Ranking Big Ten bowls: Ohio State-USC is top dog

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The bowl season is upon us — actually, it has been for more than a week, but who really gets fired up for the Dollar General Bowl?

Anyway, it’s about time for some good games to get rolling and while Tuesday night’s Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field didn’t feature a Big Ten team this season, there are eight teams getting set to kick off their bowl games over the next six days.

Washington State’s wide-open passing attack could be a challenge for Demetrius Cooper (98) and the Michigan State defense.

And since we just came out of the first early signing period, we figured we’d take a look at each of those bowl games featuring a Big Ten team by giving them a star rating, much like we do the players who we’re told will all come in and be difference-makers.

We know that’s not true, but we still believe it. These rankings will be similar. Some games will be great and some won’t. Whether we’re right, well, we’ll have to wait and see.

With that, away we go.



Sorry, but the Big Ten didn’t get in the College Football Playoff field this season, so none of the games can be considered can’t-miss. We can argue all day about whether a Big Ten team should have been in the field and how much Alabama’s resume was lacking, other than the fact it said Alabama.

But the bottom line is — no playoff game, no five stars.


Cotton Bowl

Southern Cal (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Friday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas


Storyline: This one comes close to the five-star level, but falls just short. Think of it as that high-end four-star that has the potential to become an All-American. It happens to feature two conference champions, though neither ended up in the playoff. We know why — two losses in the middle of the season derailed USC while the blowout loss at Iowa knocked Ohio State out of the mix. The bottom line remains, this might be the best non-playoff bowl game and has the extra element of feeling like an old-school Rose Bowl that just happens to be played in Texas.

Orange Bowl

Miami (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-1)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami


Storyline: This one is right on the heels of the Cotton Bowl, and features two teams that likely would have made the playoffs had they not lost their conference championship games. But the Badgers saw their unbeaten season come to an end against Ohio State and the Hurricanes couldn’t get past Clemson. It ended impressive seasons for both as Wisconsin nearly ran the table and Miami won its first 10 games. The game itself might not be one that lights up the scoreboard, but if you like tough defense then make sure you tune in.

Holiday Bowl

Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Thursday, SDCCU Stadium, San Diego


Storyline: Outside of the New Year’s Six games, this one might have the most intriguing matchup as the Spartans ended the season No. 16 in the playoff rankings while the Cougars check in at No. 18. The seasons were similar for both teams — some big wins and a chance at a division title late in the season but some one-sided losses that kept them short of their conference title games. The game features two teams in stark contrast as the pass-happy Cougars will challenge the Spartans’ defense. But Michigan State can throw the ball, too, which means the points could come quickly even though both defenses rank in the top 15 in the nation.


Fiesta Bowl

Penn State (10-2) vs. Washington (10-2)

Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.


Storyline: This is a game that happens to be one of the New Year’s Six games, but probably isn’t moving the needle all that much nationally. That could have something to do with the fact it pits two teams that had good seasons, but neither reached the point they had hoped, as Washington failed to reach the Pac-12 title game and the playoffs for the second straight season while Penn State had similar goals but losses to Ohio State and Michigan State in back-to-back weeks ended those hopes. It’s still a high-end matchup and could be Saquon Barkley’s last game, so there’s a chance it turns into a four-star by the time it’s done.

Quarterback Brandon Peters, right, will return for the Outback Bowl, where he will try to get the Michigan offense back on track.

Outback Bowl

Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)

Kickoff: Noon Monday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.


Storyline: It’s on New Year’s Day, so there’s that, but a matchup with two unranked teams that both lost four games in the regular season would hardly qualify as a must-watch. There will be plenty of talk about the last meeting in 2012 when South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney planted Michigan running back Vincent Smith into the turf, but that might be it for buzz. As for the game, it could be the first team to score double-digits. South Carolina’s offensive staff has been shaken up while Michigan’s offensive struggles have been well-documented. Hey, maybe there will be another epic hit.

Music City Bowl

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and red-hot Northwestern likely deserved a better bowl fate than the Music City Bowl.

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.


Storyline: Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions. Northwestern, which got a true raw deal in bowl selection and deserved a much warmer locale, has won seven straight while Kentucky enters the game having lost three of four and four of the last six. It’s hardly what will draw Kentucky fans to Nashville, considering they’re probably more enamored with the latest freshmen playing basketball in Lexington. Don’t worry about Northwestern wishing it was somewhere else, it always seems happy to be in any bowl game. And get ready for some points, considering neither team was very good at defending the pass.


Pinstripe Bowl

Boston College (7-5) vs. Iowa (7-5)

Kickoff: 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Yankee Stadium, New York


Storyline: Often times bowl games are decided by how badly a team wishes it was playing a game somewhere else. That could come into play this time as the Hawkeyes come in having lost two of three and feeling like they deserved a better bowl fate than playing in New York. Boston College, however, will be fired up after going 2-4 to open the season and are happy to be getting a shot at an eighth victory. Throw in the fact Iowa is on a four-game losing streak in bowl games, and this could be a long day in the Big Apple for the Big Ten, which really, really wants to be cool in New York.

Foster Farms Bowl

Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.


Storyline: Look, this game will be great for the teams involved, but it gets a two-star because I’m not sure many folks outside the team’s biggest fans will pay attention. Maybe it becomes the next two-star to superstar, and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate lights it up and is matched by the upstart Boilermakers, who are way ahead of schedule under first-year coach Jeff Brohm. If the Purdue defense can come close to containing Tate, it could be quite the capper to an impressive season.