At first mention of the Bowl Challenge Cup I figured all of the conference commissioners added their own twist of flair and attended craft symposiums to find just the right flourish for the trophy that celebrates the conference with the best overall record in bowl season.
After closer review of the prestigious keepsake, conferences are left to fight for a small scale replica of a professional building in Dubai adorned with logos left from the previous Comic Con. Yeah, the intangible rates higher than the tangible.
And we, a nation of people who witnessed the in-fighting between divisional and conference foes shift our focus on the greater good of the Bowl Challenge Cup. Before the Sun Belt sticker bubbles off that breathtaking ode to conference supremacy, let us, a group shepherded through the darkness of missing the College Football Playoff for the last few seasons with only the hope of winning the Bowl Challenge Cup, rank the likelihood of each Big Ten team winning their game.
The lost art of statistical cobbling created the list, a byproduct of coach’s record in bowl games, players forgoing the bowl to get ready for the NFL Draft, and the algorithm of “Why am I spending my off-season to win a game in Montgomery, Alabama?”
Teams are ranked from least likely to win to most likely to win.
This is a two-part series in honor of Ken Burns. Nothing’s happened to him, I just like his take on baseball and country music.
Team #9: Illinois vs. California, Redbox Bowl, December 30
Count me among those who enjoyed the Fighting Illini’s propensity to create turnovers and limit their own. The made-for-television feel-good movie of the season hinged on ball control and taking advantage of the mistakes of others. Expect Cal to take care of the football and slowly grind the Illini into defeat. Cal is not prone to the same sort of mistakes and turnovers as some of the teams Illinois played this season even if they operate a less efficient offense than Illinois.
Team #8: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest, Pinstripe Bowl, December 27
Hard lines aren’t fun, nor are they logical. However, I will not cede the opinion that celebrating a bowl appearance with bowl appearance gear is appropriate under any circumstances. Rutgers, you should have left the room before the conversation started.
It’s hard to dislike a conference team more in the past few years than Michigan State. The Spartans are lifeless on offense. The defense, once a sturdy force, seems vulnerable.
I don’t know what Michigan State plans to do with Mark Dantonio for next season and if this is faerwell it should play into Michigan State’s hands, but based on the current direction of the program, the Spartans might find a way to bungle the motivation drawn from the head coach’s last game.
Team #7 Michigan vs. Alabama, Citrus Bowl, January 1
Alabama is the unequivocal leader of “Why are we here?” and has lapped the field in its level of indifference due to past success.
Even with such tepid enthusiasm and the glorified practice in which Alabama will participate, the spirit of the SEC stirs inside the Crimson Tide. Such membership comes with perks of knowing the name of every Oak Ridge Boy and vanquishing the hopes and dreams of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.
The vanquishing part has more to do with Harbaugh than Michigan in general. Alabama’s speed is too much for Michigan to contend with and a month of preparation for Shea Patterson is about three weeks more than Nick Saban needs. It’s just nice that I’ll no longer have to spell check the Wolverine quarterback’s name much longer.
Team #6 Minnesota vs. Auburn, Outback Bowl, January 1
Auburn might be the best 9-3 team of all-time. Minnesota brings the highest level of environment enjoyment to the proceedings so much that P.J. Fleck’s quarter-zip is going to be fashioned in the pattern of the Bloomin’ Onion. The Outback Bowl is the conference’s most intriguing game. I cannot see Minnesota doing anything much at the line of scrimmage to stop Auburn on either side of the ball when they need to though.
Team #5 Indiana vs. Tennessee, Gator Bowl, January 2
The third and final installment of (round one, wink, wink) Big Ten vs. SEC matchups is the most entertaining and with the SEC’s most passionate twitter pawns in Volunteer fans. Recent credits include applauding Jeremy Pruitt’s hire and his overall 12-12 record, chasing Greg Schiano away from Tennessee, and using the Rutgers hire of Schiano to pat themselves on the back for a job well done that has amounted to a double batch of mediocrity.
This is a hope more than a prediction. Let it be treated as both if Tennessee loses. I mean Indiana wins.
No I don’t.
Part Two to follow next week.