Take Two: Big Ten bowl hopefuls

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
3:30
PM ET
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

[+] EnlargeVenric Mark
Tony Ding/AP PhotoCan Venric Mark and Northwestern stop their free fall and make a bowl?
Through eight weeks of the season, three Big Ten teams (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) have already qualified for bowl games. Nebraska and Wisconsin look like locks for the postseason. Purdue would need a miracle to win its final five games and make a bowl, while Penn State remains ineligible for a bowl bid.

That leaves five teams in a little bit of bowl limbo: Illinois (3-3), Indiana (3-4), Iowa (4-3), Minnesota (5-2) and Northwestern (4-3). So today's Take Two topic is: How many of those teams -- and which ones -- will be playing a 13th game in 2013?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

The question is not as easy as it looks on the surface. Minnesota already has five wins but has games remaining against Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, as well as a trip to Indiana. Iowa has played pretty well but still has to beat at least one of the following: Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. Northwestern seemed like a no-brainer for a bowl bid this season until it started off 0-3 in the league; the Wildcats' schedule offers few breaks down the stretch, either.

Illinois and Indiana appear to be much longer shots at getting bowl eligible. But the Hoosiers get Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue at home, while the Illini have Indiana, Purdue and a struggling Northwestern club to end the year.

I'm going to bank on talent first and foremost here. While Northwestern has not played well at all the past two weeks, I think Pat Fitzgerald's team has too much ability and pride not to turn things around and get two more wins. Iowa should beat Purdue and has three more games at Kinnick Stadium to find one more victory. I say the Hawkeyes get it done.

Minnesota either beats Indiana or springs an upset -- Penn State or Michigan State, perhaps -- to go bowling for a second straight year. Indiana is too inconsistent and too porous on defense for me to believe in, while it's hard to bet on an Illinois team that has lost 16 straight Big Ten games suddenly winning three in the final six weeks.

So I've got three of the five making it: Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota. For the Illini and Hoosiers, it will be wait 'til next year.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsWith several tough matchups remaining, including Michigan and Nebraska to close the year, it might be tough for Kirk Ferentz and Iowa to reach a bowl.
We’ll have a much easier time answering this question after Northwestern and Iowa play this week and Minnesota and Indiana play the following week. Those two games will go a long way toward determining which teams reach the six-win plateau and punch their ticket to the postseason. I’m somewhat optimistic about this group and will go with four teams winning at least six games and going bowling. The main reason is that outside of Ohio State and perhaps Wisconsin, every Big Ten squad can be beat, and I expect some upsets (minor or major) down the stretch.

Minnesota needs only one more victory, and while the Gophers have arguably the toughest closing slate, they should find a way to record at least one more win. The defense has been solid, and the offense should identify a few more playmakers down the stretch. Indiana needs three more wins but has a favorable home schedule with Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue all visiting Memorial Stadium. The high-powered Hoosiers offense should be able to record wins in at least two of those games.

Iowa is clearly an improved team that doesn’t necessarily have the record to show it, but things could change soon. The Hawkeyes host sputtering Northwestern on Saturday and still have a game against 1-6 Purdue. Iowa also performs well against Michigan at home and could knock off the Wolverines on Nov. 23 following an open week.

Northwestern is in a free-fall and could completely crash and burn, especially if it doesn’t get healthy. But we’d both agree this is a pretty good team when Kain Colter and Venric Mark are on the field, and at some point, they should reunite for the stretch run. Even if Northwestern drops its next two, I could see at least two wins in the final three games.

I have Illinois falling short of a bowl, as the Illini still need three more wins and haven’t been competitive in their first two Big Ten contests. Although there are some potential wins out there – Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Northwestern, Michigan State -- the Illini likely need at least one upset and probably two, which is asking a lot for a young team that has struggled so much in league games.

If my plan plays out, the Big Ten should fill all of its bowl tie-ins for this year and might have an at-large team.

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