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Big Ten Preview and Predictions: Bowl Edition

The Big Ten is sending seven teams to bowl games this holiday season, and not one of them goes into their game as the favorite. Still, it will be a disappointing bowl season for the conference if a few teams don't pull upsets and help to improve the Big Ten's flailing image.

Mark Dantonio will try to lead his Spartans to a victory over TCU and avoid a losing season.
Mark Dantonio will try to lead his Spartans to a victory over TCU and avoid a losing season.

Bowl season has been chugging along, and a Big Ten Conference team finally gets involved tonight as Minnesota takes on Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Michigan State plays tomorrow night against TCU in Arizona, and the other five Big Ten squads clash on New Year's Day. The media generally has a field day if the conference struggles on New Year's Day (or its non-Sunday equivalent, as was the case last year). Last year the B1G would have went 0-5 on January 2nd if not for Michigan State edging out Georgia 33-30 in triple overtime.

Much has been made of the Big Ten's bowl struggles in recent years. Not having the home field advantage in games outside of Big Ten country has always been a concern. The conference's bowl pairings aren't terribly unfair, but a large number of games against superior SEC opponents has contributed to the lofty total of bowl losses. The fact that the Big Ten isn't sending two teams to BCS games this season will help, but the bowl ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State mostly erases that advantage. A record of 3-4 or better should be considered a success, 2-5 is business as usual, and 1-6 or 0-7 would be yet another embarrassing bowl season for the B1G.

Bowl Games:

Friday, 8 PM CT: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5 overall, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) [ESPN]: The Gophers make the trip down south to take on the Red Raiders of Texas Tech in Houston's Reliant Stadium, aka JJ Watt's playground. The NFL's Minnesota Vikings provided the blueprint of how to go into hostile Texas territory and win with their triumph over the Houston Texans last Sunday, and the Gophers hope to follow suit. But it won't be easy, as Texas Tech has one of the most explosive offenses in the country led by senior QB Seth Doege, who has thrown for 38 TDs amd 14 interceptions this season. Minnesota's quarterback situation is more uncertain, but we'll probably see a mix of MarQueis Gray and Philip Nelson. The Raiders will be led by interim coach Chris Thomsen after Tommy Tuberville bolted for Cincinnati. Texas Tech's defense has been porous at times, which could keep Minnesota in the game, but the Gophers just don't have the offensive firepower to keep up in this one.

Line: Texas Tech -14. Prediction: Texas Tech 38, Minnesota 27.

Saturday, 9:15 PM CT: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU Horned Frogs (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Michigan State Spartans (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) [ESPN]: The bowl formerly known as the Insight Bowl hosts TCU and Michigan State in Tempe. Both teams have had less than stellar seasons by their standards. TCU struggled in their first year in a staunch Big 12, and also had to deal with the midseason departure of QB Casey Pachall. Meanwhile, Michigan State's defense came to play every week, but their Andrew Maxwell-led offense just couldn't get it together more often than not, leading to a number of heartbreaking losses. MSU's Le'Veon Bell is a talented back, but he struggled against elite defenses this season. TCU certainly counts as an elite rushing defense, allowing only 104 yards on the ground per game. This game is more likely than not going to be a defensive showdown, and I think Michigan State's offense will find a spark, doing just enough to pull off the minor upset of the Horned Frogs.

Line: TCU -2.5. Prediction: Michigan State 24, TCU 21.

Tuesday, 11 AM CT: Heart of Dallas Bowl

Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) [ESPNU]: We are obligated to give Purdue a lot of credit for even getting to this bowl game. They had to win their final three games to become bowl eligible and they did just that. The opponents weren't particularly tough, but two of the games were on the road and the third was a rivalry game. The fact that Purdue lost by an average of 5 points to the only 2 teams that went undefeated in college football this season (Notre Dame and Ohio State) indicates that the Boilermakers either played beneath their potential this season or are extremely good at playing up to their competition. Oklahoma State will bring their usual explosive offense to Dallas for this game, but their defense has let them down on a few occasions this season. There is a possibility that the Cowboys won't come in with much motivation, but they are clearly the better team in this game. I do think Purdue, who will be led by an interim head coach, does have enough talent and offensive prowess to keep it from becoming a bonafide blowout.

Line: Oklahoma State -17.5. Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Purdue 34.

Tuesday, 11 AM CT: Gator Bowl

#20 Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) [ESPN2]: Mississippi State feasted on easy opponents on the way to an eight-win season. They get blown out by every good team played, including Ole Miss. The Bulldogs' best victory is either Tennessee, Arkansas, or Middle Tennessee State. On the other hand, Northwestern went toe-to-toe with every opponent they played. The Wildcats should finally break the bowl curse today, as the Bulldogs just aren't a good team.

Line: Even. Prediction: Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 21.

Tuesday, 12 PM CT: Outback Bowl

#10 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) vs. #18 Michigan Wolverines (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten) [ESPN]: This should be a great game. South Carolina's defense is loaded with talent, and Michigan's offense is loaded with talent. The Wolverines have struggled to do much offensively against good defenses this season, but the Wolverines' defense is usually able to keep them in any game. I see the Gamecocks winning a close one, unless Michigan gets into a hole early. If that happens, it could get ugly with Michigan's propensity to turn the ball over when faced with a deficit.

Line: South Carolina -5. Prediction: South Carolina 31, Michigan 24.

Tuesday, 12 PM CT: Capital One Bowl

#7 Georgia Bulldogs (11-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. #16 Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten) [ABC]: Who can forget Wisconsin torching Nebraska's defense on the big stage in Indianapolis? It's also not easy to forget Georgia's heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship that prevented the Bulldogs from going to the BCS National Championship game. At first glance, it would seem Georgia will do the exact same thing Wisconsin did to the Blackshirt defense. Expect a better effort today from that Nebraska defense, but there are weaknesses there that will be exploited. Georgia is an all-around great team that should roll in this one.

Line: Georgia -9. Prediction: Georgia 38, Nebraska 28.

Tuesday, 4:10 PM CT: Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio

#6 Stanford Cardinal (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) [ESPN]: These two teams are incredibly similar. Staunch defenses, inexperienced quarterbacks, and excellent running games. Stanford obviously has the better resume coming into this game, but Wisconsin is led by a coach who knows what it takes to win the Rose Bowl, Barry Alvarez. The x-factor will be Wisconsin's young quarterback Joel Stave, who missed the second half of the season with a collarbone injury. If he isn't held back by rust, his injury, or the bright lights, he could be what Wisconsin needs to put Stanford's defense on its heels. I see the Badgers losing another heartbreaker, but they won't leave any doubt over whether or not Wisconsin deserved to play in this game.

Line: Stanford -6. Prediction: Stanford 24, Wisconsin 21.