The pairings for all 34 bowl games are finally official, and seven of them include Big Ten teams. That means we can finally quit talking about last bowl season's horrible performance by conference teams and start trying to figure out if Big Ten teams will win more than one bowl this winter.
We begin with the matchup everyone already knew about:
ROSE BOWL: OHIO STATE vs. OREGON, January 1
What it means: The Buckeyes will play in their fifth straight Bowl Championship Series game (but their first Rose Bowl since 1996), and will look to snap a three-game BCS losing streak. The good news for Big Ten fans...at least the opponent isn't USC.
Oregon has proven their mettle the last two games, outlasting Arizona in the desert and coming back to win the Civil War game against in-state rival Oregon State. Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James, and LeGarrette Blount should provide a formidable test for an Ohio State defense that comes in allowing just over 12 points per game.
ORANGE BOWL: IOWA vs. GEORGIA TECH, January 5
What it means: The conference gets a second BCS team yet again, which is both good news and bad news for Big Ten fans. The good news is a big-time payout to be divided among the league's 11 schools, while the bad news means tougher postseason matchups for Big Ten teams, since they all "play up" one game.
(The third Big Ten team, not the second, goes to the Capital One Bowl, etc.) Iowa will hope to reclaim its early-season magic, perhaps with injured quarterback Ricky Stanzi back under center. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes will try to slow down the always-difficult triple option that the Yellow Jackets (the 2009 ACC champions) run to perfection.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL: PENN STATE vs. LSU, January 1
What it means: The Nittany Lions saw their BCS hopes dashed when, as most expected, Iowa became the league's second BCS team (largely on the strength of a head-to-head victory in Happy Valley). Joe Paterno's team gets a trip to Orlando and a matchup with perennial power LSU as a consolation prize. The Tigers are 9-3, with two of their three losses coming to Florida and Alabama (pretty decent ballclubs in their own right).
OUTBACK BOWL: NORTHWESTERN vs. AUBURN, January 1
What it means: The Wildcats (in a mild surprise) are headed to Tampa ahead of the Wisconsin Badgers, who finished with a better record but dropped a two-point decision to the 'Cats in Evanston. Just like the Capital One Bowl, the Outback pits a Big Ten team against an SEC team in Florida on New Year's Day, and Northwestern is matched up with 7-5 Auburn. The Tigers come in with a two-game losing streak and have lost five of seven overall--look for Northwestern to put up some points against the questionable Auburn defense.
CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL: WISCONSIN vs. MIAMI, December 29
What it means: The Badgers get a date with the Miami Hurricanes and star quarterback Jacory Harris in Orlando. Wisconsin plays yet another warm-weather game after posting a dominating 51-10 win in Hawaii late last night. The Badgers and Canes boast equal 5-3 conference records, 9-3 overall.
I'm setting the over/under for number of John Clay carries at 29. What do you think? Over or under?
VALERO ALAMO BOWL: MICHIGAN STATE vs. TEXAS TECH, January 2
What it means: The Spartans will be missing approximately half their team, but they're facing an opponent that only plays defense half the time, so on paper, this should be a pretty even matchup. (Really, Texas Tech? Allowing 52 points to Texas A&M? Really?)
The Spartans squeaked into the postseason at 6-6 after a late comeback in West Lafayette, so in all seriousness, MSU will have its hands full (especially shorthanded) against an eight-win Big 12 team as Mark Dantonio's team looks for the program's first bowl win since 2001.
INSIGHT BOWL: MINNESOTA vs. IOWA STATE, December 31
What it means: The Gophers return to the Insight Bowl for the third time in four seasons, taking on the 6-6 Cyclones. While Minnesota struggled down the stretch (especially offensively), losing four of their last six contests, they should be competitive against another .500 club, especially one whose six wins include victories over North Dakota State, Kent State, Army, Baylor, and Colorado.
INSTANT PREDICTIONS: I still need to sort out the matchups a bit in my mind before I give you the seven definite winners in these games (and then, knowing my track record, you can safely assume all of my selections are wrong), but I see the Big Ten getting back to respectability with a winning record this postseason. Ohio State snaps their BCS skid, at least one of the runners-up (Iowa or Penn State) post a big-time win, and the struggling Big 12 (Texas Tech and Iowa State) gives the middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams realistic shots at bowl victories.
Final tally: Four Big Ten teams win, three lose.
Hey, that's better than last year, right?
(Well, I guess it had to be...)
This article is also featured on FirstandBigTen.com, a Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.