Bowl Preview


Big Ten Bowl Previews and Predictions 2008
by jhodges

Bowl season is finally upon us and this year the 'Cats are in the mix, but I'll break down each of the games involving Big Ten teams here.  Once again, the Big Ten has 2 teams heading to BCS games (Penn State as the automatic conference representative and Ohio State as an at-large selection) and there are some interesting matchups on the board.  As a whole, the Big Ten conference will need a solid showing and a respectable record in these games to prove to the nation that it is still a national power after the reputation has been tarnished a bit thanks to poor showings in recent BCS games (most notably Illinois and OSU last year and OSU in 2006).

This bowl season, all 4 ranked Big Ten teams will face ranked opponents in their bowl matchups (BCS rankings are those listed), and includes 2 top-10 matchups (USC-Penn State and Texas-OSU); there is little doubt that the Big Ten has provided some compelling games for this bowl season.  (Note that there are only 10 bowl matchups between ranked teams; the Big Ten is involved in 40% of those).  While there is always concern about the Big Ten's hopes for bowl victories thanks to playing in other teams' back yards and moving up in the bowl pecking order thanks to fans who travel well along with getting 2 teams into BCS games (which has happened 8 times since the BCS's inception), this year's slate doesn't look entirely unfavorable for the conference, with most of the games being rather evenly matched.

And, of course, Northwestern fans are even more excited about this bowl season with NU traveling to San Antonio to play in the Alamo Bowl, which will be just the second bowl that NU will play in for a second time (the first being the Rose Bowl: 1949 and 1996).  Now on to the games and a quick preview and prediction for each.

Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, FL)
Saturday, December 27 @ 4:30PM ET (ESPN)
Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Florida State (8-4)
Preview: This matchup pits a resurgent FSU squad, who barely missed the ACC title game, against a Wisconsin team that was ranked in the top 10 early in the season before undergoing a mid-season losing spell and then turning it around to reach a winning record for the year.  It will feature two pretty good head coaches: the long-time success Bobby Bowden against newcomer Bielema, who will appear in his 3rd consecutive Florida bowl (he's 1-1 in those games).  Wisconsin is riding a 3 game winning streak and have won 4 of their last 5 (the only loss being a 1-point road game to MSU thanks to a last-second Spartan FG) and look to be hitting their stride, despite a close final regular season game against I-AA/FCS Cal Poly.  Florida State, meanwhile, lost 3 of its last 5 after a 4-game mid-season winning streak in a tough ACC, and will be looking to slug it out in a potential defensive battle.  Both teams have the talent to make this a very competitive game and expect both coaches to have their teams well prepared for this battle.
Line: Florida State -5

Prediction: Florida State 20 - Wisconsin 14

Valero Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX)
Monday, December 29 @ 7:00PM CT (ESPN)
#23 Northwestern (9-3) vs. #21 Missouri (9-4)
Preview: Watch for the full preview soon on HailToPurple!
Line: Missouri -13.5
Prediction: Watch for the full prediction soon on HailToPurple!

Insight Bowl (Tempe, AZ)
Wednesday, December 31 @ 3:30PM PT (NFL Network)
Minnesota (7-5) vs. Kansas (7-5)
Preview: In what could be tabbed either the "Glen Mason Bowl" or the "Law of Averages Bowl" these two 7-5 teams will meet on New Year's Eve to battle it out on the NFL Network, which means that few, if any, fans will be able to watch.  Remember that Glen Mason coached Kansas before heading to Minnesota in the late 90's - at both schools he built programs based on attending such lower-tier bowls as this one.  Last year these two teams seemed like diametrical opposites: Minnesota stood at 1-11 after firing Mason the year prior (thanks to a bowl-record comeback loss to Texas Tech in... this very Insight Bowl) while Kansas was 12-1 after getting to the BCS's Orange Bowl and defeating Virginia Tech to end up with a #7 ranking.  This season, both teams have gravitated back to the middle and sport 7 wins; Minnesota is still reeling from its loss to NU on Nov. 1, sporting a 4 game slide, while Kansas is coming off of a thrilling last-minute victory over rival Missouri but only won 2 of 6 games down the stretch.  It will be an interesting matchup of mediocre teams in sunny Phoenix.
Line: Kansas -10
Prediction: Kansas 31 - Minnesota 20

Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL)
Thursday, January 1 @ 11:00AM ET (ESPN)
Iowa (8-4) vs. South Carolina (7-5)
Preview: This could potentially be the worst matchup of all New Year's Day bowl games and won't give many fans a reason to get out of bed following a night of partying to watch (no ranked teams, neither cracking 9 wins on the year).  Iowa has been undoubtedly resurgent over the final part of the season, winning 5 of its last 6 games, including a thriller over top-10 PSU.  South Carolina, meanwhile, has backed into Tampa after sporting a ranking early in the season but dropping every game against a ranked team that they have played.  While this provides a win-able game for the Big Ten over the SEC, a win wouln't really impress anyone as the SEC has a significant drop-off after its first 3 or 4 teams; South Carolina is clearly #5 in the pecking order.  But, with Spurrier as its head coach, the Gamecocks could make this an interesting matchup against their feathered friends, the Hawkeyes, who will be looking to finish the 2008 season strong.
Line: Iowa -3
Prediction: Iowa 28 - South Carolina 10

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL)
Thursday, January 1 @ 1:00PM ET (ABC)
#18 Michigan State (9-3) vs. #15 Georgia (9-3)
Preview: This game makes a compelling matchup between teams featuring 2 of the nation's top running backs: MSU's Ringer and Georgia's Moreno.  The difference is that Georgia's QB (Stafford) is much more proficient than MSU's QB (Hoyer), but when the MSU rushing attack is working, it's difficult to slow down.  And Georgia has been vulnerable to a good running game - as demonstrated by Georgia Tech in their regular season finale as the Yellow Jackets put up 45 points on the Bulldogs.  Now this makes a game to wake up for, and while Georgia fans may be a bit disappointed landing here after a preseason #1 ranking, look for MSU to be out in force in their first New Year's Day appearance since 2000 (when a guy named Saban was in town) and to avenge last year's bowl loss in Orlando (in the Champs Sports Bowl).
Line: Georgia -7
Prediction: Georgia 21 - Michigan State 14

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA)
Thursday, January 1 @ 1:30PM PT (ABC)
#8 Penn State (11-1) vs. #5 USC (11-1)
Preview: Penn State will be rewarded for an almost-perfect season by heading out to LA to face the dreaded Trojans, who have defeated 5 straight Big Ten bowl opponents and have won their last 5 Rose Bowl games against Big Ten opponents (the last loss coming in 1988 at the hands of Michigan).  USC is feeling a bit snubbed, being left out of the title game despite a suffocating defense, but realistically this is the best that they could hope for after suffering a loss to Oregon State earlier in the year (who Penn State demolished in Happy Valley).  This will no doubt be a good game - matching the wits of the historic Joe Paterno and the spirited Pete Carroll - both very successful coaches with national titles to their names.  This game could very well be a playoff semi-final in such a system, but, alas, it will just be an exhibition for pride and the thrill of victory - and a good one it should be, matching two very good defenses and offenses that can make things happen when necessary.
Line: USC -10.5
Prediction: Penn State 31 - USC 30

Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ)
Day, January 5 @ 6:00PM PT (FOX)
#10 Ohio State (10-2) vs. #3 Texas (11-1)
Preview:  The Big Ten will get a second marquee matchup as Ohio State goes to Phoenix for the 5th time in 7 years (4 Fiesta Bowls, 1 National Championshp) and will face Texas, who is rightly feeling snubbed out of the national title game despite having beaten Oklahoma, who is a participant, on a neutral field in October.  These two national powers will rekindle their rivalry that was featured in a home-and-home series in 2005-2006, with the winner finding their way to the national title game both times (Texas won in 2005, OSU in 2006).  This season, Texas' only loss was to Texas Tech in Lubbock, while Ohio State's only losses were to Rose Bowl participants PSU and USC.  This big-name matchup should be a good one and it will be interesting to see how Texas will responde to their championship game snub and how OSU can perform against another elite opponent.
Line: Texas -10
Prediction: Texas 35 - Ohio State 24

Final Thoughts

Prior to my prediction for the 'Cats' game, I have the Big Ten tabbed at going 2-4, although some of the matchups may swing either way.  Although both OSU and PSU are double-digit underdogs, don't expect them to follow the fate of recent teams that have been crushed in bowl games, Tressel and Paterno, respectively, will have their teams focused and ready to play well on the national stage.  One must remember that PSU has performed very well this season on both sides of the ball and their only blemish is a 1-point road loss, otherwise they'd be heading to the national championship game.  OSU has an uphill battle against Texas, but if Wells and Pryor can get the offense going, then it could be a close battle as well.  MSU will have a tough time against Georgia, but if they can follow the path set up by Georgia Tech (control the game by running the ball well), then they, too, could pull off a big win.  Iowa should be easily favored over South Carolina, which looks like the Big Ten's most favorable bowl game.  The Insight Bowl is a toss-up, and it will be interesting to see if Minnesota can get out of its slump against a dangerous Kansas team who is just a year removed from 12 wins.  Finally, Wisconsin will play a tough, but beatable, FSU team that is an interesting matchup - this will be a key "swing" game for the Big Ten as it looks to field a respectable bowl record this season.

Look out for my full Northwestern Alamo Bowl preview soon, but in the meantime it's time to make those travel arrangements and get ready to see the Wildcats' 7th bowl game ever, and, hopefully, a 2nd bowl win.  Overall the Big Ten fields some interesting and what should be entertaining games, including 4 matchups between ranked teams.  The conference could use a boost after seeing its national reputation sink over the past couple years, and the bowl season is the perfect opportunity to do that with many conference teams on the national stage.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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