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Big Ten Digest: Bowls, Bowls, Bowls (Part I)

Bowl week part one in an on-going series on the teams of the Big Ten conference...

Hello once again Big Ten fans. Welcome to another special edition of the Big Ten Digest. The last edition featured a look at the beginning of the basketball season, and in this article we're going to talk bowl games. This is part one of a two-part series. Today I'll project where I think every Big Ten team will end up as far as bowls. Sunday is the bowl selection day. The BCS bowls select their participants in the evening, and other bowls will most likely be leaking selections throughout the afternoon. After the official selections are out, Part 2 will take a look at how I did in my bowl projections, where all the teams in the conference are actually going to be playing, and against whom. I'll also take a look at the match-ups and identify the keys to victory for each Big Ten team, so stay tuned for that.

Okay, let's get to it then.

At the top of the conference we have a three way tie amongst Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Without a team competing in the national championship game, the Big Ten will have two teams playing in the BCS. Of course, that means that somebody with an 11-1 record gets left out. This year, that looks to be, unfortunately, Michigan State.

Rose Bowl:

The top Big Ten bowl selection will be in Pasadena. Because the Big Ten won't start a championship game until next year, and because we have a three-way tie at the top of the conference, the participant will be established by the tie-breaking procedures. Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other this year, which puts the tie-breaker to BCS rank. The Big Ten team with the highest BCS ranking in the final rankings released tomorrow will be given the Rose Bowl bid.

This is, therefore, probably the easiest bowl to predict because it has a definite criterion for selection. I do not think that Ohio State will manage to jump Wisconsin in the BCS rankings - largely because of Wisconsin's head-to-head victory over the Buckeyes and the losses by Iowa to Northwestern and Minnesota. The BCS computers have been rather down on the Big Ten this year, but Wisconsin is leading Ohio State in five out of the six computer rankings, and is on average two places higher than the Buckeyes - No. 7 to No. 9. Because the highest and lowest computer rankings for every team are thrown out before calculating the computer average, there is essentially no way that Ohio State can surpass the Badgers in the computers. Any jump, therefore, would have to come on the part of the human votes - but OSU is out of luck there as well as the Badgers are two spots ahead of Ohio State in both the Harris and Coaches' polls.

Therefore, the Big Ten team going to the Rose Bowl this year is...

Hilary's Pick: Wisconsin Badgers

Likely Opponent: TCU Horned Frogs (assuming Auburn beats South Carolina)

Sugar Bowl (At-Large):

After the champions of the conferences not playing in the National Championship game are slotted into their mandatory games, the at-large selection order in the BCS this year is: replacement for No. 1 team, replacement for No. 2 team, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl.

By the time that we get to the Sugar's at-large selection, Oregon, Auburn, TCU, Wisconsin and Oklahoma / Nebraska will already be committed to bowls. The Sugar actually will first have to replace Auburn, playing in the National Championship game, and they'll want to take the next highest ranked SEC team. Then they get their at-large pick. At this point, in terms of top ten teams left they'll have a choice of Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State, and LSU. Though Stanford is ranked higher than Ohio State, the Buckeyes have higher potential TV ratings and ticket sales on their side, and they'll get chosen over the Cardinal.

Hilary's Pick: Ohio State Buckeyes

Likely Opponent: Arkansas Razorbacks

Capital One Bowl:

The second-easiest bowl for me to predict this year is the Capital One bowl. With only two BCS slots for the Big Ten, we know that the loser of the three-way tie is going to be selected for the Big Ten's highest tie-in, the Capital One Bowl. Because that loser is likely to be Sparty, this is almost certainly where Michigan State will end up.

Of course, there is a novelty argument on the side of the Spartans. They haven't been to a BCS bowl in a while, and it's possible that they will try to persuade their way in to an at-large BCS selection on that basis. Unfortunately for Spartan fans, the Buckeye fans who talk up Ohio State's travel reputation are largely right. Yeah, Ohio State has been to a BCS bowl a ton lately, but somehow OSU fans still turnout and tune-in every year. Until that changes, Ohio State is going to keep getting the benefit of the doubt.

Their opponent in this game will likely be LSU, who will be the highest ranked SEC team after Auburn and Arkansas are gone to the BCS.

Hilary's Pick: Michigan State Spartans

Likely Opponent: LSU Tigers

Outback Bowl:

The Outback Bowl is where things start to get a bit hairy for the conference. Why? We happen to have four teams with overall records of 7-5. Two have conference records of 4-4 and two have in-conference records of 3-5. The Outback Bowl is usually listed as the No. 3 Big Ten team, but in this case it will actually fall to No. 4 because of the at-large BCS selection of Ohio State.  Here we have a tie between Iowa and Penn State - both at 7-5, both at 4-4 in-conference. Yes, technically it's overall record that matters, so it's possible that one of the 3-5 in-conference teams could jump up here (say, Michigan, but I think the bowls look at in-conference standings as well as potential draws).

So who gets the bid? I'm going with Penn State. Yes, Iowa travels pretty well, but the Hawkeyes have been skidding to end the year and this is where style points matter. Though Penn State also ended the season on a loss to Michigan State, they haven't had quite the downward trajectory that the Hawkeyes have had. Also, even though JoePa has said that he'll be back next year, there's always a possibility that he changes his mind, and bowls can't resist storylines like the potential last bowl game for one of the winningest coaches in college football history.

On the opponent side, we have the best available SEC East team. After the Cocks lose to Auburn in the SEC championship game, that makes them the pick. Arkansas and LSU will already have been taken, and Alabama as the next best team in the West (though ultimately ranked higher than South Carolina) will be put into the Cotton Bowl against a Big 12 team. Therefore, this sees a game between the Nittany Lions and the Gamecocks.

Hilary's Pick: Penn State Nittany Lions

Likely Opponent: South Carolina Gamecocks

Gator Bowl:

If Penn State ends up in the Outback like I think they will, that means that Iowa gets the next pick, and ends up in the Gator. This is certainly a disappointment for Hawkeye fans, who thought that this might have been the year when they could contend for a national championship, or at least a trip to the Rose Bowl. But, the end of year decline will make them less attractive than Penn State, and so they'll head here. Why not Michigan here? I still think that Iowa, even though they're disappointed, will be a better draw than a fanbase in Ann Arbor that still isn't happy about RichRod's performance.

As far as opponents go we have yet another SEC team. Funny how that works, huh? Guess we'll have a conference superiority fight this year between the Big Ten and the SEC. This is the number seven selection for the SEC. At this point, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi State will all be in bowls. The next bowl eligible team for the SEC will be  in-state team Florida, which will likely make this bowl very happy.

Hilary's Pick: Iowa Hawkeyes

Likely Opponent: Florida Gators

Insight Bowl:

Next up we have the Insight Bowl. We again have a two-way tie in the conference standings. Both Northwestern and Michigan are sitting at 7-5 overall records with 3-5 in-conference records. Again, it's overall record that matters, but I'm using in-conference record to help shake out this mess.

Though the Wildcats travel extremely well, and last year's Outback Bowl was one of the highest rated bowls in the country in terms of TV viewership, the allure of a Michigan team that hasn't been to a bowl game since 2007 is probably enough to lift them over Northwestern.

Their opponent is going to be the fourth selection from the Big 12. With the Nebraska / Oklahoma winner the only Big 12 BCS team, this comes down to a choice between Mizzou and Oklahoma State. I think that Mizzou probably has a slightly better travel argument than Okie State does, so I think they grab the Big 12's number three slot (for what it's worth, they're also higher in the BCS than Okie State is right now).

Hilary's Pick: Michigan Wolverines

Likely Opponent: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Texas Bowl:

So who's left? Two teams. Northwestern and Illinois. This is an interesting one. Of course Illinois owns the head-to-head over Northwestern, but Northwestern has the better overall record at 7-5 with the Illini loss to Fresno State. Northwestern also has a better travel argument - yes, their home attendance is likely lower than Illinois on average, but they travel to bowl games exceptionally well and, as mentioned above, their bowl last year was one of the highest rated games on TV. So I think the Wildcats end up in Houston instead of in Dallas.

They'll get a game against Baylor, who has a better in-conference record than either Kansas State or Texas Tech.

Hilary's Pick: Northwestern Wildcats

Likely Opponent: Baylor Bears Bowl:

The Big Ten's last bowl slot will go to Illinois at 6-6. The loss to Fresno State really hurt Illinois here. If they had managed a win, they would have had a solid upward trajectory to end the season and a 7-5 record. That could have put them as high as the Gator or Outback Bowl, but instead they end up in Houston.

The number seven selection in the Big 12 will be Kansas State, so this slot goes to Texas Tech, the last bowl eligible team in the conference. It'll certainly be an interesting game.

Hilary's Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini

Likely Opponent: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Well, that's all we've got for now. Check back after selection day is over for Part 2 of the Big Ten Digest: Bowl Edition to see whether I was right on my picks and for in-depth looks at the match-ups the Big Ten teams will find themselves heading into...