This bowl season feels a little bit like some of our recent BCS seasons, where, by virtue of having so many Big Ten teams play on the biggest stage, you end up with a ton of middle of the pack teams playing up against seemingly better competition. As you go down the list of games, this becomes widely apparent.
New Year’s Six Games
Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 15 Western Michigan
Wisconsin gets stuck with the proverbial “no win” situation by virtue of losing the championship game. I, however, happen to disagree with this belief. The reality of the matter for Wisconsin right now is that they were unable to beat any of the top teams they faced. Ignoring “at the time” rankings (as everyone should), LSU is the only ranked team they’ve beaten, and they’re currently number 20. The Badgers get an opportunity to face a top 15 team and atone for their deficiencies somewhat in this department. Will they be up for the task? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: Western Michigan likes to pass the ball a lot too, so they need to figure that part out.
Orange Bowl: No. 6 Michigan vs No. 11 Florida State
Michigan gets to take their frustrations out on another Florida team, as the Seminoles get tasked with dealing with an angry Michigan team who feels like they should have been in the playoffs this season. Michigan is a senior-laden team with the number one defense according to S&P+ rankings, while Florida State is not a bad team themselves, coming in at number nine on S&P+, and they have an offense that can keep pace with Michgian’s defense. Dalvin Cook missed some time with injury, but he’s back and better than ever. This should be a good game between two teams that had great aspirations before the season, but were derailed by a few untimely losses.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State vs No. 2 Clemson
This is a matchup between two teams that are probably better than they’re being given credit for right now, as both Clemson and Ohio State managed to finish their seasons with only one loss. Clemson’s loss looks a lot worse right now, but both teams have looked vulnerable down the stretch. Ohio State struggled to put Michigan away, needing two overtime periods to get it done. Clemson struggled against Virginia Tech, getting everything they bargained for against the Hokies. This game has the potential to be as exciting as the 2013 version, and I think the score will indicate that.
Tier 1 Games
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs No. 17 Florida
Florida might find itself in the exact same situation it did last season. Win the East, have the unfortunate task of facing Alabama in the championship game, follow that up with a game against a Big Ten team better than its record. And the result might actually be the same. Iowa has figured things out for themselves, and has been shutting opponents on defense since their loss against Penn State. They are not juggernauts on offense by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is Florida. Points could be at a premium in this game, and I’m having a hard time envisioning Florida being able to outlast Iowa in this one.
Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs Washington State
Minnesota gets shipped out west to face a Washington State team that had an opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship game, but got blown out. Both of these teams have an adequate defense, but Washington State happens to be strong against what Minnesota does best. Minnesota’s secondary is not bad at all, but I’m not sure that they’ll be able to stop Luke Falk and Washington State’s wide receivers all game. They need to play a really good game on defense while avoiding the kinds of mistakes that sunk them against Wisconsin.
Tier 2 Games
Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs No. 21 Tennessee
Nebraska is another team like Wisconsin, in which they have a good enough record, but didn’t beat anyone of consequence. They get an opportunity against a Tennessee team that, against all odds, finds itself ranked at the end of the season. The Volunteers have, in fairness, sustained a ton of injuries this season, so they should be healthy come December 30th. Let’s hope this game isn’t a repeat of last year’s Outback Bowl, where a team with an overinflated record served as a sacrificial lamb to Tennessee to end the season.
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana vs No. 19 Utah
Kevin Wilson’s situation aside, Indiana gets another opportunity to take down a ranked team, having come so close in so many instances this season. Utah is not a slouch by any stretch of the imagination, and Kyle Wittingham is actually 9-1 in bowl games at Utah. They do, however, suffer from a bit of “Wisconsin and Nebraska Syndrome,” in which they’ve lost to every ranked team on their schedule. I think this game is going to be closer than the pundits think, but I can’t be brought to pick a winner.
Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern vs No. 23 Pitt
Northwestern finds itself matched against Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl by virtue of Indiana having played there last season. I have to be honest here. This is not a good matchup for Northwestern. The Wildcats have proven to be adequate enough on both offense and defense this season, and Pitt has proven that their defense leaves something to be desired more often than not, but this matchup is too similar to last year’s Tennessee debacle for me to have any confidence in Northwestern. The only complimentary thing I can say here is that maybe the Wildcats don’t get run out of the field this time around, but they’re not winning this game (and they’re not keeping Pitt below 50). If I’m a Northwestern fan, I’m seriously wishing this team would have been bumped one tier.
Tier 3 Games
Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs Boston College
Boston College still has a pretty good defense, but can’t do anything on offense to save their lives. Maryland has a pretty good offense (all things considered), but can’t stop anyone on defense to save their lives. So what will happen in this game? Will we see a shootout due to deficiencies, or will we see a defensive slopfest due to strengths taking over? Who knows. This game will be close though, and could come down to a last possession.