Though something resembling a college football playoff is just around the corner, there is no replacing the bowl season.
In effect, having just looked intimately at every Big Ten team, this is the way the conference bowl picture shakes out.
Obviously, Ohio State will be ineligible, though it will be a substantially improved team this year.
A link to my more detailed breakdown of each team is provided in each slide, and above.
When: Jan. 1, 2013, 12 p.m.
Where: Dallas, TX
Who: Big Ten No. 7 vs. Conference USA No. 5
Representing the Big Ten: Northwestern Wildcats, who I have going 6-6.
This year, man-for-man, the Cats aren't especially impressive, but they will get to the six-win plateau via Pat Fitzgerald's typically top-notch in-game coaching that generally nets him at least one major upset per year.
Five Most Likely Opponents: Tulsa Golden Hurricane, East Carolina Pirates, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, SMU Mustangs, Marshall Thundering Herd
When: Dec. 28, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
Where: Houston, TX
Who: Big Ten No. 6 vs. Big 12 No. 6
Representing the Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers, who I have going 6-6.
They are exactly the opposite of Northwestern, as man-for-man, I do think highly of the Boilers, but Danny Hope's ability to coach up a defense is in severe question, even with a new defensive coordinator.
Unless this issue gets fixed, Purdue won't break the seven-win plateau.
Five Most Likely Opponents: West Virginia Mountaineers, TCU Horned Frogs, Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Tech Red Raiders
When: Dec. 29, 2012, 10:15 p.m.
Where: Tempe, AZ
Who: Big Ten No. 5 vs. Big 12 No. 4
Representing the Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini, who I have going 8-4.
Illinois is the surprise team of the Big Ten. The Illini don't have what it takes to beat the conference's elite—they are 0-3 against the probable ranked teams they will face. But new head coach Tim Beckman will win most of the games he's supposed to win, which was something former coach Ron Zook could never manage.
Five Most Likely Opponents: Texas Longhorns, West Virginia Mountaineers, TCU Horned Frogs, Kansas State Wildcats, Oklahoma State Cowboys
When: Jan. 1, 2012, 12 p.m.
Where: Jacksonville, FL
Who: Big Ten No. 4 vs. SEC No. 6
Representing the Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes, who I have going 8-4.
For the last two years, Iowa has underachieved. This year, an infusion of new coaches will give them a spark, at least in the short term.
In effect, this year's Hawkeyes will take advantage of a soft schedule and overachieve.
Five Most Likely Opponents: South Carolina Gamecocks, Missouri Tigers, Tennessee Volunteers, Auburn Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies
When: Jan. 1, 2012, 1:00 PM
Where: Tampa, FL
Who: Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC No. 3/4
Representing the Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers, who I have going 9-3.
The Huskers might be the most consistent team in the 2012 Big Ten, and will have three close losses, all to ranked teams.
A strong bowl showing will give them something to build on for what looks to be a big 2013 season.
Five Most Likely Opponents: Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee Volunteers, Auburn Tigers
When: Jan. 1, 2012, 1:00 p.m.
Where: Orlando, FL
Who: Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2
Representing the Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines, who I have going 9-3—6-2 in conference—and winning the Western Division.
In terms of record, this will be a small step back for Brady Hoke's squad. A tough schedule and having to replace Michigan's best defensive line in a number of years will make tough sledding for the Wolverines.
On the other hand, winning the division will be a step forward. At this point, it is impossible to make an educated prediction on a conference championship game featuring Michigan and a team-to-be-named two slides from now. However, Michigan would lose if those teams were to play in early September,
With nine regular season wins, the bowl game will give Michigan a chance to win double-digit games in back-to-back seasons—something it hasn't done since 2002-03.
Five Most Likely Opponents: Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, South Carolina Gamecocks
Who: BCS at-large vs. BCS conference champion or at-large
Representing the Big Ten: Michigan State Spartans, who I have going 10-2 in the regular season.
This year, the Spartans will rely on a stingy defense, a strong running game and an inexperienced but efficient, if understated, passing game.
This prediction—the BCS bowl, not the 10 wins—is something of a stretch. MSU is a notoriously poor traveling team, and thus, is not attractive to BCS bowls. However, no non-AQ teams will make the BCS this year. Notre Dame will also fail to qualify. This will leave four at-large picks.
One of those will go to the SEC. Another will go to Oregon or Southern Cal—whichever one fails to win the Pac-12.
That will leave two spots between the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten. The Big 12 will be helped by not having a conference championship game. If Oklahoma and Texas have big years, then both will go to the BCS.
That leaves the ACC. The only programs that travel well in the ACC are Florida State and Clemson, and odds are one of them will win the conference.
The Orange Bowl is the only BCS bowl that might favor an ACC team with a weak traveling fanbase over an MSU program with a weak traveling fanbase, and the Orange picks last in 2012.
In effect, I'm going out on a limb and saying the Sugar or Fiesta will take MSU over another, even-more-unappealing ACC option.
Five Most Likely Opponents: Georgia Bulldogs, Texas Longhorns, Florida Gators, LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, USC Trojans
When: Jan. 1, 2012, 5:00 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, CA
Who: Big Ten No. 1 vs. PAC-12 No. 1/BCS At-Large
Representing the Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers, who I have going 10-2 in the regular season, and winning the conference championship game against Michigan.
The Badgers offense will take a step or two back this year, but the defense will compensate by taking a step or two forward.
Though I don't feel this Badger unit is as good as 2010 or 2011's squads, it's still more than good enough to compete with the conference's best. A much softer schedule than any of the other top five in the conference will help.
That makes three in a row for coach Bret Bielema. How about winning one?
Five Most Likely Opponents: Oregon Ducks or USC Trojans. The Utah Utes, Stanford Cardinal and Washington Huskies are long shots, but realistically, no other team has a chance of topping the two frontrunners.
Oregon and USC have a realistic chance of going undefeated, thereby opening the door to an at-large BCS pick.