHEN: January 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL
THE SKINNY: PJ Fleck and Minnesota nearly rowed the boat to a Big Ten title shot before springing a few leaks down the stretch in division play. Regardless of falling shy of the goal of a Big Ten West Division championship, Fleck has Minnesota heading to the Outback Bowl full of confidence in what they can accomplish. Facing them will be an Auburn team led by freshman quarterback Bo Nix who is not at all short on confidence after his first season with the Tigers.

Nix has thrown for 2,366 yards and 15 touchdowns and run for 301 yards and seven touchdowns, so Minnesota will have to be concerned about keeping Nix from extending plays with his feet. For a defense that doesn’t exactly bring a tremendous amount of pressure up front, that could be a recipe for some unfortunate results for the upstart Gophers. It just so happens that Auburn could cause some big problems with their defensive front. The Tigers ranked third against the run in the SEC this season and allowed just nine touchdowns on the ground all year long. Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are among the SEC leaders in tackles for a loss this season. Both players could have skipped the bowl game to focus on their future in the NFL, but both have confirmed they intend to play in the game.

They will hope to find a way to rattle the Big Ten’s leading passer (in yards per game), Tanner Morgan. The sophomore passed for 2,975 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions this season, and he owns one of the highest completion percentages in the Big Ten. Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson each had over 1,000 yards catching a combined 131 passes from Morgan, and each accounted for 11 touchdown receptions in the process.

Minnesota’s offense is as balanced as they come, but whether that will be enough to hold off the Auburn defense may be a tall order for these Gophers. Auburn obliterated Purdue last year. Minnesota will at least keep things considerably closer this year.

THE PICK: Auburn 33, Minnesota 17

Buckeyes dominate All-Big Ten offense, Justin Fields named Offensive Player of the Year

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It did not take long for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to leave his mark in Columbus. In his first season after transferring from Georgia to Ohio State, Fields has been named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year. Fields was also named the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year and named to the All-Big Ten First Team Offense. He was joined by a number of Buckeyes on the All-Big Ten roster.

Fields is Ohio State’s second striaght winner of the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year Award. Dwayne Haskins won the award last season.

Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman was named the Big Ten’s wide receiver of the year, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor took the conference’s running back award. Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins shared First Team All-Big Ten honors at running back on both teams assembled by votes of the coaches and the media. Purdue’s Bryce Hopkins was named the Big Ten Tight End of the Year, and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs was the conference’s Offensive Lineman of the Year.

A total of 10 Ohio State players were awarded All-Big Ten honors on the first, second or third tea, by the coaches and nine received the honors from the media. Joining Fields and Dobbins on the first team was offensive guard Jonah Jackson (coaches) and Wyatt Davis (media). The two players switched spots for the second team on the coaches and media All-Big Ten teams.

The Big Ten announced its defensive and special team honors on Tuesday.

Fields and Dobbins and the rest of No. 1 Ohio State will face Taylor and No. 8 Wisconsin in this weekend’s Big Ten championship game.

No. 17 Minnesota makes B1G statement in upset of No. 4 Penn State

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The No. 17 Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) didn’t buckle under the pressure of playing the most anticipated home game in program history in decades, if not just generations. Minnesota improved to 9-0 for the first time since going 13-0 in 1904 with a 31-26 victory against No. 4 Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten).

PJ Fleck came to Minnesota with his Row the Boat mentality, and it continues to pay dividends. Minnesota was the more effective offense from start to finish as Penn State’s defense played its worst game of the season. Penn State’s receivers couldn’t hold on to passes when Sean Clifford was able to get a good pass off, but the Gophers secondary continued to do their part to make sure Penn State couldn’t find big plays through the air, as the Gophers have done all season. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Tanner Morgan proved a connection with Rashod Bateman was one of the most reliable connections in the Big Ten, and Penn State couldn’t handle it. Bateman caught seven passes for 203 yards and a touchdown, with first downs on nearly all of his other receptions. Tyler Johnson also went for over 100 yards on seven receptions from Morgan, who ended his day with three touchdowns.

Minnesota’s touchdown drives were no fluke either. The Gophers scored two first-quarter touchdowns on a Penn State defense that had not allowed a first-quarter touchdown all season. Minnesota scored on drives of 95, 87, 61, and 75 yards, with two of those long touchdown drives coming off Penn State interceptions deep in the Minnesota end of the field. Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Clifford twice inside the Minnesota 10-yard line (one on a deep pass over the middle of the opening drive of the game and the other when Penn State was near the red zone and about to kick a field goal at the very least).

After Penn State cut the Minnesota lead down to five points with a Journey Brown touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the defense had their best stop of the game, giving Penn State one last chance to steal the win. But Clifford was intercepted a third time, this time by Jordon Howden just inside the end zone.

The outcome of the game may not have a dramatic impact in how the Big Ten championship picture plays out, because Minnesota still would have had a lead in the division race and Penn State’s Big Ten East odds likely would still be determined by what happens in a few weeks at Ohio State had Penn State won this game, but there is no taking away from the importance of this game for both teams. For Minnesota, the Gophers are now one giant step closer to playing in their first Big Ten Championship Game. Minnesota will own a two-game lead on either Iowa or Wisconsin, depending on which team wins that head-to-head matchup this afternoon. Minnesota still has to play both Iowa and Wisconsin, but having a minimum of a two-game lead in the division race with just three games remaining is a wonderful spot for Fleck and his program to be sitting.

Penn State, fresh off their highest ranking in the CFB Playoff rankings, will take a fall out of the top four but will still get a chance to settle the division race with Ohio State in two weeks. A spot in the New Years Six lineup still remains a likely destination for the Nittany Lions, but there is some work to do in order to re-enter a playoff spot.

Penn State’s next game will be at home next week against Indiana. The Hoosiers, who will travel to Happy Valley with seven wins already this season (7-2), will be coming off a bye week.

Minnesota goes on the road next week to play at No. 18 Iowa. The Hawkeyes will be coming off a road game at Wisconsin, a critical game in the Big Ten West Division standings. Minnesota may be about to row their boats right on down to Indianapolis.

Golden upset in the making? No. 17 Minnesota leading No. 4 Penn State 24-13 at halftime

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Don’t let the rankings fool you, because it looks like Minnesota has been the team ranked fourth in the nation by the College Football Playoff selection committee after one half of play. No. 17 Minnesota has simply been dominant against No. 4 Penn State after 30 minutes and they reach halftime fired up with a 24-13 lead on the Nittany Lions.

The first three minutes of the game could not have gone much better for Minnesota. The Gophers forced the first turnover of the game when Antoine Winfield Jr. picked off a deep ball thrown up for grabs by Sean Clifford at the Minnesota five-yard line. Minnesota cashed in on the turnover in a big way with Tanner Morgan completed a 66-yard pass to a streaking Radhod Bateman, who had nothing but daylight in front of him after a late defender missed a tackle on the sideline. It was the first touchdown allowed by Penn State in the first quarter this season, and it was a big one.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons did not start the game for the Nittany Lions. according to the update from the broadcast, Parsons missed the start of the game for what was described as a “behavioral modification issue.” Parsons got on the field on Penn State’s second defensive series. Even with Parsons back on the field, Minnesota’s offense was not intimidated. After Journey Brown ran for a game-tying 45-yard touchdown for Penn State, Minnesota’s offense drove 87 yards for a second touchdown in the first quarter. A bubble screen from Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell went 21 yards to regain the lead, 14-7.

Winfield picked off Clifford again in the second quarter to kill a promising drive for Penn State that was one play from settling for a field goal at worst. A big return on the interception gave the confident Gophers offense good field position, and a 38-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Johnson gave Minnesota a 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Penn State’s ensuing possession, Minnesota tacked on a field goal by Brock Walker to take a 14-point advantage, Penn State’s biggest deficit of the season.

Minnesota gets the ball to start the second half.