The Big Ten is in a tough spot. Two of its better teams are ineligible for postseason bowl play, creating a watered-down pool of bowl-eligible teams and a lopsided conference championship matchup.
With Ohio State and Penn State unable to advance, teams like Minnesota move up the board. This bodes well for the Golden Gophers, but the game they fall into probably won't be worth watching.
By season's end, expect five Big Ten teams to be heading to bowl games. The rest of the conference will be left on the outside looking in and wondering where things went wrong.
Let's predict the final records for the five bowl-eligible teams and where they will fall.
Projected Record: 11-2
Predicted Bowl: Rose Bowl
Nebraska will beat Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa to close the regular season before beating Wisconsin in a bizarre Big Ten championship game. With Ohio State and Penn State both being ineligible, the conference title game won't feel quite complete.
The Cornhuskers' opponent is up in the air at this point with a wide-open race going on in the Pac-12. Oregon is in the national title hunt and Southern California is reeling. That leaves Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State as the best possible fits here.
No matter what, unless Oregon falls off the map in the season's final weeks, Nebraska will give one team a game.
Projected Record: 7-6
Predicted Bowl: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
The Badgers have been extremely inconsistent this season, and that will lead to a lesser bowl game. After beating Indiana in two weeks, Wisconsin will fall to Ohio State and Penn State to close out the year. That won't keep them out of the conference championship game though.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl pits the fourth- or fifth-best Big Ten team against the Big 12's fourth-best team. That could be Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas Christian or West Virginia, depending on how the rest of the season unfolds.
Projected Record: 8-4
Predicted Bowl: Outback Bowl
The Wolverines will finish third in the Big Ten and play an SEC team in the Outback Bowl. This is always one of the year's better matchups, putting two upper-crust teams against one another.
I think Michigan beats Northwestern and Iowa before falling to Ohio State in the final game of the season. Nebraska's excellent season will keep them from winning the Legends' Division title though, forcing them to wait out the conference title game.
The Wolverines are looking at a team like South Carolina or Mississippi State for their opponent.
Projected record: 9-3
Predicted Bowl: Capital One Bowl
Northwestern's surprising year will continue. Except for a hiccup versus Michigan in two weeks, the Wildcats will win two of their final three games.
Going to the Capital One Bowl is hardly something to be disappointed about. Outside of the BCS matchups, it's always an exciting game between two very talented squads.
If Georgia makes it to, and loses, the SEC Championship, this should be where the Bulldogs land. It could also be Florida, but that's less likely. Either way, Northwestern's spread offense will test someone more than expected.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected Record: 7-5
Predicted Bowl: Gator Bowl
Minnesota will beat Illinois, lose to Nebraska on the road and knock Michigan State out of bowl consideration in the season's final week, sending themselves to the Gator Bowl in the process.
Honestly, this team will be overmatched here. Playing a team like South Carolina or Mississippi State—or even Texas A&M—probably won't end well for the Golden Gophers.
Making a bowl game at all, though, is a victory for this team. Low on talent but high on heart, Minnesota wasn't expected to be here.
If Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, the Big Ten's bowl landscape would look a lot better. Even if Michigan State had lived up to expectations, things would look better, but this is what the conference has to rely on for bowl-season glory.
Will Not Reach a Bowl Game