The B1G 10 Bowl Week Preview has 9 Big Ten teams participating in bowl season this year, and 3 of them are involved in the New Years 6 games. Not bad at all, especially considering the schools have gone all Pac-12 on us and eaten each other alive! That gives the conference the third best record, with only the ACC (10) and SEC (13) having more bowl-eligible sides. It’s been a thrilling, topsy-turvy season and the bowl games provide a chance to end on a high. It feels like everyone is dealing with some combination of end-of-season disappointment, injuries and opt outs – making it all the more difficult to predict these bowl games! There are plenty of fun, rarely-seen matchups to tune into even before Michigan represents the conference in the College Football Playoffs.
Bowl season has a much more fluid schedule, with games kicking off at all kinds of times on any random day! So this preview comes in a handy, game by game format to make sure you can catch as much of the action as possible!
Minnesota kickstart bowl action for the Big Ten in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The game is in Phoenix, Arizona so a very different setting for the Golden Gophers this time of year! Minnesota finished the season in good form and knocked off a strong Wisconsin side in their final outing to deny them a shot at the Big Ten Title. Plans for next season have already been given a boost with the news that Mo Ibrahim is returning for another year and the Golden Gophers will hope to tie up 2021 with a win against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers ended the year 6-6 and claimed victories over Texas and Iowa State, giving their resume a bit more gloss than .500 suggests. The gameplan remains the same for Minnesota though – work hard on defense and run the ball over and over! The stingy Minnesota defense rank 10th in the nation in passing yards per game, and will challenge QB Jarret Doege to take them on, confident that they can limit the West Virginia attack.
Further good news has come out from Minnesota that RB Trey Potts is on track to fully recover from his sudden and career threatening injury. He has announced that he will be in attendance at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, giving his team an extra boost.
Maryland scraped into bowl eligibility with a final day win over Rutgers. On one hand it’s great that the Terrapins are going to a bowl game for the first time since 2016. On the other, it’s been an underwhelming year where Maryland have beaten the teams they should beat and lost to everyone else. All their 50-50 matchups ended in a loss and there hasn’t been a true highlight in the season.
This game takes place at Yankee Stadium in New York which I’m sure baseball fans won’t love, but will add a sense of spectacle to this battle of 6-6 teams. Virginia Tech ended their season with a rivalry day victory over Virginia and will have a spring in their step heading to the Pinstripe Bowl. Interim coach JC Price gets another opportunity to gameplan a big win before Brent Pry takes the reins. Stocks can give you a much more in-depth breakdown of the Hokies up-and-down season, but I expect them to be too strong for Maryland here. The Terrapins defense just leaks too many points and the offense has taken too many injury hits to maintain success.
Purdue head to the Music City Bowl with an impressive 8-4 record and the notoriety of being season-wreckers. The Boilermakers took down the high-flying Iowa and Michigan State so should have all the confidence in the world as they end their 3 year bowl game absence. Purdue will be without stars David Bell and George Karlaftis but Tennessee’s porous defense suits QB Aidan O’Connell down to the ground. The Boilermakers have relied heavily on O’Connell as the run game hasn’t gotten going at all, but without his number 1 target how will O’Connell get on?
Tennessee are prolific on offense themselves – they’ve had to be to make up for a dodgy defense! Hendon Hooker has lit up college football in 2021, throwing for over 2500 yards and 26 TDs. The emergence of Cedric Tillman out wide has provided Hooker the perfect targetman, who Purdue will need to keep him quiet in order to win. My hopes are high for a storming game full of points as 2 efficient passing attacks go head to head.
The Spartans have been rewarded for an outstanding season with a New Year’s 6 game, and what an intriguing matchup this is. Michigan State and Pittsburgh have stunned the football world this season, both programs making huge strides forward in their development. It would be fair to say that neither would have expected to be in the Peach Bowl before the season started, and that is a testament to how quickly they have progressed ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately we will not see the star men from either team, as Kenneth Walker III and Kenny Pickett both prepare for the NFL draft. Not to worry though, this will still be a cracking game. The biggest star on the field will be Pitt receiver Jordan Addison. The Biletnikoff Award winner has racked up 93 catches for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns – and now he gets to go against the worst passing defense in the NCAA! As long as whoever plays a QB can get the ball into his hands, Addison will have a field day! For the Spartans, expect more emphasis on the air attack with Walker missing. Payton Thorne has had 2 fabulous weapons out wide in Jayden Reed and Jaylon Nailor, who have stretched the field all year long. Nailor is out injured but Reed will be ready and raring to shine as the star offensive weapon.
In contrast to Pitt v Michigan State, this game should have the star offensive players on show for both Wisconsin and Arizona State. That’s because the Badgers are building their attack around 17 year old RB Braelon Allen and QB Jayden Daniels has announced he is returning to the Sun Devils for his senior year. The missing man will be Rachaad White who has declared for the draft, but there’ll be plenty of big names on show.
Braelon Allen has been the bedrock of Wisconsin’s turnaround in fortunes. After a shocking 1-3 start, the Badgers got back on track by returning to what they do best – pounding the rock. Allen burst onto the scene out of nowhere, sharing time with Chez Mellusi and then taking over when he went down injured. Allen has put the college football world on notice and the fantasy players out there will need to take him in the first round next year to have him on their team!
Wisconsin’s style of play will frustrate Arizona State and head coach Herm Edwards no end. Their methodical offense and hard-as-nails defense will be tough to crack, which leads to Wisconsin being the favourites for the Las Vegas matchup at the spectacular Allegiant Stadium.
Sean Clifford is back… again! The Senior is cashing in on an extra year of eligibility and plans to play in 2022. That has brought mixed feelings for Penn State fans as Clifford lacks the star quality and ceiling that could propel Penn State to National Championship contenders. On the flipside, we know what kind of QB he is, he loves the school and knows the offense inside-out. Plus the alternative options are completely untested quantities. But that’s a problem for 2022, right now he will bring leadership and punch to the Nittany Lions offense in a tough bowl matchup.
The big question we all want to know is whether we will get to see Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks go head to head. Neither of the dazzling wide receivers have declared that they are opting out of the bowl game at time of writing, and if they are good to go make sure not to miss this one! They are both prolific college receivers who will garner top end NFL draft capital in April, with all the talent to blow this game wide open at any moment. Penn State will need whichever receivers are playing to continue their fine work, as the running game is non-existent!
Arkansas are an intriguing opponent for Penn State. Sam Pittman runs a very different style of offense to most of the Big Ten. The Razorbacks have had an excellent season and are another team well ahead of schedule. As they lift themselves from SEC bottom-feeders to contenders. Arkansas will pose plenty of problems for Penn State – the Nittany Lions will need to be on top form to beat them.
After a spectacular start, Iowa rode out a Chicken Little moment. The sky was falling in to plateau their season and they somehow finish as Big Ten West Champions. We’ve known for a long time that this team runs through their defense. The Hawkeyes will need all of their star secondary to beat Kentucky in the Citrus bowl.
I’m not a fan of this Spencer Petras-led offense and don’t envisage them doing enough to beat the Wildcats unless the defense completely shut Kentucky down. The Hawkeyes lead college football with 24 interceptions on the year, but Will Levis has managed to avoid throwing too many picks this season. That battle will be key to the outcome – can Iowa force Kentucky to throw more than they want to? And if so, can they pressure Levis into mistakes?
The Wildcats would like to lean on their run game. Chris Rodriguez Jr has been a key cog in Kentucky’s upturn in form, rushing for 1272 yards and 8 touchdowns. If he can get going, Iowa will be in for a long day!
Ohio State are reeling from their ‘soft’ showing in The Game. Michigan bullied them in the trenches all day and OC Josh Gattis called them out for it. One thing is for sure, the Buckeyes won’t want to lose 2 in a row going into the offseason.
CJ Stroud has impressed mightily in his first year as starting QB. The freshman has thrown for 3862 yards and 38 touchdowns to his plethora of receiving options, and leads one of the best offenses in the country. The Ohio State defense has not held up their end of the bargain. The Buckeyes are vulnerable in the run game, particularly through the belly of the Dline, and suspect in the secondary. Not a great recipe for success, and certainly not acceptable in the eyes of the fans.
Utah have overcome extreme adversity to end the season with a 9-1 run and winning the Pac-12 Championship. The Utes have experienced tragedy and loss with the death of Aaron Lowe. Dedicating their success to his memory. Utah have run the ball really well to take the Pac-12 by storm. Beating the Oregon Ducks twice on their way to the title. Tavion Thomas has rushed for an astounding 20 touchdowns. He will need to continue that form if Utah are going to beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State are lethal on offense and Utah cannot get caught in a shootout. They need to grind the game down, run the ball and ask their defense to cling on! CJ Stroud and co will hope to establish a lead and extinguish Utah hopes early on.
This is the big stage that Michigan have been dreaming of. Big Ten Champions, victors in The Game, College Football Playoff semifinalists. Jim Harbaugh has justified his contract extension and may have bagged himself some leverage for another one, with a pay rise this time!
The Wolverines are absolutely rolling right now, with a relentless pass rush, lethal 1-2 punch at running back and monstrous offensive and defensive lines. If you asked a Wolverines fan to describe the Michigan way of playing, this would be it. Dominating the line of scrimmage, getting after the quarterback and pounding the opposition with their rushing attack. Michigan are going to need to do all that and more to beat Georgia in the semi-final though.
Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo have ripped apart opposing offenses all season, with Hutchinson setting a school record for sacks in a season and earning a Heisman finalist spot for his efforts. Both defensive ends will be required to hassle, hurry and disrupt Georgia QB Stetson Bennett. They need to get to him, and quickly. Bennett is an unheralded quarterback – not flashy or quick with his legs, but very clever and efficient. Ojabo and Hutchinson will agree to ‘meet at the quarterback’ and attempt to neutralise the Bulldogs passing attack.
SLOW THE RUN
It goes without saying that the Wolverines defense will try and bottle up the run game. Georgia have multiple backs with fantastic talent, who have been able to pound the rock against almost anyone. If the Wolverines can slow down the rushing attack and stack more pressure on Bennett’s shoulders their chance of winning shoots up considerably. The linebackers and secondary need to keep tabs on where Brock Bowers is at all times too. The tight end has 47 receptions for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Incredible numbers for a relatively unknown commodity.
When Georgia are on defense we will get a real clash of the titans. For me, this game showcases the best offensive line and the best defensive line in all of college football. It’s a classic case of strength on strength. If Michigan can move those massive Georgia defensive linemen around, watch out because Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum will cause absolute mayhem!
BUY SOME TIME
Giving the quarterback a bit of time will be key to Michigan’s success offensively too. Georgia’s secondary was exposed for the first time all year in the SEC Championship game, as Alabama’s Bryce Young tore them apart thanks to a stellar job from his Oline. If Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy get similar time in the pocket, they’ll have a chance to really test Georgia. OC Josh Gattis has shown he isn’t afraid of the big calls, and that he flippin’ loves a trick play! I don’t know how many he has left in the bag, but I expect we’ll see a few!
Before the Championship games I’d have said Michigan had no chance in this fixture. Georgia have been ruthlessly brilliant, overpowering opponents with ease. But Alabama revealed a few chinks in the armour, and Michigan have just got better and better. The Wolverines are right in this. Underdogs for sure, but definitely in with a shot.
Written by Jack @JackCDCTT