Everything you need to know about the B1G’s bowl slate.

Game of the Week: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia (-7.5) in Orange Bowl (Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.)

The stakes

Obviously, a spot in the national championship is on the line. But in the bigger picture, the Big Ten’s reputation is on the line. For so long, the Big Ten has solely been about Ohio State in terms of national relevance. Michigan State’s dud in the 2015 College Football Playoff against Alabama confirmed the narrative that no one else in the Big Ten can compete on the big stage. Contrast that with the SEC, which has had Alabama, Georgia and LSU win a CFP game in the last 5 years.

While Michigan making the CFP was a huge deal for the B1G because other conferences haven’t had a secondary contender in recent years, now it’s all about what Michigan does with this chance. If Michigan lays an egg, like Michigan State 6 years ago, the Big Ten will continue to be looked at as all about Ohio State. If Michigan is competitive, which I think it will be, then that will do wonders for the Big Ten’s reputation for years to come.

The stat: 27

That’s how many tackles for loss Michigan has allowed this season, which is the best in the country by 14. And that’s with Michigan playing an extra game!

The Wolverines were the Joe Moore Award winner, given to the nation’s best offensive line. They have dominated up front all year, and that’s why they have the nation’s No. 9 rushing offense. Whether it’s Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum or Donovan Edwards, Michigan has had success all year.

While Michigan has grown offensively throughout this season, and Cade McNamara has developed into a reliable QB, it still wants everything to flow through its run game. Staying ahead of the chains and avoiding third-and-long will be crucial against a Georgia defense that is one of the best in the country.

The key matchup: Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo vs. Georgia’s offensive line

Michigan boasts 2 of the country’s top pass rushers in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and so much of the Wolverines’ success is predicated on getting pressure on the QB. Georgia has allowed just 11 sacks all season, which is fourth nationally. Interestingly enough, 3 of those sacks came against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. If Michigan can notch a few timely sacks to force Georgia into some second- and third-and-long situations, that bodes well. The goal for Michigan should be to make Stetson Bennett beat the Wolverines with his arm.

The big question: Since all of the pressure is on Georgia, will Michigan play as if it has nothing to lose?

There’s no doubt that all of the pressure is on Georgia. The Bulldogs were preseason favorites to win the national title and have been ranked No. 1 all year. They have this title drought since 1980 hanging over them, and if you ask the Cubs and Red Sox, they’ll tell you that weighs on a team. If Kirby Smart can’t get it done this year, it’s going to be a stain on his legacy; he may never get a better shot at this. Every decision he makes is going to be scrutinized. And coming off a butt-whooping from Alabama, there’s no doubt he’s feeling the heat. Georgia fans have to be wondering whether this program will ever get over the hump.

Michigan, on the other hand, is playing with house money. The Wolverines weren’t even ranked to start the season, and even after a nice run through the Big Ten, weren’t expected to beat Ohio State. With their first B1G title since 2004, this season is going to be remembered forever by fans because Jim Harbaugh finally broke through.

So Michigan has nothing to lose. If it plays a loose game and builds an early lead, Georgia may tighten up and start to get nervous.

The verdict

I like Michigan. Seeing Georgia take one on the chin has to be reassuring for the Wolverines after the Bulldogs looked invincible all year. I think the QB questions are legitimate for Georgia. Stetson Bennett hadn’t been asked to do much in the fourth quarter until the Alabama game, and if Michigan can get an early lead, like it has all season, Bennett could run into the same problems.

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• Michigan 24, Georgia 23

Minnesota (-4.5) vs. West Virginia in Guaranteed Rate Bowl (Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m.)

West Virginia is the epitome of average. The Mountaineers are 17-17 in the last 3 seasons under Neal Brown and don’t necessarily excel in any particular area; and in fairness, they aren’t really bad in any area, either. They have come a long way since losing to Maryland in the season opener and starting 2-4.

But a couple things are working in Minnesota’s favor here. For one, West Virginia’s leading rusher, Leddie Brown, opted out of the game. Perhaps even more importantly, West Virginia analyst Kirk Ciarrocca recently got hired to be Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. Ciarrocca obviously won’t be with West Virginia for the game, meaning he could provide some valuable insight into stopping West Virginia’s offense. Not that Minnesota’s No. 4-ranked defense needs the help.

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• Minnesota 24, West Virginia 17

Maryland (-3.5) vs. Virginia Tech in Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m.)

Maryland has cooled considerably since a 4-0 start, needing a win over Rutgers in the season finale just to reach bowl eligibility. But as the spread would indicate, this is a great time to play Virginia Tech, which is going through a transition period after firing head coach Justin Fuentes and hiring Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry. The Hokies have had 5 starters opt out for this game, plus starting QB Braxton Burmeister is in the transfer portal.

The Terrapins, however, haven’t had anyone of note opt out. With QB Taulia Tagovailoa playing, advantage Terps.

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• Maryland 34, Virginia Tech 27

Purdue vs. Tennessee (-5) in Music City Bowl (Dec. 30, 3 p.m.)

This is an interesting matchup in that both of these fan bases have to feel optimistic about the direction of their program. Expectations were relatively low in Knoxville and West Lafayette, and both had very good seasons despite slow starts. Both programs also will get their QBs back next year, which is good news, especially for the quality of play in this bowl game. Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker will both be candidates for preseason all-conference teams in 2022.

The big question is how Purdue will fare without its 2 star players, David Bell and George Karlaftis, both of whom project to be early-round draft picks. This would’ve been a great game with both teams at full strength. Now, I’m not so sure.

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• Tennessee 34, Purdue 20

No. 10 Michigan State (-2.5) vs. No. 12 Pitt in Peach Bowl (Dec. 30, 7 p.m.)

If you had Michigan State and Pitt in a New Year’s 6 bowl game in the preseason, well, you’re a lot smarter than me. Both of these programs have a lot to be proud of this season, but each has been fueled by great individual seasons. I’m obviously talking about Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. Since both have opted out of this game, what could’ve been an epic shootout is now a sneak peak at what these programs will look like without their stars next season. And that will be fascinating, especially for Michigan State.

How will Payton Thorne fare without Walker? That’s a major question for next year. Is the connection with Jayden Reed enough to propel this offense? Will the Spartans fall back into their anemic-rushing days of BW (Before Walker)? And defensively, Michigan State shouldn’t have near as tough of a time against a Pitt team without Pickett or offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, who left for Nebraska. But it’ll be interesting to see if Mel Tucker has made any adjustments to the worst passing defense in the country.

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Michigan State 31, • Pitt 30

Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. Arizona State in Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m.)

Contrary to the Peach Bowl, this game features 2 programs at weird points. Wisconsin has underachieved the last 2 years with some head-scratching losses and serious offensive regression despite having an elite defense. Arizona State has been rocked by scandal and is under NCAA investigation, and it feels like a matter of time before the Herm Edwards era comes to an end.

Even with Wisconsin’s limitations on offense, it’s hard to see how Arizona State pulls this out, even with the game starting so late on the West Coast. Wisconsin had the No. 1 defense in the country and the No. 1 rushing defense in the country, and Arizona State will be without its top 2 running backs.

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• Wisconsin 20, Arizona State 13

Rutgers vs. No. 17 Wake Forest (-14.5) in Gator Bowl (Dec. 31, 11 a.m.)

The Scarlet Knights have been operating under the assumption that their season is over for nearly a month, after they were blown out by Maryland at home. But with Texas A&M unable to play due to COVID and injuries, Rutgers got the call due to having the highest APR among the 5-7 teams. There are plenty of media cautioning that this is a bad idea for Rutgers to do this since it hasn’t been practicing and now has just a week to get ready to face a team that was one of the best teams in the ACC and has been, well, practicing.

It would be amazing if Rutgers keeps this game close at all. The odds would be stacked against the Scarlet Knights at full strength and preparedness, and they especially are in these circumstances.

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• Wake Forest 38, Rutgers 17

Penn State (-2.5) vs. No. 21 Arkansas in Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, 12 p.m.)

If this game were being played in late September, it would’ve been a top-10 matchup. But both of these programs went through their share of struggles as they went through the gauntlets that are the SEC West and B1G East. With 9 losses between them, there will better matchups on paper, but this is an enticing one for how closely each played the best teams in the country. Penn State lost by 4 to Michigan, 9 to Ohio State and 3 to Michigan State, while Arkansas lost by 7 to Alabama and by 1 to Ole Miss in one of the best games of the season.

Penn State is getting quite a bit of respect for a team that enters having lost 5 of its last 7 and is going against a ranked SEC team. But it is worth noting that Nittany Lions lost all 5 of their games by single digits. It bares monitoring how the defense will play without its 2 leading tacklers, Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks, both of whom opted out. Arkansas won’t have stud WR Treylon Burks.

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• Arkansas 28, Penn State 24

No. 15 Iowa vs. No. 22 Kentucky (-2.5) in Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.)

I think this is a great matchup for Iowa — not because I believe it will win, but because it shows what is possible. Kentucky had a decent run of success in relying on its defense to win games, but it still realized it needed to make a change, so it overhauled its offense. As a result, Kentucky improved its offense from 115th to 44th. Iowa, with the 123rd-ranked offense, needs to make a similar adjustment for next year.

As for this game, Iowa’s best bet is to win the turnover battle. The Hawkeyes forced the fourth-most in the country this season, while Kentucky ranked 105th in turnovers lost. If this game is straight up, Kentucky should win because it has the far superior offense and a decent defense.

Iowa is apparently going to start Spencer Petras at QB, even though he got pulled twice in the last month. Iowa’s offense is a mess and is coming off a 42-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game. It will be even more difficult without star RB Tyler Goodson.

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• Kentucky 27, Iowa 17

No. 6 Ohio State (-6.5) vs. No. 11 Utah in Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 5 p.m.)

The Granddaddy of Them All is a mismatch on paper, with Ohio State third in the 247 Talent Composite and Utah 32nd. But the Utes are one of the hottest teams in the country with 6 straight wins, including 2 blowout wins over an Oregon team that beat Ohio State in Week 2. And Ohio State is coming off a loss to Michigan in which it was clearly the inferior team, which is the second time that happened this season.

But the Buckeyes are the No. 1 offense in the country, with the No. 2 point differential in the country. This is a terrific team, even if it didn’t make the CFP.

The question will be how focused Ohio State is. Utah is making its first appearance in the Rose Bowl and will surely be motivated. Can Ohio State match that? The good news for the Buckeyes is that many key players, including QB CJ Stroud, RB TreVeyon Henderson and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, are coming back next season and will be building to 2022.

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• Ohio State 37, Utah 23

Scoreboard

Week 13: 4-3 straight-up / 4-3 vs. spread
Season: 85-21 straight-up / 59-46-1 vs. spread