Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Big Ten in ESPN's bowl projections
By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com colleagues Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach took their stabs at projecting all the 2014 bowl games this week.
Is predicting bowl game matchups in late May folly? Well, sure. But it also gives us something fun to talk about in these dead days without football.
Before getting to the predictions, make sure you know how all the big bowls will be selected under the new playoff system. And make sure you understand the Big Ten's new lineup and selection procedures.
OK. Here is where McMurphy and Schlabach see the Big Ten teams bowling this winter:
Music City: Maryland vs. Missouri
Pinstripe: Miami (Fla). vs. Michigan
Holiday: Nebraska vs. USC
San Francisco: Minnesota vs. Washington
Detroit: Syracuse vs. Illinois
Capital One: Iowa vs. Florida
Outback: Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Michigan State
Rose: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Pinstripe: Virginia Tech vs. Northwestern
Holiday: Washington vs. Iowa
San Francisco: Minnesota vs. USC
Detroit: Syracuse vs. Indiana
Capital One: LSU vs. Ohio State
Outback: South Carolina vs. Nebraska
Gator: Michigan vs. Florida
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Sugar: Florida State vs. Michigan State
Now here are our reactions:
Brian Bennett: Both Schlabach and McMurphy have nine Big Ten teams going bowling, though they differ on some of the teams. Schlabach has Northwestern going back to the postseason, while McMurphy has the Wildcats out and Illinois back in after a two-year hiatus. Schlabach sees Indiana making a bowl for the first time since 2007, while McMurphy has league newcomer Maryland getting to at least six wins this year.
The bigger news is that both of them project a Big Ten team in the playoff semifinals. McMurphy pegs the Buckeyes to make it, playing Oregon in a traditional Rose Bowl matchup (and 2010 rematch) that also will serve as a semifinal, while Schlabach has Michigan State playing the defending champion Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
Either of those outcomes would be a welcome development for the Big Ten, which really needs to get a team in the four-team field. Both writers also have the Big Ten represented in the other four major bowls not part of the playoff rotation this year: Wisconsin in the Fiesta for Schlabach, and Michigan State getting a rematch with Stanford in the Fiesta for McMurphy.
I lean toward the McMurphy side here, as I think Ohio State and Michigan State represent the league's best chances for not only the playoff but a spot in one of the other prestigious games. I believe Wisconsin and Michigan are too high in Schlabach's projections. Iowa is probably undervalued by both, but a trip to either the Capital One or Holiday bowls is a nice outcome. Adam, what say you?
Adam Rittenberg: I agree about Iowa finishing higher in the bowl pecking order. Right now, the Hawkeyes should get the edge on Wisconsin because they have far fewer glaring question marks entering the summer. I'll reserve my opinion on the Badgers until midway through preseason camp, but as currently constructed, they don't look like a Fiesta Bowl team (and yes, I know "a Fiesta Bowl team" isn't what it used to be).
I'm a bit surprised to see both place a Big Ten team in the playoff, especially my pal Schlabach. It must have taken all the willpower in his being to avoid placing four SEC teams in the Sugar and Rose bowls. It's very close between Ohio State and Michigan State for me. The thing with the Spartans is whether they can still make the playoff if they lose to Oregon in Week 2. Ohio State, meanwhile, should get through its non-league schedule unscathed. But I tend to think one of these teams has to run the table and go 13-0 to get in the field of four.
I like McMurphy's picks at the very top with Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. But Schlabach's picks after that jive more with what I'm thinking at this very early date. Michigan won't slip all the way to the Pinstripe Bowl, and Northwestern is a better bowl candidate than both Illinois and Maryland, teams McMurphy has pegged for the postseason. Nine postseason teams seems like a high number, but the eight-game league schedule should help the Big Ten meet the projection or get close.