The Citrus Bowl has long been one of college football's most prestigious bowls outside of the New Year's Six. With its rich history and sacred 1 PM ET slot on ABC on New Year's Day, it is a worthy consolation prize for SEC and Big Ten teams just left out of the New Year's Six.
The bowl has seen some great matchups in recent memory, but this year's matchup could follow last year's boring blowout. In the last Citrus Bowl, 10-3 LSU demolished Purdue 63-7 to end the Boilermakers' best season in years on a somber note.
This year, the Big Ten race is the same as since 2021: a dull two-team battle. Michigan and Ohio State are again lightyears ahead of the rest of the Big Ten, especially the Big Ten West. Penn State remains consistently solid. However, they still could not beat Michigan and Ohio State. The same can be said about Iowa, who sits at 8-2 with losses to Minnesota and Penn State.
The rest of the conference is a mess of mediocrity. Rutgers and Maryland are both 6-4. Unfortunately, they have games against two of the league's "big three." The Big Ten West features five 5-5 teams below Iowa.
So, where does the Citrus Bowl fit in this? The Citrus Bowl has the first choice of Big Ten teams after the New Year's Six. The winner of Michigan/Ohio State seems destined for the Playoff, while the loser will take a New Year's Six bid to the Orange Bowl. Penn State has arguably the best resume of any two-loss team, so they will likely play in the New Year's Six.
This leaves Iowa as the best Big Ten team outside of the New Year's Six. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes played in the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day 2022, making a return trip in such a short time unlikely. Consequently, the Citrus Bowl may have to choose from the Big Ten's middling teams.
The worst scenario for the Citrus Bowl is a repeat of last year's 63-7 thrashing, but a sequel looks realistic. In the SEC, either 10-2 Missouri or 10-2 Ole Miss may get left out of the New Year's Six, dropping one of them to the Citrus Bowl. The best schools in the Big Ten's 6-4/5-5 bunch, Rutgers or Maryland, would likely be multiple-score underdogs against either school.
Surprisingly, some benefits to this situation exist for the Citrus Bowl. The bowl's prestige and limited number of appearances among eligible teams could cause teams to travel well. Below is a breakdown of Citrus Bowl appearances among the Big Ten's 6-4 and 5-5 teams:
The table shows that Citrus Bowl appearances are rare for these schools as some have substantial droughts or no appearances. Rutgers, Maryland, and Illinois fans would likely treasure an appearance in the Citrus Bowl. Additionally, the TV viewership among those schools would be substantial as the Citrus Bowl has a traditional time slot on ABC.
The other benefit is geographical. One does not need a geography degree to realize much of the Big Ten is far from Orlando. Maryland is the only Big Ten school not ridiculously distant from Orlando. Maryland's campus is around 860 miles from the Florida city, or a 12-hour drive away. In comparison, the next closest Big Ten school in the 6-4/5-5 pack, Illinois, is around 1,060 miles or a 15.5-hour drive away. With the current state of the Big Ten, this year is the best for the Citrus Bowl to choose a team based on geography.
Believe it or not, this year is pivotal for the Citrus Bowl. With the 12-team playoff on the way next year, the Citrus Bowl's prestige could decline, with many teams tied up in the expanded field. This year's selection could be a sign of the times for the bowl. In the end, the Citrus Bowl race is one of the most intriguing outside of the New Year's Six for its wackiness and nearly unprecedented nature.