4 B1G things I’m looking forward to seeing this bowl season
’Tis the (bowl) season, and though it’s an abbreviated version in 2020, it’s still going to be a whole lot of fun. Even though championship weekend is barely over, the first bowl game was Monday, and we’ll have games on all but 2 days (Dec. 27-28) through Jan. 2. Considering no one really knew whether we’d even have a season, I’d say we’re pretty fortunate.
The Big Ten will only participate in 5 bowl games this season, as Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota and Nebraska were among the many teams across the country that decided to call it a season. They came to that conclusion for reasons that anyone can understand, like finally seeing their families. But that also tells you that the B1G teams that are playing in a bowl game (Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State and Indiana) really want to be there and will (hopefully) perform at a high level.
Here are 4 things I’m looking forward to seeing this bowl season:
1. The Big Ten vs. the SEC
The Big Ten is matched up against the SEC in 3 games (and the ACC in the other 2), and it has a great opportunity to come out on top for the first time since 2006. The Big Ten has split 3 times since then (2008, 2009 and 2017), but most years, the SEC shows its superiority. Last year, the B1G missed a golden opportunity with Indiana blowing a late lead to Tennessee that would’ve put it on top.
The Big Ten should be favored in all 3 matchups: No. 11 Indiana (6-1) vs. Ole Miss (4-5), No. 14 Northwestern (6-2) vs. Auburn (6-4) and No. 15 Iowa (6-2) vs. Missouri (5-5). The B1G absolutely needs to win at least 2 out of 3, considering these are the league’s second-, third- and fourth-best teams. The SEC’s top 4 teams, meanwhile, are all in New Year’s Six bowl games.
From a perception standpoint, winning these games is a must for the Big Ten.
2. Which players will start the 2021 Hype Train early
Bowl season is a great opportunity to stand out because of how few games there are each day, especially compared to a Saturday in the regular season. It’s where the Hype Train for the following season begins.
One of the bowl performances that I’ll never forget was Christian McCaffrey in the 2015 Rose Bowl against Iowa. I’d heard of McCaffrey, but since he played for Stanford on the West Coast, I didn’t really get to watch him play much. And I’m guessing plenty of folks were watching him for the first time. What he did against Iowa (18 rushes for 172 yards, 4 catches for 105 yards and a TD, plus a 63-yard punt return for a TD) solidified him as one of best players in the country.
Which B1G players will break out and build the hype for 2021? Here are 5 guesses:
Iowa RB Tyler Goodson: Running behind the Big Ten’s best offensive line, Goodson has a chance to put up monster numbers against a Missouri run defense that allows over 4.5 yards per carry.
Northwestern RB Cam Porter: Buried on the bench for the entire season, the true freshman has provided a huge spark the last 2 games to a struggling offense. He will be a popular All-B1G pick for 2021.
Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal: The sophomore linebacker had 5 tackles for loss against Minnesota and a team-high 13 tackles. He is averaging over 9 tackles per game the last 3 after a slow start to the season. Could he be a 2021 B1G Defensive Player of the Year candidate?
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson: Without Chris Olave in 2021, Wilson will have the chance to put up monster numbers, though the Buckeyes have a great freshman group of receivers, and Justin Fields will be in the NFL. If he can go off against Clemson, he will be in the conversation for best wide receiver in the country for 2021.
Indiana QB Jack Tuttle: A strong performance from Tuttle will probably have a whole lot of teams trying to convince Tuttle to transfer, since he will be blocked by a (hopefully) healthy Michael Penix Jr. Against one of the worst pass defenses in the country in Ole Miss, Tuttle has a chance to put up big numbers.
3. Can Indiana avoid a hangover?
Aside from Cincinnati, is there a team that was raked over the coals as bad as Indiana (6-1) in terms of the College Football Playoff rankings? Not getting a New Year’s Six bowl over a 3-loss Big 12 team is an insult. While that anger is justified, the Hoosiers have to quickly regroup and figure out a way to take it out on Ole Miss (4-5) in the Outback Bowl. If they lose to the eighth-best team in the SEC, that won’t be a good look. I think this is the one game that the Big Ten can ill afford to lose.
4. Can Ohio State get it done?
If not for Ohio State, this season probably doesn’t happen. The Buckeyes were vocal — from head coach Ryan Day, to players like QB Justin Fields, to parents like Randy Wade — about their desire to play, and if not for their realistic national title aspirations, what motivation would the Big Ten have even had to reverse its decision?
Ohio State deserved the chance to win a title. Now it has that chance in the CFP vs. Clemson, and that’s all the Buckeyes could’ve asked for. No one expects Ohio State to beat Clemson, and Dabo Swinney doesn’t even think the Buckeyes are a top-10 team, apparently. Can Ohio State get it done?