5 Bowl Games Every Big Ten Fan Must Watch

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

5 Bowl Games Every Big Ten Fan Must Watch

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    Michigan State, by virtue of winning the Big Ten Championship, will head to Pasadena and headline a list of some pretty impressive bowl games for the conference. But with so many bowl games each winter, how can Big Ten fans figure out which games are must-watch contests? That's where we come in!

    While the No. 4 Spartans provide perhaps the best head-to-head match of almost any bowl game this season, facing the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl Game, there are several other games fans of Big Ten football won't want to miss for varying reasons.

    Whether it's evenly matched opponents or that cross-conference hatred that has been brewing for decades between the SEC and Big Ten, we've put together a list of the five top contests involving Big Ten programs during the 2013-14 bowl season.

Texas Bowl

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    Texas Bowl

    Who: Minnesota (8-4, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4 ACC)

    Date: Friday, December 27, 2013

    Time: 6 p.m. ET

    TV: ESPN

    One of the best coaching jobs in the Big Ten this season was from Jerry Kill and his staff at Minnesota. Despite recurring health issues, Kill and his staff guided the Gophers to an eight-win season, best in Minneapolis since 2003.

    While the matchup in the Texas Bowl against a 6-6 Syracuse squad probably won't create a ton of buzz from a national standpoint, it is still an important game for Minnesota's future and could provide us with a glimpse into just how far this program has come.

    It also marks the start of the bowl season for the conference, and as the only bowl on December 27 featuring two teams from "power" conferences, it's a nice way to ease into the 2013-14 bowl season.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

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    Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

    Who: Michigan (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12)

    Date: Saturday, December 28, 2013

    Time: 10:15 p.m. ET

    TV: ESPN

    It's Saturday night, so why not stay up late to watch the Wolverines take on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? The bowl committee out in Tempe leapfrogged several Big Ten teams that finished ahead of the Wolverines to snag a program that draws a crowd (and television audience) despite an absolutely underwhelming 2013 showing from the Maize and Blue.

    Despite receiving the third non-BCS selection from the Big Ten, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl leapt over Iowa and Minnesota to snag the Wolverines in an attempt to attract a bigger audience to this often overlooked postseason destination.

    In drawing Kansas State, Michigan will face an opponent that mirrored the Wolverines' own accomplishment—or lack thereof—in the Big 12. Despite winning a share of the conference title last season, Kansas State started off 2013 with a loss to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State before finishing 7-5.

    Perhaps Michigan can follow in the footsteps of Michigan State. Last season, MSU narrowly defeated TCU, setting up some momentum heading into the recruiting and spring practice seasons.

    We all know what the Spartans did next.

Capital One Bowl

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    Capital One Bowl

    Who: Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC)

    Date: Wednesday, January 1, 2014

    Time: 1 p.m. ET

    TV: ABC

    Typically billed as the top non-BCS bowl game in the nation, the 2014 Capital One Bowl certainly looks to live up to its reputation. Wisconsin, a BCS at-large candidate until its loss to Penn State, will take on South Carolina, a team that would have—and some may say, should have—made a BCS bowl this season were it not for the two-teams-per-conference limit imposed.

    How good should this bowl game be this season? Wisconsin has the nation's No. 18 overall offense in yards per game. South Carolina has the No. 18 overall defense in yards allowed per game.

    We'll also see one of the nation's very best offensive lines take on Jadeveon Clowney and his linemates at South Carolina. The big question here is whether Wisconsin can contain Clowney and whether Clowney can attack Wisconsin's power running game effectively.

    Is it any wonder this game opened up as a one-point spread (favoring Wisconsin) and has since moved to a push, according to Vegas Insider?

Orange Bowl

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    Discover Orange Bowl

    Who: Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) vs. Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC)

    Date: Friday, January 3, 2014

    Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

    TV: ESPN

    Motivation. This game will all come down to motivation. For Clemson, the Tigers have known they likely wouldn't be playing for a national championship—or really even an ACC title—since the October 19 loss to Florida State.

    For Ohio State, on the other hand, the heartbreaking loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game not only ended the Buckeyes' impressive 24-game winning streak, but also any hope of an Ohio State national championship run.

    The Buckeyes, from head coach Urban Meyer on down, were clearly disappointed. Now the question becomes whether or not Ohio State can recover in time to focus all of its attention on Clemson and the Discover Orange Bowl.

    At first glance, you might think Ohio State would be a pretty solid favorite in this game. But according to Vegas Insider, the spread has narrowed to 2.5 points. Maybe we're not the only ones thinking Ohio State's mind-set could play a role.

    It's going to be fun watching Clemson and its No. 51-ranked rushing defense try to contain Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller. Then again, Ohio State has to contend with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins while putting one of the nation's worst passing defenses on the field (104th in the nation).

    Win or lose, maybe not playing for a national championship this season is a good thing. Like the Alabama faithful, Ohio State fans had entered that phase where the joys of winning are replaced with relief at not losing. Perhaps another season without a championship will temper expectations for the 2014 season just enough so that the Buckeyes can truly enjoy future success.

Rose Bowl Game

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    The Rose Bowl Game, Presented by Vizio

    Who: Michigan State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) vs. Stanford (11-2, 7-2 Pac-12)

    Date: Wednesday, January 1, 2014

    Time: 5 p.m. ET

    TV: ABC

    If you're a fan of good, old-fashioned smashmouth defense, circle this game on your calendar. Then highlight it. Then maybe even break out a little glue and glitter.  This is the game for you.

    After a season's worth of languishing in the polls for some odd reason, Michigan State sent a wake-up call to the nation with its impressive win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Another season with the nation's top overall defense is now paying dividends for the Spartans, and the Rose Bowl will be filled with green and white for the first time since 1988 when MSU knocked off USC, 20-17.

    On the other side of the field, a newly familiar participant, Stanford, will be looking for its second consecutive Rose Bowl title after edging past Wisconsin last season.

    The Big Ten hasn't had much success in Pasadena as of late. The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2010 and has lost eight of the last nine it has participated in. But whether you live in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Columbus or anywhere else, every Big Ten fan should not only be pulling for Sparty, but also be liking MSU's chances, too.

    Stanford's running game, it's strength, is averaging 210.9 yards per game. MSU is allowing just 80.8 yards on the ground—best in the nation. Stanford's passing game ranks just 91st nationally (with MSU having the sixth-best pass defense in the FBS), meaning the Spartans rush defense will be placed front and center—right where it has been making a name for itself for years.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a win for Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game would mean that Sparty will likely finish as one of the top three teams in the final polls released on the heels of the BCS National Championship Game—a strong statement from a conference desperate to shake off a near decade-long malaise of negative perception around the rest of the nation.


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