Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Thursday, December 12, 2013
Take Two: Most helped by bowl win?

By Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten reporters 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.

Seven Big Ten teams are going bowling. For some, it's more important than others. So Today's Take Two topic is: Which team stands to benefit the most from winning a bowl this year?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

I think the value of most bowl wins is often overrated. Sure, a national championship or a BCS victory is cherished forever. But most people forget quickly who won or lost a mid- or lower-tier postseason game, and I've seen little convincing evidence that winning one of those types of games has much of a carryover into the next season.

Jerry Kill
Jerry Kill and Minnesota would benefit on the recruiting trail by winning a bowl game.
With that caveat, I'm picking Minnesota as the team that has the most to gain from bowl season, even though it plays in the lowest-profile game (Texas Bowl) against the weakest opponent (Syracuse) of any Big Ten school this year. The Gophers in many ways have already had a storybook season by finishing 8-4, beating Nebraska and Penn State and winning four straight league games for the first time since 1973. A win over the Orange in Houston would, incredibly, be just Minnesota's second nine-win season in the past 108 seasons.

The Gophers haven't won a bowl game since the 2004 Music City Bowl (over Alabama; have times changed quickly, or what?). A postseason victory would be something Jerry Kill and his staff could use on the recruiting trail and plaster all over their media guides, football complex and other materials. While key seniors like Ra'Shede Hageman, Brock Vereen, Aaron Hill and Ed Olson depart, the vast majority of the roster returns next year, and the bowl game is an important experience for youngsters like Maxx Williams, Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky. Minnesota could even start the 2014 season in the Top 25 with a bowl win and all the players it returns.

On the flip side, a loss to a mediocre ACC team would represent a small step back. Getting to the Texas Bowl last year was a nice achievement for the Gophers. This year, they need to win it.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Some good points on the Gophers, Brian, but this year will be a success for Kill's team, regardless of what happens in Houston. Three straight losses to end aren't great, but Minnesota still showed a lot by responding so well from Kill's midseason health-related absence, and the team brings back most of its key players for 2014.

I place a little more value on bowl wins, and I look for teams that have reached a crossroads of sorts after the regular season. I'd put Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa in a category of teams that can brand this season as a success no matter what happens in the postseason. Wisconsin certainly wants to end the season on a positive note, especially after the Senior Day loss and three straight Rose Bowl setbacks, but next year is sort of a reset for the Badgers with so many seniors -- and possibly a star underclassman in Melvin Gordon -- departing.

So that leaves Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska. I can make a case for each, but I'm going with Big Red. Nebraska has been through a roller coaster of a season, which ended with an ugly loss to Iowa and an uglier post-game news conference with coach Bo Pelini. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst affirmed his support for Pelini, and Nebraska is having some success on the recruiting trail. But this program could really use a bowl win against an SEC opponent to feel good heading into the offseason.

Nebraska brings back talent on both sides of the ball and could win a wide-open West Division in 2014. But the questions about Pelini's status won't go away if the erratic performances continue. Nebraska hasn't won a bowl game since the 2009 Holiday. A win in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl doesn't guarantee future success, but it allows Nebraska to move forward with some confidence.