We're two weeks from officially knowing the Big Ten's bowl lineup, but there's still a lot to be decided.
Indiana's postseason hopes are dashed after the Hoosiers suffered their seventh loss Saturday at Penn State. Iowa also won't be going bowling for the first time since 2007 after getting pummeled at Michigan to ensure its first losing regular season since 2000.
Purdue and Michigan State are still alive for bowls, but both teams must win this week to reach the six-victory plateau. The Boilers host Indiana in the Bucket game, while Michigan State visits Minnesota. We're projecting both teams to win their games and squeak into the postseason -- hardly the outcome either the Boilers or the Spartans thought would happen when a promising season kicked off 12 weeks ago.
The Big Ten still has an outside shot at getting a BCS at-large berth, although the Pac-12 strengthened its chances for two BCS teams Saturday and the ACC still has both Florida State and Clemson in line to reach BCS games. But if Michigan wins this week against Ohio State and gets into the top 14, it would be a very appealing team with losses only to Notre Dame, Alabama and Nebraska. Could Nebraska reach the Big Ten title game, lose to Wisconsin in Indy and still remain eligible for at-large selection by staying in the top 14 of the final BCS standings? We don't think the Huskers can, but it's not impossible.
One big change this week: We're elevating Northwestern ahead of Wisconsin. Why? The Outback Bowl can't select a team with two fewer losses than another available Big Ten club. If the Wildcats beat Illinois on Saturday and Wisconsin loses at Penn State -- both reasonable assumptions -- then Northwestern would finish 9-3 and Wisconsin would take a 7-5 record to the Big Ten title game, where it would be an underdog. The Badgers would also potentially end the year with three straight losses and be far less attractive as a bowl team.
If you're curious about the Big Ten's bowl selection procedures, here's a refresher from last year. As you're reading, just remember to flip the Insight Bowl (now Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl) for the Gator Bowl, as the two trade spots this year.
But for now, here's how we see things shaking out.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Northwestern
Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 29: Michigan State
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 28: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Purdue
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26: At large (not filled by Big Ten)