It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Once again (and hopefully fully this time), we are going to preview each and every bowl game team by team, conference by conference. This year, there are 41 bowl games and the CFP National Championship on deck. There are 11 brand-new matchups with three programs making their bowl debuts. No bowl-eligible teams were left home. In fact, two technically ineligible FCS-to-FBS teams and a 5-7 team made it! When breaking the teams down, we will look at what certain players did.
The bowl opt-outs and transfers are too hectic to keep track of so we certainly apologize!
2023 Big Ten Bowls Preview
Las Vegas Bowl (December 23, 7:30 P.M., ABC)
Northwestern vs Utah
Head-to-head: Northwestern 2-1 Utah
Bowl Record: 6-10
Before the season, Northwestern lost its longtime alumni coach due to some serious hazing allegations. Enter Big Ten Coach of the Year, David Braun. To start the year, Northwestern traded wins and losses in subsequent weeks. Then, after a loss to Iowa, Northwestern kicked it into gear and won each of its final three games. They earned three wins over bowl-eligible teams and, despite the program being in its current state, the future is looking up.
The offense was not great for the Wildcats this year. They started off with Ben Bryant at quarterback for what feels like his 10th season. He was knocked out for a few games then came back to lead the team on that three-game streak. Out wide, he had a pair of 600+ yard receivers in Cam Johnson and Bryce Kirtz. Overall, Northwestern’s offense is not among the best in the Big Ten but it is certainly better than many would have assumed after the canning of Pat Fitzgerald.
It’s not often a player leads a team in tackles (102), TFLs (10.5), and interceptions (three) but Xander Mueller did just that. He even added 5.0 sacks for good measure. Another name to know is Bryce Gallagher and his 110 tackles, four TFLs, one sack, one interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
Ride the hot hand in this one. Weird to say that about Northwestern. Utah will get up to play but there are questions around their quarterbacks.
Quick Lane Bowl (December 26, 2:00 P.M., ESPN)
Minnesota vs Bowling Green
Head-to-head: Minnesota 2-2 Bowling Green
Bowl Record: 11-12
The lone 5-7 team heading to a bowl this year, Minnesota is an interesting case. Three of Minnesota’s five wins came against bowl-eligible teams: Eastern Michigan, Louisiana, and Iowa (??). That said, they dropped each of their final four games and, really, should just be happy to be going bowling.
At just 20.2 points per game, Minnesota has the 17th-worst offense in college football. Normally, we’d highlight Athan Kaliakmanis here but the incumbent quarterback was one of the early Portal jumpers, Either way, the team’s top receiver this year has been Daniel Jackson, and his 831 yards for eight scores. Replacing Mo Ibrahim was difficult but Darius Taylor and Jordan Nubin did their best.
On defense, Tyler Nubin led the team with five interceptions and added 53 tackles, a TFL, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery to his line. Overall, the Gophers did not have an eye-popping defender. Seven defenders finished with at least 50 tackles but Danny Striggow led the way with 7.0 TFLs and 6.0 sacks.
Bowling Green has had a wave of support from within with a number of players opting to return rather than Portal hop. This looks like a MAC team to mess with. Bowling Green gets the win and extends the MAC-over-Big Ten streak.
Pinstripe Bowl (December 28, 2:15 P.M., ESPN)
Rutgers vs Miami (FL)
Head-to-head: Rutgers 0-11 Miami (FL)
Bowl Record: 6-5
How about those Rutgers Scarlet Knights? For the first time since 2014, Rutgers is actually bowl-eligible (yes, they went to the Gator Bowl in 2021 but they were 5-7). They actually got off to a 6-2 start but faltered down the stretch against four bowl-eligible teams. It’s a good step in rebuilding the program and Greg Schiano is on his way.
At a measly 22.6 points per game, Rutgers is the 18th-worst scoring offense in the nation. Luckily, they have running back Kyle Monangai to pace them. On 217 touches, Monangai amassed 1,099 yards and seven scores on the ground with dual-threat quarterback Gavin Wimsatt adding 488 yards and nine scores to go with his 1,651 yards and nine touchdowns through the air.
Defensively, Rutgers certainly improves. They allowed 21 points per game (30th in FBS) and were led by stalwart, Max Melton. Yet again, Melton hauled in three interceptions to go with six pass breakups and a forced fumble. He did opt to sit this one out for the NFL Draft. Overall, they did not have anyone stand out but it was more of a group effort. 12 different players recorded at least half of a sack on the year.
This will be a closer game. As we’ve said before, the coin flip had Rutgers winning this one in Yankee Stadium.
NY6 Cotton Bowl (December 29, 8:00 P.M., ESPN)
Ohio State vs Missouri
Head-to-head: Ohio State 10-1-1 Missouri
Bowl Record: 27-28
For most programs, 11-1 is a banner year. For Ohio State, it has fans chomping at the bit to fire its coach and can its quarterback. The Buckeyes passed nearly every test this year before falling on the road to hated rival and now back-to-back-to-back Big Ten Champion. Sign-stealing and cheating scandal aside, this is not how Ohio State wants to go out. Many stars will be sitting out this one so it’ll be good to see who is up next.
Ohio State still had one of the best offenses in the Big Ten despite a sizable downgrade at quarterback. Kyle McCord finished the year passing for 3,170 yards and 24 touchdowns and he had some of the best weapons out wide, like Marvin Harrison, Jr. The future top-three pick is likely on his way out after 1,211 yards and 14 scores, almost identical stats to what he put up with a good quarterback last year. McCord hit the Portal, so Devin Brown, the unorthodox number 33, will lead the Buckeyes here. In total, eight Buckeyes earned All-Big Ten honors on offense.
Defensively, Ohio State is elite and has been the best it has been in years. They finished toward the top in almost every major defensive category and have future NFL draftees at almost every spot. With Jaylahn Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Tyleik Williams, and Mike Hall up front, it freed up the rest of the defense to play loose. Jordan Hancock had himself a breakout campaign and it will be interesting to see his next moves. In a show of unity, most of Ohio State’s studs on defense are playing in this game.
Prior to all of the decisions, it was going to be difficult picking Ohio State. Now, not so much. The Buckeyes will have most of their productivity and a potential upgrade at quarterback. Buckeyes roll.
Music City Bowl (December 30, 2:00 P.M., ABC)
Maryland vs Auburn
Head-to-head: Maryland 1-2 Auburn
Bowl Record: 13-14-2
Last year, Maryland was easily the fourth-best team in the Big Ten with losses to those top three teams. This year, they dropped five games and only beat one bowl-bound team: Rutgers. They won each of their first five contests but stumbled mightily down the stretch.
Second-Team All-Big Ten quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa added another solid campaign to a very good Maryland career. This year, he added 3,377 yards and 25 touchdowns to bring his Maryland-best 11,256 yards and 76 touchdowns. He has been, by far, the best quarterback the Terrapins have had in its long history.
Tarheeb Still led the way with his five interceptions on a defense that hauled in a total of 15, but he will sit this one out. Beau Brade and Kellan Wyatt have had solid years for the Terps with Brade leading the way with 72 tackles and Wyatt adding 6.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Overall, Maryland had a middle-of-the-pack defense, but it was enough to keep them in games against better competition and nearly helped them upset Michigan.
This looks like an evenly matched Big Ten vs. SEC bowl game. Tagovailoa will do what he can to lead this team to victory but Auburn should get the win.
NY6 Peach Bowl (December 30, 12:00 P.M., ESPN)
Penn State vs Ole Miss
Bowl Record: 31-19-2
Just like last year, Penn State was good enough to beat everyone except Ohio State and Michigan. Although, this year was a tad closer. The Nittany Lions showed all year that they were a top-10 team and played as well as any could have. They just could not get over that Ohio State/Michigan hump.
On offense, Penn State has a load of dudes but was held back by Drew Allar in big games. Which is fine when you have Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen to hand the ball off to. The dynamic duo combined for 1,553 yards and 14 touchdowns and nearly split the carries in half (163/162). With those two, who needs to throw the ball?
Penn State is also home to one of the best defenses in the nation. They finished third in the country by allowing just 11.4 points per game and posted three shutouts just this year. Whether or not they play in this game, Abdul Carter, Adisa Isaac, and Kalen King are three names worth remembering. Chop Robinson already elected to sit this one out.
This Penn State team is legitimately great…they just could not beat Ohio State or Michigan. They should have a better time against Ole Miss here. The Rebels can move the ball but when they played two good defenses, they got thwacked. Nittany Lions cap off another semi-successful season with a win.
ReliaQuest Bowl (January 1, 12: 00 P.M., ESPN2)
Wisconsin vs LSU
Head-to-head: Wisconsin 1-3 LSU
Bowl Record: 19-15
Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger, these Wisconsin Badgers were not quite to the level that we’ve come to expect but in Luke Fickell’s first year at the helm, they’re going bowling. Their seven wins included three bowl-eligible teams and they had to win their penultimate game to gain that eligibility. It was not a pretty year for the Badgers but give Fickell time to get his guys, they’ll be fine.
The biggest name in this offense is off to the NFL. Braelon Allen came into the season with high, high expectations and while he was still regarded as one of the best in the conference, 984 yards and 12 touchdowns is quite shy of his usual productivity (he eclipsed 1,200 yards in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons). He did opt out of this game, however. The quarterback position started off with SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai but he missed a few games due to injury in the middle of the season. He did come back to lead the team to those back-to-back victories at the end of the year.
This Wisconsin defense, as usual, has plenty of studs. Hunter Wohler led the way with 113 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, a sack, and two interceptions. C.J. Goetz was a force up front to the tune of 11 TFLs and four sacks with an interception and forced fumble. On the back end, Ricardo Hallman hauled in a ridiculous six interceptions, best in the Big Ten and second-best in the nation.
On offense, Wisconsin will likely be thin at the skill position. With how bad LSU’s defense is, that shouldn’t be an issue. While Jayden Daniels and Malik Nabers haven’t opted out yet, it’s expected. Let’s get ahead of the curve and say the Badgers take this one but it likely won’t be pretty.
Citrus Bowl (January 1, 1:00 P.M., ABC)
Iowa vs Tennessee
Head-to-head: Iowa 1-2 Tennessee
Bowl Record: 18-16-1
It’s a bit of a meme at this point but Iowa, despite its incredibly awful offense, managed 10 wins and made it to the Big Ten Championship. Again. On the year, Iowa managed four of its final five wins with 15 or fewer points. They played one good team (Penn State) and were thrashed, 31-0. Then they were shut out of the Big Ten Championship, 26-0. Even against bad competition, to do what Iowa did on defense is impressive.
There isn’t anyone on offense anyone who does not actively watch Iowa would know. Regardless, what little offense Iowa had went through running back Leshon Williams. He accounted for 872 total yards and just two touchdowns. On the year, they scored 20 touchdowns in total. Not great.
At just 13.2 points allowed per game, Iowa finished ranked in the top four in the nation. They held every opponent to 16 points or less, aside from those Penn State and Michigan losses. Nine of Iowa’s 11 defensive starters earned All-Big Ten honors and are led by Cooper DeJean and his two interceptions. Unfortunately, DeJean suffered a season-ending injury in the week leading up to the Big Ten Championship.
This is not going to be a pretty game. Tennessee has a long laundry list of opt-outs, transfers, and injuries. Realistically, Iowa’s defense can win this one on its own.
CFP Semifinal Rose Bowl (January 1, 5:00 P.M., ESPN)
Michigan vs Alabama
Head-to-head: Michigan 2-3 Alabama
Bowl Record: 18-16-1
Back-to-back-to-back Big Ten Champs, back-to-back-to-back wins over Ohio State, and who knows what the future holds? Despite having the cheating scandal hanging over them all year, Michigan dominated its way to a perfect 13-0 mark and yet another CFP appearance.
The Wolverines’ offense is quite balanced but it hinges on the efficiency of First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback, J.J. McCarthy and his third-most passing yards and fourth-most touchdowns in the conference. When he drives the team down to within the five Blake Corum and his 20 touchdowns of fewer than five yards (22 overall) will punch it in.
Defensively, Michigan still possesses arguably the best defense in the country. Even then, they don’t have a singular star rather it’s a unit of 11 great players who gel together. Mike Sanristil leads the way on the back end with five interceptions while Jaylen Harrell, the one who made the hit on the final interception play against Ohio State, leads the way with 6.5 sacks.
No matter how good Michigan has been in the Jim Harbaugh era, they just can’t win bowl games. Is it a lack of film or is there an underlying issue? Either way, that viral video of Michigan’s team reacting to facing Alabama instead of Florida State is all you need to know. They must not have scouted Alabama. Roll Tide Roll. Big.
Ready For a B1Gger Conference?
So, the Big 10 had 11 teams then they had 14 teams now they’re supposed to add USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington to make the running total 18. Will they keep adding? Who knows! All that’s for certain is this conference is in good hands moving forward.
The new 12-team CFP is going to be interesting. How many of this massive B1G conference will make it? How many of the SEC will? College Football is changing and the Big Ten is, oddly enough, among those leading the charge. Let’s see how it all plays out.
Main Image: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK