Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, Alex Roux, BTN.com editor, December 21, 2017
Bowl season is already well underway, even though no Big Ten teams take the field until Dec. 27. And while none will play for a chance at a national championship, each game still has implications for the programs participating.
[Full college football bowl schedule HERE]
It's hard to quantify what a bowl win or loss means for a particular program, especially with varying expectations across the conference. But that's what our BTN.com team of Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux will try to evaluate as they take on this week's Dot Commentary debate topic:
Which Big Ten team would get the biggest boost from a bowl win?
Dienhart: Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl
Look, every team wants to win its bowl game, but for a few schools, it's more vital than others. And there is no Big Ten team with a bigger sense of urgency to win in the postseason this season than Ohio State.
It created a bit of a stir when the Buckeyes didn't earn a playoff bid even though they won the Big Ten. Instead of Ohio State going to the four-team playoff for a second year in a row, Alabama got a bid-even though the Tide didn't win the SEC. Ohio State went to the playoff last year under similar circumstances as Bama.
Now, Ohio State can send a message that it deserved a spot in the playoff by beating USC in the Cotton Bowl. Like the Buckeyes, the Trojans are a league champ which was left out of the playoff. This is a battle of iconic programs. And taking down a power like USC that won the Pac-12 would be a nice way for Ohio State to punctuate a season that hasn't met expectations.
And a big win vs. the Trojans in the postseason also would help scrub the stain-at least a bit-from the Buckeyes' 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff last season.
Bottom line: Ohio State needs to send a message with a big win in the Cotton Bowl, one of the marquee postseason destinations.
Roux: Michigan in the Outback Bowl
Do fans care about the outcomes of bowl games? Of course. Do players? Sure. Do the results always matter in the grand scheme of things? Not really.
Unless the bowl has national championship implications, it's always seemed to me like the berth itself carried more lasting weight than the bragging rights that come from a bowl victory. Because outside of unique circumstances like an embarrassing blowout or a program-defining win, bowl results rarely register a seismic shift. At every stop on our annual BTN Bus Tour, the schools hung banners for bowl appearances–not always wins–in their facilities. For many programs, it's making it that matters.
With that said, I do think Michigan (8-4) has the most to gain from a bowl win out of all the Big Ten teams. I agree with Tom that Ohio State can have a Kermit Drinking Tea Meme moment and say "I told you we belonged in the CFP" if they beat USC. But outside of Dabo Swinney's comments to recruits, no one is really calling the Buckeyes' trajectory into question with head coach Urban Meyer at the helm. The same can't be said of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh.
I'm on record as saying I think Harbaugh will ultimately be considered an unequivocal success at Michigan if he stays at least a few more years. I don't think there's any need to panic But as losses have mounted to rivals–Harbaugh is 1-5 combined against Ohio State and Michigan State–and Top 10 teams (1-7 overall), whispers questioning if Harbaugh is really cut out for this have made both the national media rounds and filtered into dinner table talk in Ann Arbor.
The first step to silencing those critics is to win a big game. Sure, South Carolina isn't ranked, but the Outback Bowl is a big stage. It sounds simple, and while beating the Gamecocks won't get the monkey off Harbaugh's back, it gives a program poised to have a big 2018 some added momentum. Conversely, there's no need to panic if Michigan loses. But you'll have a hard time convincing me anyone else has more to gain.