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IU football week nine opponent taking shape | “New Year’s Six” bowl game becoming more likely

All eyes now turn to the Big Ten, and the University of Michigan football program.

Will the Wolverines or won’t they provide Ohio State with their required sixth game to qualify for the Ben Ten championship game as they contend with a COVID-19 outbreak?  And if Michigan cannot play the Buckeyes this Saturday, how does the Big Ten respond?

As of Friday, reports suggested a pessimistic outlook for Michigan to show up for their annual rivalry game against Ohio State.  And as a 30-point underdog, it is reasonable to wonder if Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh really has any interest in playing that game irrespective of the virus.

(UPDATE:  Pete Thamel reported on Monday that the outlook for Michigan playing this weekend has improved)

We told you last week that the Big Ten is actively looking for a way to ensure that Ohio State gets into the league title game.  The Buckeyes certainly seem worthy of that game, both because they are the conference’s top national title contender, and also because they defeated the East Division’s only other legitimate team, Indiana.

So if Michigan cannot play, look for the Big Ten to find a sixth game for Ohio State, or if all else fails, change its own recently enacted rule and allow the Buckeyes to play in Indianapolis on Dec. 19 despite only playing five games.

Where does that leave IU in the league’s week nine Champions Week?

Obviously one potential opponent as we write this is still Big Ten West champion Northwestern in the championship game.

While facing the Wildcats and their quarterback Peyton Ramsey would be entertaining for Hoosier fans, we don’t think it will happen.  The Big Ten is going to find a way to put OSU in that game.

We’ll continue to argue that if the league is intent on breaking its own rules to help Ohio State, it should take the next step and pit its next highest team in the College Football Playoff rankings, Indiana, in a rematch for the championship.  It is the CFP, after all, that is leading the Big Ten to ensure Ohio State reaches its title game.  And Indiana is the only other Big Ten team with a conceivable path to college football’s final four after Northwestern lost to Michigan State.

But don’t hold your breath.

Instead, the most likely week nine opponent for IU appears to be Iowa.

The Hawkeyes have won five in a row and currently, like IU, sit in second place in their division.

Iowa (5-2) hosts Wisconsin (2-2) on Saturday, and thus is no lock to stay in second place in the loss column in the West.  Even if Indiana loses to Purdue on Saturday, their second loss could only possibly leave them at worst in a second place tie with Maryland in the loss column.  But the Hoosiers hold the tiebreaker there.

When Champions Week was announced, the league stressed that it would like to avoid rematches in week nine, meaning that a second IU meeting with Wisconsin over a three week span is unlikely.  Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Maryland have not met this season.

Minnesota (2-3) and Nebraska (2-4) also meet in week eight and sit below Iowa and Wisconsin in the division.  File the winner of that one away as the next most likely week nine opponents.

But as of right now, with the reminder that anything goes in 2020 firmly top of mind, Iowa looks like the week nine foe.

Like Northwestern, Iowa also has a prominent IU transfer on its roster.

Offensive tackle Coy Cronk was back on Saturday after not playing since the Hawkeyes’ loss to Northwestern in October.  For now Cronk is the backup right tackle, as his move to Iowa City hasn’t had the desired outcome to this point for the four-year Hoosier starter.

Indiana last faced Iowa in 2018, when the Hawkeyes pummeled IU in Bloomington, 42-16.

Where might the Hoosiers go bowling?

Don’t count IU completely out of the College Football Playoff just yet.

The Hoosiers were No. 12 in last week’s CFP rankings and while no one in front of them lost over the weekend, a road win against CFP No. 16 Wisconsin should carry some weight.

We’ll see if the CFP committee gives IU a boost over suspect teams in front of them like Cincinnati and two-loss Iowa State.

Still, the Ultimate Ninja Warrior course that IU would have to survive to play in the CFP, much of it out of its control, appears to be too much to overcome where things stand at the moment.

But all is not lost if Indiana doesn’t make the CFP.

Indiana was thrilled to receive an invite to one of its more prestigious bowl games in program history when it played at the Gator Bowl last January.

This year the Hoosiers have a chance to take their bowl game profile to another level.

The so-called “New Year’s Six” bowl games include the two CFP bowl games.  This year those games are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

The remaining games are four of college football’s most high profile postseason events.

Already in the CFP top-12, if the Hoosiers win their final two games they are almost a lock to play in one of them.

New Year’s Six Bowls Schedule

Technically speaking, Indiana could play in any of the four non-CFP New Year’s six games.

The Chick-Fil-A Peach, Cotton, and Fiesta are all based on the best possible matchups. An ACC team has to play in the Orange against a Big Ten or SEC team.

All Power Five conference champions will be in either the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six game along with the top-ranked Group of Five champion.

Here is the schedule for the non-CFP New Year’s Six bowl games.

GoodYear Cotton Bowl Classic

Wednesday, December 30
ESPN, 7:15 pm
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
At-Large vs. At-Large

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Friday, January 1
ESPN, 12:30 pm
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
At-Large vs. At-Large

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

Saturday, January 2
ESPN, 4:00
State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
At-Large vs. At-Large

Capital One Orange Bowl

Saturday, January 2
ESPN, 8:00 pm
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
ACC vs. Big Ten or SEC

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