Picks, Predictions, and Prognosis for Every Big Ten Bowl Game
As college football says goodbye to the BCS era, the Big Ten also says goodbye to its current bowl lineup.
Gone will be the annual mass exodus to Florida for New Year's Day and instead the conference will spread itself throughout the country. From the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, to the Music City bowl in Nashville, Tenn., to the Holiday and Fight Hunger bowls in California—the Big Ten will be seen from sea to shining sea.
For the here and now though, the Big Ten is looking to get back some of the prominence it has lost in the past few years.
The conference went 2-5 in bowl games last season, with Michigan State and Northwestern holding down the B1G flag, and over the past 10 years the conference has gone just 28-47 in all bowl games.
Since the inception of the BCS, the Big Ten has gone just 12-14 in BCS games and in the final year of this system it will put two teams, Michigan State and Ohio State, into the big-money games.
How do those games play out? What about the rest of the slate?
Before we head into the mix of this season's bowl games, let us remind you of where I finished the regular season in my picks.
2013 Picks: 76-21 (49-47-1 ATS)
*All Odds Courtesy VegasInsider.com.
Texas Bowl: Syracuse vs. Minnesota (-4)
Syracuse is very familiar with the Big Ten, but it's been an unhappy relationship for the newest ACC member in 2013. It's already lost to both Penn State and Northwestern—two teams that are sitting home this postseason.
Minnesota will look to make it a clean sweep by the Big Ten and with a full month to work on a progressing passing attack, it will be interesting to see how the Gophers look in their second straight trip to the Texas Bowl.
The Gophers will need that improved pass game, as this will be a very physical matchup. Syracuse's defense doesn't give up a lot on the ground (just 138 yards per game to opponents) while doing a good job on the ground itself (averaging 193.8 yards per game).
Minnesota's advantage may be in the fact that its quarterback, Philip Nelson, has at least shown glimpses of being capable of putting together a good passing game.
On the other hand, Syracuse had to switch starting QBs this season and it took the second starter, Terrel Hunt, until the second-to-last game of the season to throw a touchdown pass in ACC play. Hunt ended the season completing just over 60 percent of his passes for 1,450 yards and 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions on the year.
While the Gophers have had a month to work on the passing game, they can't get away from what got them to .500 in B1G play and to 8-4 on the season—a physical run game on offense and a physically dominating defense.
As long as Minnesota gets a bit of an improvement out of its passing game it will be fine against the Orange.
Give me the stouter defense every time come bowl season.
Pick: Minnesota 31, Syracuse 21
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan vs. Kansas State (-3.5)
The biggest question surrounding this game is the status of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who is suffering from a bad case of turf toe.
If he can't go, look to the guy some have been clamoring for most of the year, Shane Morris, to take over at quarterback in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State.
Speaking of Kansas State, the Wildcats will be looking to erase a decade of losing bowl games
These two teams got here in completely opposite manners, with Kansas State winning five of its last six to get bowl eligible and Michigan blowing a 5-0 start into a 7-5 finish.
Overall, these two teams couldn't be more evenly matched in just about every statistical category. In scoring, it's Michigan up by a margin of 0.4 points per game (33.8 to 33.4), in total yards there's just under a 20-yard-a-game difference.
The only scary aspect of the KSU offense versus the Wolverines defense comes on the ground, where the Wildcats rush for over 180 yards a game.
A lot of this matchup will depend on which quarterback shows up in the Maize 'N Blue, but whomever it is will need a huge step up in the play of the offensive line as a whole.
That will be the key to this game, simple as that.
If Michigan gets better play up front it will win this game, as its defense is good enough to slow down Kansas State.
However, its tough to see how a unit that got worse, not better, gets good enough to protect whichever quarterback is behind them well enough.
Pick: Kansas State 31, Michigan 24
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 22 Georgia (-9)
To say both teams were none to happy to be taking on each other, again, would be an understatement. Some fans were downright ticked off and ticket sales through the universities haven't been all that great.
If it's any consolation, this is exactly the reason the Big Ten is switching up its bowl lineup and selection process starting next season.
It's a shame this game hasn't gotten more love, but a 45-31 beating in the last matchup has a funny way of doing that.
That said, who doesn't want to see who's better between running backs Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley? All we are talking about is a matchup between two of the premier backs in the country.
Nothing to get excited about or anything, right?
So, who wins that vital matchup?
Will it be the one that averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 144 attempts (Gurley) or the one that averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 254 attempts (Abdullah)?
Reality is, it could have a lot more to do with which defense has made the most strides in bowl prep.
Nebraska's run defense ranked eighth in the Big Ten (161.2 yards per game) this season while Georgia ranked fifth in the SEC (148.5 yards per game). So, the Huskers have had a bit more work to do in this area.
However, they have Randy Gregory in their arsenal and he may well be the best defensive player in this game. If Georgia shuts him down it could be a long day, but if he is making plays look for Nebraska to be very much in this contest.
What we do know is it won't be a great quarterback matchup, with both Taylor Martinez and Aaron Murray out.
Look for Nebraska's rush defense to step up and make this game closer than the experts think, but seeing a win in this one is a bit too much to ask.
Pick: Georgia 37, Nebraska 31
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. No. 16 LSU (-7.5)
This game had all kinds of bad news written all over it for the Hawkeyes, then LSU's star quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his over 3,000 yards passing went down in the final game of the season for the Tigers.
It means that Iowa has the advantage in the passing game and the best quarterback on the field, going up against one of the most up-and-down defenses college football saw all season.
Could Iowa actually be the better team heading into this game?
A lot will depend on how Mettenberger's replacement, Anthony Jennings, improved and got rid of the jitters in bowl prep. He has thrown all of 10 passes in his collegiate career and will be facing one of the Big Ten's best defenses in his first-ever start.
LSU's offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, had a lot to do with the improvement of Mettenberger and it will be interesting to see what a full month of just straight practice will do for Jennings.
However, he'll be staring down one of the most physical and talented linebacker groups any team in the country can throw at you in James Morris, Christian Kirksey and leading tackler Anthony Hitchens.
Iowa's defense is top notch because of that group and finished the year giving up under 20 points a game, just over 300 yards of total offense and just 120.8 yards per game on the ground—and they have the tools on offense to run and pass well enough to compete with anyone.
Then there's the little nugget of Iowa's record this season, 8-4. All four losses came to the likes of Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin—not exactly a bunch of schlubs.
LSU may be the favorite here, but it shouldn't be. Iowa knows what it needs to win this game and it's got the better defense and an equal offense to what the Tigers can put out there without Mettenberger.
Pick: Iowa 27, LSU 17
Capital One Bowl: No. 19 Wisconsin (-1) vs. No. 9 South Carolina
Wisconsin won't be seeing the sunshine of Southern California for the first time in four years, trading it in for Orlando, Fla., instead. It doesn't mean any less of an intriguing matchup, though, as it will take on a very physical South Carolina team that is full of stars on both sides of the football.
Will it be Jadeveon Clowney owning the young Tyler Marz on the edge, or will it be Wisconsin scheming him right out of the game with the talent it has in Melvin Gordon and James White in the backfield?
The Badgers come in rushing for over 280 yards per game, while South Carolina is second against the run in the SEC—giving up 142.2 yards per game.
You'll know if Wisconsin is going to win based on the run totals—at least that's what the season numbers tell us, as the Badgers rush for over 320 yards in wins and just 150 yards in losses this season.
What will be the most interesting matchup will be the Gamecocks' Connor Shaw against UW's defense. Shaw isn't afraid to take off and run but has also been very efficient in the pass game as well.
He's thrown 21 touchdowns to just one interception on the year, while also rushing for 511 yards as well.
It's a scary matchup for a Wisconsin pass defense that has been burned at times and will be looking to recover for a terrible outing against Penn State in the regular-season finale.
Luckily for the Badgers, safety Michael Caputo will likely be back and it means more flexibility for the Wisconsin defense. His presence was sorely missed in that finale.
This game has a lot of "what ifs" and "could bes" in it, but at the end of the day the more consistent rushing team, Wisconsin, will come away with a close win.
Pick: Wisconsin 34, South Carolina 31
Discover Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State (-2.5)
For the first time in two seasons Ohio State is coming off a loss and some are questioning how it will respond in the Orange Bowl against a very talented Clemson team.
Some are also wondering what the future holds for star quarterback Braxton Miller. He's tried his best to deflect the attention, hoping to keep the team's and his focus on the task at hand.
Will it work? It needs to because the Tigers are a very loaded football team and the best the Buckeyes have faced since Michigan State and that didn't end the way OSU hoped for.
The key will be head coach Urban Meyer making this team see this game as anything but a consolation prize to not making the national title game.
Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde have gotten all the headlines, and rightfully so. The Buckeyes' duo of 1,000-yard rushers will be facing a Clemson defense that finished seventh in the ACC, giving up over 150 yards a game and 19 touchdowns on the year.
Up front will be the real battle to watch, as Ohio State has the best offensive line in the Big Ten and will be going up against one of the best defensive lines in the ACC.
Ohio State will need every bit of the run game to be successful because Clemson is very good against the pass, giving up just 198.2 yards per game and just 12 touchdowns on the year.
Then there's the little matter of the defense, the one that gave up 34 points to Michigan State and over 600 yards to Michigan in back-to-back weeks.
In case you haven't heard, Clemson has a pretty talented offense itself. Leading the way is senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who threw for 3,478 yards and 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions on the season.
Clemson is averaging just over 40 points per game this season while only giving up just over 20 points per game as well.
That's not a very comforting feeling, but let's remember Clemson also is the same team that got crushed by both Florida State and South Carolina.
One of these underachieving teams will come out victorious and for me, it comes down to the line of scrimmage, which I see OSU winning on both sides of the ball for a change.
Pick: Ohio State 41, Clemson 37
Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio: No. 5 Stanford (-5.5) vs. No. 4 Michigan State
For the first time in a quarter of a century the Michigan State Spartans will venture to the Rose Bowl, but don't expect them to just take in the sights and sounds and call it a day.
These Spartans want to prove they've been underrated all season long, but standing in their way are BCS and Rose Bowl vets—Stanford.
If you like old-school football, the granddaddy of them all is going to be your cup of tea.
Defense is expected to dominate the day, but don't be confused, both of these teams can score points in bunches too.
Winning football by playing excellent defense is nothing new to the Spartans, but Stanford will challenge them with one of the nation's best running backs in Tyler Gaffney (1,618 yards and 20 TDs).
On the other side, it may come down to the leadership and decision making of MSU quarterback Connor Cook. He has proven to be the guy it can count on to put it in position to win games over the last half of the season, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in the Big Ten title game alone.
Stanford's pass defense has been shaky at times this year, giving up nearly 248 yards a game and allowing 20 touchdowns through the air.
Michigan State will need to use Cook effectively in order to win this game.
Making heads or tails out of Stanford's season is a bit difficult. It's won every game it's played against a ranked opponent this season, yet it's also dropped a game to Utah and USC.
Clearly, the Cardinal isn’t a team without holes, but they are also one of the most impressive teams out there since that USC loss.
That said, it's time to go against the grain and having seen Michigan State in person, on the field, it made me a believer. Give me the Spartans defense to turn over Kevin Hogan a few times and be the difference in winning.
Pick: Michigan Sate 27, Stanford 20
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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