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Conference Corner: Early impressions, picks for the Big Ten bowl slate

Ohio State snubbed from the College Football Playoff. Michigan against an SEC East foe. Favorable matchups all around for the rest of the Big Ten.

This was the case in 2017. It’s deja vu all over again.

After a 7-1 mark — forgot who blew the undefeated mark — during the last bowl season, the conference looks to assert its depth again this winter.

From Urban Meyer’s first Rose Bowl to P.J. Fleck’s return to Ford Field, here’s a brief rundown of the Big Ten 2018-19 bowl slate.

ROSE BOWL: No. 6 Ohio State (12-1) vs. No. 9 Washington (10-3)

(Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN)

The Buckeyes return to Pasadena for the first time since 2010. This is also Urban Meyer’s first trip to the San Gabriel Valley, despite two previous conference titles.

Dwayne Haskins (4,580 yards and 47 touchdowns) leads a potent offense against a Husky defense that ranks No. 3 per S&P+. Chris Petersen is 1-3 in bowls in his time at Washington (the one victory was a 44-31 shootout over Southern Miss).

Early gut pick: Ohio State

PEACH BOWL: No. 7 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 10 Florida (9-3)

(Dec. 29, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN)

After bludgeoning the Gators twice in the last four years, the Wolverines get another whack at their recent SEC East punching bag.

This time, there’s no more Jim McElwain — now the head man at Central Michigan. Dan Mullen led a turnaround from 4-7 to 9-3 in year one in Gainesville.

Unlike recent seasons, Florida fields decent units on both sides of the ball. The offense and defense both rank in the top-30 in S&P+. It’s also a program hungry to establish itself on the national stage.

Revenge over a recent nemesis would do the trick.

Early gut pick: Michigan in a squeaker

CITRUS BOWL: No. 12 Penn State (9-3) vs. No. 14 Kentucky (9-3)

(Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC)

For all the criticism leveled at James Franklin, he has a chance for his third straight double-digit win season.

To do so, the Nittany Lions have to dispatch the upstart Wildcats in Orlando. The approach will likely center around Bennie Snell, who amassed 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

Penn State counters with the No. 11 S&P+ defense. This is also Trace McSorley’s swan song, as the senior quarterback seeks his 32nd victory as a starter.

Mark Stoops has written a nice story in Lexington, but his team is No. 40 overall per Bill Connelly. That’s more like 5-7 Southern Cal or 7-5 Virginia than a top-15 CFP squad.

Early gut pick: Penn State

OUTBACK BOWL: Iowa (8-4) vs. No. 18 Mississippi State (8-4)

(Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN)

The Hawkeyes are set to face a legit Bulldog defense in Tampa. It held six opponents to single-digit points, and Alabama to just 24 in Tuscaloosa.

On the other hand, head coach Joe Moorhead’s acumen on offense has yet to catch on in Starkville. Despite having all-time SEC quarterback rushing leader Nick Fitzgerald, the offense averaged four points a game in losses.

Get ready for a good ol’ fashioned rock fight! That’s just how Kirk Ferentz would want it, as he looks to boost his bowl record to 8-8.

Early gut pick: Iowa 5, Mississippi State 2

HOLIDAY BOWL: No. 22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-4)

(Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Hooray! The Big Ten and Pac-12 title game losers meet in San Diego!

The Utes and the Wildcats survived chaotic divisional races en route to Santa Clara and Indianapolis, respectively. In fact, the programs share similar identities.

Both are defined by tough-nosed, defense-first head coaches who constantly overachieve. In the last two seasons, both have gone 2-0 during bowl season.

Unfortunately for Pat Fitzgerald, Kyle Whittingham’s team is considered the No. 17 in the country per S&P+. Northwestern slides in at No. 80.

Fortunately for him, the Utes lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a collarbone injury for the rest of the year. Freshman backup Jason Shelley has gone 3-1 in his place, but the loss was a three-point outing against Washington for the conference crown.

Early gut pick: Utah

REDBOX BOWL: Michigan State (7-5) vs. Oregon (8-4)

(Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET on FOX)

In 2014 and 2015, the Ducks and the Spartans played in September bashes that field CFP runs. How times have changed.

Behind a cavalcade of injuries, including starting quarterback Brian Lewerke and receiver Felton Davis to name a few, the offense in East Lansing is downright offensive (No. 114 per S&P+). The defense is its typically stout self at second nationally overall.

In his first campaign in Eugene, Mario Cristobal inherited future pro Justin Herbert (2,935 yards and 28 touchdowns) under center. As Mark Dantonio found a way to slow Dwayne Haskins earlier this fall, the defense should keep things afloat in Santa Clara.

Will the offense heal and congeal in time for the trek to the Bay Area?

Early gut pick: Oregon 16, MSU 11

MUSIC CITY BOWL: Purdue (6-6) vs. Auburn (7-5)

(Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN)

The Boilermakers already scored their biggest victory this season. They retained Jeff Brohm.

With newfound vigor, Purdue will drive just five hours to Nashville for a matchup with a name SEC program in Auburn. Brohm has prepped his team well for big games, snatching three wins over top-25 foes this season.

While the Tigers aren’t ranked, this is a chance at a statement for Purdue. Expect Big Ten Freshman of the Year Rondale Moore to be unleashed.

Early gut pick: Purdue, possibly in a blowout

PINSTRIPE BOWL: Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Miami (Fla.) (7-5)

(Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN)

It’s just like last year. Just exchange the Orange Bowl with the Big Apple.

It’s also a game between two massive disappointments. The Badgers collapsed in the Big Ten West race, while the Hurricanes somehow allowed Pitt to represent the ACC Coastal.

That doesn’t mean there’s no intrigue. Jonathan Taylor may very well be the Doak Walker Award winner, and should become the third Badger back to cross 2,000 yards rushing (Ron Dayne 1996 and 1999, Melvin Gordon 2014).

Mark Richt will throw his No. 7 defense at this problem, The defensive line features several future NFLers in tackle Gerald Willis and ends Jonathan Garvin and Joe Jackson.

Early gut pick: Wisconsin

QUICK LANE BOWL: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

(Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN)

What a wonderful season for P.J. Fleck. Despite just 11 starters returning overall, plus two different freshman starting at quarterback, he navigated the Gophers to their first bowl since 2015.

With that said, Georgia Tech is not the team you want to play. It’s a bitch and a half to face the triple option. On top of that, option maestro Paul Johnson is hanging up the headset after this season.

On the flip side, Fleck gets a month to prep quarterback Tanner Morgan for the nation’s No. 105 efficiency defense. Plus, running back Mohamed Ibrahim just ripped rival Wisconsin for 121 yards to help steal back Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

With proper game-planning, look for fireworks in MoTown.

Early gut pick: Georgia Tech

Early predicted Big Ten bowl record: 6-3

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