This week looms large for several Big Ten squads trying to make a major bowl. Michigan and Penn State will clash this Saturday to see if Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley can continue their reign as the best in the Big Ten. While Jonathan Taylor and company need to continue to stay hot if they want to keep their hopes of playing on New Year’s day alive. For now let’s dive into my projections for this year’s Big Ten bowl appearances.
Penn State continues to impose its will against Big Ten competition. Coming off of a bye week they face one of the toughest three week stretches on any team’s schedule in college football. I expect them to drop one of their next three contests against, Michigan, OSU, and MSU. That being said James Franklin has this team banging on all cylinders promptly pairing last year’s explosive offense with a stellar, stingy defensive unit. Expect the Nittany Lions to finish strong in the final three weeks of the Big Ten schedule against some of the less-skilled opponents they have to face this season. Penn State should head into bowl season with only one blemish and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them matched up against the insane running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel from Georgia.
What would be more fun than watching Baker Mayfield getting his mouth shut by a tough-nosed, power run, blue collar defensive team like Wisconsin? I don’t expect that to happen because, let’s be honest, Lincoln Riley’s team is GOOD. You can look to see Wisconsin at least make it to a New Year’s Day game, especially if Jonathan Taylor can continue to run the ball the way he did last week. Wisconsin’s remaining schedule puts them in a good position to make a major bowl game. The only game that would concern you would be the Michigan game Nov. 18th but the Wolverines have looked lost against top-tier competition this season (barring Florida). The Badgers will more than likely have their toughest contest of the season in the B1G Championship Game.
Imagine a game that pits Kenny “Trill” Hill against J.T. Barrett and tell me it wouldn’t be a good old-fashioned shoot out for the ages. Both of these defenses are not particularly impressive but these teams are incredibly similar boasting prolific offenses and exciting, play-making quarterbacks. Expect this game to be incredibly high scoring and one you’ll really want to tune in to if you like to watch teams slinging it all over the field. (Who Doesn’t). Oh, and don’t forget you’ll also get a chance to watch explosive freshman J.K. Dobbins, who is always worth watching.
L.J. Scott is finally back from his injury, and may I say back with a vengeance. Scott ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns versus Minnesota last week. MSU has come off of three consecutive wins against some strong Big Ten opponents, the remainder of their schedule is a bit intimidating with Penn State and the Buckeyes still left on their schedule but this Michigan State team is a heck of a turnaround from last season. All Credit to Mark Dantonio who was on the hot seat this time last year. Oklahoma State is a really fun team this year as well. Mason Rudolph is everything you want out of a spread offense QB and a legitimate Heisman contender. OK State brings the best passing offense in the country to the table at 411.2 YPG. They also have, in my opinion, the best wide receiver in the nation in James Washington. I mean, the dude has 882 yards receiving and we are halfway through the season, that ranks him second among all wide-outs.
It’s no secret that Jim Harbaugh has had a tough season so far. Penalties have plagued the Wolverines and a difficult QB situation has given them fits all season long. That being said this Michigan run game is stout. Between Karan Higdon and former five-star prize recruit Ty Isaac they don’t have much trouble running the football. Auburn is in a similar situation, top of the SEC, yet not quite good enough to be elite. Once again this isn’t to take away from either team, this game would be an electric one to watch, just not what “might have been” for both teams coming into the season.
It’s hard to tell this season how strong the Hawkeyes truly are this year. Kirk Ferentz’s team is tough to gauge, they have been in some games they shouldn’t have and have also looked pretty bad against some sub-par competition. But on the shoulders of RB Akrum Wadley and LB Josey Jewell this Iowa team is a force to be reckoned with. The outback bowl has yielded some exciting B1G vs. SEC match-ups and this one should not disappoint. It seems to be the same narrative many of these games follow, a blue collar, ball control unit from the Big Ten against some flashy high octane talent from the SEC. Kevin Sumlin has done a good job this season bringing A&M back from the brink of mediocrity and this Aggie squad is an interesting watch.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. FSU came into this season expecting to be lead to a possible CFP game behind QB Deondre Francois but a season ending injury and poor defensive play has brought that crashing down. Although Indiana still can’t really seem to decide who it’s quarterback is they have been better than expected this year. They have likely the best potential pro wide-out in Simmie Cobbs Jr. and their passing attack has been worthy of the front page of most opposing team’s scouting reports.
The Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26th) Purdue Boilermakers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jeff Brohm is reining in a new Era in West Lafayette. This Purdue team is electric this season and you can chalk it up to coaching. A potent new offensive scheme and a new-found defensive resilience is the calling card for these Boilermakers. They have played down to the wire with the big boys, Wisconsin, Lousville, even Michigan was a close game for them. Ask anyone and they will tell you i’m not a big Notre Dame fan, but that’s not why I have the current No. 18 team slipping. Their remaining schedule is tough. It will be hard for them to get through the remainder of the season with only one or two losses to show for it.
Pat Fitzgerald’s honeymoon may be over in Evanston. The Wildcats look to have taken a significant step back this season, not a big enough step to miss a bowl though. Willie Taggart is rebuilding this Oregon program from a bad era under Mark Helfrich. It will be a long process for Oregon to get back to Chip Kelly-like stature. I mean this team is just plain bad on defense. NU has had to rely quite a bit on running back Justin Jackson’s production. Clayton Thorson has been less than what was advertised this season with an 8 touchdown to 9 interception ratio. But Northwestern’s chops on defense should carry them into a bowl game this year.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-7)
Row the boat? I’m not buying it this year. It may be another year or so before P.J. Fleck and his cringe-worthy phrases make a bowl game. Conor Rhoda is HIS quarterback and he has been an underwhelming one at that. Minnesota’s remaining schedule does not bode well for the Gophers either. To use a cliche in true Fleck fashion “close but no cigar” this season Minnesota.
Maryland Terrapins (5-7)
Don’t get me wrong, DJ Durkin has done a fantastic job with this team. He just came into a situation that is going to take some time to build up. He has some very talented WR’s and a QB with the best name in college football, looking at you Max Bortenschlager. Not to mention the kid can sling the rock too. Give this team some time and you may see them comparable with the Iowas and Michigan States of the world.