Barry Alvarez likely won't be coaching in Pasadena this January
Last season, only 10 teams were eligible for the postseason, but that did not stop the Big Ten from filling seven of eight bowl slots. Although the conference missed out on having two BCS bowl games for the first time in a few years, that allowed for better matchups in the bottom-tier bowls.
As usual, the difficult bowl slate did the Big Ten in, as the conference only managed two wins in those seven games. Northwestern and Michigan State brought home wins, and both of those teams are hoping to catapult this momentum into better 2013 seasons.
As we continue our 2013 season previews, let's take a first look at the Big Ten bowl projections for next season.
There are a few rules and assumptions made in selecting these games:
1. The Big Ten bowl selection order: Rose/BCS, Capital One, Outback, Gator, Buffalo Wild Wings, Meineke Car Care, Heart of Dallas, Little Caesar's Pizza
2. Currently projecting the four at-large BCS berths as SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and independent or small conference for the final slot.
3. Projections from other conferences are based on bowl selection orders for those conferences and the post-spring power rankings available on multiple sources, including conference beat writers and our own here on Bleacher Report.
How will bowl season shake out if everything goes to plan? Here's the rundown, in alphabetic order.
Nathan Scheelhaase will need to be a magician.
Illinois failed to make a bowl game last season following a rough 0-8 Big Ten season in Tim Beckman's first campaign. Illini fans want to see progress immediately, or else, Beckman may have a short tenure in Champaign.
Unfortunately, Illinois must wait another season to get shipped to the West Division. Although Indiana and Purdue are manageable, Illinois still has to compete with a schedule including Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska. Add Washington and Cincinnati to the non-conference schedule and it seems impossible for the Illini to get to six wins.
Thus, the Illini will have to look back fondly at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA from a couple seasons ago. It's another quiet December and January for this fanbase.
Coffman has a battle on his hands for the starting job.
Indiana has been to one bowl game in the last 20 seasons, an astounding run of ineptitude in the era of bowls for everybody. It may be hard to believe it has been six years since the emotional "Play 13" for Terry Hoeppner season, but the Hoosiers are that far removed from being competitive in the Big Ten.
Kevin Wilson has his team headed in the right direction, so it seems, but a bowl game has to be achieved soon, or else, his window may close in Bloomington. This year likely brings the worst three teams in the conference (Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue) into Memorial Stadium, where Indiana has played much better teams tough the last two seasons.
That means the Hoosiers need three wins against the first four home opponents, and Navy and Missouri are included in this schedule. There's no guarantee that happens, but this Hoosiers team should be the one to break through to another bowl game and six wins.
Indiana played Southern Mississippi back in 1995 and won a thrilling 27-26 contest. One might expect an even higher scoring duel in early 2014. With both of these programs bouncing back from a disappointing 2012, this could be one of the best bowl games on the schedule.
Other potential opponents: East Carolina, Marshall
Iowa returns to bowl season in 2013
The beat writers who cover the Iowa Hawkeyes regularly such as Marc Morehouse and Scott Dochtermann agree that the most important season for the Iowa football program will be 2014, not 2013 (as discussed by them during "On Iowa" podcast in May, 2013). This season features a brutal schedule with no easy home conference games to go with road games at Ohio State and Nebraska.
Anything more than 6-6 will be tough this season—especially breaking in a new quarterback.
Assuming Iowa can win against Northern Illinois at home or Iowa State on the road in the non-conference schedule, then only three wins will be required in Big Ten play.
I currently project a win at Minnesota in the conference opener, and that game could very well decide the last bowl-eligible team in the conference. Iowa is a major draw and would be picked up a slot out of turn to play a Big 12 team in Houston.
The Hawkeyes and Kansas State Wildcats have not met since 2000 and have only met six times overall, with Iowa holding a 5-1 series advantage. With Bill Snyder possibly approaching retirement in the near future, it would be fun to watch these two occasional Midwest powerhouse programs face off again.
Other potential opponents: Texas Tech, Oklahoma State
Brady Hoke is making a habit of squaring off against legends in bowl games.
Michigan bounces back to an easier schedule in 2013 following the brutal schedule that led the Wolverines to four losses in 2012. That should mean a bump upward in record similar to Brady Hoke's first season on the job.
Although the Wolverines do have to replace some pieces such as Denard Robinson, the team has been building toward this season with the solid recruiting classes and the slow transition back to a pro-style offense.
Considering Nebraska and Ohio State come through Ann Arbor, I project that Michigan will win the division title with a big upset of previously undefeated Ohio State in the final week of the season.
Payback will be swift, though, as Ohio State will win the rematch in Indianapolis to deny Michigan a chance at Pasadena. The win over the Buckeyes will still carry enough weight even if Michigan has three losses to push this major program back into the BCS as an at-large selection.
These two teams have only played once, a dramatic last-second win for Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns in the 2005 Rose Bowl. How could the Fiesta Bowl say no to this pairing?
Note: If a non-BCS conference team earns an at-large spot other than Notre Dame (which I currently project to fill this spot), then the Fiesta picks last among BCS bowls in 2014 and would end up with that team in all likelihood. That would push Michigan to the Sugar Bowl against LSU (the Les Miles bowl!).
Other potential opponents: Oklahoma, TCU
Spartans will be back in 2013.
Three years ago, the Gator Bowl welcomed the Big Ten by matching Michigan up against Mississippi State, and that blowout for the SEC was the final straw that ended the tenure of Rich Rodriguez.
The Gator Bowl gets a prime selection this season, which will help them set up another battle between the states of Michigan and Mississippi (except it will be the Spartans and the Ole Miss Rebels this time).
Michigan State enters 2013 looking a lot like last year's team: a good to great defense and a lot of questions of offense. However, even without Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State should be better as a balanced offense this season. That should lead to a few more wins, especially with Ohio State and Wisconsin coming off the inter-division schedule rotation.
It seems a bit much to expect Michigan State to hang with the likes of Michigan, Nebraska and a better-than-expected Northwestern, but this team could move up the bowl order with one or two upset wins in the division. Regardless, there will be no excuse for Spartan fans to not be in Florida playing an SEC team somewhere on New Year's Day.
Plus, these teams have never played. It's never a better time to start a series history than right now.
Other potential opponents: South Carolina, Arkansas
Jerry's time may be growing short in Minneapolis
With the exception of Tim Beckman, no coach may be under more pressure to win soon than Jerry Kill. Minnesota achieved a bowl game and a .500 record in 2012, but a disappointing bowl loss to Texas Tech has the fans grumbling again about the state of the program.
Philip Nelson will return to lead the offense, and hopefully, the Golden Gophers can score more than the 13 points they put up in multiple Big Ten losses last season. The non-conference schedule could be swept again, which would mean only two wins are necessary in conference play.
However, unlike 2012, Minnesota does not have two easy wins on the schedule this fall. The only likely close game on the road is at Indiana, and without that, two wins would have to come at home against the likes of Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin. That seems unlikely, so I currently project Minnesota to come in at 4 or 5 wins in 2013.
That means it will be a cold and lonely winter up north and possibly the end of the Jerry Kill era.
Familiar foes in a different bowl destination
Nebraska comes into this season with one goal in mind, and that is to win a conference championship for the first time this century. With Northwestern and Michigan also fielding solid teams, there is no guarantee that will happen.
Unfortunately, that will push Nebraska out of the BCS discussion, even if the Big Ten manages to field two teams in the BCS bowls as I have projected here. Nebraska will be competing with Northwestern and possibly Michigan State for the Capital One Bowl, and bowl games tend to avoid bringing in the same team 3 consecutive years.
Thus, even though Nebraska is usually a solid draw, the Cornhuskers will finally get a break from Orlando after heading there in the first two Big Ten seasons.
The reward will be another game against South Carolina (the 2011 bowl opponent), this time in the Outback Bowl. Much like that 2011 game, this will be more of a question of who is motivated to play rather than who is the better talented team.
Although Nebraska lost that Capital One Bowl two years ago, the Cornhuskers own a 3-1 series advantage over the Gamecocks. Getting a chance to exact revenge on Steve Spurrier may be just what the doctor ordered for a program now waiting to be the dominant force in the West Division beginning in 2014.
Other potential opponents: Georgia, Florida
The purple power hopes to rise higher in the bowls again this year.
Northwestern did the conference proud with a first bowl win in five decades last season, defeating Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. The three Florida bowls will again have a similar decision to make among Legends Division teams in 2013. Although Nebraska is a safer bet financially, this Orlando bowl will select Northwestern for two reasons.
First, this will be a reward for being competitive at the highest levels of the Big Ten for the past three seasons. Second, this will avoid a third straight trip for Nebraska to this particular bowl game.
This was supposed to be the year that Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald were building toward. Following the close misses that kept them out of the division title in 2012, the high potential for this team to possibly go to the Big Ten Championship is exciting. If that occurs, I still project that the Wildcats end up here after a second loss to Ohio State.
This would be the first meeting since the 1960s for these two schools, and Florida holds a 2-0 edge.
Other potential opponents: Georgia, LSU
This BCS win was not tainted for the Buckeyes.
As I mentioned on the Michigan slide, I currently project that Ohio State will continue the big winning streak to begin the Urban Meyer era all the way until that trip to Ann Arbor to close the season. With a national championship on the line, Ohio State will falter in the first of two meetings with the Wolverines.
Sweet revenge will happen in Indianapolis, which will put the Buckeyes back in Pasadena for the historic 100th Rose Bowl Game (admittedly not the Pasadena game Buckeye fans are hoping for in early 2014). This will be a triumphant return to the big stage after two years away from the limelight.
Picking the opponent here is tricky, but the Pac-12 could very well come down to the Oregon vs. Stanford game once again.
Oregon's lock on the Cardinal ended in a shocking upset at home last season, and the Ducks will be eager to exact revenge on the farm. Assuming that occurs, then Oregon will enter this game as the Pac-12 champion for a rematch of the Rose Bowl four years ago.
Ohio State won that game, 26-17, with a stifling defense, but this version should be much more fun, thanks to Urban Meyer running and gunning his high-octane offense against the similar Ducks speed attack. Ohio State owns an 8-0 series lead against the Ducks, and Oregon would love to put a dent in that pristine record.
Other potential opponents: Stanford, UCLA
Games against teams like Nebraska are all the "bowl games" PSU will have for the next three years.
Penn State will likely be highly competitive in the Leaders Division, although the record may fall off a bit with the departure of a great senior class. Penn State may also be starting a true freshman quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, at the beginning of the season or close to it, and that could bring some growing pains to the 2013 season record.
Regardless, even if Penn State goes 8-4 again, there will be no holiday bowl-game cheer in Happy Valley. The acts and omissions of some program leaders in the past have ensured that, which is disappointing because you would love to see how Bill O'Brien does with the long break and bowl-game preparation.
Here's to 2016, guys.
There will be no capper in January this season, in all likelihood.
Purdue went on a thrilling three-game winning streak to close out the 2012 season, but that was not enough to save Danny Hope's job. The Boilermakers looked like a team without a cause in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (previously Ticketcity Bowl) against Oklahoma State, although Purdue did draw the worst or toughest matchup of any Big Ten team last year.
The resounding thud of this bowl loss probably lingered through the offseason, even though new coach Darrell Hazell will be happy to make a clean break from the past regime. Still, Purdue is like Illinois in that the program is at least a couple of years of good recruiting away from being competitive again. With the move to the West Division, the chances will improve in the future.
For right now, though, this will be a tough learning curve for Hazell and his team. The non-conference schedule is brutal with an opener at Cincinnati and then Notre Dame as well. Purdue also loses Minnesota off the schedule, which could be one fewer win in conference as well.
There just does not seem to be a logical way for this team to get back to six wins in 2013. Of course, I would have said the same when Purdue sat at 3-6 last season, but this team is simply not headed in the right direction quite yet.
A fourth straight trip to Pasadena...no, not so much
Wisconsin has ended up in Pasadena for each of the past three Rose Bowl games, and Badger fans have to love the fact that only Ohio State stands in the way of another division title and chance in Indianapolis to play into that bowl again.
Of course, this season, Ohio State is postseason-eligible, which means Wisconsin will need to do a lot more than 7-5 to get back to Indianapolis.
Wisconsin does have a fairly strong offense returning, but the defense is a huge question mark with the new 3-4 scheme being installed. However, the schedule is ridiculously forgiving, considering Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska are the no-plays in the other division.
That means the Wisconsin season could very well come down to three games: at Ohio State and home games against Northwestern and Penn State. If the Badgers come out of Columbus with an upset, then it will be highly likely that Wisconsin vaults back up to a New Year's Bowl, if not the Rose Bowl again.
However, I currently project a loss in Columbus and at least one home loss against those other two teams as well. In addition, I cannot shake the feeling that Wisconsin will lose a game or two it simply shouldn't while adjusting to new coach Gary Andersen.
That pushes Wisconsin down to sixth on the list, but getting picked for the Gator Bowl over Michigan State is a definite possibility in such a circumstance.
Other potential opponents: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Thanks for reading! Please follow me on Twitter and let me know how you would slot the teams differently in the comments below. Definitely looking forward to the new bowl lineup in 2014, but we can enjoy this tough set of games one last time.