The Big Ten is one of the most puzzling of college football conferences this year. They have seen five ranked teams to begin the year dwindle down to a mere two.
The conference could experience their lowest bowl output(five teams) since 1998 when the conference was without Nebraska and still had 11 teams.
However, the bowl games appear to be many for the conference despite the off year. Nine teams are still in contention for the coveted postseason bowl game, while five have already clinched. The number would have been higher if it wasn’t for the postseason ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State, both of which have at least six wins– Ohio State is 10-0.
I’m going to take a look at the latest bowl projections for the eligible, and soon-to-be eligible Big Ten teams.
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Purdue Boilermakers
It remains to be seen if the Purdue Boilermakers can win three straight to finish a mediocre season and make a bowl game. They found themselves at 3-6 after a tough start to their Big Ten season(0-5) and face off against two of the lower teams in the conference to finish the season. They will travel Illinois to face an uninspired Fighting Illini team led by disappointing quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and first-year head coach Tim Beckman. They will then face an Indiana team that is no longer likely to make a bowl game, but this test will be a tough in-state battle. The Boilermakers will get it done and finish the season 6-6.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec 28: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota has become bowl eligible for the first time under head coach Jerry Kill with their most recent win over a lowly Fighting Illini squad. Kill has brought this team from the cellar, 3-9 last year, to the middle of the conference, currently the proud owners of a 6-4 record with two games left in the season. Kill has this team on the right track and although they are a few seasons away from a possible New Years’ Day bowl, there are only good things to come from this squad.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 29: Michigan State Spartans
Possibly the most disappointing team in the conference with a 5-5 record, this was supposed to be Michigan State‘s year to finally make it to the Rose Bowl after being one win short for the past two seasons. Although they have an average record, they are just 10 points away from being a 9-1 team competing for a Big Ten Championship appearance. Andrew Maxwell is the first-year starter at quarterback and will likely learn from his mistakes as the Spartans have lost an astonishing four straight home games with Northwestern coming to town this week. They will beat the Wildcats and achieve bowl eligibility in week 12– something they haven’t had to worry about in three seasons.
Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Northwestern Wildcats
The Northwestern Wildcats are one of the biggest surprises in the conference this season and will see a New Years’ Day bowl game for the second time in three seasons as Pat Fitzgerald proves once again why he is one of the best coaches in the conference, if not the country. He has done so much with so little and has utilized the talent on this team like no other coach in the country. He has made a two-quarterback system look effective and Venric Mark has emerged as one of the best running backs in the conference. Mark is also a premier kick returner that can change the game at any given moment. This team should be proud of their accomplishments as they will only get better in the coming years.
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin has clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game for the second straight year with a win over Indiana last week, but they will prove to be just another victim of the potent offense of Nebraska. The Badgers had their best running game of the year last week against the Hoosiers, running for over 560 yards and getting everyone into the game. However, they will have to go on without their standout freshman quarterback Joel Stave who suffered a broken collarbone, prematurely ending his season. They will finish above .500 and make yet another New Years’ bowl game under Bret Bielema.
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan Wolverines
Michigan is coming off their best season in over five years in 2011, finishing 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl. Brady Hoke has been a godsend for the Wolverines as he has been deemed a “Michigan man” and someone who will lead this program back to greatness. They will come short of getting to the coveted Rose Bowl, but will be back next year with more of a passing game and less of an agile quarterbacking game with the departure of Denard Robinson. Hoke has this team currently at 7-3 and I see them winning one more game to finish the season, ending 2012 with an 8-4 record and their second straight solid season.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Many teams will be jealous of this Nebraska team because of their extremely scary offense and their ability to join a conference and make the most highly coveted bowl game in just the second season. Taylor Martinez has this Nebraska offense firing on all cylinders as they have featured the conference’s best offense and run by teams on their way to a Legends Division title and an opportunity to play for the Big Ten title. They are my favorite to win the conference and make the trip to Pasadena for their first Rose Bowl as a part of the Big Ten.