The Big Ten boasts ten bowl teams in 2011, more than any other conference.
Some of the bigger games include conference champion Wisconsin taking on high-powered Oregon in the Rose Bowl, at-large Michigan playing Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and Nebraska against SEC foe South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
Last bowl season did not go well for the Big Ten. Hopefully this time around will be better.
Purdue vs. Western Michigan
Date: Dec. 27
Location: Ford Field, Detroit
This is one game that the Big Ten has a clear advantage in. The third-place team in the Leaders division, Purdue was 6-6 on the season, including an overtime win against Ohio State.
Western Michigan also finished third in their division, however, they did it in the MAC West. The Broncos have already faced two Big Ten opponents this season, losing 34-10 at Michigan and 23-20 at Illinois. Western can put up points, but Purdue should benefit from facing a tough schedule and win comfortably.
Prediction: Purdue 31, Western Michigan 16
Iowa vs. #19 Oklahoma
Date: Dec. 30
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe
Iowa is coming off a lackluster performance at Nebraska, but still managed seven wins due in large part to a balanced offensive attack led by James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker. The Hawkeyes suffered tough losses to Minnesota and Iowa State, preventing them from making any real noise.
Oklahoma, the preseason number one, is coming off a thorough blasting in Stillwater. Headlined by a stunning 41-38 loss at home to unranked Texas Tech, the Sooners were disappointing this season following the death of linebacker Austin Box. That said, I believe the Sooners have enough firepower to run over Iowa and take the Insight Bowl.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Iowa 21
Northwestern vs. Texas A&M
Date: Dec. 31
Location: Reliant Stadium, Houston
Northwestern finished at 6-6, earning their season-defining win in a massive upset victory in Lincoln. Quarterback Dan Persa is among the conference's best, and do-it-all Kain Colter can chuck it, catch it and run it. The Wildcats' defense, however, prevented their season from taking off as they lost five in a row at one point.
Texas A&M had huge expectations coming into the season, climbing as high as 8th in the polls, but failed to live up to the hype after blowing big leads against Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The season was capped by a crushing home loss to rival Texas, dropping the Aggies to 4-5 in Big 12 play. I expect Northwestern to come out and upend a more talented A&M team mainly because they will come ready to play.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Texas A&M 30
Illinois vs. UCLA
Date: Dec. 31
Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco
This matchup is, without a doubt, the most pitiful of the bowl season. Illinois started out 6-0 and climbed to number 16 in the rankings. It was all downhill from there, as the second half of the year saw the Illini drop six in a row and ended in the firing of head coach Ron Zook.
UCLA was 6-7 and actually needed special permission from the NCAA to play in a bowl game. Not to be outdone by Illinois, the Bruins fired coach Rick Neuheisel, but still allowed him to coach the conference championship game against Oregon, where they were promptly dismantled. If neither of these teams comes out inspired, this one could be real ugly.
Prediction: Illinois 17, UCLA 9
#24 Penn State vs. #20 Houston
Date: Jan. 2
Location: Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Penn State was in the midst of a strong season before allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky emerged. I won't bore you with details that you've surely heard by now, but basically Penn State went from a successful season to a not-so-successful one. A stagnant offense was the Achilles' heel all season, and nothing went right in a 45-7 defeat at Wisconsin to end the regular season.
Houston was undefeated and ranked sixth in the country until last week, when they were drubbed 49-28 by Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game. Quarterback Case Keenum, the all-time NCAA leader in pretty much everything, can light up the scoreboard like there's no tomorrow, so Penn State will surely have their hands full. However, I question Houston's readiness to face real competition, so I have Penn State.
Prediction: Penn State 24, Houston 21
#12 Michigan State vs. #18 Georgia
Date: Jan. 2
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
The 2012 Outback Bowl is a matchup of championship game losers, as Michigan State fell to Wisconsin and Georgia got killed by number one LSU. Sparty, winner of the Legends division, went 10-3 this season, highlighted by home wins against Michigan and Wisconsin. A balanced offense was the perfect compliment to an elite defense which allowed 17.5 points per game.
Georgia had won ten games in a row before Saturday, but hasn't beaten elite competition all year. Aaron Murray has matured as a leader and excelled as a passer this season, but it won't be enough to beat Sparty.
Prediction: Michigan State 27, Georgia 17
#21 Nebraska vs. #10 South Carolina
Date: Jan. 2
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando
Nebraska was able to grab the Capital One Bowl berth from Legends winner Michigan State thanks in part to a 24-3 victory over Sparty earlier in the season. Running back Rex Burkhead gets the majority of touches in Nebraska's offense, and will put up his fair share of numbers against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina likely would have been in the mix for a BCS at-large bid if they didn't play in the SEC. Despite losing Marcus Lattimore in October, the Cocks went 10-2 thanks to a defense allowing less than 20 points per game.
Like most Cornhusker games, Nebraska will win if Taylor Martinez throws the ball with any semblance of consistency. Alas, he has yet to prove that he can do so, so I am forced to go with the Head Ball Coach.
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Nebraska 21
Ohio State vs. Florida
Date: Jan. 2
Location: Everbank Field, Jacksonville
Contrary to popular belief, this game is not called the Urban Meyer Bowl, although it probably should be. (TaxSlayer.com? Really?). Joking aside, Luke Fickell's final game as Buckeyes head coach will come against the Florida Gators in Jacksonville.
The traditional powers had unusually mediocre seasons in 2011, both finishing 6-6. The similarities go farther than that, though. Florida and Ohio State finished 25th and 26th respectively in points against, and 72nd and 76th in points scored. I'm going to give an edge to Ohio State because of the spark a healthy Braxton Miller brings to the offense.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Florida 14
#9 Wisconsin vs. #6 Oregon
Date: Jan. 2
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
In my humble opinion, this is the most intriguing match-up of the bowl season. There's Wisconsin, Big Ten champions, led by NC State transfer Russell Wilson and touchdown machine, Montee Ball. They love to pound the rock and, thanks to Ball, are pretty much automatic in the red zone.
Then there's Oregon and Chip Kelly's high-powered ground attack that leads the Pac-12 champion Ducks. Oregon has an incredible amount of speed on offense which should provide an interesting contrast to Wisconsin's physical approach in every facet of the game. This one should be competitive to the end.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Wisconsin 35
#13 Michigan vs. #17 Virginia Tech
Date: Jan. 3
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Michigan received an at-large bid after going 10-2 this season. Led by the resurgence of Denard Robinson, the Wolverines knocked off Nebraska and Ohio State in consecutive weeks to earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Then there's Virginia Tech. I do not know why they are here. They do not deserve to be here. But they are, and that makes things much easier for Michigan. Tech has only played one ranked team all season, and they got lit up in both meetings with Clemson. Frank Beamer has some play-makers on offense, but can't hope to keep up with Michigan.
Prediction: Michigan 37, Virginia Tech 20