Big Ten Sends 10 To Postseason

By John Carey, December 26th, 2015

The bowl games and playoff matchups are all set and like last year, the Big Ten champions find themselves in the top four competing for a national championship.

Michigan State edged Iowa 16-13 in the B1G Championship game in Indianapolis, taking their first and only lead of the game with 27 seconds left in the game after a 22-play, nine-minute drive.

The Hawkeyes settled for perhaps the best consolation game in college football with a trip to the Rose Bowl against Stanford.

The B1G tied its record for most bowl eligible teams in a season with 10 this year. In both 2011 and 2014 there were 10 conference teams in postseason bowl games.

The bowl games pit the B1G against teams from the SEC, PAC-12, ACC, and MAC.

Here is a preview of each B1G bowl game and where to watch them (all times Eastern):

Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5) – Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 26 (3:30 p.m., ABC)
The Hoosiers picked up their first two conference wins of the season in their final two games of the regular season against Maryland and Purdue. The story for Indiana all season has been a prolific offense and a porous defense.

The Blue Devil defense may struggle to stop Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld but the Hoosier defense will keep Duke in the game. The Indiana defense sits at 121st out of 128 FBS teams in most total yards allowed this season.

Nebraska (5-7) vs. UCLA (8-4) – Foster Farms Bowl, Dec 26 (9:15 p.m., ESPN)
The only team to beat the B1G champions this season takes on UCLA and quarterback Josh Rosen in the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara. Nebraska has had a strange season, starting with a Hail Mary loss at home to BYU on opening day. Of NU’s seven losses, only one has been a double-digit differential. The Huskers haven’t been able to finish off games this year but are always in it to the end.

Meanwhile, UCLA has been the victim of some young mistakes but Rosen is one of the most lauded young players in the country. He has thrown for 20 touchdowns and better than 3,300 yards in his first year behind center for the Bruins and could have a big day against a Husker defense that gives up 288.2 yards per game through the air.

Minnesota (5-7) vs. Central Michigan (7-5) – Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 28 (5 p.m., ESPN2)
The Gophers have only won one game since coach Jerry Kill had to retire in the middle of the season. Minnesota’s defense will have its hands full trying to stop Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush. Rush has thrown for 25 touchdowns on the season and over 3,700 yards.

Minnesota will lean on their running game to come out of this one with a victory. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is the Gophers’ third leading rusher on the season with more than 250 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Wisconsin (9-3) vs. No. 25 USC (8-5) – Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30 (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Wisconsin Badgers continue to hold on to the top spot in the nation in terms of scoring defense, allowing only 13.1 points per game. Their defense will look to contain USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the nation’s third-leading receiver with 1,389 yards on the season.

While the Trojans have had an up-and-down year, they have shown they are more than capable of showing up for their biggest games. Their biggest win came in a 42-24 upset of then No. 3 Utah at home but it’s the inconsistency that has plagued the Trojans.

No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) – Cotton Bowl (national semifinal), Dec. 31 (8 p.m., ESPN)
Michigan State is aiming to be the second straight B1G team to end Alabama’s season in the national semifinal. The Crimson Tide pretty easily handled Florida in the SEC title game while the Spartans had to claw their way to a victory with the most impressive drive of the college football season.

It is still unsure just how healthy Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is at this point, and he didn’t have a great performance in the B1G championship game. When healthy, though, Cook has shown up and played his best football in the biggest games. The key matchup here is The Spartans’ vaunted front seven against Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry. If they can slow him down, the Spartans have more than a puncher’s chance to make it to the National Championship Game against No. 1 Clemson or No. 4 Oklahoma.

No. 13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-4) – Outback Bowl, Jan. 1 (noon, ESPN2)
Northwestern has quietly had one of their best seasons ever. After two disappointing losses to Michigan and Iowa in back to back weeks where they were outscored 78-10, the Wildcats have come back to win their last five games of the season and finished second in the B1G West.

Tennessee has also had a big year that is more impressive than their record would suggest. Two of the Volunteers’ losses came at the hands of playoff teams – Oklahoma and Alabama – by a total of just 12 points. Their other two losses came against Arkansas and Florida by just five total points. Tennessee can play with anyone, on the strength of a top-25 scoring defense.

No. 14 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (10-3) – Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1 (1 p.m., ABC)
This is a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the country in the middle of the season. Both Michigan and Florida took it on the chin a little in the second half of the season. The Wolverines may have peaked a little too early in the season but still have a stellar defense, which ranks fourth in the country in yards allowed per game.

Unfortunately for Florida, their offense isn’t nearly good enough to win them a game by itself. The Gators have been stagnant in the past couple of games, only scoring 17 total points. They will need their defense to force a few turnovers and maybe a score on special teams to take down the Wolverines in this one.

No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) – Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1 (1 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State is coming off of a 42-13 drubbing of archrival Michigan on Nov. 28, looking like the team most people expected it to be all season long. The Buckeyes are surging off of Ezekiel Elliott, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher with 1,672 yards on the season. With some injuries and suspensions, though, the Buckeye defensive line has some questions that need answered in order to stop Notre Dame.

The Irish are coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Stanford on the final play of the game in their last outing and hope not to let the disappointment of missing out on the playoff carry into this game. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith will be the Irish’s response to Elliott’s rushing attack. Smith leads the Irish with 68 tackles on the season.

No. 5 Iowa (12-1) vs. No. 6 Stanford (12-1) – Rose Bowl, Jan. 1 (5:10 p.m., ESPN)
It doesn’t get any easier for the Hawkeyes after losing likely the most heartbreaking game in program history. They square off against Stanford and Heisman Trophy runner-up and AP Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ record for most all-purpose yards in a season with 3,496 as a sophomore this year. He can catch it out of the backfield and run between the tackles. The Hawkeye defense will need to keep him in check to leave Pasadena with a victory.

Iowa cornerback Desmond King will be a huge factor in keeping McCaffrey at bay. Though, he may not be covering McCaffrey one on one, the man with the second-most interceptions in the country (eight) can effectively shut down Stanford’s best receiver. If he can do that, the rest of the defense can focus on McCaffrey up the middle and out of the backfield – easier said than done.

Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3) – TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2 (noon, ESPN)
Even after a 9-3 season, Georgia fired longtime head coach Mark Richt ahead of their bowl game. Wide receiver’s coach Bryan McClendon has taken over in an interim capacity for the Bulldogs.

Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib will look to extend his national lead for sacks this season, which currently stands at 15.5. On the offensive side of the ball, the Nittany Lions will have to protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg, something they have struggled with all season long.