The end of October brings the college bowl picture into clearer focus.
The College Football Playoff will unveil its first standings this week, giving a better idea of where teams stand in the national picture. It also begins to set the bowl pecking order around the conference.
Several teams are already feeling the crunch. They sense time is running out. And teams have to get their wins now as they look ahead to the schedule.
The focus this first week of the College Football Playoff is on the top.
The Big Ten East got a big jolt with Ohio State defeating Penn State. That gives the Buckeyes the inside track at making the College Football Playoff and a New Years’ Six Bowl Game, at least.
There is a real chance still for the Big Ten to get three teams into the College Football Playoff and New Years Six bowl games. That would create a lot more opportunity for Big Ten teams elsewhere in the bowl pecking order.
As things stand in the conference now, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin have clearly separated themselves from the pack. Michigan’s stumbles and Michigan State’s loss to Northwestern have put them likely in that notch below. They will need some help and some big wins down the stretch to get back into the crowded Big Ten East race. But the assumption remains that Wisconsin will face likely Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The winner of that game — the conference champion — seems almost a shoo-in to reach the College Football Playoff. If Penn State does not fall too far in the College Football Playoff standings, it seems fairly likely the Nittany Lions could recover enough to perhaps become a second Big Ten playoff team.
That would require an impressive showing against Michigan State next week and a nearly flawless run to the end of the season. Not to mention Saquon Barkley likely securing the Heisman Trophy.
That is all to say, even though the College Football Playoff seems very close, there is still a long way to go. And the top of the Big Ten is going to be very interesting to see how they all sort themselves out.
For now, we just have to go with what we know now.
The pollsters like Ohio State and so we give them a slight edge over Wisconsin for the purposes of this exercise. With the turn toward home in the conference, let’s take a stab at bowl projections and see where the Big Ten teams will be headed in bowl season.
Rose Bowl (National Semi): Ohio State (Big Ten Champ) vs. Notre Dame
Like I said, the pollsters for now like Ohio State. But this spot in the Rose Bowl semifinal game is really reserved for the Big Ten champion. Please do not take this as a slight Wisconsin fans, I am just going by what I think the College Football Playoff will seed the teams. The Badgers beat the Buckeyes in Indianapolis and they head to Pasadena instead.
The Buckeyes have earned the spot. Recovering from its early season loss to Oklahoma, Ohio State has run through its schedule. Until that game Saturday against Penn State. In the national spotlight, the Buckeyes completed an epic comeback and turned a lot of heads with their play. They have dominated the Big Ten East so far. One more win over Michigan and a Big Ten championship should get them in.
Notre Dame has quietly put together an impressive 7-1 season. They will not be in the seed line when the College Football Playoff standings come out this week, but there is going to be a lot of attrition coming. The championship games could clear the way for the Fighting Irish to make the Playoff.
Sugar Bowl (National Semifinal): Alabama vs. Clemson
Cotton Bowl: Penn State vs. Oklahoma
Peach Bowl: Wisconsin vs. UCF
Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Iowa State
Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Georgia
Really, once the teams get out of the college football playoff semifinal, where they are seeded is not so important. I have slotted Penn State for the Cotton Bowl Classic to play against Oklahoma, sure to be a hometown favorite. This matchup would create a battle between two players sure to be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. And it should make for a good matchup anyway.
Seeding the teams here is actually quite difficult. You have to think a little bit about geography. That is why an ACC runner-up Miami vs. SEC runner-up Georgia makes sense in the Orange Bowl and the Big 12 champion Iowa State Cyclones vs. Pac-12 champion Washington Huskies makes sense in the Fiesta Bowl.
That leaves the at-large and the group of six team to fill in the last two spots in the bowl pecking order. If the Big Ten can get three teams in.
At this point, it feels fairly certain the conference will get three teams into the New Years Six bowl games, barring a loss that takes them out of the College Football Playoff. If Penn State and Wisconsin run the table (minus the Big Ten championship game) — which seems likely at this point — they both should get a New Years Six bid.
Where they go from there is anyone’s guess.
I slot Penn State ahead of Wisconsin for the Cotton Bowl because of Barkley’s name power. But both would provide a great game.
Citrus Bowl: Michigan State vs. Auburn
This is where knowing your Big Ten bowl rules matters. The Big Ten’s bowl partners have agreed they will take five different teams in the course of the six-year contract. This is year four.
So when it comes to the Citrus Bowl selecting a team, it is likely down to Michigan State or Michigan. The Wolverines went two years ago (a win over Florida) and so the Spartans seem like the better fit. Northwestern has an outside shot here, but Michigan State has the more impressive resume for now and the better record.
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. LSU
Similarly, the Outback Bowl would be more than happy with whomever they get here out of the next three in the Big Ten bowl pecking order — Michigan State, Michigan or Northwestern (with maybe Nebraska hovering around). The Outback Bowl would not take the Wildcats again and have not hosted the Wolverines.
It is hard to see the bowl, despite its quirky past, passing up on a marquee team like Michigan when it has the opportunity. Who knows when the Wolverines will fall to them again in the next three years? Now seems like the time. Barring a win over Ohio State and climbing into the New Years Six, Michigan fans should plan for Tampa.
Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Stanford
Here is where the bowl selection procedure will help clarify some things. And this matchup in the Holiday Bowl — despite a 2019 date on the schedule — would be a fun one for the Holiday Bowl to promote.
The Wildcats have not played a bowl game in California since that famous 1996 Rose Bowl. The alumni out West would love to trek down to San Diego. The Holiday Bowl already has picked Nebraska. Northwestern is looking like a clear pick here.
Music City Bowl: Minnesota vs. Kentucky
The Golden Gophers have rowed the boat decently well in P.J. Fleck’s first year. The Gophers are not tearing up the Big Ten West by any means. But they are a solid team and should find themselves competing for a bowl berth. Nebraska went to last year’s Music City Bowl, clearing the path for Iowa or Minnesota to fill in here (Iowa went to the Taxslayer Bowl, the alternate bowl for this bid).
Pinstripe Bowl: Nebraska vs. Virginia
The Pinstripe Bowl certainly would not mind having a marquee name for its bowl game. The Cornhuskers still hold some drawing power and that would help sell this game at Yankee Stadium. Things always seem a bit bigger in New York. Nebraska just has to get itself there. Nebraska has also played in the California bowls already, limiting their options at their record.
Foster Farms Bowl: Iowa vs. Washington State
Of course, Nebraska has already been to the Foster Farms Bowl in this bowl cycle, leaving Iowa a likely candidate to head out west for its bowl game. Iowa has been Iowa-like all season. The Hawkeyes are a solid team and should provide a solid bowl game no matter where they go.
Quick Lane Bowl: Rutgers* vs. Syracuse
With Rutgers at 3-5, they are still technically eligible for a bowl game. But they have a long a road to go with games against Penn State and Michigan State still to come. Lose both and they are no longer bowl eligible. And the Quick Lane Bowl becomes the bowl the Big Ten cannot fill. Maryland cannot go here having been to the Quick Lane Bowl during this bowl cycle.
Armed Forces Bowl: Maryland vs. Army
Maryland still has work to do to get to bowl eligibility at 4-4. But the Terrapins have survived their quarterback injuries to put up some decent numbers and put together a potential bowl year. Their reward playing against a good triple-option Army team playing its first back-to-back bowls since 1984 and 1985.
Where do you want to see your team go? We will see how things develop as the rest of the season plays out. The bowl projections are sure to shift!