Playing 'What If' on the B1G bowl lineup

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
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By now you should be quite familiar with the Big Ten's bowl lineup and have an understanding of just how challenging some of the games appear.

The question we're tackling today is, what if? What if 12-0 Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State weren't on probation and were eligible for the postseason? What would the bowl lineup look like then, and how much better would the Big Ten's chances be of finishing with a winning record?

Brian Bennett's view

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Braxton Miller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesIf Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes were eligible for a bowl, would they be playing for the national title?
Well, we know that the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO would feature a different pairing. No offense to Wisconsin, which played by the rules laid down and earned its way to Pasadena. But the Badgers finished third in the Leaders Division and would not have gone to the league title game if not for the NCAA problems in Columbus and State College. Ohio State would have played Nebraska, and given both the way the Buckeyes manhandled the Huskers in the regular-season meeting and how Nebraska performed versus Wisconsin, we'd have to assume that Ohio State would have improved to 13-0.

The big question then becomes, would the Buckeyes have played for the BCS title? I believe so, even with their weak nonconference schedule and the howling from the SEC. It simply would have been too difficult to leave an undefeated Big Ten team out of the championship game in favor of a one-loss SEC team, even if we are talking about defending national champion Alabama.

So put Urban Meyer's team in Miami versus Notre Dame. (Which might have been enough to knock Northern Illinois out of the BCS, since Nebraska playing Ohio State instead of Wisconsin might have pushed the Huskers ahead of the Huskies for the N0. 16 spot in the BCS standings. But I digress). The Big Ten still wouldn't have had a second team qualify for an at-large bid, so the Rose Bowl berth goes bye-bye.

Given the Big Ten's apparent strong-arm tactics to get Nebraska to the Capital One Bowl, I think we can safely assume Big Red still winds up in Orlando. So then the big question becomes does the Outback Bowl take Michigan or Penn State? I think the Wolverines still get the call there, barely, while the Nittany Lions end up in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.

Northwestern would tumble to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but the biggest fall would go to Wisconsin. Remember, the Badgers would have lost their final two games and finished 7-5 in this imaginary scenario. So I'd put them in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas -- a long way down from Pasadena.

Michigan State winds up in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, while Minnesota goes to the Little Ceasars Bowl. Purdue takes an at-large spot -- let's say the Independence Bowl, which neither the ACC nor the SEC could fill this year. So the theoretical lineup looks like this:

BCS title game: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
Capital One: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Outback: Michigan vs. South Carolina
Gator: Penn State vs. Mississippi State
Wild Wings: Northwestern vs. TCU
Meineke Car Care: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Heart of Dallas: Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State
Little Caesars: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan
Independence: Purdue vs. Louisiana-Monroe

As you can see, the matchups become a lot more favorable at the bottom, where both the Gophers and Boilermakers would be favorites instead of underdogs as they are now. Penn State and Northwestern would have great shots at victories. Michigan State's defense might match up better against Texas Tech, while the clash of styles between Wisconsin and Oklahoma State would be fun to watch.

The key would be whether Ohio State could defeat the Irish. Give Meyer a month to prepare, and I'd like the Buckeyes' chances. I think this what-if lineup would give the Big Ten an excellent opportunity to at least post a winning record in bowl season, something I have a hard time seeing as it actually stands.

Adam Rittenberg's view

A Big Ten team in the national title game but none in the Rose Bowl? I guess it's possible, but I just don't see it. Sure, the voters would have looked at Ohio State a bit differently if the Buckeyes weren't on probation. But the national backlash against the Big Ten -- most of it deserved -- would ultimately keep Ohio State out of the title game in my view. It's not like the voters would be immune from all the Big Ten hate.

The Buckeyes' computer numbers wouldn't be strong, and I don't think a second win against Nebraska gets Meyer's crew to Miami. It would be a tough pill for the Big Ten to swallow to see a 1-loss SEC champion go ahead of an undefeated Big Ten champ, but after such a miserable season for the league, I think it would happen.

So I have Ohio State in the Rose Bowl going against Stanford. I agree there would be no BCS at-large team from the Big Ten, and Nebraska would get the nod over Northwestern for the Capital One Bowl.

The Outback Bowl would have an interesting decision between Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald's crew went 0-2 against the others and likely would slide down. Would the Penn State bowl backlash we saw in 2011 repeat itself? Tough to say, as Penn State fans would be fired up to travel to the game and celebrate the senior class and the team. I agree Michigan would get the nod in the end, and Penn State would move to the Gator.

The Wings bowl wouldn't be obligated to pick Northwestern ahead of Wisconsin, but I think the Wildcats head to Tempe, Wisconsin goes to Houston, Michigan State goes to Dallas and Minnesota goes to Detroit. Purdue would end up with an at-large bowl berth. I'll go with the Liberty Bowl, which couldn't fill its SEC tie-in.

Here's my lineup:

Rose: Ohio State vs. Stanford
Capital One:
Nebraska vs. Georgia
Outback: Michigan vs. South Carolina
Gator: Penn State vs. Mississippi State
Wild Wings: Northwestern vs. TCU
Meineke Car Care: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Heart of Dallas: Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State
Little Caesars: Minnesota vs. Central Michigan
Liberty: Purdue vs. Tulsa

While I agree the overall lineup is more favorable to the Big Ten, it still would be tough for the league to post a winning record. Ohio State would have a great chance to win the Rose Bowl, especially with a full month to prepare with a young team. The Florida bowls against the SEC still would be a challenge, although Penn State would have a favorable matchup against Cowbell U. The Northwestern-TCU game is a toss-up, but I don't really like the matchups for Michigan State and Wisconsin. It's hard to pin your hopes for a winning record on a banged-up Minnesota team and a Purdue team that fired its coach, but that's likely what the Big Ten would have to do.

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