The Big Ten gets a late start to the week-old bowl season, kicking off its' games with Tuesday's Insight Bowl, featuring a matchup between Iowa and Missouri.
The Big Ten had a solid showing in last year's bowl season, finishing 4-3, including two BCS wins. This year's bowl plate looks more intimidating, as the Big Ten will try to meet lofty expectations.
Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri
Iowa is limping into the Insight Bowl, losing its final three regular season games and enduring the suspension of all-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Running back Adam Robinson was also suspended for the 7-5 Hawkeyes, who had national championship aspirations at the beginning of the season.
However, Missouri finished its season at 10-2 and could have been the Big 12 North's best team by year's end. The Tigers are led by starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, whose dual-threat abilities have helped the Mizzou offense gain national recognition.
Iowa's defense is still very talented, as is quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who has thrown 25 touchdowns compared to only four interceptions in 2010.
Most of the national media has written Iowa off after a tough season, but Kirk Ferentz-coached teams are always prepared for bowls. Expect the Hawkeyes to embrace their underdog role and end the season on a good note.
What will be the Big Ten's bowl record?
Pick: Iowa 27, Missouri 24
Texas Bowl: Illinois vs. Baylor
Like the Insight Bowl, the Texas Bowl features a solid matchup of Big Ten and Big 12 teams.
Illinois has had a surprisingly good season, reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. However, the Illini lost three of the last four regular season games, including a 25-23 loss to Fresno State and an embarrassing 38-34 loss to 3-9 Minnesota.
Baylor, meanwhile, finished 7-5, but lost its last three games to ranked opponents.
Illinois is led by start running back Mikel Leshoure, who has rushed for over 1,500 yards this season. He has helped ease the pressure on freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has performed well considering his lack of experience.
Baylor's high-powered offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards and rushed for almost 600 more. He is complemented at running back by 1,000-yard rusher Jay Finley.
Illinois has overachieved this year—a rarity under Ron Zook. However, Baylor's offense is too good for the Illini defense and Illinois's offense won't be able to keep up. Expect an entertaining shootout in Houston.
Pick: Baylor 41, Illinois 34
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Northwestern will be making its third straight bowl trip under coach Pat Fitzgerald and its second trip to Texas in that span. The Wildcats started the season 7-3 behind the dual-threat abilities of All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa, but dropped their final two games after Persa ruptured his achilles following the final possession of a comeback win over Iowa.
Texas Tech was a symbol of mediocrity in 2010—its' first season under head coach Tommy Tuberville—winning seven games, but only one against a ranked opponent. The passing attack, led by quarterback TJ Potts, ranked eighth in the country and led to many shootouts that fans in Lubbock have become accustomed to seeing over the years.
If Persa were still at quarterback for Northwestern, this would have been a very good game. However, the Wildcats dropped their final two games by scores of 48-28 and 70-23 to Illinois and Wisconsin, respectively.
Freshman quarterback Evan Watkins has had turnover problems in his first two games and the defense, which gave up 330 yards rushing to Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, hasn't provided Watkins with adequate support. Expect the defense to show up a little more than it did in the final two regular season games, especially because Tech isn't a run-oriented team. However, Watkins won't be able to win the game for Northwestern and the defense won't do enough to stop Potts and the Red Raiders' passing attack.
Pick: Texas Tech 30, Northwestern 23
Gator Bowl: Michigan vs. Mississippi State
Michigan, 7-5, is bowl eligible for the first time (and maybe last) under head coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines started of the season hot, but have since cooled off, losing five of their last seven games.
Mississippi State, however, ended the season hot at 7-2, including a win at Florida and a close overtime loss to Arkansas.
Michigan is led by All-Big Ten quarterback Denard Robinson, who owns virtually every college football record for rushing quarterbacks. He won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award, given to the Big Ten's best player, and was a do-everything player for arguably the conference's best offense.
However the defense has been atrocious. Greg Robinson's unit ranks 102nd in the nation, giving up 33.8 points per game, and has worsened as the season progressed.
Like Michigan, Mississippi State is primarily a rushing offense and is led by dual-threat quarterback Chris Relf. However, unlike Michigan, Mississippi State also has a unit that resembles a defense.
Denard Robinson will put together another stellar game, but MSU will come up with a enough stops to allow their offense to pick apart Michigan's horrendous defense.
Pick: Mississippi State 44, Michigan 38
Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Florida
Typically, this would be a must-see game with plenty of national appeal. However, the 2010 season was anything but typical for Penn State and Florida. Both proud programs finished 7-5 and are fortunate to be playing on New Year's Day.
Penn State expected to struggle this season with so much inexperience and a new quarterback. Freshman Rob Bolden started at quarterback for the Nittany Lions at the beginning of the season, but was eventually replaced by Matt McGloin, who helped JoePa and company surge down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Florida was still expected to have a strong season despite the departure of quarterback Tim Tebow and so many other stars. However, the loss of talent was too much for the Gators to overcome, as the struggled offensively behind quarterback John Brantley for much of the season.
With the announcement that Florida coach Urban Meyer will resign following the bowl game, the Gators may come out with a little added fire. However, the offense has been in disarray for much of the year and Penn State has been the better team down the stretch. Expect Joe Paterno to come away with yet another January bowl win.
Pick: Penn State 28, Florida 20
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama
Michigan State was this year's Cinderella team, overcoming large deficits, their head coach's heart attack, and a lack of national respect to finish the season at 11-1. However, despite their outstanding season, the Spartans were not invited to a BCS bowl.
Unlike the overachieving Spartans, Alabama finished the season a disappointing 9-3. The Crimson Tide had all the tools in place for a second consecutive National Championship run, but couldn't weather early season games against South Carolina and LSU and blew a 24-point lead to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Alabama's offense is led by quarterback Greg McElroy, but contains many other playmakers, including star wide receiver Julio Jones, 2009 Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram, and a second talented running back in Trent Richardson.
Michigan State uses a balanced attack, starring quarterback Kirk Cousins and a pair of young running backs, Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell. The defense, led by two time consensus All-American Greg Jones, has overachieved as well, holding opponents to a respectable 20.1 points per game.
On paper, Alabama has more talent and should win this game. However, the Crimson Tide have had—by their standards—a disappointing season and may not come to play. Michigan State has been magical all year and comes in wanting to prove it belongs in the BCS. Alabama could easily come out of Orlando with a win, but I'll take the Spartans in an upset.
Pick: Michigan State 27, Alabama 26
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arkansas
Ohio State has been the focal point of the college football news this week with the announcement that five of its' players, including stars Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, and DeVier Posey, would be suspended for the first five games of 2011 for violating NCAA rules.
However, the suspensions won't affect the players' statuses for the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Buckeyes as favorites in their sixth straight BCS bowl and eighth in nine years.
The Buckeyes' lone loss this year came in mid-October at Wisconsin, and ever since, Pryor and company have had impressive outings.
Arkansas, meanwhile, won its final six games, including three over ranked opponents en route to an eighth-ranked finish in the final BCS Standings. The Razorbacks are led by star quarterback Ryan Mallett and a high-powered offense that ranks third in the nation in passing yards.
Both teams have been competitive in every game they played this year, and despite the lack of hype, this could end up being one of the best games of the bowl season. Arkansas's offense will get its' yards, but the OSU defense will come up with some key stops late in the game, giving Pryor enough time to secure a late victory for the Buckeyes.
Pick: Ohio State 31, Arkansas 28
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU
Wisconsin ended the season as one of the hottest teams in the country thanks to a high-scoring offense and a solid defense.
The Badgers started the season slow, leading to their only loss against Michigan State, but turned their year around with wins in consecutive weeks against top-ranked Ohio State and No. 15 Iowa.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien is the most accurate passer in the country and the rush offense is led by the star-filled trio of John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White. The offensive line, led by consensus All-American Gabe Carimi, could be the best in the country. The Badgers overachieved on defense this year and defensive end JJ Watt proved to be one of the best in the country at his position.
TCU quietly completed its second consecutive undefeated regular season, climbing all the way to No. 3 in the final BCS Standings. After losing last year's Fiesta Bowl to Boise State, the Horned Frogs are out to prove that they can win on the big stage, as this game in Pasadena presents a chance to do just that.
Quarterback Andy Dalton leads a strong offense, but TCU has been even more impressive on defense, ranking first in the country in scoring defense at 11.4 points per game.
TCU is a proven product, which is much of the reason that it will be joining the Big East with the possibility of receiving an automatic BCS bid. However, the Horned Frogs are running into an outstanding Wisconsin team at the wrong time.
Expect Wisconsin to come out strong, but TCU will get back into the game on a couple Badger turnovers. However, Scott Tolzien will lead his team downfield for a touchdown in the final drive of the game, securing a win in this defensive struggle.
Pick: Wisconsin 20, TCU 17