The final Saturday of conference play for the Big Ten is nearing, and although a lot could happen to shake up the bowl picture, the forecast for where teams will be headed this upcoming holiday season is actually pretty clear. Michigan State, for example, is in all likelihood headed to Orlando for the third time in four years. There's a chance the Spartans could end up in Pasadena or another BCS bowl city, but Orlando is the likely destination. Then for Michigan, the likely destination for a bowl game is Tempe or Jacksonville. There aren't many scenarios out there that will have the Wolverines in something other than the Insight Bowl or Gator Bowl, even with an upset of Ohio State.
Two weeks ago I made Big Ten bowl projections, and this week's edition of them is actually almost exactly the same as the last one as far as where Big Ten teams will end up. Opponents of Big Ten teams are mostly different, as I've shaken up my predictions a bit for the SEC and Big 12, but the only difference for the Big Ten is swapping the destinations for Northwestern and Illinois. Even so, I'm still going to go through my explanations again for why I made each projection, as my reasoning for some of them has either changed slightly or been affected by what happened in the last two weeks of play.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU
This projection is the same as two weeks ago, but how I decided on TCU is much different. Before I had Auburn and Oregon playing in the championship game and TCU ranked as the highest non-AQ team, making the Horned Frogs the replacement for the Pac-10's team in Pasadena. This time, however, I have Boise State playing Oregon in the title game, meaning the Rose Bowl would not be required to replace the Ducks with TCU. In fact, conventional thinking suggests that the Rose Bowl would put a potential one-loss Stanford team in the game to maintain the Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup.
Although picking Stanford would make the most sense, I think the Rose Bowl will select TCU to lift the non-AQ requirement, which would allow the game to do whatever it wants over the next few years should a Pac-10 or Big Ten team make the national championship game. I personally would choose Stanford, but with TCU undefeated, I think the Rose Bowl will view this as the best opportunity to select a non-AQ school and just get it over with.
As for why I chose Wisconsin, I have the Badgers and Buckeyes winning on Saturday and Michigan State losing. Because this would produce a two-way tie at top of the Big Ten and Wisconsin beat OSU, the Badgers get the automatic berth to the Rose Bowl. Even if MSU were to win, making it a three-way tie for the Big Ten title, Wisconsin would likely end up being ranked highest in the BCS, so it would still get the berth to Pasadena.
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Auburn
The biggest change in my predictions compared to my post two weeks ago is that I have Auburn losing to Alabama on Saturday. I still have the Tigers winning the SEC title game, which would put them in the Sugar Bowl, but gone is LSU from this game.
Although a big reason why I had OSU playing in the Sugar Bowl originally was for that rematch with LSU from the 2008 BCS title game, I still think the Buckeyes will be selected to play in this game against Auburn. Out of the at-large teams remaining, the Buckeyes are the most appealing, making them the easy choice to play Auburn in New Orleans.
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama
This is one of only two games where I didn't change the opponent of the Big Ten team (the other is the Rose Bowl). Although I do have Alabama beating Auburn, which would potentially put it in position for a BCS at-large berth, I actually have only Auburn making a BCS game for the SEC (I have LSU losing to Arkansas). As a result, the Capital One Bowl gets to choose from Alabama, LSU and Arkansas for its SEC team. Out of those three schools, Alabama makes the most sense for two reasons: 1) LSU played in the Capital One Bowl just last year, so the game would likely want somebody else this time around; and 2) Alabama would get the nod over Arkansas for the storyline of Nick Saban going up against his former team.
MSU being selected for this game is about as simple as it gets. With Wisconsin and OSU both headed to the BCS and there not being a team anywhere near MSU record-wise, the Spartans get the bid to go play in Orlando yet again. (MSU played in the Champs Sports Bowl in the 2007 season and the Capital One Bowl in the 2008 season.)
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. Arkansas
Considering I have Arkansas projected to finish 10-2, I think the Outback Bowl would be more than thrilled to end up with the Razorbacks. If the Cotton Bowl were to pick them, which is entirely possible, then LSU wouldn't be a bad fallback option by any means, but I have LSU ending up in Dallas.
As for Iowa, this seems like a pretty easy pick. Penn State could be a realistic option for this game as well, but since Joe Paterno has announced he is returning next season, I don't see the Nittany Lions getting the nod. It was once thought that Penn State could receive a bump in the bowl lineup if Paterno was going to be coaching in his last game, but since that won't happen I have the Outback Bowl taking the Hawkeyes for the second time in three years.
Gator Bowl: Penn State vs. Florida
Last time I had the Gator Bowl and Insight Bowl selecting Michigan, producing a coin toss to determine where the Wolverines will end up since the two games share the next pick for the Big Ten. This time around, I actually have Penn State being the choice for both games, but the coin toss once again put the Nittany Lions in the Gator Bowl. My thinking is the Insight Bowl would probably have no problem ending up with Michigan, but since it could end up with an 8-4 Penn State team simply by winning a coin toss, it's probably worth a shot.
The Nittany Lions' opponent is projected to be a 7-5 Florida team. I have the Gators losing to Florida State to finish 7-5, but they will still get a New Year's Day bowl based on this projection. (I have South Carolina being selected for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but Florida would be next in the lineup for the SEC, especially for a bowl game in Florida like the Gator Bowl.)
Insight Bowl: Michigan vs. Oklahoma
As explained above, I have Michigan heading out west based on the results of a coin flip. I don't foresee the Gator Bowl selecting a 7-5 Michigan team over an 8-4 Penn State team, so the Wolverines' chances of playing in Jacksonville would probably come down to both games selecting PSU and the Insight Bowl winning the coin toss. That didn't happen in my projections, so I have Michigan playing in Tempe.
Oklahoma is projected to be Michigan's opponent in this game. I have OU losing to Oklahoma State and finishing 9-3. My projections have Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and a 9-3 Texas A&M team in the Alamo Bowl. OU could theoretically be selected to play in the Alamo Bowl, but considering the game is in Texas, the Aggies seem like a better pick, putting the Sooners in the Insight Bowl against Michigan.
Texas Bowl: Illinois vs. Baylor
Unlike the other projections, this time I have the same Big Ten opponent and a different Big Ten team. Two weeks ago I had Northwestern being selected for this game, but after the Fighting Illini beat the Wildcats last week, I foresee Illinois being picked to play in Houston against Baylor. The head-to-head meeting won't necessarily affect the selection process for the Texas Bowl, but I think it will be kept in mind, although probably not as much as the fact that Northwestern is without starting quarterback Dan Persa for the rest of the season. That will probably be more of a deterrent for a bowl game picking Northwestern than anything.
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
This is the only bowl game in my projections where I have two different teams compared to my post from two weeks ago. Originally I had Texas playing Illinois in this game, but now the Longhorns aren't even bowl eligible and I have the Illini headed to Houston rather than Dallas. As a result, Texas Tech gets picked for the Big 12 and Northwestern is the pick for the Big Ten.
Little Caesars Bowl: No Big Ten teams available
Unless multiple upsets happen on Saturday and result in the Big Ten having only one team in the BCS, the Little Caesars Bowl will be without a Big Ten team yet again.
Barring a Michigan upset over Ohio State on Saturday, which would shake the Big Ten's bowl picture up quite a bit, the lineup you see above is a pretty good bet for what will actually happen when the selections are announced next Sunday. The Big Ten is probably going to end up with two teams in the BCS, meaning Illinois and Northwestern will likely be the teams considered for the Texas Bowl and TicketCity Bowl. The next tier of teams is Iowa, Penn State and Michigan, which would be taken for the Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl and Insight Bowl in this scenario. Finally, the top tier is Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, which would be the teams picked for the Rose Bowl, an at-large BCS bid and the Capital One Bowl, respectively. All in all, the outlook is pretty clear for the Big Ten's bowl games.
As for which teams the Big Ten will be playing in these bowl games, that is definitely much more uncertain. A lot could happen in the SEC and Big 12 in the final two weeks of the season to shake up the bowl picture for these two conferences. As a result, it's much tougher to forecast the potential opponents for Big Ten teams. A general idea of teams that could be in the games exists, but I'm much more confident in my Big Ten projections just because this conference's bowl picture is much more cut and dry.