Big Ten

Big Ten

A record-matching 10 Big Ten teams will play in the postseason this winter.

There's quite a bit of variety, with some teams playing on the biggest of stages and others only reluctantly invited to bowls with sub-.500 records.

Michigan State highlights the bowl-bound teams, with the Spartans playing in the College Football Playoff with a chance to go to the national title game. Two other Big Ten teams are playing in prestigious New Year's Six bowl games.

Two Big Ten teams, Nebraska and Minnesota, are heading out to bowl destinations despite finishing the regular season with 5-7 records.

All in all, it's an even 10 squads suiting up this December and January.

Here's a look at the matchups, ranked from best to worst.

1. Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama

How could this not be No. 1?

The storylines are abundant, what with Michigan State going up against one of its former coaches in Nick Saban. Mark Dantonio was Saban’s defensive backs coach in East Lansing before eventually returning as head coach and turning the Spartans into a national power. Plus, it’s the Big Ten vs. SEC, it’s the College Football Playoff and there’s a spot in the national championship game on the line.

The Tide are big favorites, but surely the Spartans have had the more-impressive season, beating four top-15 teams, including two teams ranked in the top seven, while the Tide have no wins over any team ranked higher than No. 19. Of course Alabama is a very good team, but brand bias might be driving its No. 2 ranking and its status as favorite. Time for Dantonio and Michigan State to do what they always do: prove people wrong. Dantonio’s 6-1 in his last seven games against top-10 teams.

[MORE BIG TEN: Though Playoff awaits, Spartans can count mission at least partly accomplished]

2. Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

You couldn’t have asked for a more intriguing matchup outside of the College Football Playoff, as this rematch of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl ought to be mighty entertaining.

Both teams are good on both sides of the ball and have the offensive star power to match. Irish running back C.J. Prosise has been great, as has freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer and wide receiver Will Fuller. But of course the Buckeyes have a Heisman candidate at running back in Ezekiel Elliott and playmakers at quarterback in J.T. Barrett and receiver in Michael Thomas.

The edge for the Buckeyes could come on the ground, as the Irish have put up mediocre rush-defense numbers and Elliott is one of the best backs in the country. Plus, will the Notre Dame offensive line be able to prevent Joey Bosa from wreaking havoc? The Irish have allowed 22 sacks this season.

3. Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Stanford

While both teams are probably disappointed they didn’t reach the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl is a mighty fine consolation prize. Iowa’s undefeated season was ended in the Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State, while Stanford couldn’t reach the final four despite a win over USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

This game features one of the country’s best players in do-it-all Stanford star Christian McCaffery. But the matchup could favor Iowa, which could get back to running the ball after it was shut down by Michigan State. The Hawkeyes have plenty of capable backs but were held to just 52 rushing yards by the Spartans. Stanford ranks just 50th when it comes to total defense and 44th in rush defense.

The Hawkeyes might not be able to entirely slow down McCaffery, but they boast the No. 20 defense in the country and have played and beat two teams that rank higher in total offense than the Cardinal in Indiana and Nebraska.

[MORE BIG TEN: Even in defeat, Hawkeyes prove they belong with college football's best]

4. Outback Bowl: Northwestern vs. Tennessee

The Cats play great defense and have a shot at program history in the Outback Bowl, where a win over Tennessee would give them the first 11-win season by a Northwestern team ever. The SEC has provided good matches for Northwestern, too. It was in the 2010 Outback Bowl where Mike Kafka threw for more than 500 yards in a wild overtime loss to Auburn. And the 10-win 2012 campaign was capped with a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Tennessee’s a good team — ranked No. 23 in the final College Football Playoff rankings — that counts among its four razor-thin losses defeats at the hands of Big 12 champion Oklahoma and SEC champion Alabama. Prediction: This should be a close game.

5. Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida

There’s a good chance that a field goal could win this one, meaning a 3-0 score wouldn’t be out of the question. Michigan and Florida might not provide the offensive fireworks of some of these other games, but they are two of the top defensive teams in college football. Michigan ranks fourth in the country in total defense. Florida is right behind at sixth. It’s a battle between the last two D.J. Durkin defenses, as the new Maryland head coach served as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator this season after working as the Gators’ defensive coordinator in 2014.

6. Pinstripe Bowl: Indiana vs. Duke

Do you like offense? Then any game featuring the Hoosiers should suffice, but this one could be a super-fun shootout at Yankee Stadium. Indiana was once again one of the Big Ten’s most explosive offenses, one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard will be looking to boost their NFL Draft stocks in this one, so expect an avalanche of points. And though Indiana’s defense generally makes any opponent look like an offensive juggernaut, Duke can pour on the points, too. The Blue Devils scored at least 34 points six times this season and are one of the nations top 40 passing teams.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

7. Foster Farms Bowl: Nebraska vs. UCLA

Sub-.500 Nebraska might not “deserve” to be in a bowl game in the eyes of many, but math dictated that some 5-7 teams had to play postseason football this season. And the Huskers’ inclusion could give us a good game in the Foster Farms Bowl. You might not think much of Nebraska, and it’s true that they played poor defense much of the season, negating the excuse of close margins in its bevy of losses. But the Huskers can score. Tommy Armstrong isn’t the most-accurate quarterback — 16 interceptions this season — but he also threw for more than 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns. Both Nebraska and UCLA rank in the top 30 in the country in passing and both give up a lot of points.

8. Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin vs. USC

These two teams haven’t played since the 1960s, so it’ll be cool to see them on the same field again. USC lost five games this season, but four of those losses came against teams currently ranked in the top 15. Same goes for Wisconsin, which lost just three times but to three top-15 teams. The Badgers undoubtedly have the edge in defense, the No. 3 such unit in the country, where the Trojans rank much farther down the list. That being said, there’s no doubt USC has the offensive advantage, with good passing numbers behind Cody Kessler. Wisconsin’s offense, meanwhile, has done little to inspire much confidence, with injuries ravaging that side of the ball and Joel Stave prone to turnovers. If Corey Clement is healthy enough to play come Dec. 30, it could be a different story, though.

9. TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia

Similar to the Citrus Bowl between Michigan and Florida, this Big Ten-SEC matchup features two more of the top defenses in the country. Georgia ranks eighth in the nation in total defense, and Penn State ranks 14th. Despite firing Mark Richt, the Bulldogs weren’t far off from a dream-type season, losing just three times to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. While the Bulldogs will be without star running back Nick Chubb, who was knocked out for the year with a midseason injury, there’ll still be plenty of star power, as this figures to be the last college game for Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

10. Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

The lone bowl game to feature a Big Ten team and an opponent from outside the Power 5 conferences, there shouldn’t be too much excitement over the Quick Lane Bowl. Minnesota improved its offensive capabilities as the season went on, though it did part ways with offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Running the ball always seems to be the Gophers’ best bet, but Central Michigan has the No. 30 rush defense in the country.