Big Ten Football: Week 10 Bowl Projections
Week 9 is in the books, and we're rapidly approaching bowl season. That's when the Big Ten plies its wares against teams from other conferences, and...oh, stop crying. It won't be that bad. OK, it could be. Still, we have to play these things, so let's just go ahead and figure out who's going where.
First, a word of warning: This isn't good for the Big Ten. We worked out the rest of the schedule and we only see enough wins for six bowl teams. You can thank Ohio State and Penn State combining to go 13-3 in the conference for that, but this is every bit as much about the rest of the Big Ten being lousy this year as it is about OSU and PSU being very good.
You ready for this? Let's do it.
The Ineligibles: Ohio State and Penn State
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Again, as if you need the reminder, Ohio State and Penn State cannot and will not go to any postseason games thanks to Big Ten sanctions. That's too bad, because Ohio State is projected as an 11-1 (7-1) team and would be a fine Rose Bowl representative.
Meanwhile, we've got Penn State finishing strong at 8-4 (6-2), and it's hard to imagine the Nittany Lions slipping past the Gator Bowl. It's just... you know. That. Yeah. No bowls for a while while the NCAA is calling the shots.
At any rate, both those seasons are above preseason expectations and at the end of the year, and both teams should be mighty proud.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 9-4 (5-3) vs. Oregon 12-1 (8-1)
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As of right now, Wisconsin is projected to prevail at the Big Ten Championship and make it three straight trips to the Rose Bowl. That could change, of course, but what's not going to change is Wisconsin's bid to the title game thanks to a comically bad slate of postseason-eligible Leaders Division teams.
Quick note about the denomination of "postseason-eligible"—that's a carefully chosen denomination. We'd have said "bowl-eligible," but spoiler alert: Wisconsin is the only team from the Leaders Division we have actually winning six games and thus going to a bowl.
Wisconsin's projected opponent is Oregon, who faces a tough schedule down the stretch and could easily see its perfect season snapped—and let's be honest, a one-loss Oregon team isn't getting to the title game.
Capital One Bowl: Michigan 8-4 (6-2) vs. LSU 10-2 (6-2)
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Michigan's not projected to win the Legends Division, but with divisional champion Nebraska awaiting its Big Ten Championship Game and being last season's Big Ten representative at the Capital One Bowl, bowl representatives will get Michigan lined up rather than just waiting for the loser of the game to accept a bid. Michigan might be a four-loss team this season, but if you can get Michigan in your bowl game, you do it.
Meanwhile, with national championship invitee Alabama and 11-2 Georgia both off to BCS bids, the Capital One Bowl has its pick of LSU and Florida and wisely takes Les Miles to square off against his alma mater and the school he nearly ended up coaching in 2008. It's Michigan's first time facing LSU ever, and it'll end up drawing some of the biggest ratings of the non-BCS bowl schedule.
Outback Bowl: Nebraska 9-4 (6-2) vs. Florida 10-2 (7-1)
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Nebraska will lose a close Big Ten Championship to Wisconsin, and the Outback Bowl representatives will be delighted to welcome the Cornhuskers to Tampa for the first time in the bowl's history—even when it was called the All-American Bowl and then Hall of Fame Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Cornhuskers should face Florida, who's going to be aching to finish strong after a regular season-ending loss at rivals Florida State is the final reason for the Capital One Bowl taking LSU instead.
Nebraska and Florida have just a bit of bowl history against each other, and although the players on each team are too young to remember having seen that game live (whereas I was 14...sigh...), the reporters covering the game certainly aren't, and the history between these two should be brought up anew. It should be fun.
Gator Bowl: Michigan State 8-4 (5-3) vs. Texas A&M 8-4 (4-4)
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The Gator Bowl will be forced to choose between Michigan State and Northwestern for this bowl slot, and let's not kid ourselves about how that decision would shake out. It'd be something like this.
Bowl Rep 1: "We have two options from the Big Ten. Michigan State..."
Bowl Rep 2: "Mm-hmm..."
Bowl Rep 1: "...or Nor--"
Bowl Rep 2: "MICHIGAN STATE."
Bowl Rep 1: "...thwestern."
So yeah. Spartan fans should love this scenario, because it involves a four-game winning streak from the Spartans to end the year, and why not? The Nebraska and Northwestern games should be tough, but they're both at Spartan Stadium and MSU has the defensive personnel to confound both opposing offenses. A trip to Minnesota to end the year shouldn't pose a problem. It might, since this is still MSU we're talking about, but it shouldn't.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M is currently 6-2 and has spent much of the year as a borderline Top 25 team, so you wouldn't expect the Aggies to be hanging around here with the SEC's sixth bowl slot—especially with two SEC teams destined for the BCS—but the Aggies are up for a rather serious market correction in the coming weeks with trips to Mississippi State and Alabama awaiting.
Admit it: You can't wait to see Michigan State's defense face "Johnny Football" himself, A&M freshman QB sensation Johnny Manziel.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Northwestern 8-4 (4-4) vs. West Virginia 8-4 (4-4)
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is required to take Northwestern in these projections as there's no other team within one win of the Wildcats, but even if the next team was at 7-5 instead of 6-6, Northwestern still probably goes here; the Wildcat fans are starting to travel like they mean it, and this is an unexpectedly strong team.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, the projected bowl team here is West Virginia, and if there's one thing the Mountaineers feast on, it's a weak secondary. In other words, Northwestern is in for a world of trouble in this matchup. Geno Smith is going to exact revenge on Heisman voters for ignoring his otherworldly season on account of West Virginia's hilariously bad defense, and he'll do it by racking up about, let's see...a million yards against the Northwestern defense. Hey, it's just what the projections say. A million yards.
That would normally mean the Northwestern bowl losing streak will continue apace at 64 yards and counting, but keep in mind West Virginia's defense will be the worst thing Northwestern has faced this year—and it'll have cut its teeth against some pretty good defenses in the Big Ten over the course of the season. Both teams could easily top 50 in this one. We're not calling a winner in this matchup yet. We're just really looking forward to it.
Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Minnesota 6-6 (2-6) vs. Texas Tech 8-4 (4-4)
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Minnesota's "cake non-conference schedule" gambit pays off, as the 2-6 Big Ten team still cobbles together enough wins to get to a bowl after it goes to conference doormat Illinois and comes away with its sixth victory. As the last bowl-eligible team from the Big Ten, Minnesota faces no resistance from any other candidates for this bowl slot.
The Big 12 is crawling with strong bowl candidates, though, and Texas Tech falls to here despite a record and resume that vastly outpace that of the Gophers. TCU is also a strong candidate here.
On paper, this looks like a Minnesota loss. Don't underestimate Jerry Kill's ability to get his players amped up for this game, though, and don't underestimate an eight-win BCS-conference team's ability to not give a single care about a lower-tier bowl game against a 6-6 opponent.
Staycation: Four Big Ten Teams
I found your problem, guys: You're supposed to play football standing up. Hope that helps. Thanks.
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The Heart of Dallas Bowl and Little Caesar's Bowl will have to look elsewhere for bowl participants, as the list of Big Ten bowl teams stops there. Here's a look at everyone else in the conference.
From the Legends Division, only Iowa stays home at 5-7 (3-5). The Hawkeyes pick up a win against a lifeless Purdue squad, but losses at Indiana and Michigan plus a season-ending loss at Kinnick to Nebraska doom the Hawkeyes.
In the Leaders, meanwhile, Indiana rues its two non-conference collapses against Ball State and Navy as it also stays home at 5-7 (3-5). Purdue goes 4-8 (1-7), and it would be the worst team in the conference if it weren't for the relegation-worthy Illinois Fighting Illini at 2-10 (0-8). How did Illinois win two games? Seriously.
Iowa fans will probably object to the notion of a loss at Indiana, but the Sagarin ratings have Indiana ahead of Iowa in the predictor...by nine spots (No. 66 vs. No. 57). If Iowa takes that game, it'll get bumped into the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl over Minnesota, who would then go to the Heart of Dallas Bowl instead.
Other than that, though, Indiana would have to win against Wisconsin or at Penn State for its sixth win, and neither scenario seems even plausible. That being said, since we've got Wisconsin at 5-3 and Indiana at 3-5, a Hoosier upset over the Badgers (which is in Bloomington; we're just sayin') gives both teams a 4-4 conference record and Indiana the head-to-head tiebreaker.
You know what tAhat means? A 6-6 Indiana...in the Big Ten Championship. NEVER DOUBT THE DARKEST TIMELINE.