B1G Confidence: Ranking the likelihood of B1G teams winning their bowl games
Nearly nine months into the pandemic and four months into the college football season we’ve come to grips with the dealt hand.
No surprises, no gasps at the absurdity of it, let’s charge through the remainder of the season without a flurry of cartoon pianos and sledgehammers clipping us in the head. Such a hope seemed asinine until last March, but now it’s a matter of getting on with it, especially with one of the Big Ten’s bowl games being cancelled and Iowa left to wander the streets of Nashville without an opponent or a swag bag, a dire situation tragic enough to make a lyric for a formidable country song.
That’s not to say excitement lacks for the bowl games in efforts to slam the lid on the season and batten down the hatches before the monster gathers its bearings and makes another run at our entertainment. We have 4 Big Ten teams playing in bowl games, more than enough to satiate conference interest and give the college football world at large a chance to submit referendum after referendum all the way through Ohio State’s run in the College Football Playoff. How confident are we that each of the four — Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Indiana — will protect the amalgamation of letters and number of a conference? Let’s get to the bottom of it, gumshoes.
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Here, from least to most likely to win their game, are the Big Ten’s 2020 bowl representatives:
Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson, Jan. 1, 7 p.m. CST
Let’s strip away the slight from Pasto Dabo, the outcry from the SEC, and the clips that made their way to bulletin boards, Twitter, and Tik Tok. Ohio State faces a daunting matchup against a Clemson team operating as close to full strength as imaginable, with Trevor Lawrence back at quarterback and a bevy of weapons at his disposal.
Any version of the eye test tells you Ohio State will struggle to keep Clemson out of the end zone, especially with some of the weaknesses in the secondary. Now would be a good time to feed Clemson heavy doses of Trey Sermon, who averaged a robust 8 yards per carry in the Buckeyes win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game. I fear Ohio State will try to trade with Clemson score for score, quick for quick and eventually fail to get a stop at the game’s most critical juncture when it might be best to grind out a game and force Clemson and Lawrence specifically into a bad throw out of nothing more than anxiousness.
Outback Bowl vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 2, 11:30 a.m, CST
Indiana infused the Big Ten with a much needed dose of feel-good after the college football world at large wondered how Michigan and Penn State succumbed to underperformance. One injury to quarterback Michael Penix Jr. later, and the version of the Hoosiers with quarterback Jack Tuttle behind center does not drum up the sort of excitement going against a Rebels defense that lacked in most everything. It’s the holidays, so we’ll be cordial instead of brutally honest and leave it at “most everything.”
This matchup is by far the most interesting of the four, even with the Rebels’ losing both wide receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah to prepare for the NFL Draft. Expect Lane Kiffin to draw up enough craziness and big play opportunities to make outgoing Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack sweat like he needs to re-interview for the South Alabama job. Fly the clipboard!
Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 30, 11 a.m. CST
Paul Chryst’s overall bowl record of 4-1 at Wisconsin is the sort of stat that gives one enough conviction in the Badgers, even with the spate of injuries the team endured in its last game against Minnesota.
Wake Forest will put Jim Leonard’s defense to the test, as quarterback Sam Hartman ended the season with a 10-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and running back Christian Beal-Smith is averaging almost 5.5 yards per carry. Look for the Wisconsin defense to squeeze a few turnovers out of the Deacons to seal the win for the Badgers.
Citrus Bowl vs. Auburn, Jan. 1, noon CST
The root of the Northwestern pick stems from program stability and Auburn’s relative lack of the same. Auburn is flush with speed, power and agility, but amid the swirling silliness of the coaching search do they maintain the right sort of wherewithal against a Northwestern team that keeps plays in front of them on defense and forces opposing offenses to grind out touchdown drives? No.
Auburn has its football coach for years going forward with Brian Harsin but the interim label on defensive coordinator Kevin Steele for this game will expose the weeks-long absurdity in the search for Harsin and give a Big Ten team a victory over Auburn for the second consecutive season.