The Big Ten Championship Game was officially settled last Saturday, as Ohio State and Michigan State finished off expected clinchings and now look ahead to their December 7 meeting in Indianapolis. Below the race for the Rose Bowl (or more) there were some key games in the jousting for bowl position, and no team helped itself more than Wisconsin.
Wisconsin still has hopes of snagging an at-large bid to one of the major bowls, and at the very least was on track to get an attractive January 1 bowl date against an SEC team. The Badgers had to make a difficult trip to Minnesota, where the weather was frigid, but the Gophers were hot. In a tough, physical game, Wisconsin won 20-7 and kept itself in a good bowl situation.
Defense was the key to the Wisconsin win. Minnesota came out ready to hit, and while the Badgers got nearly 200 yards on the ground, the Gophers made several key stops on the ground and Wisconsin’s attack didn’t have its usual rhythm. But Minnesota could generate nothing offensively, with the only touchdown coming on defense and quarterback Philip Nelson held to 83 passing yards.
The Badgers still need help to get into the BCS bowls. Right now, they and Oregon are the major conference runner-ups on the outside looking in. Wisconsin, ranked 15th, needs to pass #13 Oregon and then either move past someone else (Clemson or Baylor) or hope both midmajor contenders (Fresno State & Northern Illinois) both lose.
This also presumes that Ohio State beats Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, thereby handing the Spartans a second loss. If Michigan State wins the championship, one-loss Ohio State would almost surely get an at-large nod.
It’s a lot to have to go right, but with one game to go, Wisconsin still has a shot at one of the biggest games and needs only take care of Penn State at home to at least get a very good postseason date.
Another game that impacted the Big Ten bowl projections was Iowa’s 24-21 win over Michigan. The Wolverines continue to be a huge disappointment, as they were outplayed to a degree not reflected in the final score. Devin Gardner struggled to a 13/28 for 98 yards performance, and there was no running game to speak of.
The anticipated improvement of this young Michigan team has not materialized, and the Iowa win establishes beyond a doubt that Kirk Ferentz has stopped the bleeding his program has suffered in recent years.
BIG TEN BOWL PROJECTIONS
BCS Automatic: Ohio State (Rose, vs. Stanford)
BCS At-Large: None
Capital One: Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina)
Outback: Michigan State (vs. Missouri)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Nebraska (vs. Texas Tech)
Gator: Iowa (vs. Georgia)
Meineke Car Care: Michigan (vs. TBD)
Heart Of Dallas: Minnesota (vs. Tulane)
Little Caesar’s Pizza: No available team (vs. Ball State)
Penn State is not allowed to play in a bowl game, leaving the Big Ten one team short of filling its bowl commitments. Everyone else has played itself out, so this will not change next week. The Little Caesar’s spot will become a free agent, open to a league with more teams than tie-ins.
Another league that’s going to come up short is the Big 12, and if they get two teams into the BCS (as currently projected), they’ll run out of teams when it’s time to fill that Meineke Car Care slot.