The Big Ten didn’t exactly shine in bowl games last season like they did in the year prior. In the 2017-18 postseason, the conference went 7-1 in its bowl matchups, and would’ve been 8-0 if it weren’t for that pesky Team Up North losing to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl (#NeverForget).
Last postseason, the Big Ten went 5-4. Ohio State beat Washington in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin dominated Miami. And Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota all returned home with their bowl trophies.
The four teams who weren’t in the cool kids’ club? Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, and Michigan State.
I certainly don’t expect us to have another 7-1-type year, but a 5-4 record might be doable. All I know is, I don’t predict this to be the year that Harbaugh breaks his bowl curse.
Michigan State vs. Wake Forest— New Era Pinstripe Bowl
After losing to Oregon 7-6 in the Redbox Bowl last season, Michigan State finished their 2019 regular season 6-6 and fifth in the Big Ten East, landing them in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Demon Deacons.
This year’s Wake Forest team is pretty comparable to last year’s Oregon team— both 8-4, haven’t played anyone, and the somewhat impressive teams they did play? Well that explains the “4” at the end of their records. Not that Michigan State’s record is any more impressive, with losses to Michigan, Illinois, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and ASU with a combined score of 191-68.
It’s hard to tell who wins this one, especially since Wake Forest has the No. 12 offense in the country and the Spartan’s defense ranks No. 18. I like to think Michigan State’s experience against ranked teams—despite losing to them—has to count for something, right?
No. 16 Iowa vs. No. 22 USC— Holiday Bowl
The Hawkeyes’ No. 10 pass defense will take on the fifth best passing offense in the nation when they meet the Trojans in the Holiday Bowl. USC averages 335.9 passing yards per game while Iowa has only been allowing 184.2.
USC’s most notable win was against Utah who currently has the No. 3 defense in the country, otherwise they’ve lost to almost every ranked team on their schedule. Iowa’s three losses were against the usual Big Ten suspects: Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin.
Considering USC head coach Clay Helton is hanging onto his position by a thread, the Trojans kind of need this win. This will no doubt be an exciting head-to-head matchup, hopefully coming down to a game winning field goal by the Big Ten’s best kicker, Keith Duncan.
No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis— Cotton Bowl
Your first reaction might be to write this off as a Penn State win, especially after the fight the Nittany Lions put up against the Buckeyes. Not to mention, it would be relatively embarrassing losing back-to-back bowl games against Kentucky and Memphis, respectively.
However, Memphis has had a heck of a season, ending it as conference champions (against Cincinnati) with a 12-1 record. Tigers quarterback Brady White is No. 9 in the nation in passing efficiency and yards, with the help of his standout wide receiver Domonte Coxie who ended his regular season with 68 receptions for 1,144 yards.
Unfortunately for Memphis, their (former) head coach and primary play caller, Mike Norvell, is headed to Florida State next season and has announced he will not be on the sidelines for the Cotton Bowl. Instead, his assistant Ryan Silverfield will serve as interim head coach against the Nittany Lions.
I don’t see Memphis beating Sean Clifford, KJ Hamler, Journey Brown, Pat Freiermuth & Co. with an assistant coach calling plays for the first time.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson— Fiesta Bowl
Let’s not talk about the last time Ohio State met Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl and instead focus on finding out whether or not Clemson is who everyone says they are, Ohio State’s new and improved defense, and that we have Chase Young and they don’t.
Illinois vs. California— Redbox Bowl
The Illini have shocked the world a few times this season, landing them in a bowl game for the first time since 2014 and the first time under head coach Lovie Smith.
Both Illinois and California are...mehhh. It will be Illinois’ No. 119 total offense vs. California’s No. 63 defense and its pretty much the same vise versa.
However, California has the nation’s No. 1 solo tackler in linebacker Evan Weaver, meaning Illinois’ offense is going to have to play like they’re...not the 119th ranked total offense in the country.
No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 13 Alabama— Citrus Bowl
If there’s any game more exciting than Ohio State vs. Clemson, it’s this beauty. After losing their rivalry games against Ohio State and Auburn, Michigan and Alabama fell out of the top 10 and right into the Citrus Bowl. Merry Belated Christmas, Buckeye fans.
You’d obviously expect Alabama to win this, because they’re certainly not a bad team for losing to LSU and Auburn, but you can say the same thing about the Wolverines after losing to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. However, there’s been rumors going round that the Crimson Tide will have some key players sitting out to prepare for the pending NFL draft.
I think we could either expect an unmotivated Alabama team or an angry, chip-on-their-shoulder ‘Bama team. Either way, even without a couple eligible NFL players, I see Alabama’s No. 3 offense walking all over Michigan’s defense who unraveled in the third quarter against Ohio State and who literally resorted to untying J.K. Dobbin’s cleats (I think about this every day).
And while Alabama’s defense hasn’t been great, I don’t see Shea Patterson and Jim Harbaugh breaking their bowl game losing streak against a Nick Saban coached team who were playoff contenders just a few weeks ago.
No. 18 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Auburn— Outback Bowl
Auburn’s strength of schedule is hard to overlook on this one. They beat a No. 11 Oregon, No. 17 Texas A&M, and No. 5 Alabama and only lost to Florida, LSU, and Georgia. Minnesota’s most notable win was Penn State, otherwise they’ve really only played (and lost to) Iowa and Wisconsin.
However, while both Auburn and Minnesota’s total defense rank in the top 20 nationally, Minnesota’s quarterback Tanner Morgan is one of the best in the nation and protecting against the pass is not something the Tigers’ defense does best.
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Oregon— Rose Bowl
New Year’s Day is gonna be a good one, folks. These teams are just about identical in terms of assets. Wisconsin and Oregon’s rushing defenses are ranked No. 8 and No. 10 respectively, and both have star players who we’ll be watching on Sundays next year—Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor and Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
Two things the Badgers have that the Ducks don’t, however, is a passing defense, which they’ll need in order to keep Herbert under wraps, and a running back/quarterback duo. Wisconsin QB Jack Coan is No. 8 in the nation in completion percentage, while Oregon running back CJ Verdell is No. 42 in rushing yards per game.
While Oregon’s passing game is strong, I think Wisconsin’s running game is stronger. And I don’t see Taylor ending his elite career with two losses in a row.
Indiana vs. Tennessee— Gator Bowl
We’re ending this list the same way we began it— with me having zero clue who wins this one. Indiana is 8-4 with losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, and Michigan, and Tennessee is 7-5 with losses to Georgia State, BYU, Florida, Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama. However, since their loss to Alabama, the Vols’ defense has gotten their act together, helping them to win their last five games of the season.
With Indiana’s No. 13 passing offense and Tennessee’s No. 16 passing defense... I’m stumped. Anyone have a prediction for this one?
Luckily for the Hoosiers, the Vols’ best receiver Jauan Jennings is suspended for the first half of the game. So, if Tennessee gets an early lead, it can only go downhill from there for Indiana.