My Two Cents: Path to Outback Bowl Still Exists for Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Once Indiana took off on that four-game winning streak in the middle of the season to become bowl eligible before Halloween, it was easy to dream about the best destination possible.
And for a team with 25 kids from Florida and a ton of ties to the Tampa Bay area, the Outback Bowl was the most logical dream-big target.
And why not? It's a New Year's Day bowl game, which Indiana hasn't played in since the Rose Bowl 52 years ago. It's in Tampa, and Indiana has NEVER played in a Florida bowl game. It's a high-profile game against an SEC opponent, and it kicks off the football feast on Jan. 1 with its early 1 p.m. ET start.
Indiana's losses to Penn State and Michigan basically have Indiana seventh in the Big Ten pecking order, but there are enough things in play for the Outback Bowl to pick the Hoosiers — something they would really like to do if they get the opportunity.
After checking in with several bowl execs, please follow along for a minute.
The key to spending the holidays in Tampa is that three Big Ten teams get enough love from the College Football Playoff committee to earn a playoff spot (Ohio State) and TWO New Year's Six games (Wisconsin and Penn State, with the Rose Bowl and and Orange Bowl slot in play).
Then the Citrus Bowl in Orlando would pick 10-2 Minnesota before the Outback's turn. Michigan and Iowa have better records than Indiana, but the Outback technically can't take either one of them because of the terms of its six-year contract with the Big Ten. That deal stipulates that the Outback must take five DIFFERENT teams in the six-year period.
Iowa is out for sure for two reasons. One, they've been there twice in this contract window, and that includes last year. They cannot go to Tampa. Neither can Michigan, technically, but here's where it gets murky,
Since it's the last year of the deal, the Big Ten — which ultimately makes the call about who goes where — could say that the Outback would be a more competitive game if Michigan played a pretty good SEC team instead of Indiana. That would violate the contract, because Michigan just played there two years ago.
The Outback, I've been told, really doesn't want Michigan either, since they were just there. So if Michigan and Iowa would be content to go to, say, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and/or the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, then there you go.
Indiana to Tampa!
The big key, obviously, is if the Citrus Bowl in Orlando takes Minnesota ahead of the Outback. The Gophers have never played in the Outback Bowl, either, so it would be hard to take Indiana OVER Minnesota, not with the two-game disparity in record.
So Indiana's best bet is if Minnesota isn't even an option for Tampa. That will be up to the Citrus.
Al of this becomes moot, of course, if that third team isn't selected in that playoff/New Year's six group. That pushes everyone back a notch and probably knocks Indiana out of the Outback equation.
The next step down is that Music City/Gator situation. Both of those bowls are in the final year of their agreements with the Big Ten, too. The Music City has used up all of its Big Ten slots and, if they followed the terms of their contract to the letter, they would have to take an ACC team this year. The Gator is in the same boat, but in reverse. They've used up their ACC slots and need to take a Big Ten team.
The logic, though, is that those two bowls might work together and just say to heck with the contract in its final year. The Gator could take an ACC team from Florida — Miami and Florida State would both be options — and just let the Music City take a Big Ten team.
Indiana fans would love the short trip to Nashville, of course, but that's not really high-profile like the Outback Bowl would be. It's not as warm, either. My bowl suitcase is craving shorts and sandals.
What will help Indiana the most this weekend is if Wisconsin plays Ohio State tough on Saturday night in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship Game. If they were the Rose Bowl's choice over Penn State, then it would be very hard for the Orange Bowl to say no to Penn State.
In any case, we're in wait-and-see mode, probably until late afternoon on Sunday.
Still, let's keep our fingers crossed. Tampa for the holidays is still Dream No. 1