Dienhart: Best of the Big Ten Bowls

So many bowls, so little time. That’s where I come in. Think of me as your bowl concierge. Time is precious. With that said, before you go ahead and make any bowl-watching plans, check out my Best of the Big Ten Bowls list.

[ MORE: View our 2013-14 bowl schedule ]

Best game: This will be the 100th Rose Bowl, so that’s a big posterity factor. Even better: This also may be a heck of a ballgame. Michigan State and Stanford are virtual clones in many ways. Each possesses a blue-collar quality, being built around physical offenses that like to run the ball. And few schools do defense better than Michigan State and Stanford. Finally, are there two better coaches than Mark Dantonio and David Shaw? Of course not. This game figures to hang in the balance in the fourth quarter. Enjoy, America!

Best chance of a shootout: The Orange Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson could be a barn-burner. Each team has a strong offense. And the defenses? Did I mention that each team has a good offense? Each attack is led by a dynamic quarterback in Braxton Miller and Tajh Boyd. The Tigers rank 11th nationally in passing offense and 13th in total offense (502.0 ypg), averaging 40.2 points. Ohio State averages 46.3 points and 518.5 yards. Let’s hope there are fresh light bulbs in the scoreboard.

Best chance for an upset: Iowa has a shot to beat LSU, especially if the Bayou Bengals don’t come in with a fired-up mind-set. Let’s face it: The Hawkeyes will be stoked to be in the Outback Bowl. LSU? Probably not so much so. Yes, the Tigers went to the Chick fil’ A Bowl last season. But in recent years, LSU has gone to the BCS title game, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The Tigers are used to the “big time.” The Outback Bowl is a few blocks off Broadway, so to speak.

Best chance for a slugfest: The Minnesota-Syracuse meeting in the Texas Bowl doesn’t figure to be pretty and will have all the subtly of a punch in the nose. If you are looking for a quarterbacking clinic, don’t tune in. The passing attacks are right out of the 1930’s. Expect lots of clouds of dust—as well as a low-scoring game that will hearken to a bygone black-and-white era. Where’s my leather helmet?

Best setting: With the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop, nothing tops the post card setting of the iconic Rose Bowl. Plus, it always seems to be 72 degrees and sunny in Pasadena on game day. It’s amazing, really. Bottom line: There is nothing like walking through one of those long Rose Bowl stadium portals from the concourse to your seat and emerging to see a sun-splashed, deep-green field that doesn’t have a blade of grass out of place. It’s college football heaven, people. Now, if only Keith “Whoa, Nellie!” Jackson was there.

[ MORE: View all of our end-of-the-year top 10 lists ]

Best opponent: Stanford, Michigan State’s foe in the Rose Bowl. Some felt once Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck left Palo Alto, the Cardinal would suffer a decline. Nope. Stanford is making its second trip to the Rose Bowl in succession and fourth trip to a BCS bowl in a row. David Shaw has built on to the mojo that Harbaugh started on The Farm and quickly has become a hot commodity who like Harbaugh one day could land in the NFL. Stanford is loaded with NFL talent—and is well-coached.

Best bowl rematch: Hey, there’s only one, so this is easy. Nebraska vs. Georgia in the Gator Bowl. These teams met in the Capital One Bowl last season. The Bulldogs took a 45-31 decision, opening up a game that was tied 31-31 in the fourth quarter. Enthusiasm for this game may be on par with a Pauly Shore film festival. Each team had a disappointing season. And each will be starting backup quarterbacks. Still, it could be a good game. Honest.

Player on the spot: Iowa will have no shot to upset LSU in the Outback Bowl without a good game from quarterback Jake Rudock. When the season began, questions nagged the Hawkeye offense. The biggest? Who would be the quarterback? Rudock has been a revelation, displaying a steady hand as a methodical game manager. He knows how to take what a defense gives him. And he typically limits mistakes, breathing life into what was a moribund Hawkeye attack that in 2012 ranked 114th in the nation (310.4 ypg). By the way: Rudock should be fine after hurting his right knee in the finale, having to come out of the game at Nebraska.

Best individual matchup: Yes, this is a bit off the radar, but believe me when I say it won’t get much better than Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort vs. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley in the Orange Bowl. Mewhort is a bellwether of a strong Buckeyes line. Beasley was a finalist for the Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end. His 12 sacks rank third in the nation. Another heavyweight battle in the Orange Bowl will be Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins vs. Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. Watkins had 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Roby is a future first-round pick.

Best quarterback battle: Without a doubt it will be the Orange Bowl meeting between Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Miller was named Big Ten MVP by the Chicago Tribune. Boyd was a Heisman contender for much of the season. Boyd has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Boyd also can beat foes with his feet but prefers to sling it. Interesting side bar: Boyd almost was a Buckeye. Coming out of Hampton (Va.) Phoebus, Boyd was down to Ohio State and Oregon with less than a week before Signing Day. Most recruiting sites had Boyd pegged for Ohio State, but he stunningly opted for Clemson.

Aside from his clunker game vs. Michigan State in the Big Ten title game when he hit just 8-of-21 passes, Miller has been spectacular. There is no better running threat under center in the nation than Miller, who has 1,033 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. And he also has improved as a passer, throwing for 1,860 yards and 22 scores. Miller has nice deep targets in Philly Brown and Devin Smith. They have combined for 18 touchdowns; and each has 655 yards receiving. Will this be Miller’s last game as a Buckeye? Hmmm.

Best coaching matchup: I love the meeting of the minds in the Outback Bowl between Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and LSU’s Les Miles. Ferentz is the senior coach in the Big Ten, working in his 15th season in Iowa City. He answered his critics with an 8-4 mark a year after some doubted his ability coming off a 4-8 campaign. The mercurial Miles is one of college football’s colorful characters, leading LSU to the national title in 2007 in making the Bayou Bengals one of the nation’s premier programs. The “Mad Hatter” could have something up his sleeve on January 1. I sure hope he does. Let’s have some fun!

Best coordinator matchup: I will enjoy watching Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck take on Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Each is among the highest paid in the nation. Beck makes $700,000, ranking 11th in the country among assistant coaches. Grantham pulls in $850,000 to rank fifth in the country. And each is good at what he does. Beck is cerebral; Grantham oozes passion. Also watch Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman match wits with Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables in the Orange Bowl.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
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Dave Dorn on 12/19/2013 @ 11:53pm EDT Said:

Best Match is obviously Womens Volleyball National Championship, B10 We Are, vs B10 On Wisconsin, PSU vs Wisconsin, Women doing the B10 Proud

jchawk on 12/20/2013 @ 4:17pm EDT Said:

btw, the Iowa vs LSU is also a rematch, and it’s better than the Nebraska vs Georgia. You should go back and look at game film of the Capital One bowl circa 2005.

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