- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The regular season is complete, so let's take one final look at the league before the bowls begin later this month. Wisconsin kicks off the Big Ten slate against Miami on Dec. 29 in the Champs Sports B0wl.
1. Ohio State (10-2, 7-1): Once again, the Buckeyes are carrying the Big Ten banner, this time to a place (Pasadena) they haven't played since Jan. 1, 1997. A win against Oregon would mark the first big step toward regaining national respectability. A loss would simply continue the Buckeye bashing for another offseason, until Jim Tressel's team enters 2010 ranked in the top 5.
2. Iowa (10-2, 6-2): The Hawkeyes got what they deserved, a BCS at-large berth. Now they need to beat Georgia Tech to truly validate this season in the eyes of the nation. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns to the field, but Iowa's stout defense will have to be the difference against Georgia Tech's effective triple-option offense led by Jonathan Dwyer.
3. Penn State (10-2, 6-2): Guys like Daryll Clark and Sean Lee have done a lot to put Penn State back where it belongs among the Big Ten's best. It would be nice to see those guys end their careers with a Jan. 1 bowl victory. Penn State gets its chance against LSU, a fellow national powerhouse that it has faced just once before. Will the Lions' veteran leadership prove to be the difference?
T-4. Northwestern (8-4, 5-3): After years of getting leapfrogged for bowls, Northwestern got the postseason destination it desired and will face Auburn in the Outback Bowl. There are so many similarities between NU's season and Iowa's 2008 season, and the Wildcats hope to end on an equally good note in Tampa.
T-4 Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3): I moved up the Badgers one spot after their dominating performance against Hawaii on Saturday night. Unfortunately for Bret Bielema's team, the game clearly didn't matter to the Outback Bowl selection committee. Still, Wisconsin has a more exciting matchup against Miami and can reach the 10-win plateau.
6. Michigan State (6-6, 4-4): The Spartans will be shorthanded in San Antonio, which could result in disaster or a gutsy victory against a favored Texas Tech squad. Head coach Mark Dantonio needs big performances from quarterback Kirk Cousins, linebacker Greg Jones and a secondary that has struggled for most of the season.
7. Purdue (5-7, 4-4): It must not have been easy for Purdue to watch the bowl selections, as a .500 Big Ten record almost always gets a team into the postseason. The Boilers turn their attention to 2010, as linebacker Jason Werner might return for a sixth season and Miami transfer Robert Marve enters the competition at quarterback.
8. Minnesota (6-6, 3-5): A return trip to the Insight Bowl wasn't ideal for the Gophers, but they received a pretty favorable draw in Iowa State. The Cyclones are a lot like Minnesota, with an up-and-down offense and a defense capable of carrying the team. It's critical for Tim Brewster to win this game and show some progress on offense before a make-or-break 2010 season.
9. Illinois (3-9, 2-6): The Illini endured a heartbreaking end to a miserable season, losing in a manner I never thought was possible. Running back Mikel LeShoure was fabulous and quarterback Juice Williams deserved a win in his final collegiate game, but the defense totally let them down. Changes are coming to Champaign, and the program certainly has reached a crossroads.
10. Michigan (5-7, 1-7): Rich Rodriguez is looking toward 2010, but Michigan's defense could once again be a problem as end Brandon Graham departs and cornerback Donovan Warren likely will declare for the NFL draft. The offense should be pretty solid next fall, but revamping and rebuilding the defense during the offseason should be Rodriguez's top priority.
11. Indiana (4-8, 1-7): Like Michigan, Indiana will lose several key contributors from a defense that wasn't great to begin with. The Hoosiers could be explosive on offense next fall with Ben Chappell, Tandon Doss and Darius Willis, but until the defense gets on track, the program will linger at the bottom of the Big Ten.