Looking ahead to the Big Ten vs. SEC bowl matchups
If you’re old enough, you can remember when the Pac-10 was the unit of measure for the Big Ten during bowl season, with the Granddaddy of them All being the ultimate yard stick.
The Rose Bowl is still important, but the leagues themselves haven’t been equals for the entire time the Pac has had 12 members. These days the biggest bowl bragging rights are achieved via head-to-head matchups against the SEC.
The Big Ten was 1-2 against the SEC in last year’s truncated bowl season. The lone school to uphold the B1G banner was Northwestern, which seems inconceivable just a year later. The Wildcats drilled Auburn 35-14 in the Citrus Bowl.
This year, there are 4 such matchups: Purdue vs. Tennessee (Music City Bowl), Arkansas vs. Penn State (Outback Bowl), Iowa vs. Kentucky (Citrus Bowl) and the national semifinal between Michigan and Georgia.
Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Tennessee
Date: Dec. 30
Time: 3 p.m. EST
Keys: This boils down to a fairly simple equation for the Boilermakers. Who will make plays for Purdue on offense and defense with the 2 best playmakers on the team sitting this one out in preparation for the NFL Draft?
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell can still distribute to a decent array of weapons, but Big Ten Receiver of the Year David Bell is not easy to replace. Purdue’s worst offensive performance of the season was its 13-9 win over Illinois the week Bell sat out due to a concussion.
And as good as Bell is, defensive end George Karlaftis might be even tougher to replace. He’s the heart and soul of Purdue’s defense, and a player that requires opposing defenses to use 2 or more blockers. Game-planning will be a lot easier for Volunteers offensive coordinator Alex Golesh. And with an offense that’s 9th nationally in scoring, Golesh certainly doesn’t need things getting easier.
Prediction: Tennessee 41, Purdue 23
Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Arkansas
Date: Jan. 1
Time: Noon EST
Keys: Unlike Purdue, it appears Penn State should have the services of 2 NFL-bound playmakers.
Neither wide receiver Jahan Dotson nor safety Jaquan Brisker have indicated that they intend to sit this one out. And given that bowl prep is already under way, that announcement probably would have been made already.
Penn State’s ability to stop the Hogs rushing game will be paramount. Arkansas rushed for more than 300 yards on 2 occasions this year, and the Nittany Lions allowed 357 rushing yards against former Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema and Illinois.
Prediction: Penn State 30, Arkansas 28
Citrus Bowl: Iowa vs. Kentucky
Date: Jan. 1
Time: 1 p.m. EST
Keys: The edge goes to whichever team can actually take advantage of the few scoring opportunities that will present themselves. Iowa rates 15th in the country in total defense, while Kentucky is 25th.
As always, Iowa’s defense will need to get takeaways if the Hawkeyes are going to win. And that is one area where the Hawks should have a massive advantage. The Wildcats are 127th nationally with a minus-13 turnover margin. Kentucky has 22 turnovers, which itself is 105th in the country.
Iowa feasts on mistakes. The Hawkeyes are 4th nationally with 30 takeaways and 3rd with a plus-14 turnover margin.
After being humiliated against Michigan in the Big Ten championship game, Iowa will come in with something to prove.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Kentucky 17
Orange Bowl: Michigan vs. Georgia
Date: Dec. 31
Time: 7:30 p.m. EST
Keys: For Georgia’s offense, it’s a matter of what can be done to slow down Michigan’s pass-rush tandem of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
The Bulldogs are among the nation’s best offensive lines this season, but allowed 3 of their season-total 11 sacks in their SEC championship game loss to Alabama.
The concern for Michigan’s offense is that nobody can run the ball on Georgia. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young threw for 421 yards on the Dawgs, but it’s unrealistic to expect Cade McNamara to come within 150 yards of that total.
Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award as the best in the country, and will absolutely need to live up to that billing against a defensive front allowing 2.6 yards per carry.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Michigan 17