Living in Savannah, a southern city deep in the heart of SEC country but also one with scads of midwestern retirees, I hear the continual arguments about the relative strengths of the two super conferences.
Big Ten proponents will say “Sure, Georgia and Bama are good, but the Big Ten is deeper, top to bottom. We don’t have anybody as weak as Vanderbilt, year in and year out.” SEC fans will count national championships in the last several decades and smile. I’m even starting to hear that Ohio State has the talent but can’t win the big game. What I don’t hear anymore is that the Big Ten is the physical conference, and the SEC the finesse conference. I think that we all agree that those days are getting smaller in the rear-view mirror.
Since Big Ten and SEC teams rarely play each other during the regular season (Penn State and Auburn the notable exception during the past couple of years), bowl season provides an opportunity for head-to-head matchups and also to compare bowl won-lost records, not only between these two leagues but also among all of the Power-Five conferences.
Last year both the Big Ten and the SEC had ten teams participate in bowl games. The Big Ten went 6-4, while the SEC finished 5-5. Not a big difference. No real bragging rights in those stats. For the record, the Big 12 was 5-2, the ACC 2-4, and the PAC-12 0-4.
This season, there are nine Big Ten teams playing in the bowl games – including Ohio State and Michigan in the College Football Playoffs. I’ll take a look at those playoff games later and make my predictions for them then. For the moment, let’s examine the other seven matchups.
Wisconsin (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Guaranteed Rate Bowl, December 27
Here are two teams that have had a great deal of success recently but suffered disappointing seasons this year. And to make matters worse, they’re playing in a bowl with one of the worst names (though I must say that the competition for stupid bowl names is pretty fierce and getting stronger every year.)
The Badgers will be starting a new era in their program history, and I see them winning a close one here. Statistically, both teams are about in the middle of the pack of their respective leagues. With their defensive guru stolen in the off-season, the Cowboys’ D wasn’t up to par. Wisconsin 34, Oklahoma State 28.
Syracuse (7-5) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
Bad Boy Mowers Pin Stripe Bowl, December 29
Syracuse started off the 2022 season in a blaze of glory, surprising foes and critics alike. By mid-season, however, they had burned out and had been reduced to a barely glowing ember and finally to a (small) pile of ashes. It’s hard to imagine a recovery. Minnesota, on the other hand, was pretty decent all year. I figured that they might win the Big Ten West, but it was Purdue, as we well know, who was left standing. Nonetheless, I like the Gophers here. And pretty big. Minnesota 42, Syracuse 24.
Maryland (7-5) vs. North Carolina State (8-4)
Duke’s Mayo Bowl, December 30
Yeah, the Wolfpack beat their big rival UNC, keeping the Tarheels out of a potential playoff spot. But so what? Does anyone have confidence in these ACC teams? Oh, Clemson is clearly decent, and Seminole fans are happy with Florida State’s season. But look at all of the flops this year. Maryland can put points on the board, and I look for them to do just that as we inch our way toward “more meaningful” games. Maryland 45, NC State 30.
Iowa (7-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
Trans Perfect Music City Bowl, December 31
This one is the first of four B1G – SEC bowl matchups. Iowa was a letdown this year. A lot of folks saw them repeating as west champ and making a solid go at the east winner for the conference championship. Nope. No offense. Kentucky, another strong starter, faded a bit as they faced tougher competition toward the end of the year. I (sorry to say) like the Wildcats in this game. Kentucky 27, Iowa 17.
Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Illinois (8-4)
ReliaQuest Bowl, January 2
Here’s a game that has my interest – and not just because I went to Illinois and am happy to see the Illini playing well. No, this one is, in my estimate, an even matchup. Watching the Illini outplay TTUN in Ann Arbor, I don’t know how they lost those games toward the end of the season to blow the west championship. And Mississippi State? 8-4 in the SEC is really about all we need to know to realize that the Bulldogs are a pretty good team. There will be some fierce line play in Tampa. Illinois 28, Mississippi State 24.
LSU (9-4) vs. Purdue (8-5)
Cheez-it Citrus Bowl, January 2
This SEC—Big Ten contest constitutes a true losers’ bracket, as these are the teams that lost their conference championship games to Georgia and Michigan, both of whom are in the playoffs. (Let’s hope that the winners of those games don’t play for the national championship.) LSU’s claim to fame is its narrow win over Alabama. Don’t get me wrong. That’s a feat worthy of a boast or two. But they’ve had some ugly, unexpected losses too. Inconsistent. Purdue has a good passing attack. But probably not one good enough by itself to beat the Tigers. Look for Brian Kelly’s team to pull this one out. LSU 41, Purdue 35.
Penn State (10-2) vs. Utah (10-3)
Rose Bowl, January 2
Make time in your Monday schedule for this one. It should be a dandy. The Nittany Lions lost only to Ohio State and Michigan and got obviously stronger as the season went on. Utah simply stomped on Southern Cal, ending the Trojans’ playoff hopes and opening the door for the Buckeyes to jump in. It will be close, but I see the Utes still riding high after their championship game. Utah 38, Penn State 31.
Against strong teams from other conferences, these seven Big Ten teams will be competitive. If you’re keeping count of my predictions, you’ll notice that I’ve given the Big Ten teams a 4-3 edge in these games. And with two conference teams in the playoffs for the first time ever, the league has a good chance of posting a winning record for the bowl season.