Nine Big Ten teams qualified for bowl games and all nine will play in bowl games this year.
From the West division, Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota qualified. From the East, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State qualified as well. A Big Ten football team will be in action on every day from Dec. 26-Jan. 1 except Dec. 30.
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit on Dec. 26): Minnesota (6-6) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
This marks the Golden Gophers’ second appearance in the bowl’s five-year history. They first appeared in 2015, when quarterback Mitch Leidner won the game’s MVP award following a 21-14 victory over Central Michigan.
The Golden Gophers started their season with a 3-0 record in non-conference play, but the team dropped its first four conference matchups. The Gophers then alternated wins and losses in their last five games, reaching the six-win mark with a win over rival Wisconsin, the program’s first victory over the Badgers since the 2003 season.
Georgia Tech has become famous for its triple-option offense under head coach Paul Johnson, who announced he would retire following the bowl game.
Pinstripe Bowl (New York City on Dec. 27): Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Miami (7-5)
A Big Ten team has won three of the last four Pinstripe Bowls. This year’s edition is a rematch from last year’s Orange Bowl, featuring Wisconsin and Miami, both preseason top-10 teams.
The game figures to be low-scoring because both teams feature a strong defense and a weak offense. Miami finished 14th in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 18.2 points per game, while Wisconsin allowed only 24.3. Miami also allowed only 268.3 total yards per game, second only to Michigan.
The Badgers were led offensively by running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 1,989 yards and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook suffered a concussion on Oct. 20 against Rutgers, but is back to playing full time. Wisconsin’s last four losses all came by 12 points or more.
The Miami defense was one of the country’s best. Led by safety Jaquan Johnson and linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who were first and second on the team in tackles, Miami stymied opposing offenses. Defensive lineman Gerald Willis III also played a big part, recording 18 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tennessee on Dec. 28): Purdue (6-6) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Purdue qualified for a bowl game for the second straight year under head coach Jeff Brohm. It went 6-6 last year before winning the Foster Farms Bowl against Arizona last year. Purdue clinched bowl eligibility in the last week of the season with a win over Indiana.
Auburn finished with a 7-5 record as its five losses all came in SEC play. The Tigers began their year with a tough win over Washington, but the offense faltered down the stretch. The defense had a similar problem last season.
Peach Bowl (Atlanta on Dec. 29): Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida (9-3)
Michigan went 10-2 in the regular season and came second in the Big Ten East. The Wolverines fell to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, in week one but didn’t lose again until falling 62-39 to Ohio State in the regular season finale. The loss dropped Michigan from fourth to seventh in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Wolverines are without a playoff berth and defensive lineman Rashan Gary will sit the game out to prepare for the NFL draft.
Florida finished 9-3 in head coach Dan Mullen’s first year in charge of the program. The team went 4-0 in non-conference play and 5-3 in the SEC. The Gators lost to Kentucky for the first time in more than 30 years in week two, but they later earned a road win over Mississippi State.
Redbox Bowl (Dec. 30 in Santa Clara, California): Michigan State (7-5) vs. Oregon (8-4)
The Spartans went 7-5 in the regular season and never won more than two games in a row. The strength of the team is its defense, which finished 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 18 points per game. The offense was as bad as the defense was good, scoring only 19.8 points per game.
Most of the Spartans’ struggles offensively were caused by injuries. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was expected to be a top Big Ten quarterback but struggled early in the season before suffering an injury at Penn State. Wide receiver Felton Davis III was lost for the year with an Achilles injury, also at Penn State. The team lost star running back LJ Scott early in the season after he suffered a severe ankle injury in week one.
Oregon went 8-4 in head coach Mario Cristobal’s first year in Eugene. The Ducks went 3-0 in non-conference action but lost their first conference game of the season, a ranked matchup at home against then-No. 7 Stanford. That loss preceded a two-game win streak against foes then-No. 24 California and then-No. 7 Washington.
Holiday Bowl (Dec. 31 in San Diego): Northwestern (8-5) vs. Utah (9-4)
Northwestern won the Big Ten West with an 8-5 record. The team lost all three of its non-conference games but went 8-1 in Big Ten play to win the West division. Neither the offense nor the defense are particularly remarkable as Northwestern only outscored its opponents by 0.2 points per game.
Utah went 9-4 in the regular season before falling to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Utes were strong defensively, allowing only 18.54 points per game and scoring offensively with total points per game at 28.69.
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, 2019 in Tampa Bay, Florida): Iowa (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
The Hawkeyes went 8-4 and won their games in spurts. They began the year with a three-game winning streak, lost a game, then won three straight, lost three straight, and completed the regular season with wins over Illinois and Nebraska.
Mississippi State also went 8-4 this season in head coach Joe Moorhead’s first year in charge of the program. Moorhead was the architect of an explosive offense at Penn State, but this year’s Bulldogs offense was middling, averaging 29.1 points per game, 65th out of 129 FBS teams.
However, Mississippi State shined defensively. The Bulldogs led the nation in scoring defense, allowing a meager 12 points per game. Only Alabama and Kentucky scored 20 or more points against them, and five different teams failed to break double-digit points. Defensive end Montez Sweat led the way with 11 sacks. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons recorded 14.5 tackles for loss, and Sweat had the second-most on the team with 13.5.
Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, 2019 in Orlando, Florida): Penn State (9-3) vs. Kentucky (9-3)
Penn State was expected to challenge for the Big Ten East division crown, but three conference losses held the team back. Happy Valley was a misnomer for two consecutive weeks as two of Penn State’s losses came at home against Ohio State and Michigan State. The other loss was against Michigan.
Linebacker Josh Allen, running back Benny Snell Jr. and quarterback Terry Wilson powered Kentucky to its best record since 1984. Similar to conference foe Mississippi State, Kentucky was strongest on defense. The Wildcats allowed 16.3 points per game and ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense.
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 2019 in Pasadena, California): Ohio State (12-1) vs. Washington (10-3)
Ohio State went 12-1 in the regular season, beating fellow bowl-bound teams Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. The Buckeyes’ one loss came at Purdue, a loss that kept the Buckeyes from qualifying for the College Football Playoff.
Notably, the game will be head coach Urban Meyer’s last on the Buckeyes’ sideline. He announced his retirement in the afternoon on Tuesday, Dec. 2, citing health problems. He led the Buckeyes to an 85-9 record during his tenure, including a 54-4 mark in Big Ten games. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day was named the program’s next head coach, partly based off his work in leading Ohio State while Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the regular season.
Washington presented a strong defense to regular-season opponents, limiting them to an average of 15.5 points per game. Seven teams failed to break 20 points against the Huskies, and four couldn’t escape single-digits.
With nine bowl games, the Big Ten Conference will hope its members can improve on last year’s stellar 7-1 record. This was the highest winning percentage of any conference last season, as the Big 12 finished in second place with a 5-3 record.