Commentary: Big Ten Bowls 2007
by Jonathan Hodges

Well, the bowl season is now almost upon us (the first bowl game of the season occurs on Dec. 20th), and although the 'Cats will be at home despite being bowl eligible, I'll have a look at the 8 Big Ten teams that are going to be bowling this year.  There are some marquee matchups for the conference as Ohio State is headed to the national championship (for the 3rd time since 2002), Illinois is headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time in over 2 decades, and both Michigan and Wisconsin get to face big name competition.  I'll step through all of the games and give my picks.

Motor City Bowl (Detroit, MI)
Wednesday, December 26 @ 7:30PM ET (ESPN)
Purdue (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-5)
Preview: For a preview look no further than Purdue's 45-22 win over CMU on Sept. 15th of this year.  Central Michigan won the MAC but had a horrible time against BCS conference opponents thanks to a horrific defense (Kansas won 52-7 and Clemson won 70-14 in addition to the aforementioned Purdue game).  The only advantage is that CMU is just down the road from Detroit and they'll bring a lot of fans, unfortunately that won't be able to make up for the defense against a pretty solid Purdue offense.
Line: Purdue -9.0
Prediction: Purdue 41 - Central Michigan 17

Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, FL)
Friday, December 28 @ 5:00PM ET (ESPN)
Michigan State (7-5) vs. #14 Boston College (10-3)
Preview: Talk about a mismatch; if you wanted to find the biggest potentially lopsided game, this is it.  MSU had a pretty good season under a new head coach and finished off with a win over a solid PSU team, but BC provides a much bigger challenge.  If you look back at what CJ Bacher did to MSU in the passing game just imagine what pro prospect Matt Ryan will do for BC.  MSU's only chance is to run the ball well and control the tempo of the game, but I don't give them much of a chance.
Line: Boston College -3.5
Prediction: Boston College 35 - Michigan State 14

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX)
Saturday, December 29 @ 8:00PM ET (ESPN)
Penn State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Preview: This game will feature a PSU squad with a solid defense and one of the longest tenured coaches in history against an up and down Texas A&M team who will be under an interim coach (as their new head coach Mike Sherman is finishing off this NFL season in his current position).  PSU is the stronger team and if they can get some offense going they should be able to handle the Aggies who will have a strong fan presence due to the proximity to their school.
Line: Penn State -5.5
Prediction: Penn State 24 - Texas A&M 14

Insight Bowl (Phoenix, AZ)
Monday, December 31 @ 6:00PM ET (NFL Network)
Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
Preview: If you're looking for an exciting matchup in a lower tier bowl, this has a good chance of being a high-scoring game.  Both Indiana and Oklahoma St. have high-octane offenses and while Indiana's defense is improved neither defense looks to be able to stop the other team cold.  Oklahoma State made it to .500 despite a very difficult schedule and Indiana made it to a bowl for the first time in 15 years.
Line: Oklahoma State -4.0
Prediction: Indiana 31 - Oklahoma State 30

Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL)
Tuesday, January 1 @ 11:00AM ET (ESPN)
#18 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. #16 Tennessee (9-4)
Preview: Tennessee looked pretty strong near the end of the season but had 2 very close wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky to propel themselves into the SEC title game (where they gave LSU quite a fight), meanwhile Wisconsin dropped a couple of games mid year, including to #1 OSU (where the Badgers held their own into the 3rd quarter), but rebounded with some wins at the end of the year.  Tennessee will be the favored team but look for a close matchup.
Line: Tennessee -3.5
Prediction: Tennessee 24 - Wisconsin 21

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL)
Tuesday, January 1 @ 1:00PM ET (ABC)
Michigan (8-4) vs. #9 Florida (9-3)
Preview: Florida is a very strong team who lost a few games to tough competition and will be playing very close to home while Michigan will be playing its final game under Carr after a tough season (including that infamous loss to Appalachian State).  Look for Michigan to come in fired up in this game since it will be Carr's last and the offense will probably finally have both Henne and Hart healthy, but the fact is that their defense will have a tough time against Florida and the Heisman winner Tebow who presents numerous problems for any team - but particularly for a Michigan defense who has documented troubles with the spread.
Line: Florida -10.0
Prediction: Florida 42 - Michigan 31

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA)
Tuesday, January 1 @ 4:30PM ET (ABC)
#13 Illinois (9-3) vs. #6 USC (10-2)
Preview: Illinois has come on strong in the second half of the year, especially with its notable upset at #1 OSU, but USC is arguably one of the toughest teams in the nation right now - and has not lost a game when its starting QB Booty has been healthy for the entire game.  If one defense can provide an obstacle for Illinois' option attack it's USC's athletic and talented defense who should be at full health after getting dinged up early in the year.  Illinois' defense has fared well but is a self-proclaimed bend but don't break unit that USC's offense should be able to take advantage of - especially with a stellar passing game.
Line: USC -13.5
Prediction: USC 38 - Illinois 17

National Championship Game (New Orleans, LA)
Monday, January 7 @ 8:00PM ET (FOX)
#1 OSU (11-1) vs. #2 LSU (11-2)
Preview: OSU is in the game by virtue of losing only one game and winning the Big Ten.  Meanwhile LSU is in by winning the SEC, having lost its 2 games in triple overtime.  Both teams lost their second to last game in the regular season at home but climbed back up thanks to everyone ahead of them losing.  Ohio State has a very strong offense and should present problems for LSU, but the fact is that both teams are very talented on both sides of the ball and it should be an evenly matched game.  Once again, though, LSU has a virtual home field (making 5 of the 8 Big Ten bowl games virtual home games for their opponents), but expect OSU to be ready for this game after last year's national championship debacle.  All you'll hear from the media on this one is how "fast" the SEC, especially LSU, is and that the Big Ten and OSU don't have the speed to keep up.  Don't believe this as both teams have a ton of talent and it should be a closely fought game.
Line: LSU - 4.5
Prediction: Ohio State 31 - LSU 28

So, overall, I have the Big Ten going 4-4 in the bowl games, which is probably the best that the conference can hope for given the fact that the matchups are tilted against the Big Ten in almost every game.  Overall, the opponent is favored in 6 of the 8 games, and the opponent has a virtual home field in 5 of the 8 games (Central Michigan playing in Detroit, Texas A&M playing in San Antonio, Florida playing in Orlando, USC playing in Pasadena, and LSU playing in New Orleans).  Thanks to the favorable Big Ten bowl agreements and OSU landing in the national title game (which essentially bumped all of the teams up a bowl slot) it puts the Big Ten at a disadvantage in most games.  Of course many in the media will be playing up the bowl records of conferences as the conference comparisons get into full swing (especially in time for the national title game), so take it all with a grain of salt as the matchups mean a lot more than overall conference "rankings."

A final point is about the layoff between the end of the regular season and the bowl games, which is brought up by many - especially regarding Big Ten teams that all finish before Thanksgiving.  The Big Ten conference recently voted to extend the Big Ten conference schedule to 10 weeks (instead of 9) for its 8 conference games, to the weekend after Thanksgiving, which will provide an additional "bye" week in the conference schedule and will allow teams to get an extra week to schedule a game or actually have a "bye" week (this year the schedule did not allow Big Ten teams to have a bye at all).  While this creates logistical issues it does bring the conference more in line with the rest of the nation who plays at least one more week of games and not only provides the conference's teams a chance to take a rest mid-year, but also gives more continuity going into the bowl season (for those calling for the bowl season to change dates, it will never happen - or at least not any time soon - since getting fans to travel almost requires it to happen over the winter break period).

In any case while there are definitely some "duds" in the bowl schedule, there are some compelling matchups, and the Big Ten games are always high profile and provide some compelling competition.  Here's hoping that next year NU fans will be even more involved with the 'Cats headed somewhere over the holidays.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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