The Big Ten season is complete, and while teams across the SEC and Big 12 wait on edge for the results of the championship games in those conferences, Terrelle Pryor, Mikel Leshoure and Denard Robinson are among the Big Ten stars who know about where they will be going. Wisconsin, by virtue of its Big Ten season title, will head to Pasadena for a New Year's Day showdown with (in all likelihood) TCU. Ohio State will play in the BCS somewhere, likely the Sugar Bowl. Beyond that, it gets much more interesting.
Eight teams will represent the Big Ten in bowls this season, a sign of the top-to-bottom strength of the conference that will add Nebraska to its ranks next year. Fans of football in the Midwest have plenty to look forward to this holiday. Read on to see the best guess on where each Big Ten school will land, and who they will face in their bowl matchup.
Illinois did not yet have its mojo up when they took on Missouri in the annual rivalry game in early September, and the Tigers took down the Illini 23-13. This matchup would bring fans of each team flocking even to Arizona for an exceptionally rare college football occurrence: a rematch of two bitter rivals in one season.
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure and linebacker Martez Wilson both earned All-Big Ten first-team honors, and they anchor their respective sides of the football for a team that prefers to play a very open-field brand of football. If these two teams really square off again, expect to see a lot more than 36 points on the board.
Ricky Stanzi and company lost three straight to finish the regular season, knocking them from the ranks of the Top 15 nearly out of the Top 25. Still, they should merit another trip to the Outback Bowl, which would be their third in five years.
If their prospective opponent looks familiar, it is because the Hawkeyes faced South Carolina in the 2009 Outback, and won 31-10. This time around, that matchup might favor South Carolina, but the game would be fun to watch either way.
This thrilling potential matchup would pit the nation's two most athletic breakout quarterbacks against one another, with Denard Robinson taking on Robert Griffin III. Robinson and Griffin each led their teams' surprisingly high-octane offenses by blending the run with the pass, and they could well light up the scoreboard—although no one may know better how to defend such a player than the defensive units that faced these two in practice all season.
The Spartans are surely heartbroken that they will likely not get a whiff of the roses in Pasadena, but then, they should count themselves a bit lucky to be where they are. They played no especially tough non-conference opponents and did not have Ohio State on the Big Ten schedule this season.
As such, their stellar record will not be enough to get them into the BCS, and they will instead take on an Alabama team that might well roll right over them. The Crimson Tide did not ever get a real chance to defend their national title, and they will certainly be looking to put an emphatic and positive punctuation on their season to offset that feeling of loss. Sparty had better come to play if this matchup comes to fruition.
Northwestern has crumbled a bit down the stretch, and things only look dimmer with All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa out for the season. Texas Tech is no juggernaut, but they should be able to take down the Wildcats, who have to hope they can get the ball into Jeremy Ebert's hands more effectively than they have since losing Persa.
The Buckeyes have an opportunity to finish in the top four or five in the final standings with a win in this game, although that will not come easily. Terrelle Pryor had a statement game against Michigan to close out the regular season and deserves serious consideration as a future NFL quarterback if he can do it again next year as a senior.
Arkansas knocked off LSU to earn this spot, so they are clearly ready for their close-up. Still, Ohio State is big enough to overwhelm the Razorbacks in the trenches and fast enough to keep up along the outside. It will be a good game either way, but the Buckeyes would do the Big Ten's national reputation a lot of favors with a win.
Beating the Gators in the Gator Bowl will be about as hard as it sounds, but the winningest coach in college football history is the right man for the job.
Penn State had such an up-and-down season that it is hard to think they have an obvious upper hand in this game, but Florida was similarly inconsistent. The locale could be the difference here. Even though Penn State always travels well, the crowd will certainly be pro-Florida, and the Lions' only wins outside Happy Valley this season were over Minnesota and Indiana.
The Badgers are the total package, and were it not for their early-season loss to the Spartans in East Lansing they would be playing for the championship. If there were playoffs in the NCAA (and there should be), the Badgers would be the most dangerous team in the bracket.
Wisconsin features three lethal running backs, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White and All-Big Ten second-team selection John Clay. Not to be forgotten is Montee Ball, who averaged 6.1 yards per carry and led the team with 17 rushing touchdowns.
Gabe Carimi is the best left tackle in the Big Ten and maybe the country. Scott Tolzien earned first-team honors in the Big Ten, though he received only second-team consideration. J.J. Watt was perhaps the biggest breakout star on any defensive line in the nation. What more could you ask for?
Wisconsin should beat TCU handily, and by next season, this team or some other from the Big Ten will probably appear in the national title game.