- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here's what we know about the Big Ten's bowl picture.
Wisconsin (6-2) and Northwestern (6-2) both are bowl-eligible and likely will be going somewhere warm for the holidays. Ohio State and Penn State are staying home because of NCAA sanctions. Michigan and Nebraska both are one win away from bowl eligibility. One team will cross the threshold Saturday night when the Wolverines and Huskers meet in Lincoln. The other likely won't take long to get there.
Illinois and Indiana both sit at two wins with five games to play. Although one of the teams will inch closer to bowl eligibility Saturday at Illinois' Memorial Stadium, they both need a lot more to get to the postseason.
That brings us to the other four Big Ten squads: Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue. All four are within striking distance of bowl eligibility, but all four have some work left to do. Right now, Brian and I project all four squads to the postseason, but there's a decent chance one or more won't get to six wins.
Which of the teams is likeliest to miss a bowl? That's our poll question for the day.
Let's go through the teams:
Record: 4-3 (2-1 Big Ten), needs two wins to become bowl-eligible
Remaining schedule: at Northwestern, at Indiana, Purdue, at Michigan, Nebraska
My take: If the Hawkeyes fall this week at Northwestern, they could be in serious trouble. The offensive woes have been there for most of the season, and Iowa faces several spread offenses that could give its defense some problems. The Indiana and Purdue games are vital as Iowa likely will be an underdog in the others.
Record: 4-4 (1-3 Big Ten), needs two wins to become bowl-eligible
Remaining schedule: at Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, at Minnesota
My take: It's surprising to see Michigan State in this spot after back-to-back 11-win seasons and so much preseason hype. The Spartans' easier games are the last two, but how much will they have left in the tank if they're 4-6 when Northwestern comes to East Lansing. Like Iowa, the offense has been a major problem all season. A win at Camp Randall Stadium certainly could turn things around for Mark Dantonio's squad, but Wisconsin has won 21 straight on its home field.
Record: 4-3 (0-3 Big Ten), needs two wins to become bowl-eligible
Remaining schedule: Purdue, Michigan, at Illinois, at Nebraska, Michigan State
My take: Although the Gophers have five games left, they could be playing a bowl-elimination game Saturday against Purdue. The loser will find itself in a tough spot to get to six wins. Minnesota and Michigan State also could be playing for a bowl spot on the final day of the regular season. The Michigan and Nebraska games will be tough for a Gophers squad that recently changed quarterbacks and has struggled to stop the run at times despite an improved overall defense.
Record: 3-4 (0-3 Big Ten), needs three wins to get bowl-eligible
Remaining schedule: at Minnesota, Penn State, at Iowa, at Illinois, Indiana
My take: The Boilers have the most work to do of the four candidates, but they also have the most favorable schedule. Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium is huge, as a fourth consecutive loss to open Big Ten play would hurt confidence and increase the drumbeat for coach Danny Hope's dismissal. Purdue showed at Ohio State that it has what it takes to beat every team on its schedule the rest of the way, but it also showed it still makes too many mistakes to close things out. The Boilers need their defense to rise to the occasion the way it did for the first three and a half quarters in Columbus.
Which of these teams is the most likely to stay home? It's time to vote.
2hBrian Bennett and Josh Moyer
1dBrian Bennett and Austin Ward