Breaking down the best of the upcoming Big Ten bowl games
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Best bowl? Best QB matchup? Best chance for an upset? Best chance for a shootout? It’s all here and more in my Best of the Bowls! It’s the best time of the year!
Best game: Ohio State vs. Clemson, Fiesta Bowl. It has to be this matchup. The Tigers won the ACC, while the Buckeyes are the first non-conference champ to make the playoff. This battle drips with intrigue. It begins with a classic matchup of top quarterbacks, with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett facing off with Clemson Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson. Each is a dynamic playmaker who can make things happen with their arm and feet, though Watson is the superior passer who has enjoyed the better season.
Best chance for a shootout: Penn State vs. USC, Rose Bowl. Sunshine, fancy floats and points. Lots of points. That’s what we could see in the Rose Bowl. Penn State is No. 25 in the nation in scoring (36.7 ppg); the Trojans are No. 42 (32.9 ppg). Each offense is loaded with top weapons, beginning with strong quarterbacks. Just between me and you, this could be the most fun bowl … on … the … calendar. Really. Don’t miss it.
Best chance for an upset: Indiana vs. Utah, Foster Farms Bowl. The Hoosiers could take down the Utes, assuming they can get their strong ground game led by Devine Redding on track. If IU wins, it would be the program’s first bowl win since 1991. This will be the debut of new Hoosiers coach Tom Allen, who has a great chance to make a great first impression.
Best chance for a slugfest: Iowa vs. Florida, Outback Bowl. This should be played in leather helmets and watched on a black and white TV. The Gators and Iowa both allow only 17.9 points per game, which ties them for No. 10. And neither team has a dynamic offense. Let’s say the first team to 14 points wins.
Best setting: Rose Bowl. This is an easy one. Nothing better than the sun setting over the San Gabriel Mountains on a perfect 72 degree day in southern California. The venue literally and figuratively shimmers. Nothing like it.
Best opponent: ACC champ Clemson. This is as marquee as you can get, as the Tigers are the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff coming off a season in which they lost in the national championship game to Alabama. The Tigers have it rolling under Dabo Swinney. Can they knock off No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl? The winner will tango with the winner of the No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in the national title game on Jan. 9 in Tampa.
Player on the spot: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett. He has to play better, especially when it comes to passing. Barrett becomes a one-man gang, often carrying the Buckeyes to victory with 25 or 30 carries a game. Seeing as how this is a BIG game, look for Barrett to have at least 25 carries. Clemson LB Ben Boulware will track Barrett. Still, Ohio State isn’t gonna win this game if it can’t make some big passes, which has been an issue all season. The receivers have not stepped up for the Buckeyes, whose ability to stretch the field has been inconsistent all season. WR Noah Brown will need a big game.
Best individual matchup: Wisconsin CB Sojourn Shelton vs. Western Michigan WR Corey Davis, Cotton Bowl. Shelton and his secondary mates got torched late by Penn State in the Big Ten title game, yielding 384 passing yards and four TD tosses. It was hard to watch. What is the confidence level of this group? They couldn’t cover and committed penalties vs. a boffo collection of Penn State wideouts. But this is a chance for the DBs to rebound as part of a defense that is No. 11 nationally vs. the pass. Shelton is one of the Big Ten’s top covermen, while Davis is one of the best wide receivers in the country who has set the FBS record for career receiving yards. He has caught 91 passes for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, forming a top pass-catch tandem with QB Zach Terrell, who has passed for 3,376 yards and 32 TDs. Davis will play on Sundays.
Best quarterback battle: USC’s Sam Darnold vs. Penn State’s Trace McSorley, Rose Bowl. USC turned around its season by switching QBs in September, handing the reins to redshirt freshman Darnold. And, he has been a sensation. Penn State has its own star at quarterback in sophomore McSorley, who has been a magician when it comes to operating the Nittany Lions’ spread attack installed by new coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Best coaching matchup: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer vs. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Fiesta Bowl. Swinney has the Tigers in the playoff for a second season in succession, while Meyer is here for the second time in three years as he searches for a fourth national championship. It doesn’t get much better than this, people.
Best coordinator matchup: Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and his co-OCs Randy Sanders and Lawrence Dawsey vs. Michigan DC Don Brown. FSU averages 35.3 points and has one of the nation’s top running backs in Dalvin Cook and has a sensational redshirt freshman QB in Deondre Francois. Michigan is No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense (12.5ppg) led by do-it-all Jabrill Peppers. This will be a great storyline to watch in the Orange Bowl.
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