Trace McSorley and Big Ten champion Penn State will take on USC in the Rose Bowl
This bowl season you will be hard-pressed to miss the Big Ten in action. A total of 10 of the 14 teams in the Big Ten will be playing in bowl games this year, including four in New Year’s Six bowl games, highlighted by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff and conference champion Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
With so much going on for the Big Ten this bowl season, there is plenty to follow. But if you are just a casual viewer and just want to watch the best games, here is a ranking of how watchable the Big Ten’s bowl games will be.
Note: All times are ET.
1. Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State (11-1) vs. Clemson (12-1)
Dec. 31 – 7 p.m., ESPN
The second of two College Football Playoff semifinals to be played on New Year’s Eve (Alabama will take on Washington in the earlier time slot), Ohio State will make history by being the first non-conference (and non-division) champion to play a playoff game. Urban Meyer goes head-to-head with Dabo Swinney for a second time, three years after the two met in the Orange Bowl in the final year of the BCS. Ohio State’s defense will be tested by Deshaun Watson, who lit up the Crimson Tide in a Vince Young-esque championship game performance a year ago.
2. Rose Bowl – USC (9-3) vs. Penn State (11-2)
Jan. 2 – 5 p.m., ESPN
Big Ten champion Penn State may have missed out on a playoff shot, but a trip to Pasadena, California, for the third time since joining the Big Ten is not a bad consolation prize at all. James Franklin’s Nittany Lions look to keep their hot streak going with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley going up against an equally hot USC team. Neither team has lost since the end of September, with 17 straight wins between them. Given how Penn State plays in the second half, we could have a classic on our hands in the Grandaddy of Them All.
3. Orange Bowl – Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida State (9-3)
Dec. 30 – 8 p.m., ESPN
Jim Harbaugh vs. Jimbo Fisher is one of the more enticing coaching matchups in the bowl season this year, and with players like Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis going up against Dalvin Cook, the star power is high for this one in Miami. Michigan demolished the Florida Gators last bowl season. Can they take down the Seminoles next?
4. Music City Bowl – Nebraska (9-3) vs. Tennessee (8-4)
Dec. 30 – 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Nebraska and Tennessee meet for the third time in a postseason bowl, but the stakes this time around are considerably lower than they were in either the 1997 (Nebraska split-national title) or ‘99 (No. 3 vs. No. 6) seasons. Still, this one could be a fun game to watch if Tommy Armstrong is in good shape. Nebraska’s offense should rack up some big plays against a Tennessee defense that has been ripped to shreds this season.
5. Cotton Bowl –Western Michigan (13-0) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
Jan. 2 – 1 p.m., ESPN
In a season that saw Wisconsin’s only losses come to other teams representing the Big Ten in the New Year’s Six, the Badgers earned their own trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game, where they will face this year’s Group of Five representative, Western Michigan. P.J. Fleck and the Broncos have rowed their way to a 13-0 season that includes two victories against Wisconsin’s Big Ten West Division foes, Northwestern and Illinois. The Badgers will be the best defense WMU has faced all season, but can Wisconsin use its physical advantage to slow down the Western Michigan dream season?
6. Outback Bowl – Florida (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4)
Jan. 2 – 1 p.m., ABC
The first team to 14 points may have this game locked up. The Hawkeyes and Gators meet in the Outback Bowl for a third time, with the teams splitting their previous two meetings in Tampa. Defense will be the key, but Iowa may have an edge when it has the football. This one will be for the fans of defenses.
7. Holiday Bowl – Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)
Dec. 27 – 7 p.m., ESPN
There may be no bowl game with quite the contrast of offensive philosophies as we will see in this year’s Holiday Bowl. Minnesota will be more of a typical offensive mindset with an ability to run, while Mike Leach’s Cougars will pass on first, second and third down and live or die by it. Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner has a chance to be the difference-maker, because the Cougars’ pass defense has plenty of holes.
8. Pinstripe Bowl – Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
Dec. 28 – 2 p.m., ESPN
The last two Pinstripe Bowls have gone to extra innings, I mean overtime, with Penn State clipping Boston College two seasons ago and Duke edging Indiana last season. Can Pitt and Northwestern keep that trend going in what could be becoming one of the more entertaining bowl games on the radar? Expect Pitt to bring plenty of offense but the Panthers will be short on defense, which could be beneficial for Big Ten-leading receiver Austin Carr and the Wildcats.
9. Foster Farms Bowl – Indiana (6-6) vs. Utah (8-4)
Dec. 28 – 8:30 p.m., FOX
Indiana’s first game with Tom Allen as the head coach will be a tough one out west. The Hoosiers head to California to take on a pretty solid Utes team. Indiana’s offense will be challenged, but Indiana’s defense may be able to hang with Utah long enough to make things interesting.
10. Quick Lane Bowl – Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 2:30 p.m., ESPN
The Big Ten is 2-0 in the Quick Lane Bowl, and could be in good position to go a clean 3-0. Conference play was unkind to both the Terrapins and Eagles, but each enters this bowl game after winning their regular season finale. Boston College brings the nation’s 127th-ranked offense, but the eighth-best defense in the nation. Maryland QB Perry Hills has been careful with the football this season, and that could be key against Boston College.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.