Five B1G question marks heading into bowl season
We’ve been waiting patiently.
Everyone’s glancing at the television like kids standing at the top of the staircase in our pajamas waiting for someone to finally gives us the nod to sprint down and open our presents. It’s getting closer, but we still have a few more days before we can come tumbling down the stairs, flip on the TV and immerse ourselves in bowl season.
So while we’ll wait, why not take a look at some of the questions we have before this bowl mania starts? Although it’s not the main dish, it’s at least something to tide us over until the meat and potatoes – or football and potato chips – finally arrive.
What are some of the questions for the B1G before bowl season kicks off?
Here are the five biggest:
Who’s going to be under center for Nebraska in the Music City Bowl?
Earlier this week, Ryker Fyfe told the media that he and Tommy Armstrong Jr. were only about 30 percent healthy when Nebraska suited up for its final game against Iowa. Maybe that explains why Armstrong closed out his final regular season game with one of his worst performances.
It doesn’t appear that the injuries have healed up quite yet, either. At least for Armstrong.
Right now, Mike Riley is moving forward as if Fyfe – mostly a backup through his career – will start against Tennessee. Though it would be a great way for one senior to end his career, it would be somewhat disheartening if Armstrong wasn’t on the field to lead the charge for the Huskers one final time.
Nobody knows if Armstrong will be healthy in time for the final game of his career, so who will start in the Music City Bowl – at this point – is still up in the air.
How will Indiana respond to the coaching change?
Coaching changes are always interesting when they precede a bowl game. It can lead to an inspired effort or the team can lay an egg. There’s really no telling how it will turn out.
Tom Allen was handed the full-time position after Kevin Wilson resigned due to philosophical differences with athletic director Fred Glass. Wilson got the program to consecutive bowl games for the first time in 25 years and now the task is on Allen to bring the first postseason win to Bloomington since 1991. That’s not an easy task against an 8-4 Utah team.
Allen’s arrival tremendously helped Indiana’s defense this season, especially against the pass. And it already seems that the new Hoosier leader already has the trust and respect of his players. I mean, who couldn’t get behind this guy:
“A little bit of Hoosier Hysteria from new defensive coordinator Tom Allen.” pic.twitter.com/FCrixXuidC
— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) September 2, 2016
But how will the Hoosiers look after the change? It could be an early sign of what’s to come with Allen leading the way.
Can Northwestern and Minnesota contain playmakers?
This task might be easier for Northwestern. The Wildcats will see a healthy dose of James Conner in the Pinstripe Bowl, but playing in the B1G, a talented running back is something the defense should be accustomed to seeing.
Conner finished the year strong, rushing for 100 yards or more four times in the final five games and scoring nine total TDs. Slowing down the Pitt running back is going to be a complicated task, but at least Northwestern is in familiar territory.
Minnesota, on the other hand, is going to see something completely different.
Washington State ranked second nationally in passing and Luke Falk threw for 4,204 yards and 37 TDs. The Gophers defense, meanwhile, ranked 13th in the B1G in pass defense. Losing several players for the Holiday Bowl didn’t help matter, either.
Receiver Gabe Marks (867 yards, 13 TDs) is going to be a tough cover for Minnesota’s secondary. Considering how poorly the Gophers defended the pass this season, the Cougars could find the end zone through the air pretty frequently.
Both Pat Fitzgerald and Tracy Claeys are going to have their hands full preparing for those weapons.
Do Iowa and Maryland break bowl losing streaks?
The Hawkeyes have dropped four straight. Maryland has lost its last two postseason games. Neither team has won a bowl game since 2010.
Is this the year those streaks finally end?
Both teams are going to have to find a way to break through pretty good defenses if they plan to snap those losing skids.
Florida’s defense ranks six nationally in yards allowed per game and Boston College isn’t far behind at No. 8. That’s not good for Iowa or Maryland, both with offenses that were average at best for most of the season.
The key for both the Outback Bowl and the Quick Lane Bowl. Iowa was 8-0 when rushing for 100 or more yards this season and Maryland was 6-1 when it eclipsed the 200-yard mark. If the Hawkeyes and Terrapins can grind down those defenses, they might have a chance to bring a bowl trophy to their respective campuses for the first time in awhile.
Oh, and a good first half start would be nice, too.
Will the four B1G teams playing in New Years Six games prove they belong?
Four teams in the top eight resulted in the B1G earning spots in four New Years Six games. The conference that proved it was the best all season long received the respect it deserved the College Football Playoff’s final rankings.
Now it’s time for Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin to prove they’re worthy of those bids.
There are plenty of interesting factors as we await these headliners of bowl season.
Penn State’s offense is going to have to operate against a good USC team that’s had a month to prepare. Western Michigan has absolutely nothing to lose when it plays Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, meaning the Badgers will have to be prepared for anything.
Michigan’s defense should cause problems for Florida State’s unproven offensive line but containing Dalvin Cook will be a chore. And Ohio State’s youth against Clemson’s experience should be interesting in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
If the B1G goes 3-1 or better in these four games, there’s no question it was the best conference of 2016. If it gets just two wins or fewer, those lazy narratives might start buzzing again.