Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. The bowl matchups were announced yesterday and we thought it would be a fun exercise to rank the matchups involving B1G teams. The rankings are based on stakes, prestige and the expected viewing pleasure and intrigue. Obviously, these rankings are strictly my opinion and each of these bowl games are probably going to be more enjoyable than whatever else is on TV at the time. Just remember, the offseason is coming quickly and we’ll long for even the most unappetizing of matchups when it’s 90 degrees outside and football is months away. So, as dreadful of a game as Minnesota vs. Central Michigan may seem, it’s better than nothing!
Speaking of those two teams, let’s start at the bottom and work our way up:
10. Quick Lane Bowl – December 28,5:00 - Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
The Chippewas finished 7-5 after a 1-3 start that saw them drop non-conference games to Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State. CMU went 6-2 in the MAC and have a good quarterback in Cooper Rush. However, they struggle to run the ball and stop the run so there will be an opportunity for Minnesota’s Shannon Brooks to have a very nice day. The Gophers were 5-7 but accepted this bowl bid to receive some extra practices under new head coach Tracy Claeys. A 7-5 MAC squad and a B1G West team with a losing record playing each other in Detroit? Yeah, there’s not much reason to watch this one.
9. Foster Farms Bowl – December 26, 9:15 – UCLA vs. Nebraska
By name alone, this is a pretty good matchup. However, injuries have derailed the season for the UCLA Bruins and Nebraska suffered through a rare losing season in Mike Riley’s debut campaign. UCLA is 8-4 after closing the season on the receiving end of a thumping from USC. The best part of this game is undoubtedly watching the continued growth of true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. He should benefit from the extra days of practice and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick apart a secondary that has been poor against the pass in 2015. The names scream “big game” but neither fan base will be pleased to be in Santa Clara on the 26th.
8. Pinstripe Bowl – December 26, 3:30 – IU vs. Duke
Hoosier Huddle will have detailed coverage of this game and there is plenty of time for us to dive in deep and breakdown this matchup. For now, IU fans are as excited about this game as any other bowl game. The two bowls behind this one in the rankings feature teams with losing records and matchups that aren’t quite as interesting to the neutral. IU’s powerful offense is fun to watch and David Cutcliffe has turned Duke into a program that IU fans should look at admirably. If things go right in the next couple of years and on the recruiting trail, the Hoosiers should strive to replicate Duke’s newfound consistency on the gridiron.
7. Taxslayer Bowl – January 2, noon – Penn State vs. Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs have decided to move on from Mark Richt. Kirby Smart will be the head coach in 2016 but for now, the Bulldogs will take on the Penn State Nittany Lions under an interim coaching staff. Penn State hasn’t been able to notch a quality win this season and I’m not entirely sure that Georgia would count but it would create some much-needed momentum as they head into the offseason. The biggest question probably involves the offense as PSU fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. Will this be Christian Hackenberg’s final game as a Nittany Lion? Will the playcalling open up and let him air it out?
6. Holiday Bowl – December 30, 10:30 – USC vs. Wisconsin
The Holiday Bowl is usually an entertaining affair and I expect a pretty interesting game this year as well. The USC Trojans lost in the PAC-12 title game to the Stanford Cardinal as they faded in the second half. They have removed the interim tag from head coach Clay Helton but a couple of assistant coaches have been fired and will be replaced before the 2016 season. The third-place team in the B1G West, the Wisconsin Badgers, is a fringe top 25 team with a very good defense and an offense that has struggled all season. The marquee matchup will be USC’s offense against the Badgers D but the game may be decided by how much progress the Wisconsin offense makes in the practices leading up to this “Rose Bowl-lite” game.
5. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl – January 1, 1:00 – Michigan vs. Florida
This game will look extremely pretty on the television, particularly here in the Heartland. Sitting in front of a fire on New Year’s Day and watching the Maize and Blue Wolverines against the Blue and Orange of the Gators, that’s a pretty good start to the New Year. Aesthetics are very important but what about the game itself? Well, I don’t think it’ll be all that interesting. Jake Rudock will have time to heal and it will be interesting to see how much progress Michigan makes in the bowl practices and how they look in the first game without former defensive coordinator and new Maryland coach DJ Durkin. Florida has a tremendous defense but their offense has gone into the tank without Will Grier and the Gators probably won’t provide much of an offensive threat.
4. Outback Bowl – January 1, noon – Northwestern vs. Tennessee
Northwestern has never won eleven games. They’ll get their chance on New Year’s Day when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols are only 8-4 but they led in the fourth quarter of each of those losses and an impressive performance on national television would send the 2016 hype machine into overdrive for a team that figures to be in the preseason top 10 next season. Northwestern has a very good defense but I worry about the Cats’ offense and whether or not they can score enough to keep up with Joshua Dobbs and the Tennessee attack.
3. Rose Bowl – January 1, 5:00 – Iowa vs. Stanford
For the first time since 1991, the Iowa Hawkeyes are headed to Pasadena to play in “the Granddaddy of Them All”. I expect the stadium to be full of black-and-gold clad Iowa fans but I think Stanford is one of the top two or three teams in the country. They played the nation’s toughest schedule and still managed to go 11-2. The Cardinal don’t have a great defense and I expect for C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeyes to put up some points. However, if you haven’t watched the Stanford offense, please tune in to this one. Kevin Hogan has had a very nice senior season and the Cardinal have the best player in the country (in my opinion) in do-it-all tailback Christian McCaffrey. I think Stanford wins by a touchdown or two but this will be a very fun game to watch.
2. BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl – January 1, 1:00 – Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
I don’t know what the heck “BattleFrog” is but that’s an awesome sounding sponsor and they got themselves a great matchup. The Fighting Irish and the Buckeyes meet in Tempe in what should be a highly-entertaining clash. Notre Dame has fought through a lot of injuries but managed to go 10-2 with their only two losses coming via close losses to Clemson and Stanford. Ezekiel Elliott takes the field for the final time as a Buckeye and the coaching staff has some additional time to get this offense clicking on all cylinders. Can Ohio State actually find a vertical passing game or will they just pound it all game with Elliott and Barrett? Will Notre Dame’s elite offense be able to put up points on the Silver Bullets? This is a really fun battle between two programs that will be expecting to play in these types of games every year. Look at that noon-4 p.m. time slot: Northwestern-Tennessee, Michigan-Florida and OSU-ND…sign me up!
1. Cotton Bowl Classic (College Football Playoff Semifinal) – December 31, 8:00 – Michigan State vs. Alabama
Considering the stakes involved, this is the obvious choice at number 1. Heisman Trophy favorite Derrick Henry and the dominant Alabama running game and defense take on Connor Cook and the Michigan State Spartans in what should be a very physical “slobberknocker” of a game for the right to play for a National Championship. The Spartans are significant underdogs but I think it would be quite foolish to underestimate a team led by Mark Dantonio.
Under the Radar Bowl Games to Watch
-Alamo Bowl – January 2, 6:45 – Oregon vs. TCU
-Russell Athletic Bowl – December 29, 5:30 – North Carolina vs. Baylor
-Military Bowl – December 28, 2:30 – Pitt vs. Navy
-GoDaddy Bowl – December 23, 8:00 – Georgia Southern vs. Bowling Green
-New Orleans Bowl – December 19, 9:00 – Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech