Commentary: Big Ten Bowl Projections and Weeks 11 and 12 Preview
by Jonathan Hodges

The Big Ten conference underwent a significant shakeup this past week with Northwestern's big upset over previously unbeaten Iowa and Ohio State's high profile win at Penn State.  Also, with Illinois' win in Minnesota and Purdue's win over the Wolverines, every team in the conference remains in the running for bowl eligibility, making the bowl picture that much more confusing.

First, the current bowl projections, then, previews of the big games down the stretch (* denotes already bowl eligible):

Rose Bowl: Ohio State* (8-2, 5-1), BCS No. 11
Capital One Bowl: Iowa* (9-1, 5-1), BCS No. 10
Outback Bowl: Penn State* (8-2, 4-2), BCS No. 18
Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin* (7-2, 4-2), BCS No. 20
Alamo Bowl: Winner of: Michigan State (5-5, 3-3) @ Purdue (4-6, 3-3)
Insight Bowl: Northwestern* (6-4, 3-3)
Pizza Bowl: Minnesota (5-5, 3-4)

Some interesting decisions will come out of the Champs Sports, Alamo, and Insight Bowls who hosted Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Minnesota (respectively) last season: Will they be willing to host any of those schools for two consecutive seasons?  And how will these bowls evaluate a slew of teams with six and seven wins?

November 14

Iowa @ Ohio State: The winner is virtually assured of the Rose Bowl berth (assuming they don't slip up against Minnesota or Michigan, respectively).  The key is that OSU is playing its best football of the season while Iowa has lost its key playmaking QB at least for another week.

Michigan State @ Purdue: The winner becomes bowl eligible while the loser faces either virtual elimination (MSU, who must face a tough PSU team the final week) or actual elimination (Purdue already has six losses).

Northwestern @ Illinois: Northwestern tries to guarantee itself a bowl berth and move up the bowl ladder after last week's big upset, while Illinois is suddenly playing well and looking to hang onto its slim bowl hopes.

Indiana @ Penn State: PSU still has a shot at a BCS game (they must rise four spots by the end of the regular season) and they'll give it a go on Saturday, while Indiana is hanging onto fading bowl hopes.

Michigan @ Wisconsin:  Wisconsin looks to establish itself as the clear number four team in the conference while Michigan must win another game or else they'll miss a bowl for the second consecutive season.

November 21

Wisconsin @ Northwestern: This game is vital for both teams' bowl position.  Wisconsin will try to stay in the upper echelon while NU tries to take them off of the perch.

Penn State @ Michigan State: MSU could be playing this one for their bowl lives, while Penn State will be seeking a boost for their BCS bowl hopes.  It will be interesting to see which Michigan State team shows up (the one that took Iowa to the wire or the one that lost to Central Michigan).

Minnesota @ Iowa: Assuming Iowa falls to Ohio State a week earlier, they'll be trying to hang onto the number two spot in the conference and a high profile bowl.  If they run a three game losing streak, they could begin to slip down the bowl ladder.  Meanwhile, Minnesota will be looking to move up and avoid getting stuck in Detroit.

Purdue @ Indiana: This game all depends on the previous week's results.  One or both teams could still have their bowl hopes alive, making this a bowl play-in game.  Otherwise, this will end up being an end of season trophy game of no concern for the rest of the conference.

Ohio State @ Michigan: You can't talk about the Big Ten without mentioning this game.  If Michigan loses, they'll have one more shot at bowl eligibility and would love nothing more than knocking off OSU to do it.  If OSU beats Iowa, this game would be meaningless in the conference race.

BCS At-Large Berths

The Big Ten has a good chance to get an at-large representative in a BCS bowl, even after Iowa's upset loss last week.  The reason is because there just aren't that many attractive at-large teams available in the top 14 (the requirement for BCS at-large eligibility).

There will likely be three available with No. 4 TCU currently in the lead to lock up one of the four at-large spots, automatically qualifying as the top "mid-major" (they currently have a significant lead over Boise State at No. 6).  And with the loser of the SEC Championship Game essentially assured of an at-large spot, that leaves two slots available.

Even with some key games left, the Pac 10 is likely to fill one of those spots, with USC and Oregon in the top 14 with Arizona, who still plays both of those teams, sitting at No. 17.

That leaves one BCS slot open for either the Big Ten, Big East, ACC, or Big XII.

- The Big Ten has Penn State, who, as mentioned, will try to move up four slots with just two games remaining against Indiana and Michigan State.  Note that Iowa and Ohio State are both currently in the top 14, but they face each other next week.  If Iowa loses and doesn't fall that far (and manages to beat Minnesota in their finale), they could technically remain in the mix.

- The Big XII has an outside shot with their second highest team being Oklahoma State at No. 19, who must win out against Texas Tech, Colorado, and at Oklahoma.

- The Big East, despite having two teams in the top 14, will likely only get one since those two teams (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh) must still play each other.  The key will be how far the loser of that game drops and if they can both avoid losses to West Virginia, who they still plays both of them.

- The ACC looks to be a lock with Georgia Tech, but Miami (FL) is currently in the mix at No. 14, but they must avoid losses down the stretch to keep their ranking high enough.  If Georgia Tech is upset in the championship game (they likely will face Clemson, who they already beat this year 30-27), then it throws a wrench into everything depending on how far GT falls and if any bowl is willing to take them voluntarily.

The conclusion is that it's just too early to tell, with some key matchups left that will determine how it all shakes out.  It will come down to the final week of play, even with most of the Big Ten already finished with their seasons, and, as usual, it will have a ripple effect down the conference in terms of bowl placement.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.