Big Ten Football: Week 12 Team-by-Team Bowl Projections
Two more weeks of football. Just two. Sounds bleak, but once you add in the conference championship and the bowl games, it's actually...oh no, it's still under 20 games of Big Ten football left.
Granted, some fans are more than happy to see this season end, but you remember that in early June when it's been about half a year since your team last played, there's three more months until it plays again and the only thing on television is baseball or, like, golf.
So once this regular season shakes off its mortal coil and all we've got left of 2012 is the postseason, cherish it, friends. Watch every bowl game you can, even if you think you don't even want to watch Minnesota. You'll be begging for a Minnesota game by April. Remember that.
Anyway, here's what to expect in the postseason.
Staycations: Half of the Conference
Ohio State and Penn State can't go to bowl games this season because of NCAA sanctions. You knew that.
Iowa will be the only Legends Division team to fall short of its bowl bid; the Hawkeyes should finish at 4-8. "Fall short" is a kind euphemism for what has happened to Iowa's season.
Over in the Leaders Division, the futility flows like wine as Wisconsin is the only team from that division to even make it to a bowl game. Illinois has been flat-lining for weeks and will finish at 2-10. An Indiana victory at Purdue in those teams' season finale will doom both to a 5-7 record and a holly jolly Christmas in the great state of Indiana.
And the University of Chicago Maroons will continue their bowl-less streak for another year, as they folded the football team in 1939—and never went to any bowls in the program's 47-year history anyway. Still, gotta think the Maroons had a better year than the Illini.
Rose Bowl: Nebraska vs. Notre Dame
Thanks to Oregon making the BCS National Championship Game and the lack of other viable Pac-12 contenders (due in no small part to the flood of SEC teams in the Top 10 of the BCS), the Rose Bowl gets to be creative in its efforts to fill the second berth.
Fortunately, there's Notre Dame, who's likely to be 11-1 at worst and quite plausibly undefeated but left out of the national championship picture, and wouldn't you know it, poor old independent Notre Dame doesn't have a conference tie-in with the BCS so it can go wherever it wants. Yes, Pasadena sounds just fine, thank you.
The Notre Dame front seven squaring off against Nebraska's power option attack would be deliriously fun to watch, and should Nebraska win out coming into the game, this should still be a Top 10 matchup and one worth even a casual fan's time.
Capital One Bowl: Michigan vs. Georgia
Did you know that, despite both programs' generally rich histories and the longtime and numerous bowl contracts between the Big Ten and SEC, Georgia and Michigan have never met in a bowl game? 'Tis true; the Bulldogs and Wolverines have only met three times, all in the regular season and none since 1965.
Since Georgia is unlikely to surpass LSU in the BCS standings (LSU being the beneficiary of a second-place division finish and thus no SEC Championship Game loss), it finds itself on the outside of a loaded BCS picture looking in. The SEC can only put two teams in BCS bowls, after all, and while that dilutes the quality of the BCS bowl picture somewhat, there's only one group of fans that wants to see a ton of SEC teams in the BCS and that's SEC fans.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray squaring off against that dynamite Michigan pass defense would be one of the best matchups of the bowl season, and assuming Denard Robinson's nerve issue isn't a season-ender (or worse)—and nobody in Ann Arbor has tossed out words like "degenerative" or anything, so let's assume he is getting healthy—it'll be great fun to watch his swan song performance against a great SEC defense.
Outback Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Florida
Wisconsin is coming straight off a demolition of Indiana, having put together the greatest rushing performance in school history in the 62-14 victory that looked an awful lot like the Wisconsin of the past couple years.
We've got the Badgers at 8-5 after their projected loss in the Big Ten Championship Game to Nebraska, and the Outback Bowl would love to have the Big Ten's reigning two-time Rose Bowl representative come to town.
Wisconsin's traveling directly into enemy territory, however, as the Outback Bowl is happy to welcome back Florida. The Gators are just a jaunt away on I-75 and should be able to pack Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and since Florida's only been there once since 2005, fan enthusiasm should still be high.
Gator Bowl: Michigan State vs. Mississippi State
The Big Ten and SEC train rolls along as 7-5 Michigan State gets set to face upstart Mississippi State, who spent time in the Top 20 this season, should finish 9-3 and still is the SEC's seventh-best bowl team.
It's just that Mississippi State beat virtually nobody all season long—seriously, look at that schedule and find the quality wins—so you can understand the tepid response from pollsters and bowl executives when it comes to slotting the SEC teams.
Despite the difference in records and Michigan State's struggles on offense all year, this looks like a pretty good matchup for the Spartans. Mississippi State isn't likely to bring its A-game against a Spartan opposition that struggled to stay above .500 all season long, while the extra bowl practice sessions should be enormously helpful to the nascent Michigan State passing game.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
We really hoped TCU could make it to this game so we could yell "PURPLE FIGHT!" and carry on as such, but it's unlikely the Horned Frogs make it past 6-6 (3-6), and that's not going to cut it for a loaded conference that'll be sending its fifth-best team to this bowl.
Texas Tech, however, looks to be in prime position to advance here. The Red Raiders have a tough, tough defense under Tommy Tuberville, and any worries that Mike Leach's departure was going to turn that program into another ho-hum balanced offense were clearly off-base; nobody in the nation throws for more yards than Texas Tech.
Northwestern, meanwhile, feels the sting of relegation to another middling bowl. It could have been different. That miraculous bobbling catch made by Roy Roundtree that saved Michigan's hopes against Northwestern last week came at great cost to the Wildcats' bowl hopes.
You see, under Big Ten bylaws, no team can be passed up for a bowl by someone else with at least two fewer wins. Sure enough, Michigan likely would have had eight wins on the year if Northwestern had pulled out that win. We're giving Wisconsin eight as well, and we've got Michigan State at seven wins—which includes a win against Northwestern, who we've got at 8-4.
So at the very least, if Roundtree makes that catch, Northwestern's an automatic bid over Michigan State. Not only that, the Wildcats would be one win over the Spartans away from being projected to finish at 10-2—and automatically in the Capital One Bowl.
Now they're in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
So it goes.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: TCU vs. Minnesota
Minnesota is bowl-eligible. That team. It got six wins. Yeah. Minnesota.
At any rate TCU is also going to go 6-6, just like the Gophers, and then it is going to absolutely whip Minnesota up and down the field for either 60 minutes or until Gary Patterson's compunctions get a hold of him.