Let the Bowling begin!
BruceS will have his picks added once he gets them to me. Time is flying away, however, so here are my picks for the bowl games. Maybe, just maybe, the conference can silence the critics and win some games this year...
Champs Sports Bowl - Orlando, FL: 8pm on December 29
Wisconsin vs. Miami-Florida
As I previewed a few weeks ago, this is an interesting match-up of power versus speed. Early on, I gave the edge to Miami, but now I'm not as sure. Wisconsin has a solid defense and the Badgers can dominate on the ground while also getting good use out of an NFL-caliber tight end. Miami has been really prone to turnovers of late and historically, these sorts of games are uninteresting the the 'canes. Wisconsin wants to get the taste of last year's whipping by Florida State out of its mouth. John Clay runs for 150 and the Badgers keep the Miami air attack at bay. Wisconsin 24 - Miami 20.
Insight Bowl - Tempe, AZ: 6pm on December 31
Minnesota vs. Iowa State
Looking for something exciting to watch before you head to that swanky New Year's Eve party? Uh, don't watch this! Sorry Gophers but this game has zero appeal. In main statistical categories, these teams combine to have four rankings worse than 100, and only one better than 75. Minnesota showed flashed of brilliance against Michigan State and then barely limped home to six wins. Iowa State has improved a lot since last season. The Gophers have more to prove with this return trip to Tempe. Minnesota 23 - Iowa State 17.
Outback Bowl - Tampa, FL: 11am on January 1
Northwestern vs. Auburn
First New Year's Day game since 1997? Check. Best chance for a bowl win since 1949? Yep. Northwestern matches up well against the Tigers. Auburn has a nice offense and a really good pass rusher in Antonio Coleman but finished with a thud, losing five of its last six conference games. The Wildcats, on the other hand, finished strong, beating then top five Iowa and Wisconsin to leap into a January 1 game. Mike Kafka is an underrated threat at quarterback and the NU defense has been improving week by week. History is not on Northwestern's side, but streaks are meant to be broken. Northwestern 30 - Auburn 28.
Capital One Bowl - Orlando, FL: 1pm on January 1
Penn State vs. Louisiana State
On paper, this looks like one of the easier match-ups for the Big Ten. Penn State's offense is far more efficient and powerful than the LSU attack. And Penn State has a solid defense, if not quite as good as the one the Tigers field. Both teams are probably a bit disappointed that they missed out on the BCS, but this is arguably the best non BCS game on the slate. It could go one of two ways... Penn State could still feel snubbed by the BCS and come out lethargic. Or, the Nittany Lions could come out with a chip on their shoulder, ready to prove the BCS wrong for passing them by. I think it will fall somewhere in the middle. Penn State puts the Big Ten over the bowl hump early with a nice win in Orlando. Penn State 27 - LSU 18.
The Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA: 4:30pm on January 1
Ohio State vs. Oregon
This one is all about strength versus strength. A stout OSU run defense versus a potent Oregon rushing attack. This is the Buckeyes' first trip to Pasadena in over a decade and that one was an instant classic. The scarlet and gray have the athletes to stay right in this game, but Oregon was better all season long. The one common opponent - USC - nipped the Buckeyes in C-bus and got shredded by the Ducks in Eugene. OSU's best shot it to ditch the conservative offense and let Pryor loose. Not sure that will happen. Oregon 31 - Ohio State 27.
Alamo Bowl - San Antonio, TX: 9pm on January 2
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Have you heard the news? Michigan State has suspended a bunch of players for the bowl game. Texas Tech has one of the most potent passing attacks in college football. Oh my. Perhaps the Spartans should just stay home. Give me a break. I'm tired of hearing how State has no chance. Yes, this game would be tough even with a full compliment of players but let's get something straight - MSU lose ONE defensive starter. Not six. Yes, he is a corner but he's also a corner who did more bad than good this year. What no one wants to point out is that Texas Tech doesn't stop the run very well and ranks at the bottom in rushing offense. I think with a dented receiving corps, MSU sticks to the ground, sprinkles in Blair White and the tight ends to keep it honest and runs a fair amount of "Wildcat" with Keshawn Martin. It'll be a shootout, one that MSU finds a way to win. Michigan State 41 - Texas Tech 38.
Orange Bowl - Miami, FL: 8pm on January 5
Iowa vs. Georgia Tech
If you look at this one from a stats only point of view, you have to assume that the Jackets will roll. Ah, but not so fast my friend. Iowa is year in and year out one of the Big Ten's most consistent bowl performers. With five weeks to prep, I like the chances of Norm Parker's defense against this classic option attack. I think Tech comes out rusty, Iowa stays nice and balanced and makes big plays on defense and wins with a key special teams play. Iowa 26 - Georgia Tech 24.
Quick weigh in on expansion...
Maybe my last post got the Commish thinking it is time to go with a 12th team. Or maybe not. Either way, I like that the topic is back on the table.
Many schools are being tossed around but I think only one or two is a worthy candidate. Here is my breakdown of "serious contenders", "maybes" and "uh, hell nos".
Notre Dame - they'll say no, but we have to ask again. Geographically it makes sense. TV revenue it makes major sense. Should be the league's first choice, even if they say no before they say no
Pittsburgh - my personal pick. Already a natural rivalry built in with Penn State. Strong academics. Strong sports programs in general. Not a new TV market, but a great fit in every other way.
Syracuse - an intriguing option. A new-ish market, albeit upstate New York. Rivalry potential with Penn State. Worthwhile for many reasons.
Rutgers - I'm not impressed with the quality of athletics, but the academics are strong, the addition of the New York market is huge and again, there is the potential for a rivalry with Penn State.
Missouri - Another natural fit in terms of a ready-made rivalry (Illinois) a good media market (St. Louis) and decent academics.
UConn - Seems a little far away but a growing football program, solid basketball programs, major media market... worth a look anyway.
Uh, no way:
Cincinnati - Great recent success but generally - yawn....
West Virgina - Poor academics, no major media market, do I need to go on?
Louisville - Not a bad idea but on the scale, they fall between WVU and Cincy.