Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, Alex Roux, BTN.com editor, December 14, 2017
Following a brief pivot to hoops last week, the BTN.com team shifts its focus back to the gridiron for the latest edition of Dot Commentary with bowl season just over a week away.
[Read Tom Dienhart's comprehensive 2017-18 Big Ten bowl preview HERE]
With no Big Ten teams in the College Football Playoff, his week's question for Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux becomes a bit more challenging: Which Big Ten bowl matchup is most intriguing?
Dienhart: Fiesta Bowl – Penn State vs. Washington
The Big Ten will play in eight bowl games. And the one you need to make sure you don?t miss is the Fiesta Bowl clash between No. 9 Penn State and No. 11 Washington. This is THE must-watch postseason game involving the Big Ten.
Yes, neither Penn State nor Washington won a conference title this season. But an argument could be made that each is the best team in their respective league. The Nittany Lions are 10-2. And their two defeats came by a combined four points ? both on the road to ranked teams. PSU lost in the waning moments at Ohio State, 39-38, and fell at Michigan State, 27-24.
Washington was a playoff team last season and had many key players back in 2017. The Huskies tied Stanford for the Pac-12 North title but saw the Cardinal go to the league title game after falling, 30-22, at Stanford. Washington?s other defeat was 13-7 at Arizona State, which went 6-3 to finish second in the Pac-12 South.
Want more? Few bowls nation-wide will have a better quarterback battle than this game, with Penn State?s Trace McSorley taking on Washington?s Jake Browning. McSorley completed 65 percent of his attempts for 3,228 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight picks. Browning is hitting 68 percent of his passes for 2,544 yards with 18 TDs and five interceptions. And the battle between running backs will be good, too, with Nittany Lions sensation Saquon Barkley clashing with the Huskies Myles Gaskin. Barkley, the Big Ten MVP, has run for 1,134 yards and 16 scores in addition to making 47 catches for 594 yards. Gaskin has 1,282 yards rushing with 19 rushing TDs.
This game also will feature the monster return skills of Washington?s Dante Pettis, who has run back a FBS-record nine punts for TDs in his career in addition to leading UW with 62 catches for 721 yards and seven TDs. Barkley also has been good on returns, running back two kickoffs for TDs this season.
Add it all up, and the Fiesta Bowl on December 30 in Glendale, Ariz., is must-see TV.
Roux: Cotton Bowl – Ohio State vs. USC
All three New Year's Six games featuring Big Ten teams should be fun, but I'm most interested in what the Cotton Bowl has to offer. With Pasadena playing host to a College Football Playoff semifinal and scrambling the usual bowl tie-ins, it will be strange seeing the Big Ten and Pac 12 champions square off somewhere other than the Rose Bowl. But AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will suffice. It's funny in the sense that the Rose Bowl is everything Jerry World is not in terms of pageantry, atmosphere and historical significance embedded in the stadium. But both venues carry similar weight in terms of their place among football's cathedrals. The stage simply doesn't get much bigger as the Buckeyes return to the site of their 2014 National Championship.
Aside from the embarrassment of talent riches on both sides, the game itself intrigues me because of its snub factor. Ohio State and USC were the only two teams with real shots at the College Football Playoff outside the four who made it in, and I'm curious to see how both teams respond to their respective snubs–especially Ohio State. The Buckeyes had the best shot to beat out Alabama for that final spot and were deemed not good enough, so do they try and prove a point to the country that they should belong? If you also consider Ohio State's 31-0 loss to Clemson last year in their previous major bowl game, the Buckeyes have plenty of motivation to feed off of if they choose that route to get juiced up.
Hype only gets you so far though, because as Football Guys love to tell you, the game comes down to who's got "that dog in them" on the field. And the Cotton Bowl features plenty of beasts on both sides. USC features a similar blueprint to what we've seen from the Trojans over the years: a big-arm QB in Sam Darnold, a dynamic RB in Ronald Jones, a mean defense and skilled playmakers all over the field. Sound familiar?
Ohio State has a lot of the same attributes at nearly every position, which is why many are expecting a close and exciting finish. If you need any more reason to watch, just go off the recent past. These two teams played what I hereby declare the two most exciting college football games of the entire season: USC's 27-24 win over Texas on Sept. 16 and Ohio State's 39-38 victory over Penn State on Oct. 28. They've delivered the goods when the lights are bright before, and I expect them to do it again.