Although we published the ever awesome Bowlapalooza story earlier this week, it was something that we were going back and forth on behind the scenes for several days. When Graham asked for our quick thoughts, I sent mine in right after the bowl pairings had been announced, and I was pretty pessimistic, even for me.
And if you're a B1G fan, you're probably feeling the same way. We've had one hell of a couple of years. Since 2010, the following has happened:
The OSU tattoo scandal broke, but OSU was allowed to play the implicated players in the Sugar Bowl, which OSU won. Immediate aftermath drunk posting FTW, bitches.
The Sugar Bowl win was promptly vacated and OSU was put to the torch. When the smoke cleared, Jim Tressel's vest was paraded on a pike, Joe Bauserman burned our eyes, and OSU ended up with a one year bowl ban.
Prior to that Sugar Bowl Win, we had the now infamous New Year's Day Massacre, where every B1G team lost on New Year's Day. Some in embarrassing fashion (thanks, state of Michigan). Some in inexplicable fashion (WHY FOR YOU ABANDON RUN, Paul Chryst? WHY?).
The B1G went 3-6 in last year's bowl season, but Michigan won the Sugar Bowl and MSU beat Georgia (thanks again, state of Michigan). LOL Wisconsin.
The Penn State tragedy. If OSU was put to the torch, Penn State was nuked.
The 2012 non-conference schedule was an underwhelming bag of ass. Every team except post season ineligible OSU, Northwestern, and Minnesota--yes, Minnesota--suffered some kind of embarrassing loss. And Michigan got humiliated by Alabama.
The third place team is in the Rose Bowl, because they beat the second best team by 133 poi--OH MY GOD WISCONSIN HAS SCORED AGAIN.
On the realignment front, the SEC added Texas A and M and Missouri to get to 14 teams. We added Maryland and Rutgers. For eyeballs and cable TV money, the B1G made a good move, and in the long run it's a good move to keep the B1G in a dominant position. But Johnny Manziel, the A and M quarterback playing in their first SEC season, went in to Tuscaloosa and beat the Crimson Tide.
Advantage, SEC. Again. At least in the short term. With OSU and PSU ineligible, and an 8-5 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl the B1G match ups were thought to be almost all unwinnable.
I beg to differ.
Let's look at these a little closer, and give us some hope going forward. But not Danny Hope. He got fired.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Minnesota v. Texas Tech
At first glance, this game is a tough draw for Minnesota, but consider--Texas Tech lost both their head coach and offensive coordinator in the last couple of days to Cincinnati, of all places. TT has a formidable passing game, but the Gophers pass defense is, surprisingly, 11th in the country. When you look at Texas Tech's 5 losses, there were some ugly blowouts in there, and a double OT win against Kansas. QB Seth Doege is going to get his yards, but if the Gophers can run the ball (TT gives up 171 yards rushing per game, Gophers rush for over 146) and control the clock, they have a shot. And it's one thing to lose your head coach--happens all the time in bowl season. But to lose your head coach AND your offensive coordinator could be a bigger deal than most people are thinking.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU v. Michigan State
Looking at TCU's 5 losses this year, a general pattern seemed to develop-get turnovers, play good defense, and run the ball on them, and you win. Yeah, it's a pretty basic concept, but the reason it's so basic is because it works. If there's a team that can check those boxes in the B1G, it's Michigan State. They have a stout defense, ( 8th in the country against the run, 9th against the pass, 10th in scoring), Le'Veon Bell has over 1600 yards rushing, and they are +/-0 in turnover margin. TCU has not seen a defense as good as Michigan State's, and I would be surprised to see them roll up a lot of yards and points.
But can they score enough to beat TCU? They're 109th in scoring offense offense, behind such teams as Buffalo and Florida Atlantic (but ahead of Iowa, LOL). TCU's offense isn't great, either, so this is going to be a game of field position and mistakes. If Le'Veon Bell gets going early and Sparty doesn't turn the ball over, MSU will win.
Gator Bowl: Mississippi State v. Northwestern
Northwestern can win this game. Better yet, Northwestern should win this game. Mississippi State cannot stop the run, and Northwestern's read option spread will give them fits all day. The Bulldogs got progressively worse as the season progressed, and by the end of the year they were giving up over 200 rushing yards a game. Venric Mark and Cain Colter should have good games, and Northwestern's defense will be good enough to come away with a win.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue v. Oklahoma State
Um, yeah. I tried to find a scenario where Purdue has a realistic shot. I just don't see it here. Oklahoma State is going to score a ton. But hey, you have a great new head coach. So there's that. Sorry Purdue fans, this is going to be an ugly game.
Outback Bowl: South Carolina v. Michigan
This game is going to come down to who wins the battle between Michigan's offensive line and South Carolina's front seven. If Jadeveon Clowney goes all Tecmo Bowl Lawrence Taylor, Michigan isn't going to have a hope. However, with Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson (and really Al Borges, let's be more creative with these guys here), Clowney will have to figure out where the ball is going before he commits, and that could be enough for the Wolverines to do some serious damage.
And Michigan's defense is one of the more overlooked stories in the B1G these last two years. Greg Mattison took what was an absolute disaster and transformed them onto one of the best units in the country. This is going to be a good game, and personally, I think South Carolina has been over rated all season.
Capital One Bowl: Georgia v. Nebraska
Maybe the B1G Conference Championship game is still at the forefront, but like Purdue, I really don't see Nebraska coming out of this game with a win. Georgia is a lot like Wisconsin--they have a powerful running game with two backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But they also have a legitimate passing game, and Nebraska's lack of speed on the edge is going to doom them.
Like doom them bad. So bad.
Rose Bowl: Stanford v. Wisconsin
One of the main reasons Wisconsin lost the last two Rose Bowls has been eliminated--Bret Bielema. Now, credit to Bielema for getting the Badgers to three straight Grandaddy's, but it was his shortcomings as a coach--namely baffling time management and a glaring inability to stay with what works--that cost Wisconsin in both of those games. Barry Alvarez won't have that problem, and this game will be all about Wisconsin's running game against Stanford's defense. As good as the Cardinal defense is, I don't think they've seen anything as smashmouth as Wisconsin's running game, but then again, Wisconsin hasn't seen a defense as good as Stanford's, except MSU.
And that was a game they lost. But that was a different team, and call it a crazy hunch, but I think Barry Alvarez keeps his Rose Bowl record perfect.
Now, I'm not saying the Big Ten is going to win all of these games, or even most. But these aren't the mismatches that most people seem to think they are. And when we wake up on January 2nd and the B1G has gone 5-2, no one panic, and act like you've been there before.
Because if we do go 1-6 or 0-7, fuck it. We HAVE been there before, and I don't want to go back there. It's a dark and scary place.