Big Ten Bowl Projections: Iowa Moves Up The Ladder

The Big Ten has a lot up in the air in the bowl picture as the league gets set for its championship game on Saturday night, when Ohio State and Michigan State meet in Indianapolis (8 PM ET, Fox). Will the league play for a national championship? Will they get an at-large bid to the BCS?

All big questions and we discussed them yesterday in our BCS bowl projections, but there’s also postseason slots up and down the ladder waiting to be handed out and no team this year has been a more pleasant surprise than the Iowa Hawkeyes.

It looked like Kirk Ferentz’s nice run in Iowa City was coming to an end, after a couple tough recent seasons. Then the Hawkeyes lost at home to Northern Illinois to start the year. It turns out, NIU was starting an undefeated regular season themselves, and Iowa got back on track.

The Hawkeyes won at Minnesota to open Big Ten play, a win that looks even better in retrospect. Iowa’s only conference losses were to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and they played competitively in all three. Iowa then put an exclamation point on their season with wins over Michigan and Nebraska to get to 8-4 and put themselves in the discussion for a prime New Year’s location in the Big Ten bowl projections.

Iowa fell behind 21-7 against Michigan, but showed its moxie in rallying to win 24-21. Then on the road on Black Friday at Nebraska, the Hawkeye defense was out in force. They shut down productive Nebraska runner Ameer Abdullah and won so decisively, 38-17, that Nebraska coach Bo Pellini was reduced to saying “If they want to fire me, go ahead!” in the postgame press conference. All in all, not a bad year in Iowa City.

The Big Ten bowl projections below are split into two groups. We’ll use one where the conference gets an at-large bid to the BCS. This can happen one of two ways. If Ohio State wins Saturday and plays for the national title, the Rose may be able to select Michigan State as the replacement team. Or, if Michigan State wins on Saturday, Ohio State will be a prime at-large candidate.

There are two scenarios where the league wouldn’t get an at-large. The first would be Ohio State winning, but being vaulted by Auburn for a national title game slot. Michigan State might still be eligible, but if it’s the Orange/Sugar doing the deciding rather than the Rose, the Big Ten runner-up is not as attractive. The other possibility would be Michigan State losing decisively enough that the slipped out of the top 14 nationally (they are currently #10), rendering them ineligible for BCS play.

I suppose I should acknowledge a third scenario, which is Ohio State losing, but being passed over for an at-large, but that’s a longshot.

The percentages seem to indicate the league will have two BCS teams, so we’ll start with those projections, and then move on to where only one team ends up in the major bowls.

BCS Automatic:
Ohio State (BCS National Championship, vs Florida State)
BCS At-Large: Michigan State (Rose, vs. Arizona State)
Capital One: Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina)
Outback: Iowa (vs. Missouri/Auburn loser)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Nebraska (vs. Oklahoma)
Gator: Michigan (vs. Texas A&M)
Meineke Car Care: Minnesota (vs. Texas Tech)
Heart Of Dallas: No eligible team (vs. North Texas)
Little Caesar’s Pizza: No eligible team (vs. Ball State)

The combination of a second team making the BCS and Penn State being ineligible for bowl play due to the NCAA sanctions left two of the Big Ten ‘s bowl tie-ins in the free agent market, where they would be filled by teams from conferences that had more teams than tie-ins.

BCS Automatic: Ohio State (Rose, vs. Arizona State)
Capital One: Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina)
Outback: Michigan State (vs. Missouri)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Iowa (vs. Oklahoma)
Gator: Michigan (vs. Texas A&M)
Meineke Car Care: Nebraska (vs. Texas Tech)
Heart Of Dallas: Minnesota (vs. North Texas)
Little Caesar’s Pizza: No eligible team (vs. Ball State)