Big Ten eyes first unbeaten bowl season since 1998

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
LJ Scott and teammates celebrate a fourth-quarter touchdown in Michigan State's 42-17 victory in the Holiday Bowl Thursday.

It was only a few weeks ago when the Big Ten felt left out.

That’s because, of course, it was as the College Football Playoff Committee opted to put Alabama in this season’s playoff field ahead of Ohio State, leaving the Big Ten out of the four-team field for the first time since its inception in 2014.

It landed two teams from the Southeastern Conference — Georgia at No. 3 and Alabama at No. 4 — into the field and continued the debate over the weight conference championships should carry as well as sparking more discussion about the possibility of expanding the field.

Whether that happens is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, the Big Ten did the only thing it could in the meantime — dominate the bowl season.

Entering Monday’s Outback Bowl that pits Michigan against South Carolina, the Big Ten sits 7-0 in bowl games with a chance to go unbeaten for the first time since 1998 when it won all five games it played. That is the only season the Big Ten has gone unbeaten in bowl games when it has played more than one game.

“I’m sorry, but seriously boys, has the Big Ten lost a bowl game?!??” ESPN analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit posted Saturday on Twitter. “Keep piling it on boys!!! What happen to ‘strong, physical, SLOWWWWW’?!?!? Hahahahaha!!!!!! Love it!!!!! Go Big Ten!!!!!!!!!”

More: MSU players root for 7-1 B10 bowl season

As a point of comparison, the last Power Five conference to go unbeaten in bowl games was the Pac-12 in 2008 when it went 5-0. The SEC went 5-0 in 1996, the Atlantic Coast Conference went 2-0 in 1988 and the Big 12 went 2-0 in 1974 when it was still the Big Eight.

This season, the ACC is 4-5, the Big 12 is 5-2, the Pac-12 is 1-8 and the SEC is 1-3 with four more teams playing Monday.

So, the rest of the Big Ten will likely be pulling for the Wolverines on New Year’s Day. OK, maybe not, especially the folks in East Lansing and Columbus.

Even so, it adds a little more intrigue as a tune-up for the playoff games. Here’s a look at how the Big Ten got to this point. An added highlight — all seven victories have come against Power Five teams.

Pinstripe Bowl

Iowa 27, Boston College 20: The Hawkeyes entered the game on a four-bowl losing streak but were looking to add some value to the season that included the blowout win over Ohio State that likely kept the Buckeyes out of the playoff. Fullback Drake Kulick scored his first career touchdown in the fourth quarter to propel Iowa.

Foster Farms Bowl

Purdue 38, Arizona 35: The impressive first season for coach Jeff Brohm was capped by a thrilling bowl win that included trick plays and a late touchdown. It was the first bowl appearance for the Boilermakers since 2012 and the first bowl victory since a win in the Little Caesars Bowl in 2007 in Detroit.

Holiday Bowl

Michigan State 42, Washington State 17: The Spartans capped the biggest turnaround in program history by winning the top-25 battle. They did so with a young roster and with LJ Scott announcing after the game he was returning for his senior season, it was an indication to the rest of the conference they will be a player again in 2018.

Music City Bowl

Northwestern 24, Kentucky 23: The Wildcats had to overcome the loss of quarterback Clayton Thorson in the first half and then stop a two-point conversion in the final minute to earn the fifth 10-win season in program history and second in the last three years. It was also Northwestern’s second straight bowl victory.

Cotton Bowl

Ohio State 24, Southern Cal 7: The Buckeyes did their best to prove they should have been in the playoff field by jumping out to a big lead on the Trojans before cruising to their third bowl victory in the past four seasons.

Orange Bowl

Wisconsin 34, Miami 24: The Badgers bounced back from the loss in the Big Ten Championship game — their only loss of the season — to prove they belonged on the big stage. The 13 victories were the most in program history and it ended with Wisconsin’s fourth consecutive bowl victory.

Fiesta Bowl

Penn State 35, Washington 28: The Nittany Lions offense was rolling as it piled up 545 total yards and ended a two-game skid in bowl games. Running back Saquon Barkley, who might have played his final game with the Nittany Lions, ran for 137 yards and scored two touchdowns.