B1G Bowl Matchup Power Rankings
With the year the B1G had, there was no way the bowl lineup was going to disappoint.
Three teams in the top six of the College Football Playoff poll suggested that — barring something crazy — the B1G would have three headliner matchups in New Year’s Six games, and one team in the College Football Playoff. That in itself was going to make the end of December the best week of the year.
Because of the bloated system, two five-win B1G teams earned postseason games, which meant the conference tied its record of 10 bowl teams.
This list is not necessarily meant to highlight which bowl games feature the best teams. This is meant to encompass all of the factors that make a bowl entertaining. The pre-bowl storylines, the potential entertainment value, the national fan interest and the stakes are all taken into account.
For the record, I’ll be watching every minute of every one of these games. But for the sake of rankings, decisions had to be made.
10. Quick Lane Bowl
Minnesota vs. Central Michigan
Ford Field, Detroit
5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28 (ESPN2)
Why — It’s a blessing that Minnesota got into a bowl game. This could potentially be a stepping stone for Tracy Claeys’ program. But a late Monday afternoon game in Detroit against a MAC school won’t exactly have the nation on the edge of its seat unless it can produce a wild finish.
9. Foster Farms Bowl
Nebraska vs. UCLA
Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
9:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26 (ESPN)
Why — I promise I didn’t automatically slot the two 5-win B1G teams last. Part of the reason this game is slotted so low is because of the fact that it’s a late kickoff the day after Christmas. Without a potential nine or 10-win season at stake, a potential Josh Rosen/Tommy Armstrong shootout might be the only thing that will make two frustrated fanbases want to stay up after midnight to watch the end of this one.
8. TaxSlayer Bowl
Penn State vs. Georgia
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
Noon, Saturday, Jan. 2 (ESPN)
Why — In terms of historical matchups, you could probably argue this one is second to Notre Dame-Ohio State. But two powerhouse programs underachieved and still didn’t have an offensive identity by season’s end. This game could turn sloppy in a hurry. There’s nothing wrong with that, but neutral fan don’t want to see a quarterback sacked eight times. If this serves as the coming out party for Saquon Barkley — on a national stage — this ranking could end up looking foolish.
7. Holiday Bowl
Wisconsin vs. USC
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30 (ESPN)
Why — Speaking of underachieving Power Five programs, there was hope in the beginning of the season that this could’ve been a Rose Bowl matchup. Instead, two programs that have played on far bigger stages, were slotted with the late kick the day before New Year’s Eve. It might not draw national interest, but the Badgers do have a chance to pick up their best win in Paul Chryst’s first year. A 10-win season should still be a motivating benchmark.
6. Outback Bowl
Northwestern vs. Tennessee
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Noon Friday, Jan. 1 (ESPN2)
Why — I’ll be the first to admit that Northwestern is still underrated. I think what Anthony Walker and Dean Lowry did to lift that Wildcat defense is one of the more under-appreciated national storylines. But Northwestern is overlooked as a whole because it doesn’t turn teams over and it lacks explosive offensive playmakers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Wildcats slow down Jalen Hurd. It’s a bit sad that it might take 10-win Northwestern beating an SEC team to gain some national recognition.
5. Pinstripe Bowl
Indiana vs. Duke
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26 (ABC)
Why — You could easily make the argument that Indiana is one of the most entertaining teams in the country. With the way the Hoosiers score and allow points, they look more like a Big 12 team than a B1G team. The B1G’s best offense scored nearly 50 points per game in the last three weeks and much of that came without Jordan Howard. He could be back, which would be huge for an offense that will have to deal with All-American safety Jeremy Cash. The matchup is solid, and IU is desperate for its first bowl win since 1991. On ABC the day after Christmas, this game could easily win the focus of living rooms across the country.
4. Citrus Bowl
Michigan vs. Florida
Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 1 (ABC)
Why — It’s always tough when two teams enter a game having just been humbled in their versions of the Super Bowl. That’s the downside. The upside is the fact that you have two teams that surpassed preseason expectations with first-year coaches in high-profile programs. Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain will provide plenty of pregame storylines for a game that might not feature many points. Still, an ideal New Year’s Day slot will give both teams a chance to showcase their quick turnarounds.
3. Fiesta Bowl (New Year’s Six)
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 1 (ESPN)
Why — Urban Meyer said that there’s “no disappointment” about getting the Fiesta Bowl. Well, the Buckeyes have had three straight weeks of disappointment (despite the Michigan win, MSU beating Penn State ended OSU’s B1G East title hopes). I’m not saying the Buckeyes will have a problem getting fired up to face a traditional/current power like Notre Dame. Meyer facing his old school will generate plenty of buzz. But this will be the first game the Buckeyes have played in two years that won’t have potential national title implications. This is an awesome matchup that will draw the afternoon crowd, but it lacks the stakes that we’re used to seeing Ohio State play for.
2. Rose Bowl (New Year’s Six)
Iowa vs. Stanford
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 1 (ESPN)
Why — There’s a reason this game is so highly coveted. The next-best game outside of the College Football Playoff has mega implications. Iowa, one of the lightning rods of college football this year, gets to play in its first Rose Bowl in a quarter century. This is one of the biggest games in Hawkeye history, and it could have a similar feel to the B1G Championship. The Iowa defense gets to square off with Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey, which will be one of the top storylines leading up to bowl season. With how disciplined both of these squads play, these game could be played like a national title is at stake.
1. Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
Michigan State vs. Alabama
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31 (ESPN)
This is how you draw it up. Perhaps it’s even more fitting that Michigan State — the powerhouse program with an eternal chip on its shoulder — gets to face the big, bad SEC. There are pregame storylines galore with Nick Saban facing off against his old team. You have household offensive names in Derrick Henry and Connor Cook. They’ll be matched up against maybe the two best front-sevens in the country. And oh, by the way, a spot in the national championship is on the line. What more do you want? This isn’t just the best matchup in the B1G. It’s the best bowl matchup in the country. No question.