Which Big Ten underdog can pull off the upset during bowl season?
The Big Ten finally gets to join the bowl game party on Wednesday when Minnesota is the first of nine conference teams to see action this holiday season.
It wouldn’t be game week without the Upset Special genius weighing in. I guided you through six outright winners during the regular season, and I’ll try to maneuver through the bowl season for you as well.
Last year, the Big Ten had a great bowl season, winning every game until the last one, when Michigan lost to South Carolina. This year might be a bit tougher because the matchups have broken differently. Big Ten teams are an underdog in six of its nine games.
With the first kickoff finally here and all the games set to be played in the next seven days, here are the current betting lines for each of the nine games:
- Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota (plus-5.5) vs. Georgia Tech, Wednesday 5:15 p.m. ET
- Pinstripe Bowl: Wisconsin (plus-3) vs. Miami, Thursday 5:15 p.m. ET
- Music City Bowl: Purdue (plus-3.5) vs. Auburn, Friday 1:30 p.m. ET
- Peach Bowl: Michigan (minus-6) vs. Florida, Saturday Noon ET
- Redbox Bowl: Michigan State (plus-3) vs. Oregon, Monday 3 p.m. ET
- Holiday Bowl: Northwestern (plus-7) vs. Utah, Monday 7 p.m. ET
- Outback Bowl: Iowa (plus-7) vs. Mississippi State, Tuesday, Noon ET
- Citrus Bowl: Penn State (minus-6) vs. Kentucky, Tuesday 1 p.m. ET
- Rose Bowl: Ohio State (minus-6.5) vs. Washington, Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET
We’re going to play the Upset Special game a little differently for bowl season, because there are only three Big Ten teams that are favored, and I think that all three — Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State — are all going to win easily.
I think there’s a big talent gap in all three games, and the most important aspect of picking bowl-game winners — determining which teams still care a month after the regular season has ended — still favors all three Big Ten teams. Even against the point spreads, I still like all three.
So let’s take a closer look at those six Big Ten teams that are underdogs and might be able to pull off the big win.
I’m very worried about two teams finding a way to win, and that’s Michigan State and Iowa — both for the same matchup reason. The Spartans still have quarterback issues with Brian Lewerke’s shoulder health still an issue. Iowa’s offense, which has been inconsistent all season, is going to have a very difficult time scoring points against Mississippi State’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense. So let’s toss those two out.
The other four underdogs — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue and Northwestern — all have a reasonable shot at winning. I see three of those games as situations where the opponent is in disarray. Georgia Tech is losing head coach Paul Johnson, Miami has a ton of internal turmoil going on and Auburn is in Gus Malzahn revolt.
I like Northwestern too against Utah, but for very different reasons. These Wildcats have been overlooked all year, and even though they have five losses, they have something to prove this week against a very good Utah team. That 7-point number seems like a lot.
But I’m only allowed to pick one team, so I’m going with the Purdue Boilermakers against Auburn on Friday in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. The Boilermakers have had the best postseason of any Big Ten team so far because they were able to keep coach Jeff Brohm from running off to Louisville and they are now all in on the future. That starts now. On that scale of teams that are motivated to win a bowl game, the Boilers are right up there. Auburn’s not. They so want this season to be over.
Auburn’s season has been a mess and there are plenty of players and coaches who really don’t want to be there. So let’s look for Purdue to pull one out here, especially if they can control Auburn’s defensive line. Final score, Purdue 31, Auburn 23.