As much as it feels like Michigan’s season ended with that performance against Ohio State last Saturday, there’s still one more game — a consolation bowl, somewhere sunny and warm. Get hype!
Until Sunday’s selection show (or rather, an hour or so before the selection show, when someone inevitably leaks the placements), it’s a guessing game where the Wolverines will go and who they will play. But as championship weekend approaches, the picture has begun to come into focus.
For any team that doesn’t make a New Year’s Six bowl (yes, this includes Michigan), there are a set of bowls that are obligated to select Big Ten teams. They essentially “draft” teams in a predetermined order, and unlike New Year’s Six bowls, are not obligated to take teams based on their records. Instead, bowls usually select teams based on a combination of two factors: how big the fanbase is (a bigger fanbase means more money for the bowl) and which matchups would drive eyeballs to TVs (again, money is a bowl’s main determinant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying). The order of selection for Big Ten bowls goes as such: Citrus, Outback, Holiday, Gator, Pinstripe, Redbox, Quick Lane, Armed Forces.
But in order to make its matchups a little more exciting (read: in hopes of avoiding Michigan playing Florida for the 28304982th time), the Big Ten has a more specific set of rules about which teams bowls can select. The gist of it is that no bowl is allowed to take the same team as it did the year before (this doesn’t affect the Wolverines, since the Peach Bowl is a Playoff bowl this year and, well, Michigan isn’t going there) and that all bowls must take five different teams over the six-year span from 2014-19. That means the Outback Bowl, which has had Iowa twice in that period, can’t select any team that has played in it since 2014. That includes the Wolverines.
We’ll also get this out of the way: Michigan isn’t going to the Pinstripe, Redbox, Quick Lane or Armed Forces bowls. Too big of a #brand.
Now, let’s break down where the Wolverines actually could go.
The Citrus Bowl
The Citrus Bowl, which is on Jan. 1 in Orlando, has its pick of Big Ten teams that aren’t good enough for the New Year’s Six. There’s been a lot of smoke lately that the bowl wants the Wolverines, which would make sense given that the fanbase travels well. The Citrus Bowl could pick Michigan even if Wisconsin is available — and there would be a precedent for that, with the Outback Bowl picking the 8-4 Wolverines over a 9-3 Michigan State that beat them in 2017.
Should Michigan head to Orlando, it would face a team from the SEC, which, if the latest College Football Playoff rankings are to be believed, would be … Alabama.
So. Ready to relive the 2000 Orange Bowl ad nauseam, then witness another season-ending blowout?
To be fair, this isn’t a foregone conclusion. The Crimson Tide could make the New Year’s Six, which would probably end with the Wolverines playing Auburn (though that matchup doesn’t inspire a ton more confidence). And if a Big Ten team (likely Wisconsin) makes the Orange Bowl, the conference will be forced to hand over its spot in the Citrus Bowl to the ACC. Or, the Citrus Bowl could surprise us all and decide to pick the Badgers.
That would make Michigan’s most likely destination…
The Holiday Bowl
The Holiday Bowl is on Dec. 28 in San Diego, and the only time the Wolverines have ever played in this bowl was in 1984, when 6-5 Michigan had to play against undefeated, top-ranked BYU. (It lost, while the Cougars were named national champions.)
This bowl would love to have the Wolverines, especially because its opponent would be a Pac-12 team — and not just any Pac-12 team, but probably USC, which would be a perfect opportunity for the bowl to sell ’80s Rose Bowl nostalgia.
The confounding factor here is Iowa, which, due to the Big Ten’s aforementioned rule about repeat bowl appearances, cannot go to the Outback, Gator or Pinstripe bowls. So selecting Michigan for the Holiday Bowl would mean the Hawkeyes getting majorly screwed with a trip to the Redbox Bowl.
Of course, the Holiday Bowl doesn’t really care if Iowa gets screwed, but the Big Ten — which has the final say in all bowl selections involving its conference — might. If it doesn’t want Iowa getting bumped, the Wolverines could find themselves in…
The Gator Bowl
The Gator Bowl is on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville (#DUUUUVAL). The last time Michigan played in this bowl, they got blown out so badly Rich Rodriguez was fired. So, the bar is low.
Should they find themselves here, the Wolverines would play a team from the SEC. There’s less clarity as to what that team would be than there is with the other bowls, but recent projections have offered up Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State — all teams that finished 6-6 or 7-5.
That would seem to be the easiest destination for the Wolverines, matchup-wise, but consider that whichever middling SEC team got matched with Michigan would have hell of a lot more motivation than the still-reeling-from-Ohio-State Wolverines.
Michigan’s bowl destination fate is out of its hands now. All that’s left to do is see what the selection committee says.