The stage has been set for the division one college football bowl season. The remaining 82 teams are set to clash starting December 20. The state of Michigan will be well represented in these bowls, with five qualifying teams, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Michigan, and Michigan State to compete in bowl games.
In order to qualify for the college football bowl season a team has to reach six wins out of twelve. Most years, an excess of bowl games leads to sub-.500 teams making bowl games, however this year, an excess of bowl eligible teams has resulted in more bowl eligible teams than bowl spots. This means that one of the teams that reached the six win benchmark was not given a bowl assignment. Eastern Michigan was thought by some to be the team that would end up being left out. This possible exclusion was because six other MAC teams qualified for bowls and as a smaller brand team from a smaller brand conference fewer bowls were interested in hosting them. Nevertheless, the Eagles survived the chopping block and joined the four other teams from the state in the postseason.
Central Michigan of the MAC conference was one of the first teams from Michigan to punch their ticket to a bowl game after a surprising 8-5 season. In the annual conference preseason media poll, the Chippewas were picked to finish dead last in their division. However, the Chippewas made a run all the way to the MAC conference title game before falling to the Miami (OH) Red Hawks. The Chippewas were able to do this using a high powered, high octane offense that generated 450 total yards and 36 points per game. For their efforts the Chippewas were rewarded with a trip to the New Mexico Bowl to play San Diego State on December 21.
Eastern Michigan, also from the MAC, was able to survive their division and get to a bowl at 6-6. Head coach Chris Creighton has led EMU to three bowl games in the last four seasons, and this year they were able to reach a bowl game through offensive and defensive balance. ESPN’s Football Power Index, one of the most widely used advanced metrics for college football, ranked the Eagles offense and defense among the 100 best in the country. Led by senior quarterback Mike Glass III, the Eagles earned a date with the University of Pittsburgh in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit in December 26.
Western Michigan, another MAC team, lived up to expectations with a 7-5 record after being tabbed to finish second in their division in the preseason MAC poll. Similar to the Chippewas, the Broncos made a bowl on the back of their high flying offense. Western’s offense generated over 450 total yards and 34 points per game. Despite missing the MAC’s conference title game, the Broncos still ranked first in ESPN’s FPI among all MAC teams at 64 in the country, which is over twenty spots better than Central Michigan. Western’s offense ranked among the top 40 in the country, and their defense was no slouch either, ranking near the top 75 in the country. Senior running back Levante Bellamy’s 23 rushing touchdowns (leading the nation) will carry the Broncos into a December 30 matchup against Western Kentucky in the First Responder Bowl.
Michigan State of the Big Ten Conference has made their twelfth bowl game in thirteen years under head coach Mark Dantonio, albeit in a very unimpressive fashion. The Spartans struggled to a 6-6 record after being picked to finish ahead of teams like Penn State, who is ranked tenth nationally in the CFP poll. The Spartans sputtered down the stretch and barely scraped two wins together against bottom dwelling Big Ten teams Maryland and Rutgers to qualify for a bowl game. Despite an ESPN FPI top 25 defense, the Spartans sluggish offense ranked worst among the five schools from Michigan and generated only 24 points and 360 yards per game of total offense. While MSU played a very difficult schedule, going 0-5 against top 25 ranked opponents is far below the standards the Spartans have set over the last decade. Despite all their struggles the Spartans will have one more chance to prove themselves in the Pinstripe Bowl against the 8-4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
The Michigan Wolverines are the final and most accomplished of the five to make a bowl game. The Wolverines may not have lived up to their preseason billing as the team to beat in the Big Ten, however a 9-3 record with wins against, Notre Dame, Iowa, Indiana and a top 15 national finish is hardly something to ignore. Led by head coach Jim Harbaugh and senior quarterback Shea Patterson, the Wolverines ranked in the top 25 in the FPI in both offense and defense, scoring over 33 points per game. Michigan football proved themselves as a strong competitor this season. The bowl selection committee clearly agrees, placing them in the Citrus Bowl against the reigning national runner-up Alabama Crimson Tide on January 1.
With five teams headed to bowl games this season, the state of Michigan is well represented and prepared to make a splash. With a perennial powerhouse in Michigan and a cinderella story in Central Michigan, the state of Michigan has the narratives and the talent to make this bowl season one to remember.