B1G debate: Which Big Ten team is most and least likely to win their bowl game?
Editor’s note: Ryan O’Gara and Connor O’Gara grew up following sports in suburban Chicago. The brothers, separated by 20 months, debated about their favorite teams and players so often that their father would often have to remind them, “This isn’t PTI.” Each Friday, they’re bringing that debate to you, centered around the Big Ten and college football as a whole.
This week’s topic: Which Big Ten team is most and least likely to win their bowl game?
RYAN: It’s an abbreviated bowl season, as just 5 Big Ten teams are playing this season. Fortunately for the Big Ten, it is their 5 best teams, though you could certainly make an argument that Penn State could be in that group. Here is the lineup:
Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. Wake Forest
Iowa (-15) vs. Missouri
Northwestern (-3.5) vs. Auburn
Ohio State vs. Clemson (-7.5)
Indiana (-6.5) vs. Ole Miss
I think Iowa (6-2) is the surest bet to win. It’s a bit chalky, for sure, the Hawkeyes have the biggest spread, but they are the Big Ten’s hottest team with 6 straight wins, they have won 3 straight bowl games (including a dominating win over USC last year) and they are playing a team that has suffered 2 blowout losses in a row. I have not at all bought into the Missouri (5-5) hype and didn’t understand how they got ranked 25th a few weeks ago. Aside from blowing out Vandy, Missouri’s other 4 wins are by 4, 10, 7 and 2 points. Eli Drinkwitz has done a great job, but they are still a ways off from being able to beat a team like Iowa.
As for the least likely to win, I think it’s Ohio State. Clemson is every bit as good as everyone thought it would be, and Ohio State isn’t quite there yet. I really believe the Buckeyes have been hurt by their abbreviated schedule (rather than being advantaged because they are rested, as Rece Davis and others have said). They haven’t had time to work out the kinks in the secondary, Justin Fields has been through some ups and downs and they’ve only had a few games with their entire roster.
How do you feel about the B1G’s bowl chances?
CONNOR: I’m bummed that you took Iowa. If I’m being honest, that’s probably my first choice. But this isn’t B1G Agreement. It’s B1G Debate.
As for most likely to win, give me Indiana. I know, I know. It’s the program who hasn’t won a bowl game in 29 years. And that Ole Miss offense is electric. Matt Corral is a walking 75-yard touchdown pass in Lane Kiffin’s offense. But that offense no longer has one of the nation’s top receivers in Elijah Moore, as well as breakout tight end Kenny Yeboah, both of whom opted out before the regular season finale. Plus, that defense is an absolute train wreck led by a pair of former B1G coaches, DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge. IU should run and throw (Ole Miss has the worst passing defense in FBS) all over the place.
Besides, can you think about how fired up Tom Allen is gonna have that team? They’ll run through a wall for that guy under normal conditions, much less when the Playoff selection committee slights them to the point where they’re facing a mediocre SEC team in a bowl game.
Ohio State is the obvious answer for most likely to lose. I don’t think you’re wrong on that. I wouldn’t pick the Buckeyes to win this game.
The only thing — and I mean the only thing — that gives me pause is this Justin Fields vs. Trevor Lawrence deal. Fields has been the No. 2 to Lawrence’s No. 1 for the last 3 years. In the recruiting rankings coming out of the same state, Lawrence was No. 1 overall and Fields was No. 2. Lawrence had that storybook freshman season with a national title and Fields was a glorified wild cat quarterback for Georgia. Then of course, last year happened and Fields was robbed again. There’s also every draft board that has Lawrence ahead of Fields. I’m just saying. Is now Fields’ time? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I’m a bit curious … even though I think Clemson should throw the ball all over the Buckeye defense.
I’ll instead pick a Wisconsin team who has struggled to show much offensive life since that Michigan game. Paul Chryst is usually money in bowl games, but could this herky-jerky season have prevented the Badgers from hitting their usual late-season peak? I think it’s possible, especially if there are still those depth issues in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
Then again, Chryst winning the first ever Duke’s Mayo Bowl while wearing a gray sweatshirt that looks like it’s a knockoff from Walmart seems fitting.
RYAN: We disagree plenty, but our bowl takes seem to be pretty similar. I’m also skeptical about whether Wisconsin will win, despite the 7-point spread. The Badgers have really struggled offensively the last 4 weeks, and they could be without key players on offense, including QB Graham Mertz. I’ve watched every one of Wisconsin’s games this season, and they have not been a good team in quite some time. I was quite surprised to see that spread. Wake Forest has the 107th-ranked pass defense, though, so maybe the Badgers will fare better.
On paper, Indiana absolutely should win. This is a team with excellent receivers going against one of the worst pass defenses in the country. The Hoosiers may give up a few points, but it would be shocking if they don’t pick off Corral a few times, considering IU leads the country in interceptions per game and Corral is second in the country with 14 interceptions. It almost seems like too good of a matchup that I’m skeptical. I guess the only question is whether the Hoosiers will be in the right frame of mind after their New Years Six snub.
I really like Northwestern’s chances against an Auburn program that fired Gus Malzahn. The Wildcats have the secondary to contain Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz, and they have been really good in bowl games under Pat Fitzgerald with 3 straight wins.
The Big Ten looks like it is headed for a strong bowl season. Ultimately, all anyone will remember is whether Ohio State can hang with Clemson, and I think it will. That said, the Buckeyes are the easy pick for a likely loser. If any other B1G squad loses, it will go down as a disappointment.