Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Top Ten: Big Ten Bowl Outlook

Rivarly Weekend has come and gone without any major casualties, aside from maybe Michigan's College Football Playoff chances.  All three teams that needed to win to clinch bowl eligibility -- Indiana, Maryland, and Northwestern -- won their respective games, which means the Big Ten has ten bowl-eligible teams.

In a game they will be talking about for years to come, #2 Ohio State outlasted #3 Michigan in double overtime, 30-27, after the Buckeyes went for it on fourth down in the second OT, getting a first down on a controversial spot.  Why Urban Meyer didn't kick the field goal to send it to a third overtime is beyond me, but it worked, as the Buckeyes scored the winning touchdown a play later.  The loss likely relegates the Wolverines to a measly New Years Six bowl, rather than the College Football Playoffs, unless there are some upsets this weekend in other conference championship games.

As for the trophy games, on Friday, Iowa destroyed #16 Nebraska for the Heroes Trophy.  On Saturday, my beloved Hoosiers held off Purdue for a 26-24 win, keeping the Old Oaken Bucket for the fourth year in a row for the first time since the Truman Administration and clinching bowl eligiblity for the second year in a row.  Northwestern also clinched bowl eligibility by beating up on Illinois, 42-21, for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.  Maryland dropped Rutgers, 31-13, for no trophy, but a sixth win for the Terps.  #7 Penn State put an end to Michigan State's miserable season, winning 45-12 to claim the Land Grant Trophy.  Finally, #6 Wisconsin came back from a 17-7 deficit against Minnesota to win 31-17 and keep Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Wisconsin and Penn State will meet in this Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game (8 p.m. ET on Fox).

With that, let's take a look at each of the Big Ten's bowl-eligible teams, with an eye towards where each team will likely end up bowling, based on the Big Ten's Bowl Determination Procedures.  The four College Football Playoff teams will be announced this Sunday at Noon Eastern on ESPN.  Once those four teams are figured out, the New Years Six Bowls will be announced, and then the remaining bowl bids will be handed out.  Here is where I see the Big Ten teams landing, going down the line from the College Football Playoff to the New Years Six Bowls and through the Big Ten bowl priority litany.

1.  Ohio State (11-1, 8-1)
With their thrilling win over Michigan, the Buckeyes have all but solidified a spot in the College Football Playoff, as this week's rankings have shown (Ohio State stayed at #2), even though they did not win their division.  Even if there is some upheaval in other conferences' championship games this weekend, Ohio State literally can't lose this weekend, so unless the CFP Committee has some huge change of heart between now and Sunday, Ohio State will end up in the playoff.
Most likely bowl:  College Football Playoff
Other possibilities:  Orange Bowl

2.  Wisconsin (10-2, 7-2)
Wisconsin is in the same boat as Penn State.  Sitting at #6 in the CFP rankings right now, the Badgers could creep into the playoffs if they beat #7 Penn State this weekend and Clemson and Washington both lose their respective conference title games.  Most likely, though, if the Badgers beat Penn State, they'll end up going to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champ.  If they lose, like Penn State, I think they will still go to a New Years Six Bowl, which would either be the Cotton Bowl or possibly the Orange Bowl.

Most likely bowl:  Rose Bowl

Other possibilities:  College Football Playoff, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl

3.  Michigan (10-2, 7-2)
With Michigan's loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines are on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoffs at the moment, ranked #5 in the most recent rankings released tonight.  However, if #3 Clemson or #4 Washington lose their respective conference championship games this Saturday, then Michigan will have new life.  If Clemson and Washington win, though, Michigan would likely go to the Orange Bowl.  They can't go to the Rose Bowl because they aren't the Big Ten champion.  The Orange Bowl takes the highest-ranked team from the Big Ten, SEC, or Notre Dame.  The Irish finished 4-8 this year, and the highest-ranked SEC team behind #1 Alabama is #14 Auburn, who doesn't stand a chance of moving ahead of Michigan.  Same goes for #15 Florida, even if the Gators beat Alabama this Saturday in the SEC Championship game.
Most likely bowl:  Orange Bowl

Other possibilities:  College Football Playoff, Cotton Bowl

4.  Penn State (10-2, 8-1)
Penn State presents an interesting, if not annoying, situation for the CFP Committee.  If the Nittany Lions (currently ranked #7) beat #6 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, can you really leave them out of the playoffs?  Probably, but it would not be without controversy.  If that happens, the Nittany Lions would go to the Rose Bowl.  If they lose to Wisconsin, I think they will probably still get a New Years Six bid, and that would likely be the Cotton Bowl.  If they get blown out and there are some upsets in other conference championship games, there is an off chance Penn State would slip to the Outback Bowl.
Most likely bowl:  Cotton Bowl

Other possibilities:  College Football Playoff, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Outback Bowl

5.  Nebraska (9-3, 6-3)
After getting blown out by Iowa last weekend, Nebraska's chances of going to a New Years Six bowl evaporated.  That said, the Huskers still had a pretty damn good season, and should be a lock to go to the Outback Bowl, which is the Big Ten's best non-CFP/New Years Six bowl.  It's unlikely that the Holiday Bowl would choose Nebraska, since the Huskers have played in the Holiday Bowl three times in the last seven years.
Most likely bowlOutback Bowl
Other possibilities:  Holiday Bowl, TaxSlayer Bowl, Music City Bowl

6.  Iowa (8-4, 6-3)
The Hawkeyes had a pretty good season, and are in line to play in the Holiday Bowl.  There is an outside chance they would play in the Outback Bowl if the bowl for some reason didn't take Nebraska.
Most likely bowl:  Holiday Bowl
Other possibilities:  Outback Bowl, Music City Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl

7.  Indiana (6-6, 4-5)
It wasn't pretty, but the Hoosiers clinched their second bowl in a row for the first time since 1990-1991, back when Trent Green and Vaughn Dunbar were leading the team to glory.  IU went to the Pinstripe Bowl last year, so that's out of the mix.  That would likely put the Hoosiers in the Music City Bowl, since IU is the closest remaining Big Ten team to Nashville and would likely travel pretty well.  Selfishly, I'd want the Hoosiers to end up there or the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, as those are the bowls I'd be most likely able to attend.

Most likely bowl:  Music City Bowl

Other possibilities:  Foster Farms Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl

8.  Minnesota (8-4, 5-4)
Minnesota had Wisconsin in its grasp, but ultimately the Badgers proved to be too much.  That would have been a huge win for the Gophers, but nonetheless, an 8-win season is a very solid one.  Assuming Iowa goes to the Holiday Bowl, Minnesota will probably end up in the Pinstripe Bowl or Music City Bowl.  Because Indiana went to the Pinstripe Bowl last year, that likely means that Minnesota will go to Yankee Stadium this year.
Most likely bowl:  Pinstripe Bowl

Other possibilities:  Holiday Bowl, Music City Bowl, Foster Farms Bowl

9.  Northwestern (6-6, 5-4)
After a disastrous pre-conference slate that included home losses to Western Michigan (which doesn't look quite as bad now that the Broncos are undefeated and ranked #17) and FCS opponent Illinois State, the Wildcats righted the ship, winning five conference games to clinch the seventh bowl in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach.  My guess is that Northwestern ends up win the Foster Farms Bowl.
Most likely bowl:  Foster Farms Bowl

Other possibilities:  Music City Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl

10.  Maryland (6-6, 3-6)
The Terps did what they needed to do by beating Rutgers to clinch a bowl.  I am guessing that they will be the last Big Ten team left once all of the other bowls have given out their bids, leaving the Quick Lane Bowl as the last remaining Big Ten bowl.  There is always the possibility that the Pinstripe Bowl takes Maryland, though, due to its closer proximity to NYC.
Most likely bowl:  Quick Lane Bowl

Other possibilities:  Foster Farms Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl

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