The Big Ten is the butt of all jokes this season. The two best teams in the conference are ineligible for postseason play, they aren’t fun to watch and no one is a threat to play for the national championship Clearly, this is a down year for the conference but after sending a record 10 teams to the postseason last year, there is still hope. The conference will be judged well and will receive positive buzz going into next year if it can get it done this bowl season.
Whether you like it or not, and I don’t, bowl games are here to stay in some fashion and while they are glorified exhibitions, they do matter in terms of public perception. From the Rose Bowl to perhaps the Pizza Bowl, the Big Ten will have some legit match ups to make noise with. Right now, there are 3 B1G teams guaranteed to bowl but that number should reach 6, perhaps 7 teams. Obviously, that’s not going to impress anyone on its face however it’s quality not quantity in the postseason. If the Big Ten goes 5-2 or 6-1 in those match ups, that will raise some eyebrows across the college football landscape. Nobody really cares if you send 10 teams to the postseason if you only come out with 4 wins.
The Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of them all. Most of the bowl projections now have the Nebraska Cornhuskers playing either the Stanford Cardinal or Oregon State Beavers. Those are both teams that Bo Pelini’s squad can compete with. Sure his defense can give up big plays through the air, which would be a major problem with Oregon State, but on the other side the Cornhuskers run game is finally starting to get going including quarterback Taylor Martinez. A running quarterback is always a major “x factor” to deal with.
The Capitol One Bowl is perhaps the best non-BCS bowl on the market. The majority of bowl projections have the Michigan Wolverines headed there to showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs or even the Florida Gators. That isn’t a matchup I’m particularly thrilled with. They are both physical defenses that have the speed to contain Denard Robinson and Michigan’s defense won’t be able to be very physical with either offensive line.
In the Outback Bowl, you’ve got the Wisconsin Badgers slotted against the South Carolina Gamecocks by most accounts. If this game was played in week 1 I would have been concerned but the way the Badgers run game has come around I am not worried any longer. Wisconsin has finally shown they can get physical and South Carolina doesn’t have a quick strike offense that can let the game get away from you. Now they lose Marcus Lattimore to injury and will have to rely even more on inconsistent quarterback Connor Shaw. That’s a Big Ten win in my eyes.
The lesser bowls have the Michigan State Spartans in the Gator Bowl to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Northwestern Wildcats in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl to face the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Iowa Hawkeyes against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and finally the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Heart of Dallas bowl against the Iowa State Cyclones.
Besides the Northwestern game the rest of those are immensely winnable. The Wildcats just can’t defend the deep ball and Geno Smith is making his Heisman case almost exclusively on it. Michigan State is a physical team that is finally starting to get some play from quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Mississisppi State hasn’t proven a thing and while they have good play at corner, you can put up points on them. Iowa’s D is young but so is Oklahoma State’s offense outside of Joseph Randle. The Hawkeyes have a solid linebacking core that can limit him. Minnesota is the only real wildcard here. Iowa State has a solid defense and a quarterback who can make plays with his feet in Jared Barnett. The Gophers would need to get pressure on the quarterback which has been spotty so far.
These match ups might change before the end of the season but I see around 5 wins for the Big Ten, assuming they send 7 teams to the postseason. That’s not a bad ratio and when you add the Ohio State Buckeyes back into the mix next year, this conference can recover rather quickly. As always, things aren’t as dire as they seem.