Big Ten Football's Best-, Worst-Case Bowl Scenarios

David Fitzgerald IICorrespondent INovember 20, 2013

Big Ten Football's Best-, Worst-Case Bowl Scenarios

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    It's a tough grind for the Big Ten bowl teams, potentially
    It's a tough grind for the Big Ten bowl teams, potentiallyDavid Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    It's hard to believe that the final two weeks of regular season Big Ten football are upon us, but that is the reality. All the double bye weeks are finally done, leaving each team with two games left to improve their bowl positioning or fall down in the bowl pecking order.

    At this point, only three teams have ensured a "home for the holidays" bowl season: Purdue (1-9), Illinois (3-7) and Penn State (NCAA Sanctions). Although the road will be tough for Northwestern and Indiana to make a bowl game, it is mathematically possible.

    And that's where the following slides will take the projections for each team: to the edge of what is mathematically possible. Let's take a look at the best- and worst-case scenario for each Big Ten team with two weeks left to go.

    For reference, the B1G bowl picking order is as follows:

    1. BCS Automatic Bid (Rose Bowl), potentially BCS at-large also
    2. Capital One Bowl
    3. Outback Bowl
    4. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
    5. Gator Bowl
    6. Texas Bowl
    7. Heart of Dallas Bowl
    8. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Northwestern (4-6, 0-6)

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    Dropkicking the play sheet won't work either
    Dropkicking the play sheet won't work eitherDavid Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: Michigan State, at Illinois

    Best-Case Scenario: Heart of Dallas Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: No Bowl

     

    The only thing that can be said on the obituary that will be written for Northwestern's 2013 season is that it was a painful dumpster fire of a death following a season where a division title was a few points away. Northwestern was only healthy for one game this season (Ohio State), but narrow losses to the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Cornhuskers showed that the Wildcats had a chance to compete for so much more.

    Instead, the Wildcats must knock off a 6-0 Michigan State team just to maintain bowl eligibility. Not likely, but if it happens, Northwestern will likely be placed in the final of the bowl slots. If the Big Ten sends two teams to the BCS (which will be assumed in each of the best-case scenarios), then the eighth best team will be slotted into the seventh bowl, which is Heart of Dallas.

    Meanwhile, one more loss will lead to the worst-case scenario—home for the holidays. It would be another crushing element to this totally lost season that followed the first bowl win in five decades for this program.

Indiana (4-6, 2-4)

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: at Ohio State, Purdue

    Best-Case Scenario: Heart of Dallas Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: No Bowl

     

    It should come as no surprise that Indiana is sitting in the same spot as Northwestern, with both teams on the cusp of a seventh loss. For the Hoosiers, the loss to Navy for a second-straight season is haunting. A win over Ohio State in the Horseshoe is a tough task, but Indiana will have more than earned a bowl if that happens.

    Like Northwestern, the Hoosiers could jump up to the Heart of Dallas Bowl—even as the eighth best Big Ten team in a best-case scenario with two Big Ten BCS bowl teams. Just like in the "Play 13" season a few years ago, this would be a great story for the early bowl season.

    In all likelihood, the shocking upset of the Buckeyes will not happen and Indiana will be home during bowl season. For a team needing more practice to get better, this crippling loss happens nearly every year. That essentially puts Indiana behind the 8-ball for getting better in the Big Ten standings.

Iowa (6-4, 3-3)

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    Street Fight
    Street FightReese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

    Remaining Schedule: Michigan, at Nebraska

    Best-Case Scenario: Outback Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Heart of Dallas Bowl

     

    The Hawkeyes have played or will play all of the top conference contenders this season, but only Minnesota has been knocked off by Iowa. The remaining schedule, however, provides the opportunity for the Hawkeyes to move ahead of the teams in front of them in conference standings. That may just be enough for a great bowl game.

    The best-case scenario plays out if Iowa knocks off Michigan and Nebraska, which would put both of those teams in a bit of a free-fall to end the season and make the Hawkeyes more desirable than them. If Minnesota loses the last two games as expected, Iowa will jump the Gophers too. That puts Iowa behind only Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

    Yes, Hawkeye fans, the Outback Bowl is actually a possibility. A record of 4-8 would be quickly forgotten in that scenario, as would Kirk Ferentz's overinflated salary.

    If Iowa loses the last two games and ends up at 6-6, it seems unlikely that the Hawkeyes could jump any other bowl-eligible team, including Minnesota, which will remain two games ahead in the overall standings even with two more losses. That would put this team into the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Michigan (7-3, 3-3)

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: at Iowa, Ohio State

    Best-Case Scenario: Outback Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Heart of Dallas Bowl

     

    How far has Michigan fallen? Even with a potential 9-3 season, the Wolverines cannot do better than the Outback Bowl. In some seasons, such a record would be good enough to compete for a BCS at-large berth; however, that will not work in the Big Ten with a nationally poor perception in 2013.

    If Michigan does win, then the Wolverines will compete with Wisconsin and Michigan State for top non-BCS bowl slots. If one of those competitors ends up in the BCS, then Michigan will have to overcome the other for a Capital One Bowl selection.

    Considering how dominant Wisconsin has been and how badly MSU defeated the Wolverines, Michigan likely will fall behind both teams even in the best scenario. That road leads to the Outback Bowl.

    Michigan, though, might lose both remaining games, and bowl representatives may be hesitant to invite a team that has lost four of their final five games. If Minnesota finishes three games ahead in the standings, it is hard to see how Michigan will get picked over the Gophers or the Hawkeyes (who will have recently beaten the Wolverines).

    Perhaps a more realistic worst-case scenario is the Texas Bowl, but there is a chance that Michigan could be the last Big Ten team taken off the bowl board, which means Heart of Dallas.

Nebraska (7-3, 4-2)

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    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: at Penn State, Iowa

    Best-Case Scenario: Capital One Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Texas Bowl

     

    The biggest drama left for Nebraska is waiting to see if the final verdict is about to come down on Bo Pelini and his coaching staff. The coach has done nothing but consistently win in Lincoln, but going 10-4 and 9-4 every season is not what Nebraska fans believe should be the gold standard. Hence the hot seat that never goes away.

    If Nebraska bounces back from the loss that eliminated the Cornhuskers from the Legends Division race with two wins, then Nebraska will clearly be the fourth-best team in the conference. Should Wisconsin tank in the final two games, Nebraska could be selected over the Badgers for the Capital One Bowl, assuming the Spartans will then get a BCS at-large selection.

    Will Nebraska fans want to see another game in Orlando? That is an interesting question, but the conference does not have control over the bowl selections until next season. Still, there is at least a chance for a repeat trip, even if Tampa and the Outback Bowl seem like a greater likelihood.

    If Nebraska falls into the abyss with a 7-5 finish, Bo Pelini will likely be fired on the spot. Teams without head coaches are a bad draw in bowl games, so Nebraska will potentially fall all the way down to the two bowls in Texas. The Texas Bowl likely will choose the Cornhuskers before the Heart of Dallas Bowl gets a chance, so this is the bottom of where Nebraska can go.

Minnesota (8-2, 4-2)

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    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: Wisconsin, at Michigan State

    Best-Case Scenario: Rose Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Heart of Dallas Bowl

     

    Now the conference championship contenders begin. Minnesota has had nothing short of a miraculous season in view of head coach Jerry Kill's health troubles and all the young talent in important roles throughout the offense and defense.

    Two tough games, however, remain. They could punch Minnesota behind all the other bowl-eligible teams. That means Minnesota spans the biggest spread of bowls between the best- and the worst-case scenarios.

    Minnesota can still make the Rose Bowl. Here's how: Defeat Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, in order (good luck). Also, Michigan State must lose to Northwestern this weekend to open the door for the three-game winning streak to have a chance to occur. If this series of events actually happens, Minnesota will have more than earned the trip to Pasadena at 11-2.

    A more realistic top level may be the Capital One Bowl. Minnesota may jump either the Badgers or the Spartans with a win over those teams.

    If Minnesota loses the last two games and ends up at 8-4, then the Gophers will potentially fall behind Nebraska, as well as Michigan and Iowa, in the bowl pecking order. The losses to the Hawkeyes and Wolverines will not help Minnesota in this respect, perhaps causing a drop to the lowest of the Big Ten bowls. The Heart of Dallas Bowl will be quite a disappointment considering where this team has been so far in 2013.

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1)

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: at Minnesota, Penn State

    Best-Case Scenario: Rose Bowl or Orange Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

     

    Wisconsin has been chugging along in the late season once again, blowing away the hopes of teams such as Illinois and Indiana on the way to a double-digit win season. This week brings an interesting test in a better than expected Minnesota team, although Wisconsin has had its way in this rivalry over the past decade. Despite facing ridiculous long odds to win a conference championship, the Badgers just keep winning to maintain the pressure on Ohio State.

    The b-case scenario will still be a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl, but that will require Ohio State to lose out and Wisconsin to win out. Assuming that will not happen, Wisconsin can still grab two more wins and likely be well positioned within the BCS standings for a top-14 finish and eligibility for an at-large selection.

    The most likely destination will be Miami for the Orange Bowl, and that will continue an incredible string of top-tier bowl games for this program. On Wisconsin, indeed.

    Should the Badgers take a turn for the worse and fall to Minnesota and PSU, it is conceivable that the Badgers will drop to the fourth team being taken off the board. In such a circumstance, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would be the destination. Wisconsin fans may riot about heading back to the state of Arizona, though.

Michigan State (9-1, 6-0)

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    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: at Northwestern, Minnesota

    Best-Case Scenario: Rose Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

     

    The scenarios for Michigan State are similar to those for Wisconsin, which is what happens when a team is a clear second or third best behind a top program. One big advantage for Michigan State is that—barring an epic collapse in the next two weeksthe Spartans get a Rose Bowl play-in game against the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, a loss in Indianapolis will likely shove Michigan State well off the BCS radar, as those bowls have not proven to be inclined to take this program even when it is good.

    Thus, the best-case scenario is simple: Win at least one of the next two games and then beat Ohio State. That would lock up the first trip to Pasadena for Michigan State since the 1987 season. Plus, who wouldn't want to see Oregon face another tough defense like Stanford? That would be a great all-green matchup in the Rose Bowl.

    If Michigan State manages the unthinkable and loses each remaining game plus the division championship to Minnesota, then the Spartans will likely be passed over by at least Wisconsin and either Minnesota or Nebraska.  That will put the Spartans in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, where it is likely they will be favored heavily.

    At least there's a bright side in the worst-case scenario.

Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)

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    Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Remaining Schedule: Indiana, at Michigan

    Best-Case Scenario: BCS Championship or Rose Bowl

    Worst-Case Scenario: Capital One Bowl

     

    Finally, we have the Buckeyes, the last hope for the Big Ten in the final year of the BCS Championship. While the wins may not be impressive every week when compared to the other true elites of college football (Alabama, FSU, Baylor), they keep on coming, which means Ohio State will be in the mix for the BCS Championship, especially if some of those other teams lose.

    The best-case scenario is obvious—a trip to Pasadena for either the BCS Championship or the Rose Bowl. Win one of the next two games and then the Big Ten Championship, and a trip to Pasadena will be owned by the Buckeyes. This year would have to be considered a highly successful season once again, even if it is "just" a Rose Bowl against Oregon.

    Similar to the MSU-Oregon potential matchup, who doesn't want to see the Ducks and Buckeyes match explosive offenses and dynamic quarterbacks on New Year's Day? It likely will not be the 26-18 defensive struggle from four years ago when those same teams met in Pasadena.

    For every other Big Ten team, the worst-case scenario has involved losing out.

    For Ohio State, there are two bad scenarios: Losing one of the next two and the conference championship game or just losing the next two and not going to Indianapolis at all. With two losses and the voters already seemingly looking for a reason to downgrade Big Ten teams, OSU will likely fall out or close to out of the top 14 in the BCS Standings.

    If this program becomes ineligible for the BCS, then there is no way the Capital One Bowl will miss the opportunity to jump on the Buckeyes, which means, more SEC vs. OSU talk. I can hear the sighs from Buckeye Nation just thinking about that outcome.

     

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