For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, the Big Ten was left out of the four-team field. With the conference being locked out of the field, will that lead to an improved bowl season overall by the conference?
The Big Ten was a disappointing 3-7 in bowl games a season ago. Ohio State was shutout by eventual national champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff, and Michigan was unable to hold on against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Penn State also let one slip away against USC in the Rose Bowl as the conference went 2-7 against power conference competition from the ACC (1-3), Pac-12 (1-2), and SEC (0-2). But at least Wisconsin took care of business in the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan.
As a conference, the Big Ten has not had a winning bowl season since going 6-5 in the 2014 slate, which was highlighted by Ohio State’s run to the national championship in the first year of the College Football Playoff.
So what does the bowl picture look like this year? Not too bad, actually. Being left out of the playoff may actually lend well to the Big Ten’s chances top to bottom to score a fun and winning bowl season.
Note: All times are ET.
1. Cotton Bowl — USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)
Dec. 29 — 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Call it the Texas Rose Bowl if you wish. With the Rose Bowl booked for a playoff semifinal and neither conference champion form the Big Ten or Pac-12 being in the mix, we get a clash of blue-blood programs in the Cotton Bowl with Big Ten champion Ohio State and Pac-12 champion USC. Ohio State and USC have not met in a bowl game since the 1985 Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes have not beaten the Trojans since the '74 Rose Bowl. Can J.T. Barrett, Nick Bosa and the Buckeyes stop their seven-game skid against Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and the Trojans?
2. Fiesta Bowl — Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
Dec. 30 — 4 p.m., ESPN
A year ago there were debates over which of these two conference champions was more worthy of a playoff spot. This year, they square off in the Fiesta Bowl, a bowl game that has been very kind to the Nittany Lions over the years. Saquon Barkley will likely be playing his final game against a talented defense. The Huskies' offense also is potent with RB Myles Gaskins and QB Jake Browning.
3. Orange Bowl — Wisconsin (12-1) vs. Miami (10-2)
Dec. 30 — 8 p.m., ESPN
Mark Richt has turned Miami around in a short period of time, but there is still work to be done after limping across the finish line of the regular season. Both teams here are coming in off conference championship game losses. Wisconsin may be able to control this game with its running game, but Miami is playing at home.
4. Holiday Bowl — Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)
Dec. 28 — 9 p.m., FS1
There may not be a bigger contrast in coaches the Big Ten will serve up this bowl season than Mark Dantonio going up against Mike Leach. The wide-open passing attack of Washington State was slowed down a year ago by Minnesota, and the Spartans could pull off a similar result.
5. Foster Farms Bowl — Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
Dec. 27 — 8:30 p.m., FOX
Purdue has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten this season in the first year with Jeff Brohm as the head coach. The Boilermakers may still be a bit of an inconsistent work in progress, but getting a chance to watch Arizona’s breakout star Khalil Tate go to work is reason enough to tune in to watch this one. This is especially for those who have not stayed up for those late west coast games this season.
6. Outback Bowl — Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
Jan. 1 — 12 p.m., ESPN2
We’ll be ringing in the new year with Jim Harbaugh vs. Will Muschamp. That is a lot of potential rage on the sidelines on the first day of 2018. The Wolverines will get a chance to show if they have improved their offense during the time off. The good news for Michigan? Jadeveon Clowney isn’t lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but these Gamecocks can be a problem too.
7. Music City Bowl — Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Dec. 29 — 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Justin Jackson and Northwestern are going for a second 10-win season in the last three years when they take on Kentucky in a battle of wildcats. Kentucky figures to have a decent home-field advantage in this one, but Northwestern has the defense needed to slow down UK. Northwestern also is going for the first back-to-back bowl victories in school history.
8. Pinstripe Bowl — Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
Dec. 27 — 5:15 p.m., ESPN
The Pinstripe Bowl has had a good run since bringing in the Big Ten and ACC as partners. Boston College is back for the second time (2014 vs. Penn State), but Iowa is making its first appearance in Yankee Stadium. Call this one a bit of a wild card. Run-heavy offenses and good defenses could make for a low-scoring slugfest filled with punts, or things could go off the rails and lead to a back-and-forth game. We’ll side with caution and suggest there will be a good amount of punts in this year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
— 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.