Never a dull day in the college football offseason. Just as conference realignment seems ready to slow down for the time being, bowl realignment is picking up. Now that the Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls have entered the "elite" category — along with the Orange, Sugar, Rose and Fiesta — there will need to be some rearranging of tie-ins in some conferences to accommodate the changes. Some lower-tier bowl games will also be changing hands, as they regularly do. On Wednesday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spoke to a group of reporters about the possible changes, and indicated that there could be a lot of moves to come.
But before that, let's review the new bowl procedure, beginning in 2014-2015:
Six bowls — Orange, Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A — will host games on December 31 or January 1 each year. Two of those games will be national semifinals each year, and the semifinals will rotate among those six games. The national semifinals get the four best teams regardless of conference, while three "contract" bowls — Orange, Sugar and Rose — have tie-ins when they are not one of the two national semifinals.
The Orange Bowl will take an ACC team each year, along with a team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. The Rose Bowl still has a contract with the Big Ten and Pac-12, while the Sugar Bowl has a contract with the SEC and the Big 12. It's a bit confusing, but basically all you need to take from this is that the Big Ten will still see a lot of the Rose Bowl, and it will see more of the Orange Bowl than it has in recent years.
The changes at the top will also affect some of the Big Ten's upper-tier bowls. The ACC loses its tie-in with the Chick-fil-A Bowl, so it needs another partnership with a near-elite bowl game. According to ESPN.com, in years that the Big Ten gets a team in the Orange Bowl, an ACC team could slide into the Big Ten's Capital One Bowl slot in order to even things out at the top of the bowl pecking order. That way, there's a more even split between the number of ACC and Big Ten teams getting invited to good bowl games.
But there could also be some changes coming to the middle-and-lower-tier bowls that would affect Big Ten teams. According to that same ESPN article, the ACC is likely to add the Gator Bowl, which would knock the Big Ten out of that game. As ESPN's Adam Rittenberg notes, Big Ten-SEC matchups are always a big deal, but it's unlikely the leagues will continue to play three games against each other. That seems to leave the Gator Bowl as the odd game out.
But what about new options? The two most intriguing options, as pointed out by a number of writers, look like the Pinstripe Bowl and the Holiday Bowl. Referring back to the initial ESPN article again, the ACC is likely to begin a tie-in with the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014, and adding the Big Ten only makes sense. The Big Ten has made it clear that it intends to try to win over the New York City market, so playing a game in Yankee Stadium would align with that goal. According to Rittenberg, there is mutual interest between the Big Ten and the Holiday Bowl, which would pit the conference against the Pac-12. That makes sense considering the Big Ten's objectives to diversify bowl destinations — the Holiday Bowl is in San Diego — and play more Pac-12 teams.
Considering the Big Ten is adding two teams to the conference, it makes sense that it will be tied-in to more bowl each year. In this hypothetical scenario, we've already added one (adding the Holiday and Pinstripe, and subtracting the Gator), but could the lower-tier bowls be in for a shake-up, as well? There isn't much knowledge out there regarding the lower-tier bowls, but there's certainly the potential for the Big Ten to consider mixing things up.
Maybe the Big Ten could drop the
TicketCity Heart of Dallas Bowl and add the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, as suggested by Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The Heart of Dallas Bowl isn't particularly dear to the Big Ten and it's struggled with attendance in its three years in existence. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, meanwhile, gives fans a new destination in San Francisco and adds another potential Big Ten-Pac 12 matchup. Or could the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas be switched out somewhere? Again, this is pure speculation, but the Heart of Dallas Bowl/Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl switch makes a lot of sense and could be an option down the road.
So what are we left with? It's tough to say for sure right now, since there are a lot of moving parts, but this is how the Big Ten bowl lineup could look, with the Orange Bowl and Capital One Bowl being somewhat interchangeable:
Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12, when not a semifinal)
Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame, when not a semifinal)
Capital One Bowl (Big Ten/ACC vs. SEC)
Outback Bowl (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Holiday Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Big Ten vs. Big 12)
Pinstripe Bowl (Big Ten vs. ACC)
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Big Ten vs. Big 12)
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) OR Heart of Dallas Bowl (Big Ten vs. Big 12)
Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl (Big Ten vs. MAC)
As news become available — and it should relatively soon — we'll have it posted on InsideNU. Meanwhile, head over to our forums and let us know which bowls you'd like to see more or less of in the future.