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Friday, November 7, 2008
Big Ten bowl picture: Week 11

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Saturday is moving day for bowl hopefuls in the Big Ten. Penn State tries to inch closer to the national title game, while teams like Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin are playing for their postseason lives. Michigan is already out of the running, and both Purdue and Indiana will see their dreams dashed without upset wins.

Big Ten bowl tie-ins: 7 (Rose/BCS, Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports, Insight, Motor City)

BOWL ELIGIBLE

No. 3 Penn State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) -- Despite getting leapfrogged in the BCS standings, Penn State still has an excellent chance to run the table and reach the national championship game. A road trip to Iowa could be tough -- the Hawkeyes have been in every game this season -- but Penn State has greater balance and can gain national respect with a blowout victory. Anything less than a BCS bowl would be a disappointment at this stage.

No. 11 Ohio State (7-2, 4-1) -- USC seems ticketed for the Rose Bowl, which could dissuade the selection committee from picking the Buckeyes. Then again, the Big Ten has a lot of pull with the folks in Pasadena, so a second BCS berth still could be possible if Penn State reaches the big one. Otherwise, Ohio State goes to the Capital One Bowl.

No. 18 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) -- A New Year's Day bowl in Florida looks like the destination for Mark Dantonio's team. The Spartans don't win with style points, but running back Javon Ringer and the fact the program hasn't played on Jan. 1 since 2000 should be good draws. Michigan State still has a shot at winning the Big Ten's BCS tiebreaker, but it probably ends up in the Capital One or Outback.

No. 24 Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) -- Injuries could make things tough in the final three games, but Northwestern is more resilient than most Big Ten teams, as it showed last week at Minnesota. The Wildcats should get one more win and maybe two, but their likely destinations are the Alamo, Champs Sports and Insight.

Minnesota (7-2, 3-2) -- The Gophers haven't responded well from tough losses in the past, but they've shown greater poise and leadership this season. Saturday's meeting with Michigan kicks off three consecutive trophy games, all of which are winnable. Two or three wins might get Minnesota to the Outback Bowl, but it more than likely heads to San Antonio (Alamo) or Orlando (Champs Sports).

ON THE CUSP

Iowa (5-4, 3-3) --With a fan base that travels extremely well, Iowa likely needs only one more win to lock up a bowl berth. It will take an incredible performance to beat Penn State, but the Hawkeyes still have Purdue and Minnesota on the slate. November has recently been a problematic month, but this Iowa team should get another win or two. Champs Sports and Insight are likely destinations.

Illinois (5-4, 3-3) -- The Illini prevailed in a must-win game last week against Iowa and face another one against Western Michigan in Detroit. Bowl representatives covet this team, which boasts an excellent quarterback (Juice Williams) and a big-play offense. But Illinois' inconsistency this season has been troubling, making a second consecutive win Saturday all the more important.

SINK OR SWIM

Wisconsin (4-5, 1-5) -- The Badgers and Illinois switch places this week, and Wisconsin now faces a must-win situation at Indiana. Wisconsin finishes with Minnesota and Cal Poly at home, but getting a step closer to bowl eligibility is critical. The Badgers are probably looking at the Motor City Bowl -- if the Big Ten gets two BCS teams, that is -- but they have to take care of business in Bloomington.

FUHGEDDABOUDIT

Indiana (3-6, 1-4) -- A second consecutive bowl bid looked likely in August, with eight home games and several key players back from last year. Now Indiana needs to win out to keep its slim hopes alive. Wisconsin has been struggling and the season finale at Purdue could go either way, but there's no way Indiana upsets Penn State next week in Happy Valley.

Purdue (3-6, 1-4) -- The Boilermakers prolonged their fast-fading quest for the postseason by beating Michigan in a shootout. But road trips to Michigan State and Iowa won't be easy, and the quarterback position remains unsettled. It's hard to see Purdue winning either of those games.

Michigan (2-7, 1-4) -- The nation's longest current streak of consecutive bowl appearances (33) is over, and Michigan will be playing for pride from here on out. Michigan could prevent Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State from playing in more prestigious bowl games the next three weeks, but it can't save itself.