Ranking Big Ten Bowls From Most Buzz-worthy To The Least

Steve Deace

Ranking the interest in all nine Big Ten bowl games from most buzz-worthy to the least. 

1. Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
An easy choice for the top spot, because it has everything. It's the first time the Big Ten champion has made it to the college football playoff since 2015. It's a rematch of the national semifinal four seasons ago, when Clemson shutout the Buckeyes. The top two quarterback prospects in the 2018 class, and two of the highest-rated ever, will face-off for the first time as well. Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence may also be the top two picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. And the chess match between Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Ohio State Coach Ryan Day is a football nerdgasm. 

2. Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama 
These are two of the top programs of all-time by any historical metric you choose to look at, and they've only played five times ever. Thus, in terms of sheer brand power, this New Year's Day game is as potent as they come. However, let's not kid ourselves. The real buzz surrounding this game is it pits arguably the two most divisive coaches in the sport, Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh, against each other for the first time. 

3. Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon
The Badgers are still succeeding on the foundation established by legendary coach turned athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is the only Big Ten coach not named Woody Hayes to ever win three Rose Bowls. However, Wisconsin is 0-3 in Pasadena since he retired. One of those losses was to Oregon in Russell Wilson's final game. That game saw the two teams combined for 83 points, but it's unlikely that will be duplicated this go-around. These are not the Ducks of Chip Kelly. They don't mind running the ball downhill behind a mammoth offensive line to set up the play-action, or even winning slugfests. See Oregon beating Michigan State, 7-6, in last year's Redbox Bowl.  

4. Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa 
Talk about a contrast in styles and stability. The Trojans, much to the dismay of their fanbase, elected to bring Clay Helton back for what's essentially a lame-duck year in 2020, unless he wins the Pac-12. Helton saved his job with a prolific air raid passing attack orchestrated by new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. They don't run the ball that well, or play much defense (just 83rd nationally). USC couldn't be much different than college football's old faithful -- Kirk Ferentz. Iowa's coach for life stubbornly refuses to change. Every year you know what the Hawkeyes are gonna run (a plodding offense) and who they're gonna be (nasty on defense). And yet the results speak for themselves. This is the 15th time in school history the Hawkeyes have won nine games or more, and Ferentz has been the coach for eight of them.   

5. Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn 
Two coaches, each with larger than life personas. Auburn's perennially embattled Gus Malzahn is the mad scientist with his offensive wizardry. Minnesota's P.J. Fleck could be the most popular executive in the state right now, after rowing the boat for the school's first 10-win season since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 was trending. Then there's the clash of strengths. The Tigers have one of the stingiest defenses in the SEC. The Gophers one of the most explosive offenses in the Big Ten. 

6. Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Penn State
The Nittany Lions boast one of the largest living alumni bodies in the world, so you can expect them to show out and dominate the ticket sales at the cavernous Jerry World in Arlington. Memphis lost head coach Mike Norvell to Florida State, though he has expressed an interest in returning to coach the bowl game like Urban Meyer did at Utah back in the day. Penn State had one of the youngest offenses in the Big Ten, and could use this as a springboard for 2020. Albeit without offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, who's leaving to become the new head coach at Old Dominion. 

7. Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee 
This is gonna be a home game for the Vols. They have a much larger, closer, and mobile fan base. But both teams should be very excited to be here. This is the best bowl game for the Hoosiers in decades, and Florida has been key to Coach Tom Allen's recruiting efforts. After early losses at home to Georgia State and BYU, Tennessee fans were rightly worried about staying home for the holidays. These are also two young teams as well. So the winner of this game will be one of your offseason chic picks to surprise in 2020 by the smart set for the next nine months. 

8. Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest
The identities of these two programs couldn't be more dissimilar. Michigan State prefers stone age football. Rock fights are its jam. On the other hand, Wake Forest prefers a more wide-open affair with its skill talent. Doubtful the slow track outdoors at Yankee Stadium in late December fits that approach, though. Speaking of slow, that will likely describe ticket sales for this one, too. 

9. Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois 
A year ago, Cal played in one of the ugliest bowl games ever. Its 2018 Cheez-It Bowl against TCU went to overtime tied, 7-7, as the two teams combined for nine interceptions. While it's unlikely that infamy will repeat itself, these are two defensive-minded programs that could produce a similar score. Illinois made its first bowl of the Lovie Smith era thanks to one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country.