We're in. The hat is ours, and we're now 6-6. Honestly, most people wrote the Illini off after losing to a Purdue Boilermaker team that we ALL thought would be a guaranteed victory. But after staring at a 4-6 record, the Illini banded together and found a way to earn their last two wins. Happily, we now will take a look at our final bowl game projections for the season. Knowing that this will be a long article, I'll give you a quick prediction on College Football's Top 10 teams:
1) Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)
2) Oregon Ducks (11-1)
3) Florida State Seminoles (12-0)
4) TCU Horned Frogs (10-1)
5) Baylor Bears (10-1)
6) Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)
7) Michigan State Spartans (10-2)
8) Arizona Wildcats (10-2)
9) Wisconsin Badgers (10-2)
10) Mississippi St. Bulldogs (10-2)
With all of that in mind, let's try and sort through where each Big Ten team will end up.
Keep in mind, there are rules involving each bowl and selections they make which can be found here.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Jan 1st) ~ Ohio State Buckeyes vs TCU Horned Frogs
Okay, so for those of you that think the Buckeyes will be in Florida for the Orange Bowl, rule #2 under for the Orange/Citrus Bowl is that the Big Ten Champion cannot play in the Orange Bowl. Since that's the case, the Citrus Bowl will be available to the conference. While J.T. Barrett is injured, there still is a lot that the Buckeyes offer defensively that could cause Wisconsin trouble. You also may notice that I've slotted TCU in the Cotton Bowl even though I slotted them at #4. That's because after this week, I believe a Baylor win over Kansas State will vault the Bears into the #4 spot, moving TCU down to #5.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (Dec 31st) ~ Michigan State Spartans vs Mississippi St. Bulldogs
Sparty and Mississippi St. don't have a whole lot of options when it comes to controlling their fate, but I wouldn't be surprised if both were slotted in the Peach Bowl since Georgia lost last week. Both teams enter at 10-2 and looking to make a push towards a "runner-up" finish in two major conferences. A game like this really could make the Big Ten look good as it gives them a chance to beat an SEC team.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Jan 1st) ~ Wisconsin Badgers vs Missouri Tigers
Yet another opportunity for the Big Ten to beat up an SEC team. Plus, everyone here would root for a Tiger beatdown based on our Scale of Hate. Honestly though, a battle of conference championship bridesmaids could favor the Badger's run game and be a GREAT chance for Melvin Gordon to end his college career with a bang.
Outback Bowl (Jan 1st) ~ Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Georgia Bulldogs
That's right everyone, we've come full circle with these predictions and ended up right back at Nebraska-Georgia. And we know how thrilled Husker fans would be to play the Bulldogs again...
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National University Holiday Bowl (Dec 27th) ~ Minnesota Golden Gophers vs UCLA Bruins
As much as I would root for the Gophers in this game, there's a good chance that Brett Hundley would run wild against Minnesota. That's not a given, and there's always a chance that Jerry Kill's defense holds up against a balanced UCLA offense (kind of how Stanford held up to beat the Bruins last week). It sure would be interesting to see what happens!
Here's where things are kind of up for grabs...
Both the Music City Bowl and the TaxSlayer Bowl have the ability to choose a Big Ten team (through a joint partnership between both bowls). From what the rest of the media is predicting, the TaxSlayer Bowl will get the nod this year. But the rules state that each bowl will have a Big Ten representative play in each bowl game 3 times in 6 years. Each bowl and their associated conferences will have the opportunity to pick and choose each game based around the best match-up and team location. If you're confused by my bizarre explanation, check out the Music City Bowl's overview...it's really good.
That being said...it sounds like the TaxSlayer gets the first swing at the Big Ten which means:
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jan 2nd) ~ Maryland Terrapins vs LSU Tigers
Maryland's offense has proven to be a vital weapon, but would they find a way to break through the LSU defense that's 3rd overall in points per game allowed?
Foster Farms Bowl (Dec 30th) ~ Iowa Hawkeyes vs Utah Utes
This match-up still looks like a good option between similar (ish) teams in the Big Ten and the PAC 12. There has been a lot of mention of Rutgers and USC here, but those predictions also mention 3 Big Ten teams in the Top tier bowl games (which I don't see happening). That would yield a shift in the teams each game would consider, and I certainly think that Iowa being the furthest West of the remaining Big Ten teams available virtually guarantees them a spot in San Fran.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec 27th) ~ Penn State Nittany Lions vs Boston College Eagles
This is the part of the article where things get really geographic. When looking into a prospective option for the Big Ten here, I checked the bowl's main website to find NO information on how teams are selected. That being the case, the bowl committee would be foolish not to invite the Eagles and the Lions to Yankee Stadium. Both teams are roughly the same distance away from NYC, and both present some of the larger fan-bases in the New England area. You certainly could swap out Penn St and add Rutgers here to keep the New England vibe alive, but Penn St makes the most sense as they would generate the most revenue for the bowl game.
This leaves the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to be determined. Both teams stand with 3-5 conference records, but Rutgers has one more regular season win than Illinois (7-5 against 6-6). The location of the last two bowl games are Detroit and Dallas. As much as it kills me to say this, Detroit could very likely host a Penn State or Rutgers considering both teams have a relatively close proximity to the bowl game. Also, both teams are ahead of the Illini in average home attendance (Penn St-103,669 Rutgers-51,848). That stat alone my hurt the Illini as our average home attendance this season was 43,757 (12th in the B1G over Indiana-42,870 and Purdue-35,501). Throw in the fact that Pitt may still be available for Penn St to play, and we could end up in Dallas (we are the southern-most Big Ten team...)
All that being said, here's what could happen:
Quick Lane Bowl (Dec 26th) ~ Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs Pittsburgh Panthers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec 26th) ~ Illinois Fighting Illini vs Marshall Thundering Herd
But here's what I want to happen:
Quick Lane Bowl (Dec 26th) ~
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Illinois Fighting Illini vs Pittsburgh Panthers
We shall see...bowl games will be announced on Sunday December 7th @ 11:45am on ESPN. Stay tuned!