Bowl Projections: Michigan State playing in January? Jim Harbaugh battling familiar face?

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The 2017 college football regular season has come to a close, at least for the majority of FBS. With just some conference championships and rescheduled early-season matchups still to take place, we will begin turning our focus towards the bowl games.

According to Jery Palm of CBS Sports, bowl projections for the Big Ten could depend on the result of the conference title games next weekend. More specifically, it will come down to if the Big Ten has a representative in the College Football Playoff come New Year’s.

Let’s start with Michigan State. Palm’s latest projections after Saturday’s action have the Spartans penciled to play in the Outback Bowl down in Tampa on January 1. MSU with their blowout win at Rutgers on Saturday improved to 9-3 on the season, completely flipping the script from a year ago.

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Though the Outback Bowl seems like the front-runner for MSU, there are some other potential destinations for the green and white depending on how things shake out next weekend. The Citrus Bowl, another Florida-based bowl game on January 1, also has rights with the Big Ten and could invite Dantonio & Co. to play in Orlando.

Should this be the case, it would be the seventh time in the last nine trips to bowl games that Michigan State would be playing in January.

One wrinkle that could knock Michigan State down a small peg or two in the bowl slotting is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish got blasted in two of their final three games to finish 9-3, but do have a win over MSU this season. It remains to be seen whether Notre Dame gets put into a New Year’s Six bowl game. If not, it could mean MSU plays elsewhere.

Another option in that scenario is the Holiday Bowl out in San Diego, which is a “Big Ten vs. Pac-12” matchup. The Holiday Bowl is also where Palm currently has Michigan playing right now in his latest projections.

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The Wolverines lost to Ohio State (again), dropping their final two games to top-10 opponents — and the two Big Ten Championship representatives — to finish the season 8-4 overall; 5-4 in league play. The loss dropped the record for head coach Jim Harbaugh against UM’s top two rivals, MSU and OSU, to 1-5 in his three years in Ann Arbor. Still, it’s very likely that Michigan receives an invite to a very solid, fan-friendly bowl game.

The Holiday Bowl has had tie-ins with the Big Ten every year since 2014 after a near 20-year hiatus with the conference. The previous three Big Ten teams to play in the Holiday Bowl — Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota — were at least 8-4 at season’s end and pitted against counterparts from the Pac-12.

And it just so happens that according to Palm, Michigan could end up playing Stanford out in San Diego, which could set up the intriguing storyline of head coach Jim Harbaugh facing his old employer in the Cardinal, and former staff mate and current Cardinal head coach David Shaw.

The Wolverines could also receive an invite from one of three Florida-based bowl games as well, if not the Holiday Bowl out in California.

While there is a decent idea as to what bowl(s) is/are viable options for both Michigan and Michigan State, the final full slate of games next Saturday, headlined by a bevy of conference championship bouts that feature major playoff implications, could very much dictate where the Wolverines and Spartans play next month.