It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 Big Ten bowls as well as every other conference (plus the FBS Independents). Bowl games will likely look different this year. Many states have their own restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will likely see even fewer fans than normal. Additionally, a number of bowl-eligible teams elected to opt-out of the post-season, so there will be fewer matchups this year.
Six teams with losing records made bowls this year (three from the SEC; imagine that). This year, one team will be making its bowl debut. Plus, this season will feature ten first-time matchups. Strap in, it’s time for 29 bowl games!
2020 Big Ten Bowls Preview
Duke’s Mayo Bowl (December 30, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Wisconsin vs Wake Forest
Wisconsin bowl record: 16-15
The Big Ten was full of traditional powers falling flat on their faces this year. Even if they’re 3-3 and in one of these 2020 Big Ten Bowls, Wisconsin certainly disappointed. Admittedly, they were decimated by COVID-19 interruptions and could not gain their footing. Regardless, the Badgers are a talented, well-coached team.
Before the season, quarterback Jack Coan went down with an injury, so they turned to redshirt freshman Graham Mertz. He burst onto the scene with a dominant 248-yard, five-touchdown performance. Following this game, Wisconsin was a legit contender to be the Big Ten team to make the CFP. Unfortunately, he could not replicate this success and lost three of the final four games. Mertz hasn’t thrown a touchdown since their third game on November 21st. Wisconsin may be without him, however, because he is dealing with an undisclosed injury.
The Badgers have always run the ball, but this year they averaged 171.1 yards per game between three different guys. Jalen Berger, Garrett Groshek, and Nakia Watson have been the bulk of the carries and continue to epitomize the physical nature of playing at Wisconsin. Berger’s status is also up in the air as he is dealing with an injury.
The sixth-best scoring defense in the nation only allows 15.7 points per game. Led by junior linebacker Jack Sanborn, the Badgers defense has been able to stifle offenses all year. They haven’t faced an offense quite as good as Wake’s, so they will need to be up to the job.
Wisconsin, in a normal year, you’d think would be challenging for at least a NY6 bowl. Not this year. Yeah, they weren’t as disappointing as Michigan or Penn State, but they were pretty close. Look for Paul Chryst to get his Badgers ready to go in this game. They need a win to get some momentum into 2021 and get back to B1G West dominance. I think they’ll take care of it in a close one.
Head-to-head: Iowa 4-4 Missouri
Iowa bowl record: 17-15-1
Editor’s note: The Music City Bowl was canceled the Sunday before the game due to Missouri pulling out.
A team that is the quintessential Big Ten team is up next on the 2020 Big Ten bowls slate. Iowa is not flashy. They don’t open up the offense and throw it past you, nor do they get massive chunks of yards on the ground. But they win. They tire you out and beat you down and win. Home of one of the best traditions in all of football, the Iowa Hawkeyes are playing for respect. They dropped their first two games and are currently on a six-game winning streak.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras leads the way for this 6-2 Hawkeyes squad. He’s thrown for 1,560 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s a distributor of the ball, considering he has seven players with at least ten receptions on the year. However, the big touchdown threat is senior wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Of the nine touchdowns through the air, ISM has four. He is questionable for this game due to an ankle injury, however.
Iowa boasts a pair of stud running backs who could have each gone for 1,000+ yards. Tyler Goodson (762 yards, seven touchdowns) and Mekhi Sargent (432 yards, seven touchdowns) are a dynamic one-two punch. They’ve got the talent to rival the duo at North Carolina, but due to the shortened season, they haven’t been able to truly run wild. The pair have a combined five 100-yard games between them.
This defense is a Kirk Ferenz special. They only allow 16.0 points per game off of 313.8 yards. They are led by junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon and his 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Additionally, he’s pulled down an interception and forced a fumble. Big ole number 54 is everywhere.
Overall, Iowa is a very solid team that is hitting its stride at the right time. They are facing off against a 4-4 Missouri team that hasn’t really inspired this year. I’ll take the Hawkeyes to add another win to the 2020 Big Ten bowls record.
Citrus Bowl (January 1, 1:00 p.m., ABC)
Northwestern vs Auburn
Head-to-head: Northwestern 0-1 Auburn
Northwestern bowl record: 5-10
At 6-2, Northwestern had Ohio State on the ropes in the Big Ten Championship Game. The defense made their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback look terrible and the offense was just moving the ball. Then halftime happened. Either way, their entire body of work in the season showed that they are a good team. Even though head coach Pat Fitzgerald is generating some NFL coaching buzz, they will look to continue the 2020 Big Ten bowls success.
Last year, I was laughably wrong about Northwestern. They turned it around thanks to Indiana transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey. He has a pair of reliable receivers in Kyric McGowan and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. Chiaokhiao-Bowman took over the Big Ten Championship Game and torched the Buckeyes for 103 yards.
The only Northwestern Wildcat that scored a touchdown in that game was freshman running back Cam Porter. He’s a great, physical running back and is exactly what you’d expect from a Northwestern back. Senior Isaiah Bowser was the leading rusher on this team, but due to the fact that his touches declined because of Porter, he has entered his name into the Transfer Portal.
This is an elite pass defense. Teams only manage 15.5 points per game against them, but they are very susceptible to the run, as we saw. Senior linebacker Paddy Fisher is the winner of the “J.T. Barrett ‘Wait he’s still playing??” award. He’s a four-year starter and has played at an elite, almost Pat Fitzegerald level.
Auburn has a quarterback that has shown he can be overwhelmed and flustered. But they’ve also lost to a couple of less-than-stellar teams. This will be a physical, low-scoring game. Just like with the Big Ten Championship Game, if the Wildcats can make this a four-quarter affair, they can win. Bet Northwestern.
Sugar Bowl, CFP Semifinal (January 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State vs Clemson
Head-to-head: Ohio State 0-4 Clemson
Ohio State bowl record: 25-26
The marquee matchup of the 2020 Big Ten bowls once again features the Ohio State Buckeyes. Argue whether or not Ohio State deserves a CFP spot all you want. I get it, they only played six games (thanks to three COVID-19 cancelations; once theirs, twice the opponent’s). But they won the Big Ten Championship and haven’t lost a game by 28. Ryan Day has yet to lose either a regular season or Big Ten game in his 2+ year tenure at the helm. His only loss was to this Clemson team a year ago. Controversial calls or not, it was a loss on the biggest stage.
Ohio State is led by junior quarterback Justin Fields. Fields, for most of the season, had more touchdowns than he had incompletions. He did struggle mightily against Northwestern. They were able to capitalize on the fact that Fields likes to hold onto the ball a little too long. His top receivers are Chris Olave (hopefully will be active for this game after he missed the B1G with COVID-19) and Garrett Wilson. Both receivers are uber reliable and have been able to dominate at times. They have eight 100+ yard games between them. Wilson has benefitted greatly ever since they moved him inside to the slot and has been a matchup nightmare all year.
Compared to 2019, the rushing attack has taken a step back. Even then, they were averaging more than 250 yards per game before Trey Sermon broke the Ohio State and Big Ten Championship single-game rushing record with his 331 yard and two touchdown performance. Master Teague is the other back who is more of a bruiser, Carlos Hyde-esque.
This Buckeye defense is an issue. The strengths are in the front seven, led by Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett. Teams average all of 96.7 yards per game on the ground. It’s the secondary that worries Buckeye fans. Even then, they’ve only been truly carved up once. They will have to be on their best behavior if they want to take care of Trevor Lawrence. Corner Shaun Wade lost a lot of money this year. While he is an elite slot corner, he struggled out wide.
Ohio State is going to be a big underdog in this game. Recency bias is a hellova drug. Even if the passing attacks are great and the secondaries are not, this game will be won and lost in the trenches. Both teams are strong on the lines, but I’ll be rolling with Ohio State. There’s been so much disrespect and bulletin board material provided by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney that the Buckeyes will be motivated.
Indiana bowl record: 3-9
Imagine for a second that you’re Indiana. You’re sitting at 6-1. The only blemish on your resume is a seven-point loss AT Ohio State in a game you had to come back from a 35-7 deficit. There are some doozies of disrespectful matchups in this bowl season, but this one might take the cake. Indiana was punished more for their loss than Florida was for losing at home to a five-loss LSU team.
All year, Michael Penix, Jr. was the man. He had thrown for 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns before going down with an injury in the team’s sixth game against Maryland. They will miss his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. Enter Jack Tuttle, a sophomore who looked good in relief. He’s not Penix, but he’s still a solid quarterback. Coach Tom Allen will try to make his job easier by gameplanning easy passes to Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle who have absolutely balled out this year.
As they always do, Indiana has a strong running back. This time around, it’s Stevie Scott. Scott was on pace to have a career year and ended up with 462 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s a bear to take down and he can hit the hole with ease. If you want to keep a new quarterback at ease, give Scott plenty of carries.
This defense is a turnover machine. In total, the Hoosiers have forced 19 turnovers, which includes four interceptions from both Jaylin Williams and Jamar Johnson. Indiana is criminally underrated. This bunch is gritty, hard-hitting, and confusing. They do a phenomenal job of disguising pressures and coverages.
All season, Indiana has been disrespected. All they’ve done is win. They were a play away from upsetting Ohio State and then who knows where that would have taken them. Indiana is looking like it’s going to start challenging OSU for the B1G East Division. They will win this game. Ole Miss shouldn’t even be in a bowl.
College Football Playoff Championship (January 11, 8:00 p.m., ESPN)
Ohio State vs Alabama
Head-to-head: Ohio State 1-3 Alabama
As I stated in the ACC Preview. Alabama will beat Notre Dame to advance to the CFP National Championship Game. Ohio State will be able to take down Clemson to set the stage for a pair of true bluebloods in college football.
The only reason an Alabama player wouldn’t win the Heisman is that they have three guys who deserve it. Mac Jones. Najee Harris. Devonta Smith. Even if they gave up a boatload of yardage and points in the SEC Championship game, Alabama’s defense is legit.
Will Ohio State recreate it’s magical 2014 run? They certainly can, but it would be difficult. Will the Buckeyes win this game and capture its ninth National Championship?
Check back soon for the SEC Preview to find out!