We’re pitting the Big Ten divisions against each other in debates this week that preview the 2015 season. Next on our series of topics -- because it's July 1, and the calendar allows for such talk -- is the bowl lineup.
Last year, it was a tie. The only ground rules in this discussion: You must pick a side. Which group, East or West, will produce more postseason participants?
Dan Murphy: East
In my book, each division has two teams that would need a catastrophic act of God to keep them from playing in the postseason and a couple of others that seems like pretty safe bets. The difference lies in the bottom half of the league, which is where the East holds a slight edge.
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. Purdue and Indiana are the Big Ten’s bottom rungs in the West and East, respectively. The Hoosiers’ high-powered offense and light schedule outside of divisional play could help them scratch out six wins. Purdue scheduled games against Virginia Tech and at Marshall – not looking great for the Boilermakers.
The next tier is a collection of schools that fall somewhere between maybe and probably on the spectrum of bowl-game hopes. In the East, Penn State, Michigan, Rutgers and Maryland are all possible bowl teams. They’ll beat each other up, but there’s a good chance that three from that group can hit the six-win mark. Their counterparts – Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota – are just a little less inspiring. Any more than two of those four in the postseason is a good result.
So, while it’s a long shot that all seven East Division teams to play in a bowl, all of them have a chance. In the West, a more reasonable estimate is four or five teams. Last year’s finally tally was even with five from each side of the conference. If someone is going to be a little better represented this year, it will be the East by a 6-5 or 5-4 margin.
Mitch Sherman: West
Never mind these projections; I’m going with the West.
Perhaps my view is skewed by the layer of smoke from Canadian wildfires that hovered in the sky this week above several West Division campuses. Regardless, I have faith in Iowa to find its way back to the postseason. The Hawkeyes, after all, generally play better when expectations are low.
I have faith in Northwestern to end its two-year bowl skid under redshirt freshman QB Clayton Thorson.
Conversely, this might be the year that the schedule hits Rutgers in the mouth. The Scarlet Knights made it to a bowl last December, their first season in the Big Ten, for the ninth time in 10 years. But with a new QB and West Division matchups with Wisconsin and Nebraska, trouble may loom in 2015.
Dan is right that this race will be won by the schools in the middle of the pack. And while Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota ought to achieve bowl eligibility without much difficulty, it’s more likely that a top-tier team in the West helps the cause of a middling divisional mate than Ohio State or Michigan State loses to an East Division foe.
Last year was even in the first season of the East-West arrangement. Current schools from the East led by a 5-4 margin in 2013, and the West lineup placed five in the postseason in 2012 to the East’s three. In 2015, the West will win again.