2018-19 Big Ten Bowl Picks – Part II
Below is the second part of my two-part series on the 2018-19 Big Ten Bowl season. You can read part I here.
Michigan State (+3) vs. Oregon – total of 48 – December 31, 3:00
The Spartans have an abominable offense. They are ranked 114th in offensive S&P+ and failed to score more than 14 points in any of their final three games (6, 6 and 14). However, their defense is terrific. They are ranked 2nd in defensive S&P+ and have surrendered more than 10 points only once since mid-October. I love the Spartans ability to pressure the pocket and their defensive front is a bear to run against. Oregon had an okay season in the first year with Mario Cristobal at the helm. Justin Herbert is a very good quarterback but I don’t love the weapons he has around him and I think the Ducks offensive line is going to have a very difficult time keeping the Spartans defense at bay. I like Michigan State to be the far more physical team and Mark Dantonio has a good track record in bowl games. Give me the Spartans to win outright.
Northwestern (+7) vs. Utah – total of 46 – December 31, 7:00
To be blunt, betting against Northwestern scares me. Pat Fitzgerald is a terrific coach and he gets all of the juice out of his team that he possibly can. They won a very weak Big Ten West division and should be lauded for that accomplishment. However, they were extremely fortunate to beat Nebraska and Purdue and were far from impressive in close victories over Illinois and Rutgers. The Wildcats have an offensive S&P of 103 and a special teams ranking of 122. I like young running back Isaiah Bowser but they lack playmakers at wide receiver and Clayton Thorson has thrown far too many interceptions for my liking in 2018 (14). Utah gave Washington a tough time in the PAC-12 Championship but the Huskies deserved the victory as the Utes struggled to generate offense with a back-up quarterback. Utah is favored by advanced stats models by as much as 15 points. That’s excessive but I do think Utah is the superior team and Kyle Whittingham is exceptional in bowl games (he is unbeaten). The only question is whether or not Utah can score with injuries at QB, RB and potentially without their top WR in Britain Covey. I like taking the under and I’ll pick Utah to just cover.
Iowa (+7) vs. Mississippi State – total of 44 – January 1, Noon
The Outback Bowl is always an interesting matchup between solid Big Ten and SEC teams and this season is no exception. I don’t know how good of a game it will be though. I really like Mississippi State and think they will hammer the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s offensive line is going to have a brutal time with the Bulldogs defensive front and that will make life very difficult for Nathan Stanley and the Iowa offense. In addition, the Hawkeyes will be playing without one of their stars as Noah Fant is skipping the bowl game. Now, Iowa struggled to utilize his skill set so that might not be a huge deal but it’s worth noting. Nick Fitzgerald is not a good passer but he is a terrific runner and he has been very productive during his career in Starkville. This game will be his final contest and I think he can have a nice day running against this Iowa defense. The offense won’t have to score a lot for the Bulldogs as I don’t think Iowa will be able to reach the 20s. Give me Mississippi State to cover and win comfortably.
Penn State (-6.5) vs. Kentucky – total of 47.5 – January 1, 1:00
Both Kentucky and Penn State are going for their tenth victory as they clash in the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats had a pair of frustrating losses to end their SEC campaign (Georgia and Tennessee) but rebounded to handle Middle Tennessee and Louisville. Penn State closed strong with three dominant defensive performances after a blowout loss at Michigan. While Trace McSorley did not have the senior season he was hoping for, there is no chance I am betting against him in his final collegiate game. The Kentucky defense is stout but McSorley should be able to have some success running and getting the ball to playmakers KJ Hamler and Miles Sanders. I like this matchup for Penn State though, not because of their offense, but because of their defense. It exceeded my expectations and the linebacker trio of Jan Johnson, Cam Brown and Micah Parsons are sure tacklers. That bodes well for a matchup against the run-heavy Wildcats. Looking at Kentucky’s results and watching their games shows me a team that struggled over the final month of the season against their decent opponents. Penn State’s defense was playing its best ball at the end of the year and I believe that will be enough to get them the cover.
Ohio State (-6.5) vs. Washington – total of 58 – January 1, 5:00
The intangibles surrounding this game are extremely interesting. The Rose Bowl is a big deal for any program but I did wonder how motivated Ohio State would be after falling short of the College Football Playoff. When Urban Meyer announced he was retiring after the game, my questions were put to bed. I think the Buckeyes will be plenty motivated and I fully expect them to head to Pasadena intending to send Meyer out on a high note. The Buckeyes offense going against the Huskies defense is without question the matchup to watch. Washington has an outstanding secondary and they play incredibly sound defense. That will be tested against the high-octane aerial assault of Dwayne Haskins and the Ohio State offense. I expect OSU to attack early and often and that should open up some running lanes for Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins. Ohio State won’t be able to score at will as they did against Michigan but I do expect them to put up some points. Can the Huskies realistically match the Buckeyes point for point? I don’t like what I have seen from Jake Browning and I question his ability to beat a top-notch opponent that has a strong pass rush. Washington will attempt to lean heavily on their ground attack and they’ll have some success but I do not believe it will be enough. Ohio State’s speed and offensive arsenal proves to be too much as the Buckeyes take the Rose Bowl and cover.