Possible breakout performers in B1G bowl games
After watching teams from other conferences play in bowls for more than a week, the Big Ten finally jumps into the fray today. The B1G’s post-Christmas, postseason buffet gets underway as Minnesota takes on Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl (5:15 p.m., ESPN) in Detroit.
Teams have one last chance to put on a strong performance, and often unexpected players emerge in bowls. Whether it’s a replacement for a player who skips the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft (a rapidly growing trend) or an underclassmen who coaches want to see more of in a high-pressure setting, the postseason often sees new stars emerge.
So here are the possible breakout performers, all underclassmen, in each B1G bowl over the next week.
Minnesota: QB Tanner Morgan
Morgan has gone 3-2 since replacing Zack Annexstad as the starter including a stunning victory at Wisconsin which granted the Golden Gophers bowl eligibility. Coach P.J. Fleck has been seeking someone to seize the starting job for good; today’s Quick Lane Bowl matchup against Georgia Tech might be the place where Morgan, a redshirt freshman, does that.
Wisconsin: QB Jack Coan
The sophomore is starting Thursday’s Pinstripe Bowl against Miami in place of Alex Hornibrook, who is sitting out with a head injury. The start for Coan, a sophomore, means that he will burn his redshirt because he is playing his fifth game this season. But Coan said this week that he was excited for the opportunity and he might well make a case to supplant Hornibrook as the 2019 starter.
Purdue: DE Giovanni Reviere
The freshman has started all 12 games and has 27 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. He’s the only freshman starter on the defense and Auburn will present a big challenge in the Music City Bowl on Friday. The Tigers will likely focus on stopping Boilermakers linebacker Markus Bailey from making his usual big plays, so Reviere might get a chance to shine.
Michigan: RB Chris Evans
The Wolverines head into Saturday’s Peach Bowl against Florida missing three key players who are sitting out to prepare for the NFL Draft: RB Karan Higdon, DL Rashan Gary and LB Devin Bush. Evans would seem to have the most immediate opportunity to claim a starting job for 2019. The junior has never quite put it all together in the past two years but as a freshman he averaged 7 yards a carry.
Michigan State: WR Cody White
The Spartans lost all-conference receiver Felton Davis III to an Achilles injury and the whole offense suffered as a result. White stepped up and had a huge game against Ohio State (8 catches, 115 yards) but he has not caught a touchdown since the Arizona State game in early September. The Spartans sophomore could step up again in Monday’s Redbox Bowl against Oregon.
Northwestern: RB Isaiah Bowser
One could argue that Bowser has already broken out in the past couple of months. After a neck injury forced starter Jeremy Larkin to retire from football, Bowser stepped in and led the Wildcats to the B1G West Division title. But the freshman was held to 60 rushing yards on 13 carries against Ohio State in the league title game. Monday’s Holiday Bowl against Utah represents another chance on a national stage.
Iowa: LB Djimon Colbert
The redshirt freshman has 51 tackles this season for the Hawkeyes and has played in all 12 games. The former 3-star recruit has been steady but Iowa is still waiting for some big-play splashes from Colbert. Tuesday’s Outback Bowl against Mississippi State might give him a chance against a team that can attack in a variety of ways.
Penn State: WRs KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson
Hamler, a redshirt freshman, has emerged as the leading receiver this season for the Nittany Lions with 42 catches for 714 yards and 5 touchdowns. Dotson, a true freshman, has just 12 catches but has been a more frequent target in the second half of the season and had four catches against Rutgers. In Tuesday’s Citrus Bowl, against a Kentucky team which ranks 17th in the country in pass defense, Penn State could lean on either or both freshmen to produce chunk plays.
Ohio State: WR Chris Olave
Olave, a true freshman, spent most of the season waiting his turn behind established Buckeyes playmakers like Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon. Then came the Michigan game. Olave had just two catches against the Wolverines but both went for touchdowns, and he blocked a punt to lead to another touchdown for OSU. In the Big Ten title game against Northwestern, Olave set career highs with five catches for 79 yards and had another TD. With another big game in Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against Washington, Olave could establish himself as a starter for 2019 and beyond in Columbus.