Big Ten: bowl index 2011

The Big Ten's complete bowl lineup

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
10:15
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The Big Ten is sending a league-record 10 teams to bowl games this season. The conference is sending two teams to BCS bowls for the seventh consecutive season and for the 10th time in the 14-year history of the BCS.

Here's the complete Big Ten bowl lineup, from the earliest game to the latest:

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Dec. 27)
Purdue vs. Western Michigan, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Insight Bowl (Dec. 30)
Iowa vs. Oklahoma, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Dec. 31)
Northwestern vs. Texas A&M, noon ET, ESPN

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 31)
Illinois vs. UCLA, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

TicketCity Bowl (Jan. 2)
Penn State vs. Houston, noon ET, ESPNU

Outback Bowl (Jan. 2)
Michigan State vs. Georgia, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

Capital One Bowl (Jan. 2)
Nebraska vs. South Carolina, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl (Jan. 2)
Ohio State vs. Florida, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Jan. 2)
Wisconsin vs. Oregon, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Michigan vs. Virginia Tech, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's official: Michigan is back in a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and it will face Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The 10-2 Wolverines finished No. 13 in the final BCS standings, qualifying for an at-large bid. That was really the only question, because an eligible Michigan team is always going to be an attractive option for the big bowls, especially when Maize and Blue fans are hungry for a return to an elite stage.

The big surprise was Virginia Tech, which looked dead in the water for the BCS after getting blown out -- for a second time -- by Clemson in the ACC title game. Somehow, the Hokies got the first-ever ACC at-large bid instead of other qualified teams like Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor.

Virginia Tech, as usual, has one of the nation's top defenses and a star running back in David Wilson. This is the Hokies' fifth BCS game since 2005, but the team has struggled to win those games.

It will be the first-ever meeting between the Wolverines and Virginia Tech.

Michigan fans probably don't care who the opponent is right now. They're celebrating a BCS game -- while Michigan State fans are fuming that the rival they beat and finished ahead of in the Legends Division standings is going to a better bowl.

Purdue to play in Little Caesars Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
8:32
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Purdue's first bowl game since 2007 will be in a familiar locale.

The Boilermakers will play Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. That's the same site where the Boilers beat Central Michigan in a 51-48 shootout in what was then known as the Motor City Bowl.

Western Michigan, which has the No. 8 pass offense in the country, lost 36-14 to Michigan and 23-20 to Illinois earlier this season.

The Boilermakers lead the all-time series 2-0, with the last win a 28-24 decision on Sept. 14, 2002.
Two more Big Ten bowl matchups are official.

Michigan State, which had a heartbreaking loss Saturday night at the Big Ten championship game, will take on Georgia in the Outback Bowl. It will mark a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl.

Illinois, meanwhile, earns an at-large bowl invitation to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The Illini will face a Pac-12 opponent, projected to be UCLA.

PSU to TicketCity, Iowa to Insight

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
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Penn State took a tumble down the Big Ten's bowl pecking order, but the Nittany Lions have found a home in the TicketCity Bowl.

They'll face a dangerous opponent in Houston, which until Saturday was one of only two unbeaten FBS teams (along with No. 1 LSU). Penn State takes on Case Keenum and the Cougars on Jan. 2 at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas.

Iowa, meanwhile, heads back to the Insight Bowl, where it will take on Oklahoma on Dec. 30 in Tempe, Ariz.

Some tough matchups for the Big Ten so far.

OSU to Gator, Northwestern to Texas

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
6:24
PM ET
Two bowl matchups featuring Big Ten teams are now official, in addition to the Wisconsin-Oregon pairing in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

As expected, Ohio State will take on Florida in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, to be played Jan. 2 in Jacksonville. Think Urban Meyer's name will be mentioned a few times leading up to the game?

Also, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas selected Northwestern to face Texas A&M on Dec. 31 in Houston.

These selections indicate Michigan will earn a BCS at-large berth, although the announcement won't be official until later Sunday night. It also looks like 9-3 Penn State will fall all the way to the TicketCity Bowl.

A Big Ten team will face Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 27 in Detroit.
I'm about to leave Indianapolis after an incredible inaugural Big Ten championship game. Before I go, here's one last stab at projecting the Big Ten bowls.

Michigan's BCS at-large hopes improved Saturday as Houston, Georgia and Oklahoma all suffered blowout losses. It looks likely the Wolverines will enter the top 14 of the BCS standings, which is all they really need to secure a spot. The more interesting element could be where Michigan ends up: New Orleans or Glendale, Ariz. The Big Easy still looks more likely.

The other big news Saturday night, as the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein first reported, is that the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas likely will select Northwestern rather than Penn State if the Big Ten sends two teams to BCS bowls. It looks as if Texas A&M will be the Big 12 representative in the game, and I've heard the bowl wanted to avoid a Penn State-A&M matchup. It'd be too bad for a Penn State team that won nine games, and players who had nothing to do with the sex-abuse scandal.

Then again, I wouldn't be shocked to see Penn State head to the Texas Bowl after all. It should be interesting.

On to the projections:

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2: Wisconsin vs. BCS team

Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3: Michigan vs. BCS team

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2: Nebraska vs. SEC team

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2: Michigan State vs. SEC team

Insight Bowl, Dec. 30: Iowa vs. Big 12 team

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 2: Ohio State vs. SEC team

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 31: Northwestern vs. Big 12 team

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2: Penn State vs. Conference USA team

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 27: Purdue vs. MAC team

At-large: Illinois vs. TBA (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl or AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl)
Three lessons from Big Ten championship week.

1. The championship game is a welcome addition: The Big Ten might lack an elite team this season, but the league produced more exciting games than any other conference. It culminated Saturday night in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, which will be very hard to top. For the second time this season, Michigan State and Wisconsin provided incredible drama, momentum swings and outstanding performances. Although the matchup didn't attract national attention before kickoff, the game itself drew the nation's eyes to the Big Ten. For four hours, the league became relevant in early December, and the buzz should help heading into the bowls and possibly into next season. The championship will be a bigger deal when there are national title implications, but Saturday night was a heck of a start.

2. Michigan State still has a hurdle to clear: Mark Dantonio has done a terrific job of building Michigan State into what looks like an annual contender in the Big Ten. But the Spartans still haven't quite crossed the finish line. It was unlucky for them that division play started this year, since they were the only Big Ten team to have fewer than two conference losses this season, and they were forced to try to beat a powerful Wisconsin team for a second time in six weeks in the league title game. Michigan State outplayed the Badgers for most of the night in the rematch and should have had a chance to go in for another game-winning drive. But Isaiah Lewis' running-into-the-punter penalty denied Kirk Cousins and the offense a chance to get the ball back. It was another disappointment for a program that has come close but fallen short often in its history. Dantonio should continue to have the Spartans in position to break a 24-year Rose Bowl dry spell, but at some point they need to break through and get it done. Getting the first bowl victory under Dantonio now becomes the focus.

3. Michigan is in good shape for an at-large berth: After falling in last week's BCS standings, Michigan should move up in the final lineup released tonight. The Wolverines benefited from Houston's blowout loss in the Conference USA title game, Georgia's blowout loss in the SEC title game and Oklahoma's blowout loss in the Bedlam game. Michigan could move past all three squads and into the top 14, which would virtually assure Brady Hoke's crew of an at-large berth. Although Baylor could jump Michigan and TCU appears likely to take a BCS bowl spot following Houston's loss, the Wolverines should be able to get the BCS standings bump they need, which is all that matters.

Badgers find uncommon route to title

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
3:01
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Russell Wilson had barely arrived in Madison this past summer when he shared his vision for the season.

"I want to be part of something special," the NC State transfer announced upon meeting his new Wisconsin teammates. "I don't want to be common. I want to be uncommon."

Very little was common about the first Big Ten championship game. A league known for grinding it out in cold weather put on a thrilling, offensive pingpong contest at Lucas Oil Field. Michigan State and Wisconsin figured to have a hard time matching their Oct. 22 classic, but they came pretty close to repeating it note for note. And the Badgers won 42-39 despite getting outgained and outplayed most of the night before somehow finding a way to secure their second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.

"The adversity we faced this season helped us tonight, I believe," Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing said. "To be able to battle back like that is special. You remember a season like that more than you would a lot of other seasons."

A season that began with enormous expectations nearly came crashing down on consecutive October weekends, when Michigan State and Ohio State delivered last-minute, intestine-twisting, game-winning touchdowns. The Badgers had zero room for error after those two conference losses and needed help from other teams just to get to Indianapolis.

When they got here, they had to face a Spartans team that beat them in three of the previous four meetings. And the rematch began to play out in eerily similar fashion to Michigan State's 37-31 victory on Oct. 22 in East Lansing.

Just as in that game, the Badgers raced out to a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter, only to see the wheels come off. The Spartans outscored Wisconsin 23-0 in the second quarter of the first game; on Saturday, they ripped off 22 consecutive points to take a 29-21 halftime lead.

"For whatever reason, we don't play well in the second quarter against Michigan State," head coach Bret Bielema said. "So we survived it."

Russell Wilson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTo be able to battle back like that is special," Russell Wilson said. "You remember a season like that more than you would a lot of other seasons."
Wisconsin inched back into the game but still trailed 39-34 late in the fourth quarter and had little choice but to go for a fourth-and-6 from the 43-yard line. As he had been many times in the game, Wilson got flushed from the pocket by Michigan State's pressure. He flung a pass toward Jeff Duckworth, who had two Spartans covering him.

"I had to give him a shot," Wilson said. "It was pretty much the only thing I could do. I knew I had to throw it up and give it a chance."

Duckworth had broken his corner pattern to the inside -- "It was kind of a bad route, actually," he would say later. But the receiver who caught only 12 passes in the regular season went up and grabbed the ball for a first down at the 7. Montee Ball then did what he does best, scoring his 38th touchdown of the season, and Wilson scrambled until he could find Jacob Pedersen for the 2-point conversion.

The Duckworth pass brought back instant memories of Michigan State's Hail Mary pass to win in East Lansing on Oct. 22. That play started from 1 yard farther back on the field and also went toward the right corner of the end zone, although the degree of difficulty was higher. Karmic payback, perhaps?

"A common saying that we've been using quite a bit over the last three or four weeks is 'Those who are humbled will be exalted, and those who are exalted will be humbled,'" Bielema said. "And I thought that play right there gave justice to everything."

More weird turnarounds were at work. Special-teams breakdowns played a key role in both Badgers losses this season, as Michigan State and Ohio State each blocked a punt that was taken in for a score or directly led to a touchdown. Surely the Spartans considered that weak spot when they decided to go after a Wisconsin punt with less than two minutes left.

That proved disastrous when Isaiah Lewis was flagged for running into punter Brad Nortman, resulting in a first down and Wisconsin bringing on the victory formation. (It only adds to the irony that Lewis made headlines before the first game when he said Michigan State's defense was going to hurt Wilson.) Nortman had an excellent game, averaging 45 yards on five punts, and Wisconsin actually forced a turnover in the kicking game to score a touchdown.

"I preached special teams all week," Bielema said.

This was an uncommon way to win a championship. The Badgers were outgained 471 to 345 by the Spartans and had only 126 rushing yards to Michigan State's 190. Ball alone ran for 105 yards in the first quarter before the normally powerful ground game stalled. Michigan State took advantage of Wisconsin's lack of speed on the edge of its defense most of the night. Look at the stat sheet, and it's hard to figure out how the Badgers won. But their entire season was about not staying down.

"With the team we had, we were thinking national championship," safety Aaron Henry said. "For us to lose the way we did in those two games, it was definitely devastating. [But] our guys rallied, and it pretty much unfolded in front of your eyes."

In Wilson's case, an ear told the story. He tucked a rose over his right ear and kept it there long after the game was over, savoring his first chance to play in a BCS bowl. His vision from the summer had been fulfilled.

"We are definitely uncommon," he said.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There would have been no qualifiers this time for Michigan State.

No talk of Hail Marys or fortunate breaks or uncharacteristic mistakes from the opponent everyone assumed was better and more talented. The win wouldn't have been chalked up to the home crowd or questionable timeout choices or a few good bounces or the lack of penalty flags on the turf.

Had Michigan State held on to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, the Spartans would have earned every bit of the victory. For most of the night, they had been the better team, the more dominant team, the better prepared team, the more energized team. Their offense was seemingly unstoppable, racking up 23 first downs and 471 total yards. After a rough start, their defense made more plays than Wisconsin's, receiving a huge performance from linebacker Denicos Allen (3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss) and others.

Keshawn Martin
Michael Hickey/US PresswireThere were no last-minute Hail Marys or miracles this time as Keshawn Martin and the Spartans fell to the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game.
Michigan State would be heading to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 24 years, and no one would be questioning whether the Spartans were the Big Ten's best team. The Spartans might have finally grasped the thing that eluded them despite another 10-win season: respect.

But what seemed so inevitable throughout Saturday night didn't come to pass. A handful of plays and a handful of mistakes kept the Spartans from putting roses between their teeth and celebrating with their large contingent of fans.

What if Isaiah Lewis never touches Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman? What if coach Mark Dantonio doesn't go for the punt block? What if quarterback Kirk Cousins takes off and runs on third-and-8 rather than attempt a tough throw to Keshawn Martin?

"It's tough," said Cousins, who was brilliant Saturday night with 281 pass yards and three touchdowns. "Came close two years in a row. It's tough."

In 2010, the BCS standings kept Michigan State from Pasadena even though the Spartans had beaten Wisconsin, which received the Big Ten's automatic berth. While the Spartans had a legitimate gripe, Dantonio noted that they didn't look BCS-worthy in a blowout loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

Saturday night, they looked the part, which might be the most painful element of the loss. Michigan State looked better than Wisconsin and had the edge in first downs (23-16), rushing yards (190-126) and total yards (471-345).

"We felt like we were having our way offensively all game long," Cousins said.

Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar called an excellent game, employing swing passes to capitalize on the Spartans' superior speed on the edge.

The defense recovered from a 21-point first quarter to allow minus-4 yards in the second quarter. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson had only 30 passing yards in the first half. Badgers running back Montee Ball had only 32 rushing yards on 14 carries in the final three quarters.

"It's tough to deal with it," Dantonio said, "because you're going to replay a lot of things in your mind because you are so close. It could be one little thing, one little inch here or there and we could have won the football game."

Michigan State's loss likely takes the Spartans out of BCS at-large contention, while their rival Michigan, a team the Spartans beat on Oct. 15, could reach a BCS bowl. Dantonio made one final plea for his team.

"I do think the two best teams in the Big Ten played today," he said. "I do think we're worthy to compete and play at a BCS level, but you've got to get the votes to do that. I do believe we're a BCS-type football team."

The Spartans performed like one for much of the night. And while their Rose Bowl drought will reach a quarter-century, the program is getting closer and closer to its ultimate goal.

"Very difficult, the end of the football game, the way it all went down," Dantonio said. "But we'll rise again."

Assessing the Big Ten bowl picture

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
11:00
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One Big Ten team will know its bowl destination tonight, as the winner of the inaugural Big Ten championship game between No. 13 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin will be headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Big Ten champion will face Pac-12 champ Oregon on Jan. 2.

After that point, the Big Ten bowl picture gets a bit foggy.

I've spoken to bowl officials, Big Ten officials, school officials and had a nice chat Friday with ESPN's BCS expert Brad Edwards to get a sense of where things stand right now. Let's dive in.

MICHIGAN'S ROOTING INTEREST

Michigan is the Big Ten's only realistic candidate for a BCS at-large berth. The problem: the Wolverines are No. 16 in the BCS standings and need to move into the top 14 by Sunday to be eligible for at-large selection. And they don't play today, so they can't strengthen their case on the field.

I felt pretty good about Michigan's BCS at-large chances until the latest standings, which moved Brady Hoke's crew down a spot.

Here's what Michigan should be rooting for today (in order of importance):
  • No. 1 LSU to beat No. 14 Georgia in the SEC championship game, preferably by a wide margin. A Georgia win increases the likelihood of three SEC teams in BCS bowls (if LSU and Alabama finish 1-2 in the final BCS standings). A convincing LSU win should drop Georgia below Michigan in the standings, but if the Bulldogs give the Tigers a close game, they might not move down.
  • Michigan State to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin undoubtedly would drop below Michigan with a loss. Michigan State, meanwhile, might not drop below Michigan if it loses a close contest to Wisconsin, especially since the Spartans beat the Wolverines on Oct. 15. Also, a Michigan State win strengthens Michigan's BCS profile because the Wolverines played the Spartans. They didn't face Wisconsin. If Wisconsin is to win tonight, Michigan should be rooting for a Badgers blowout.
  • No. 22 Texas to beat No. 17 Baylor. The Bears are directly behind Michigan in the BCS standings and could move up with an impressive win against Texas. Baylor isn't going to a BCS bowl, but it could keep Michigan out of the top 14.
  • No. 3 Oklahoma State to crush No. 10 Oklahoma. A Cowboys blowout win should drop perpetually overrated Oklahoma down in the BCS standings. Although the Sooners, like most Big 12 teams, boast much stronger computer numbers than Michigan, they should pay the price for a poor performance in Stillwater. But don't hold your breath on this one.
  • Iowa State to beat No. 11 Kansas State. A loss to the Cylones at home might be enough to significantly drop Kansas State in the BCS standings, perhaps below Michigan.
OTHER BIG TEN BOWL NOTES

How the rest of the Big Ten bowl lineup shakes out depends largely on whether Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth or not.

Here are a few things to know:
  • The Capital One Bowl will select Michigan or Nebraska, most likely in that order. So if Michigan is available, expect the Wolverines to head to Orlando. If Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth, Capital One will go with Big Red.
  • It will be interesting to see what the Outback Bowl does if Nebraska is still on the board. The Florida bowls really want the Cornhuskers, who have played just one bowl in the state since facing Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl. Don't be surprised to see Nebraska head to Tampa if Michigan doesn't reach a BCS bowl. If Michigan reaches a BCS bowl and Nebraska goes to the Capital One, the Big Ten title game loser likely heads to Outback.
  • If Michigan and Nebraska go to Capital One and Outback, respectively, expect the Insight Bowl to select the Big Ten title game loser. Insight would be thrilled with this pick. The more interesting situation comes if Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth and Insight is selecting between Penn State and most likely Iowa. While Penn State has the better record by two victories and a head-to-win against the Hawkeyes, the Nittany Lions also bring negative publicity, which could turn off the Insight/Fiesta Bowl group that has had its own share in the past few years.
  • Where will Penn State end up? This is one of the bigger questions on Selection Sunday. If the Lions don't go to the Insight Bowl, I'd be surprised if they fall lower than the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. If they somehow drop below, the TicketCity Bowl will undoubtedly pick Penn State.
  • Although it's not official, the other Big Ten bowl matchup besides the Rose that seems set is the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which has made no secret about its intention to invite Ohio State and pair up the Buckeyes with Florida in the Urban Meyer Invitational. About the only way this doesn't happen is if the Big Ten doesn't receive a BCS at-large berth and the league title game loser falls below Insight, which would force Gator to select Wisconsin or Michigan State. Highly unlikely.
  • Purdue is most likely headed to the TicketCity Bowl if the Big Ten sends two teams to BCS games. If not, the Boilers and Northwestern would be in the mix for the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, while Iowa likely heads to TicketCity. Detroit appears to be the likeliest destination for Northwestern, although the Wildcats could be in the mix for an at-large selection if Michigan doesn't receive a BCS at-large berth.
  • Illinois is almost certainly looking at an at-large bowl selection. Among those likely looking for at-large teams: Kraft Fight Hunger, New Orleans and Military.

Got it? We'll find out for sure on Sunday. And if you need a refresher on the Big Ten's bowl selection rules, I've got you covered.
The Big Ten bowl picture cleared up a bit after the final weekend of the regular season.

Wisconsin or Michigan State will ring in the new year in California before playing in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. The Badgers earned a rematch with Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten championship game this Saturday in Indianapolis. We're projecting a Wisconsin victory at Lucas Oil Stadium and a return trip to Pasadena.

Michigan, meanwhile, likely secured a BCS at-large berth by beating archrival Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and finishing the regular season at 10-2. It would be hard to see all the BCS bowls passing up the Wolverines, who haven't been to a BCS bowl in five years.

We're also basing these predictions on what we're hearing within the bowl circles. The Florida bowls want 9-3 Nebraska, and there's no way the Huskers fall below the Outback Bowl. The question is whether Nebraska heads to Capital One or Outback. Since Michigan State has been a regular guest in the Capital One Bowl, we have Nebraska going there. We also hear Ohio State, despite its 6-6 mark and its uncertain coaching situation, appeals to the folks in Jacksonville.

Penn State's loss in Madison drops the Nittany Lions several spots in the bowl pecking order. Some bowls will be reluctant to invite Penn State because of the negative publicity surrounding the program. We think the Lions will find a postseason home in Houston.

Although bowls sometimes shy away from inviting the same team in consecutive seasons, we project two teams, Iowa and Northwestern, to return to their postseason destinations from last season.

Purdue became the 10th Big Ten team to become bowl-eligible after reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket. The Boilers will go bowling for the first time since 2007. We believe they're more attractive than Illinois, which completed its second-half collapse with a putrid performance at Minnesota.

Projection time ...

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2: Wisconsin vs. BCS team

Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3: Michigan vs. BCS team

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2: Nebraska vs. SEC team

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2: Michigan State vs. SEC team

Insight Bowl, Dec. 30: Iowa vs. Big 12 team


TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 2: Ohio State vs. SEC team

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 31: Penn State vs. Big 12 team

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2: Northwestern vs. Big 12 team

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 27: Purdue vs. MAC team

At-large: Illinois vs. TBA
We don't know who will take the BCS bid or bids out of the Big Ten, but at least the candidate pool has been whittled to a final four.

Michigan State, Wisconsin or Penn State is going to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans already have punched their ticket to the league championship game, and the Badgers and Nittany Lions will fight it out for the other spot this week. The loser of that game will have three losses and would be highly unlikely to gain an at-large BCS bid.

That means Michigan is the other team with a chance at the BCS. The Wolverines' win over Nebraska on Saturday was a virtual at-large elimination game. If they can beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor this week, a 10-2 record would put Brady Hoke's team in position for a berth in one of the big bowls, especially given the rabid following for the Maize and Blue.

What else did we figure out in Week 12? Well, Northwestern clinched bowl eligibility by beating Minnesota, while Purdue gave itself no room for error by losing at home to Iowa. The Boilers have to beat Indiana on the road this week to get to 6-6, and even then they will likely be less attractive to bowls than Iowa or Northwestern. Penn State has some major image issues, but the Nittany Lions have earned a higher bowl slot than the Ohio State team they just beat. We'll see if that happens.

And sorry, Penn State and Michigan State fans, but we're projecting Wisconsin to win this week at home and to get revenge on the Spartans in Indianapolis. The rest falls into place as follows:

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2: Wisconsin vs. BCS team

Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3: Michigan vs. BCS team

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2: Michigan State vs. SEC team

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2: Nebraska vs. SEC team

Insight Bowl, Dec. 30: Penn State vs. Big 12 team

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 2: Ohio State vs. SEC team

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 31: Iowa vs. Big 12 team

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2: Northwestern vs. Big 12 team

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 27: Purdue vs. MAC team

At-large: Illinois vs. TBA
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it's time to get down to some serious business. No more excuses about it being too early to start nailing some of our bowl projections.

Week 11 brought us, if not clarity, at least a little better idea of what might happen. Wisconsin and Michigan State look like they have the best paths to the Big Ten title game. Sorry, Spartans fans, but we'd like the Badgers in a rematch on a neutral field after they lost on a Hail Mary on the road.

We also like Nebraska to win out and claim the league's second BCS bid with a 10-2 record. From there, it gets a little trickier.

What to do with Penn State? The Nittany Lions have only one conference loss, but we don't like their chances on the road in Columbus and Madison. So if they lose both of those games, they'd be 8-4 with a three-game losing streak and more importantly, the stain of scandal and a fan base that might not exactly be thrilled to go see them in a distant city. So we're knocking Penn State down in our projections.

The bottom is even more confusing. We like Purdue and Northwestern to reach bowl eligibility now, which would give the Big Ten 10 bowl teams. So there would have to be an at-large opening for the 10th team and some jostling among the bowls for the most attractive picks. The team we think might be the least attractive right now is Illinois, which is in danger of losing a fifth straight game this week against Wisconsin. Illini fans may not be too enthused about traveling to support their team this postseason, especially if they go from 6-0 to 6-6 .

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO: Wisconsin vs. BCS team

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska vs. BCS team

Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. SEC team

Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. SEC team

Insight Bowl: Ohio State vs. Big 12 team

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Penn State vs. SEC team

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Iowa vs. Big 12 team

TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Big 12 team

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Purdue vs. MAC team

At-large: Illinois vs. TBA
The Big Ten isn't the nation's best conference this year, but it doesn't lack for excitement.

Week 10 brought two more upsets -- Iowa over Michigan and Northwestern over Nebraska -- and shook up the Legends Division race. As a result, the bowl projections also shuffle a bit. Iowa became bowl eligible with its sixth victory, and Northwestern's bowl hopes received a huge boost after the win in Lincoln.

These projections remain largely a crap-shoot as the final three weeks of the regular season are sure to bring more surprises. But as always, we'll give it our best shot.

We're projecting Michigan State (Legends) and Penn State (Leaders) to reach the inaugural Big Ten championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis. Not sure if the Land Grant Trophy will make an appearance, but the Spartans and Nittany Lions certainly can get to Naptown. We're projecting Michigan State to win and earn the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, while Penn State, like many title game losers, won't get an at-large berth. We project Penn State to win its next two games but fall at Wisconsin, which will win out.

The Outback, Insight and Gator bowls will have some appealing choices as Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska will be in the mix for the spots. Nebraska has arguably the toughest remaining schedule of the three. Iowa and Illinois trade places on this week's projections, and Northwestern re-enters the mix as it faces a favorable schedule down the stretch. Purdue's recent road struggles combined with wins by both Iowa and Northwestern leave the Boilers on the outside looking in.

OK, enough chatter. Here are the projections:

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO: Michigan State vs. BCS team

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Wisconsin vs. BCS team

Capital One Bowl: Penn State vs. SEC team

Outback Bowl: Ohio State vs. SEC team

Insight Bowl: Michigan vs. Big 12 team

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. SEC team

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Iowa vs. Big 12 team

TicketCity Bowl: Illinois vs. Big 12 team

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Northwestern vs. MAC team

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