Power ranking how watchable each B1G bowl game will be
The Big Ten has 9 bowl matchups, but the league’s fans will have to be patient.
Then when the league’s participation begins, those fans will really need to be ready.
The first postseason tilt involving a B1G team isn’t until Dec. 28, a full 11 days after bowl season kicks off. But the action will pick up the pace after that, with all 9 B1G bowl games falling within a 5-day span, including a trio of matchups on New Year’s Day.
And if Michigan wins its College Football Playoff semifinal, of course, that would give the league one last shot at postseason glory in the CFP National Championship Game on Dec. 10.
We know readers of Saturday Tradition will watch their alma mater no matter what. But which games should neutral fans look forward to the most when they make their holiday plans? We clue you in as we power rank the B1G bowl games.
9. Maryland vs. Virginia Tech, Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 29 (2:15 p.m. Eastern, ESPN)
Sorry, Terrapins fans, but any time a bowl game is guaranteed to have a team finish with a losing record at the end, it’s not going to rank very high on this type of list.
That’s what we have here as the 6-6 Terps take on the 6-6 Hokies. The fact that these teams used to be ACC rivals is moderately interesting, but even that didn’t last long — Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004 and Maryland bolted the league for the Big Ten in 2014.
Playing in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx has its own intrigue, but the old Yankee Stadium had way more football history (college and pro) associated with it.
8. Minnesota vs. West Virginia, Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Dec. 28 (10:15 p.m., ESPN)
An upset win over Wisconsin to end the regular season was not enough for the Golden Gophers to avoid the postseason coaching carousel. Minnesota agreed to bring back Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator for next season after parting with Mike Sanford Jr.
What’s interesting here is that Ciarrocca was an offensive analyst at West Virginia this season. He won’t coach in this bowl, but there’s no reason he can’t clue in PJ Fleck on what he knows about the Mountaineers, right?
Other than that, there is not a ton to make the neutral fan tune in other than to see Phoenix’s Chase Field, home of the MLB Diamondbacks, in a football configuration. Also, check out this start time. It’s not so bad for Minnesota fans in the Central time zone, but it’s not great. For fans in the Eastern time zone, this means a pretty late bedtime on a weeknight.
7. Wisconsin vs. Arizona State, Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 30 (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
These two teams had designs on winning their divisions and appearing in their conference championship games. Neither one of them got there.
Wisconsin has to overcome the disappointment of losing its finale to Minnesota — and missing out on the West Division title and B1G Championship Game appearance that would have come with a win — and prepare for a postseason trip to Las Vegas. The lure of Sin City and a new, gleaming NFL facility (Allegiant Stadium) will hold a ton of appeal for traveling Badgers fans, but it doesn’t do a lot for those watching at home.
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ASU will be without leading rusher Rachaad White, who has declared for the NFL Draft. That’s a bad omen for a Sun Devils team that already knows about Wisconsin’s defense. The Badgers led the nation in total defense, allowing 240.8 yards per game, and were perhaps even more impressive against the run, also leading FBS at 65 ypg.
6. Penn State vs. Arkansas, Outback Bowl, Jan. 1 (noon, ESPN2)
This is a game that could be all about motivation.
The Razorbacks, among the worst teams in FBS just a couple of years ago, are delighted to end a 4-year bowl drought and come to Tampa for their postseason trip. The Nittany Lions were ranked as high as No. 4 in the Associated Press poll early in the season but the wheels came off after that.
Penn State has already lost defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who took the head coaching job at Virginia Tech. The Nittany Lions were No. 36 in FBS in total defense, but again things took a turn for the worse in the second half of the season. PSU never allowed 400 yards to any opponent through 7 games; in the final 5 games it happened 3 times.
Arkansas features a big, mobile quarterback in KJ Jefferson but will be without NFL-bound star receiver Treylon Burks, who is 22nd in FBS with 92 receiving yards per game.
5. Purdue vs. Tennessee, Music City Bowl, Dec. 30 (3 p.m., ESPN)
The first question for the Boilermakers is: Will David Bell play?
The All-America wide receiver, who has already declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, is the key playmaker for the Purdue offense. He averaged 116.9 yards per game, 4th in FBS, and caught 6 touchdown passes on his way to first-team All-America honors.
Boilermakers defensive end George Karlaftis also declared for the 2022 draft and his status for the bowl game is also undetermined.
Meanwhile, Tennessee comes into this game 16th in the nation in total offense (Purdue is 49th) and 85th in total defense (the Boilermakers are No. 32). So we could see quite a few points on the board in Nashville.
4. Iowa vs. Kentucky, Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1 (1 p.m., ABC)
The Hawkeyes are No. 110 in FBS in passing offense. Kentucky is 71st. Iowa is 111th in rushing offense. The Wildcats are No. 22.
Yet this might not be the mismatch in Orlando that it would appear to be on paper.
What Iowa does best is create turnovers. The Hawkeyes were second in the country in average turnover margin at plus-1 per game (plus-13 total). Kentucky was one of the worst teams in the country in that category, ranking 128th out of 130 teams at minus-1.1 per game (9 turnovers forced, 22 committed, minus-13 total). Iowa led the nation in interceptions with 24. Kentucky had 12 passes picked off and lost 10 fumbles.
And the Wildcats don’t even play in bad weather.
Therefore, this one’s worth watching just to see if Iowa can force enough mistakes to give its anemic offense a couple of short fields and some scoring opportunities. It’ll need them more than ever, with RB Tyler Goodson skipping the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
3. Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh, Peach Bowl, Dec. 30 (7 p.m., ESPN)
The Spartans offense offers plenty of weapons. The ACC champion Panthers are perhaps not as well-known but they are even more productive.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett set several school records (remember Dan Marino? Yeah, a lot of his college marks now belong to Pickett), is a Heisman Trophy finalist and is being talked up as perhaps the first quarterback to be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Pickett’s favorite receiver was Jordan Addison, who led FBS with 17 touchdown catches. Michigan State’s pass defense ranked 130th, last among FBS teams. But Pitt was No. 106 in pass defense. On the other hand, Michigan State first-team All-America running back Kenneth Walker III is facing a run defense that ranked 6th in FBS.
A potential shootout lurks in Atlanta. So does some potential smashmouth football. A good time should be had by all.
2. Ohio State vs. Utah, Rose Bowl, Jan. 1 (5 p.m., ESPN)
Will the Buckeyes be sufficiently healed, physically and otherwise, from losing their regular-season finale to That Team Up North? Will the Utes, in their Pasadena debut, just be happy to be there?
These are some obvious storylines for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but there are plenty of other reasons to watch The Granddaddy of Them All.
Remember that Oregon team that came into Columbus and beat OSU even without stud defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux? Well, Utah smoked that team twice.
The Utes were 12th in FBS and led the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 315.4 yards per game. But how will that unit, starring first-team All-America linebacker Devin Lloyd, stack up against an offense with a wealth of skill position players unmatched anywhere in the country?
1. Michigan vs. Georgia, Orange Bowl, Dec. 31 (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
It’s a College Football Playoff semifinal. Do you need more reason than that to tune in?
Fair enough. If you’re looking for a sterling quarterback duel, look elsewhere. But if you like playmakers on defense? This game in Miami Gardens is for you.
Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson is the star attraction for the Wolverines defense, and many of his 14 sacks this season were spectacular. But linebacker David Ojabo had 11 sacks and a stout Georgia offensive line will have to account for him, too.
As for the Bulldogs, defensive lineman Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean were chosen first-team All-Americans by CBS Sports. But with Michigan running back Blake Corum back healthy, the Dawgs will have a major test against the Wolverines ground attack.