Written By: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
As of October 9, 2017
After a very successful first year of doing bowl projections, we are back at it in 2017 to project each bowl matchup involving a Big Ten team. Most importantly, we’ll be projecting where we believe the Indiana Hoosiers will end up. Keep in mind, these are projections and it’s my best guess as to where teams end up at the end of the season, not where they might go if bowls were selected today.
College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl - Monday, January 1 at 5:00 pm
Clemson vs. Ohio State
Penn State is considered by many to be the team that emerges from the Big Ten as the conference champion. If they do, they will certainly be a playoff team. However, I think Ohio State’s defense has found its footing and is now the dominant force everyone expected it to be when the season began. Their biggest deficiency is the vertical passing game. While I don’t think that has been “fixed”, I do think it has improved some in the past few weeks. Most importantly, they host Penn State in Columbus and I think they’ll knock off the Nittany Lions, win in Ann Arbor and beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. If the Buckeyes do that, they’d be 12-1 with 11 straight victories (two of them against top ten opponents) and I see no way they’d get left out of the playoff. The committee will send them to Pasadena and give them a rematch against Clemson. This allows the Crimson Tide of Alabama to play in the Sugar Bowl.
Peach Bowl – Georgia vs. Wisconsin – Monday, January 1 at 12:30 pm
I am projecting both of these teams to go 12-1 with their lone loss coming in their respective conference championship games. While they will both have arguments to be included as the fourth team in the playoff, I don’t think either of them (particularly Wisconsin) will have a schedule that stands up next to the PAC 12 champion (I think it will be Washington) and that will leave them just outside of the top four. I think Penn State could land in this spot as well and a Georgia versus Penn State matchup would be great entertainment but I think they’ll sell this as the SEC runner-up versus the Big Ten runner-up.
Fiesta Bowl – Penn State vs. TCU - December 30 at 4 pm –
The third Big Ten team in the “New Year’s Six” is the Penn State Nittany Lions. I think they will be 11-1 at this point but I do wonder what kind of profile they will actually have. If they lose at Ohio State, they will likely miss out on the Big Ten Championship Game and a chance to play a top ten opponent. Michigan might be a borderline top 25 team by the time all of this is evaluated by the committee and their non-conference slate didn’t include any impressive opponents. That means their best win would probably be at Michigan State…that’s just not good enough to get considered for the playoff. So, they get slotted in to take on the Big 12 Champion (who I think will be 12-1) in what would be a very entertaining game in Tempe.
Outback Bowl – Michigan State vs. Texas A&M – January 1 at noon
The Citrus Bowl has an ACC/Big Ten option. I’m projecting an ACC team gets chosen for that matchup this season. Things get really dicey here as the Big Ten has, in my opinion, a “Big Three” followed by a wide gulf and then the rest of the league. I’m throwing darts here but I’ll send the Spartans to Tampa to take on the Texas A&M Aggies. MSU could end up at either 8-4 or 9-3 and I have the Aggies going 8-4 and slotting behind Alabama, Georgia and Auburn in the SEC pecking order.
TaxSlayer Bowl – Purdue vs. Florida – December 30 at noon
The Boilermakers will be underdogs this Saturday at Wisconsin. Assuming they lose that game and drop to 3-3, they’ll be left with a very favorable slate the rest of the way. If they take care of business and go 5-1 in the back half of their schedule (the only two true toss-ups being at Iowa and against IU), they’ll be somehow sitting at 8-4 and Jeff Brohm will be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. With all of the Florida kids on the IU roster, this would be an attractive spot for the Hoosiers as well and if IU can get to eight wins with a victory over the Boilers, they just might get it. This bowl game is likely the ceiling for IU at this point.
Music City Bowl – IU vs. Kentucky – December 29 at 4:30
This is an optimistic projection, no doubt about that. However, I think the chips may fall in place for this matchup to finally happen. The Kentucky Wildcats are currently 5-1 heading into their bye week and I project them to finish at 8-4. For IU to make this happen, they’ll need to finally beat the Michigan Wolverines this Saturday and then get at least three more wins against the rest of the schedule. If IU is 8-4 or 7-5, I think the Music City Bowl, along with both schools, would jump at the chance to drive make this game a reality. Of all the possibilities, this one is probably the one that gets me the most excited so I am projecting it until it is no longer a realistic possibility.
Holiday Bowl – Michigan vs. Stanford – December 28 at 9:00
This matchup makes all the sense in the world. I am projecting the Wolverines somewhere around 8-4. While they may slot ahead of Purdue given their win over the Boilermakers (and possibly ahead of IU if they win on Saturday), I think they’d prefer to head out west as opposed to back to Florida for another ho-hum late December bowl in Jacksonville. The narrative in this game would be obvious: Harbaugh versus Shaw, Harbaugh versus the program he helped rise to prominence, Bryce Love versus the Wolverine defense. Neither team looks likely to have the kind of season they dreamed of but this would be a fun finish for both of them. As for IU’s chances of ending up in this game…I don’t see the Hoosiers choosing to go back to California for a bowl game.
Foster Farms Bowl – Iowa vs. Oregon – December 27 at 8:30
The Iowa Hawkeyes should finish at either 7-5 or 8-4 with a home game against Purdue and a road trip to Nebraska acting as the swing games. Oregon is performing about as expected in Willie Taggart’s first season and I think they’ll end up at 7-5. This would be a fresh matchup for this bowl game and I think both teams would be reasonably pleased to end up in Santa Clara.
Pinstripe Bowl - Georgia Tech vs. Nebraska – December 27 at 5:15
The Yellow Jackets have only played four games thus far and they sit at 3-1 (2-0). Their game against Central Florida was cancelled and they may have dodged a bullet there as the Knights look great. With games against Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia left on the schedule, I think they’ll probably end up at 6-5 and be slotted here. Nebraska will need to improve offensively if they are to reach six wins as they still have games against Ohio State, at Purdue, at Penn State and against Iowa. At best, I think the Huskers finish 6-6 and I would think the Pinstripe Bowl would welcome them to New York with open arms. The question at that point would be, would Mike Riley be around for the bowl game or would he already have been fired?
Quick Lane Bowl – Minnesota vs. Duke – December 26 at 6:15
The Golden Gophers have been pretty bad the past weeks, losing at home to Maryland and then falling apart late at Purdue. They now need three victories against the rest of their schedule to reach bowl eligibility in PJ Fleck’s first season. I think they narrowly manage that with wins over Illinois, Northwestern and either Nebraska or Iowa. The Duke Blue Devils need two wins against the rest of their schedule to squeak into the postseason. IU could end, and likely would, end up here if they go 6-6.
These projections will be updated each week.