As the Big Ten football season winds down, all eleven teams in the conference still have hopes of finishing their schedules with the six wins necessary to become bowl-eligible.
(And I thought parity only happened in the NFL.)
While simply having enough victories to qualify for the postseason doesn't automatically ensure a bowl berth, five teams have already hit the magic number and are looking forward to a likely postseason trip: Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Northwestern.
After that quintet, things get much murkier. Both Indiana and Purdue need wins in their final two games to finish at 6-6, so at least one of the in-state rivals will be staying home for the holidays (the two schools meet in the regular-season finale on November 21).
From there, it's anybody's guess how many six-win squads the Big Ten produces. Depending on the results of the remaining games, the conference could have as many as ten bowl-eligible programs...or as few as the five listed above. Most likely, the total number will be somewhere between those extremes.
But that raises an interesting question: is it better for the league to produce more bowl-eligible teams or less? While I want my favorite school to qualify for the postseason, I have to admit ten bowl-eligible teams could be the worst thing to ever happen to the Big Ten—and here's why...
1. With so many teams potentially qualifying for postseason play, the Big Ten is just asking for "bad losses" in this year's bowl games.
If the Big Ten does put eight, nine, or even ten teams in the postseason mix, the damage to the conference's already-battered reputation could be brutal when the dust has settled and the final whistles have blown.
Face it, fans don't remember the "respectable losses." The games the nation pays attention to and talks about for decades are the ugly ones—and you know exactly what I mean: Michigan's loss to Appalachian State will be remembered a lot longer than any of the Wolverines' wins over Notre Dame or Ohio State.
So while getting a record number of schools into the NCAA basketball tournament may be a source of pride for fans of a given conference, having a record-number of bowl-eligible teams in football (the Big Ten also produced ten teams with at least six wins in 2007) isn't necessarily a good thing.
It may simply mean a couple of .500 clubs don't make the cut, but the possibility also exists that our favorite conference could end up filling at-large spots in other bowl games and creating more opportunities for embarrassment on the national stage.
Do you really want your school taking a ACC, SEC, or Conference-USA slot and losing a game it has no business coming up short in? The only thing worse than last season's bowl debacle (Big Ten teams were 1-6 in postseason play, losing to perennial powers like Georgia, Texas, and USC) would be going 1-8 this year with defeats to Temple, Duke, or Air Force.
In order to regain any measure of respect nationally, the Big Ten needs to put its best teams into top-tier bowls against legitimate competition and start winning some of those matchups. Losing in an eighth or ninth game to a lesser opponent would only make matters worse.
Bottom line: don't buy into that "the more the merrier" rhetoric.
2. Multiple bowl teams could finish with losing records.
While it may not necessarily be logical, there's always going to be some sort of stigma associated with playing in the postseason and finishing with more losses than wins. It's a numbers thing, I guess.
Again looking at the NCAA basketball tournament, the teams that fans and media always rip on mercilessly are the 13-18 squads that get lucky at the right time, punch their ticket to the Big Dance, and then are blown off the floor by a top seed when they've barely gotten off the bus.
Depending on how the next couple of weeks play out, it's entirely possible that the Big Ten could finish with six teams (more than half the conference) all sporting identical 6-6 records. A half-dozen .500 teams mean the Big Ten could have as many as four or five teams travel to bowl games and still finish with more losses than wins.
Who's going to count on a Purdue team that got shut out 37-0 to win a bowl game? Or an Indiana squad that chokes second-half leads away?
A Northwestern team with such an inept offense that it nearly lost a game despite forcing six turnovers?
What about Minnesota, a team allowing over 35 points in its last three outings and missing its best player?
Better for the Big Ten to have a handful of schools finish just outside the bowl eligibility picture at 5-7 then to risk a meltdown on the national stage: "Look at us—we have lots of teams in bowl games...and a couple of them even had winning seasons!"
3. A strong conference always has some separation between the "haves" and "have nots".
The Big Ten is considered a good football league when Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan are perennial title contenders. It doesn't matter what the Northwesterns and Indianas of the world do: they can go 12-0 or 0-12 and it doesn't affect the national perception of the league one iota.
Same thing for the Big 12 with Oklahoma and Texas, the Pac-10 with USC, and the Big East with...
Okay, so the Big East has never been considered a good football league.
Anyway, the ideal situation for the Big Ten is to have whatever teams qualify for bowls (especially the big-name programs) win as many games as possible, then start racking up postseason victories over contenders from the other BCS conferences.
It's much more important for Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin to post 10-win seasons than for Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois to post six-win seasons. That's just the way things work.
So what do YOU think? What's the perfect number of bowl-eligible teams from the Big Ten and why?
Of course, the BCS arrangement throws a whole different set of numbers and debates into the mix: is it better for the Big Ten to place two teams in BCS bowls (meaning a big payday for the conference and forcing all the other teams to "play up" a slot) or only one (giving each of the schools below an "easier" opponent to face but a little less money to work with)?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, opinions, and predictions: comment below or touch base with me on Twitter ! It's sure to be a crazy final couple of weeks in Big Ten country...
This article is also featured on FirstandBigTen.com , a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.