Of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, 10 qualified for a bowl this season. Four teams are in the playoffs or a New Year’s Six bowl game, which means that the second-tier teams have their work cut out for them. A strong showing from the middle of the B1G would cement the conference’s standing as the toughest in the land in 2016. A flop and we’ll hear how the B1G was overrated for an entire offseason. Something to look forward to! So, how will the bowl games go down? Let’s find out!
Big Ten Bowl Preview
Maryland Terrapins (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) in the Quick Lane Bowl
Opponent: Boston College Eagles (6-6)
Monday, December 26th, 2:30 PM at Detroit, MI
Line: Maryland -1, O/U: 43.5
Yeesh, talk about a game that not many people are going to watch. Maryland started the season 4-0 before struggling the rest of the way, finishing 6-6 on the season. Boston College, meanwhile, struggled to score points all year, including four games where they failed to score more than seven points. Two middling teams in a middling bowl being played on a Monday afternoon. Yeesh. I’ll take Maryland here, but the BC defense could cause Maryland’s rushing game fits. Still, I think the Terps actually do have more playmakers than the Eagles, and sneak away with the win.
Prediction: Maryland 24, Boston College 21
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-4, 5-4) in the National Funding Holiday Bowl
Opponent: Washington State Cougars (8-4)
Tuesday, December 27th, 7:00 PM at San Diego, CA
Line: Washington State -9.5, O/U: 61.5
Minnesota finished the season with a solid record, though there was some preseason discussion that they could be dark horse contenders for the Big Ten West. Washington State, meanwhile used its prolific offense to string together 8 straight wins in the middle of the season, before losing its last two games. The biggest story surrounding this game is the current strike by the Minnesota players – it’s possible that Minnesota may not play in this game at all, and be replaced by another team. Let’s assume that the Gopher players end their strike and do play this game. I’ll take Wazzu’s high-flying offense over the stingy Minnesota defense.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Minnesota 24
Northwestern Wildcats (6-6, 5-4) in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Opponent: #23 Pitt Panthers (8-4)
Wednesday, December 28th, 2:00 PM at New York, NY
Line: Pitt -5.5, O/U: 65
Let’s start this thing off by saying that the Big Ten often does not do very well in bowls because of games like this. When you have four teams selected to New Year’s Six bowls, the lower tier Big Ten teams have to step up a rung or two, and invariably play teams that are better than them. Such is the case here, where Pitt gets the honor of playing a team that barely snuck into bowl eligibility. I expect this game to be a high-scoring affair, since Pitt’s outgoing offensive coordinator Matt Canada has agreed to stay on through the bowl game. Northwestern can score some points, but not as many as the Panthers. Give me Pitt in a shootout.
Prediction: Pitt 42, Northwestern 35
Indiana Hoosiers (6-6, 4-5) in the Foster Farms Bowl
Opponent: #19 Utah Utes (8-4)
Wednesday, December 28th, 8:30 PM at Santa Clara, CA
Line: Utah -7.5, O/U: 54
This basically echoes the same sentiment as the Pinstripe Bowl – a Big Ten team is slotted one or two spots higher than it should be, and faces an opponent that’s clearly superior. To add to this, Indiana fired head coach Kevin Wilson shortly after the season concluded, and replaced him with defensive coordinator Tom Allen. Indiana is a scrappy team, and should give the Utes a tough go of things, but Utah is just plain better.
Prediction: Utah 31, Indiana 24
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3, 6-3) in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Opponent: #21 Tennessee Volunteers (8-4)
Friday, December 30th, 3:30 PM at Nashville, TN
Line: Tennessee -4.5, O/U: 61
This is one of those weird situations where one team was unranked to start the season, got hot and got ranked, but then petered out and ended up unranked. On the other side of the field is a team that started out highly ranked and somehow held on to a ranking despite turning out to be severely overrated. Gotta love preseason hype. In any case, this should be one of the more evenly matched games of the bowl season. Tennessee has suffered from some injuries, while Nebraska has been all over the map from week to week. I think the time off helps the Vols more than the Cornhuskers, and Tennessee wins a close one.
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Nebraska 27
#6 Michigan Wolverines (10-2, 7-2) in the Capital One Orange Bowl
Opponent: #11 Florida State Seminoles (9-3)
Friday, December 30th, 8:00 PM at Miami, FL
Line: Michigan -7, O/U: 52.5
Michigan fans have to be feeling a little salty after their season unraveled the way it did. With just three games left in the season, Michigan was 9-0 and ranked #3, and seemed a lock to make the playoffs. Three games later, the Wolverines had two losses to their name, and didn’t even qualify for the Big Ten championship game, let alone the playoffs. Now they get to play a three-loss FSU squad in what has to feel like the consolation prize of the year. At any rate, I expect the Wolverines to be out for blood in this game, and I think they win handily.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Florida State 24
#3 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1) in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl
Opponent: #2 Clemson Tigers (12-1)
Saturday, December 31st, 7:00 PM at Glendale, AZ
Line: Ohio State -3, O/U: 60
Like it or not, the Buckeyes are in the playoffs yet again, and this time get to face the Clemson Tigers, the ACC champions. Both teams have excellent records, while also struggling in several games throughout the year to lesser competition. But to be honest, I think this will be a really entertaining game, and the winner of this game will get the honor of finishing #2 in the country. In warm weather, and with a chance to get a little healthier, I think the Buckeye offense more closely resembles the team that beat Oklahoma 45-24 at the beginning of the season, rather than the team that beat Michigan State 17-16 near the end of the season. Ohio State wins a close one.
Prediction: Ohio State 42, Clemson 38
Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4, 6-3) in the Outback Bowl
Opponent: #17 Florida Gators (8-4)
Monday, January 2nd, 1:00 PM at Tampa, FL
Line: Florida -2, O/U: 40.5
Just a week after being demolished by Penn State, Iowa went out and handed Michigan its first loss of the season – ultimately starting a snowball effect that would propel Penn State to the Big Ten Championship Game. So for that, I say thank you Iowa. Florida, meanwhile, got the privilege of winning the SEC East and being keelhauled by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, 54-16. Florida essentially has no offense, while Iowa only plays defense. I expect this to be one of the lowest scoring games of the bowl season, with the Gators doing just enough to get the win.
Prediction: Florida 17, Iowa 14
#8 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3, 7-2) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Opponent: #15 Western Michigan Broncos (13-0)
Monday, January 2nd, 1:00 PM at Arlington, TX
Line: Wisconsin -7.5, O/U: 53.5
Like Temple, Wisconsin faces a no-win situation – they’re supposed to beat Western Michigan, and losing to them would be seen as a massive failure. Credit where credit is due, PJ Fleck has done an admirable job at Western Michigan, and going 13-0 is never easy. But Wisconsin will still face the same stigma of playing a Group of 5 team in a bowl game. Unlike Wake Forest, however, Wisconsin is the better team, and should win convincingly.
Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Western Michigan 21
BSD Staff Picks
To help distinguish the postseason from the regular season, I decided to up the ante a bit for the pick ‘em. Rather than just a straight up pick of winners for each bowl game, the masthead did a confidence pool instead. For the uninitiated, in a confidence pool you pick the winner of each game, and you assign confidence points to each one. Since there are 10 bowl games, the most confidence points you can give a team are 10. Once you give a team 10 points, the most you can give any other team are 9. The staff member with the most confidence points after the bowl games are played wins the postseason crown. Let’s see what everyone’s thinking!
It’s interesting seeing how everyone picked based on confidence. Whereas a regular season a pick of, say, Iowa over Michigan would be quite bold and drastically alter someone’s season standings, such a move can now be made with relative impunity, if only 1 or 2 confidence points are wagered. As such, you see Clay picking WMU over Wisconsin, but with just 1 confidence point. Or Eli taking Indiana over Utah. Overall though, I think my favorite picks are the ones taking relative underdogs with a whole bunch of points - like Cari, Eli, Nick, Chris Taylor, Dlando, and Dena all taking Penn State over USC with 8 or more points. Should be fun to see how these picks shake out! Happy holidays everyone!