With an 8-4 record and a second place finish in the Big Ten Legends Division, Michigan is obviously headed to a bowl game. Since Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible for postseason play, Michigan’s bowl destination will be better than it would have been had the 12-0 (8-0) Buckeyes and 8-4 (6-2) Nittany Lions been able to go bowling.
Michigan will fill the Big Ten’s second or third bowl slot behind the winner of Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game between Nebraska and Wisconsin. The winner will get the conference’s guaranteed BCS bid, while the loser is unlikely to receive a BCS at-large due to the conference’s weak showing all season. There is a chance Nebraska could still get one if it loses, but the bowl committees won’t look to kindly on an end-of-season loss to a 7-5 team.
If Nebraska wins and heads to the Rose Bowl, the Capital One Bowl will choose between Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. A 7-6 Wisconsin squad is likely the odd man out despite playing in the Big Ten title game because the Badgers wouldn’t have been there if Ohio State was eligible. Michigan will travel far better than Northwestern will, and a matchup between the Wolverines and a top-tier SEC school is far more appealing than one involving the Wildcats.
If Wisconsin beats Nebraska and goes to Pasadena, Nebraska will likely get slotted into the Capital One Bowl, pushing Michigan down to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. In the previous two decades, Tampa was a familiar sight for Michigan, but the Wolverines haven’t been there since beating Florida in 2003. The bowl committee would love to get a Michigan vs. SEC matchup in Raymond James Stadium. So who will Michigan face? Depending on the outcome of the Big Ten title game as well as the other conference championships, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and LSU are most likely. Let’s take a look at each team.
Georgia faces Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in what is essentially the BCS National Championship play-in game. Notre Dame awaits the winner. The loser will still probably get a BCS at-large bid because of the strength of the conference, especially if Alabama is on the losing end. But there’s a slight chance that if Georgia is blown out by the Crimson Tide, the Dawgs would fall to the Capital One Bowl and Florida will gain a BCS at-large bid.
Georgia has quietly put together an impressive season, beating then-No. 2 Florida in Athens, and outscoring opponents by an average of 38-17. But if there is a knock on the Dawgs it is the fact that the SEC scheduling allowed them to skirt playing LSU and Texas A&M and they didn’t play anybody of note in the non-conference. The only loss was a 35-7 thrashing by South Carolina on Oct. 6. The Gamecocks were the only other ranked team Georgia played all season. We will find out on Saturday whether they are for real or merely benefited from a favorable schedule.
Florida won’t get to play in the SEC Championship game because of a 17-9 loss to Georgia. It was the Gators’ only loss of the season, although they had several close wins. Thanks to the SEC’s wacky scheduling, Florida got to face Texas A&M in Week 2, before super freshman Johnny Manziel took off, and beat the Aggies 20-17. They beat LSU 14-6, hung on against Missouri 14-7, and needed some late magic to hold off Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20. Like Georgia, the Gators didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule save the annual matchup with rival Florida State. Bowling Green, Jacksonville State, and Louisiana-Lafayette were the other opponents. If both Alabama and Georgia earn BCS bowl bids, Florida will likely be slotted into the Capital One Bowl.
Texas A&M finished the season 10-2 and 6-2 in the SEC with losses to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19). The Aggies feature one of the best players in college football, likely Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. They rank fourth nationally in points per game (44.8) and shook up the BCS standings by beating Alabama on Nov. 10 (29-24). Since they were in the SEC West, they didn’t have to face Georgia or South Carolina, and their non-conference schedule featured SMU, South Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, and Sam Houston State. The Aggies will likely go to the Cotton Bowl, but bowl committees would love to get a matchup of two of college football’s most exciting players, Manziel and Denard Robinson.
LSU put together a good season, going 10-2 with losses to Florida (14-6) and Alabama (21-17). In the game against Alabama, LSU moved the ball with relative ease and led the Tide 17-14 late in the fourth before A.J. McCarron hooked up with T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass that went 28 yards for a touchdown with 51 seconds left. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 24-19 on the road and South Carolina 23-21. Like the Florida and Georgia, LSU didn’t play much of an out-of-conference schedule of North Texas, Washington, Idaho State, and Towson. LSU is probably the most unlikely opponent among the group, but if Wisconsin beats Nebraska and Michigan slides to the Outback, it’s possible.
Florida and Georgia are probably the most likely, depending on the outcome of the SEC title game, which will be played Saturday at 4pm on CBS and the Big Ten title game, which will be played Saturday at 8:17pm on FOX. I would much rather face Florida than Georgia or Texas A&M. While A&M doesn’t quite have the defense the other two feature, Florida’s offense is not very good. The Gators are pretty comparable to Notre Dame with a really good defense and a lackluster offense, and Michigan hung with Notre Dame for most of the game, falling due to a cacophony of turnovers. Regardless of the opponent, it will be a tough bowl game to win for Michigan this season since they will essentially be playing up a slot or two. If Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, Michigan would probably be playing in the Gator Bowl against someone like Mississippi State.