There’s a lot going in Big Ten football as everyone angles for position down the stretch. You’ve got a team fighting for a national title, another pushing for a major bowl bid, a division title still up for grabs and two teams fighting for their bowl eligibility lives. TheSportsNotebook breaks it all down as our Big Ten bowl projections are updated with three weeks to go in the regular season.
*The Leaders Division is basically settled, with Ohio State having all but assured itself the division crown and the focus now being on the race for the national title. The Buckeyes are currently first in line for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game if Alabama or Florida State should stumble. Wisconsin’s head-to-head loss to Ohio State keeps them out of realistic division title talk, but the Badgers are 7-2 and in position to get the conference a second bid to the major bowls.
Both teams have to win out and get help. Ohio State not only needs Alabama or Florida State to lose, the Buckeyes also need to hold off undefeated Baylor in the race for #3. Baylor has games against Oklahoma State and Texas ahead, while Ohio State has only fading Michigan. That’s a less impressive slate than Baylor has, though the Buckeyes could make it up for with an impressive win in the Big Ten Championship Game against a still-undecided opponent.
Wisconsin is ranked #22 in the current BCS standings and needs to sweep its three remaining games, against Indiana, at Minnesota and home against Penn State. The Badgers also need some help. They could use Clemson falling to South Carolina, both Northern Illinois & Fresno Stat losing and passing the second-place Big 12 team in the rankings (that’s currently Oklahoma State at #12). Wisconsin needs at least one, and possibly two of these three things to fall their way.
*The Legends Division looks to be coming down to next week Michigan State-Nebraska game in Lincoln. The Spartans are in first place, but the Cornhuskers are a game back and can take tiebreaker position. Michigan State is the team that’s impressing people right now, with a lockdown defense and would present the stiffest challenge to Ohio State in the conference championship game.
But the team you can’t sleep on right now in the Legends is surging Minnesota. The Gophers have won four in a row and moved their record to 8-2. When was the last time you recall Minnesota football being 8-2? The Gophs still play at Michigan State on November 30, and thought it would take a lot, they can still sneak off with the division.
Minnesota would need Nebraska to beat Michigan State on Saturday, and then Nebraska to lose again. The Cornhuskers go to Penn State and play Iowa, so it’s not out of the question. Then if Minnesota beats both Wisconsin and Michigan State, you would have a three-way tie between Sparty, the Gophs and the Huskers and Minnesota would have beaten both rivals. Unlikely? Yes. Unthinkable? No, and both Sparty and Bucky sleep on the Gophers at their own peril.
Iowa and Michigan are what we’ll call the boring teams right now. They’ve got their six wins and are locked up for a bowl bid, but not in position for a division title or BCS slot. Ideally, each would want to keep winning and perhaps position themselves for one of the league’s three New Year’s Day games against SEC opponents.
Northwestern and Indiana are fighting for their lives at 4-5, with both needing to win two of their final three. It’s looking tough for the Hoosiers, who still play Wisconsin and Ohio State and have to get one win out of that, and still take care of lowly Purdue. Northwestern has endured a miserable conference schedule, punctuated by their desperation pass loss to Nebraska two weeks ago. NU needs to split home games with Michigan and Michigan State ,then knock off Illinois. It won’t be easy, but I like the Wildcats to pull it off.
Penn State is 5-4, but still ineligible for postseason play. Illinois theoretically has a shot at 3-6, but the emphasis there is on the theoretical. Purdue is 1-8.
The Big Ten has eight bowl tie-ins, and if Wisconsin can sneak out a second BCS bid for the league, that number expands to nine. As of today I’ve only got Ohio State making it, but if the Badgers should qualify, move everybody up a rung and then you probably open up their final bid, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, to an eligible team without a tie-in. Here are TheSportsNotebook’s current Big Ten bowl projections…
BCS Automatic: Ohio State (Rose, vs. Stanford)
Capital One: Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina)
Outback: Michigan State (vs. LSU)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Nebraska (vs. Texas Tech)
Gator: Michigan (vs. Georgia)
Meineke Car Care: Iowa (vs. West Virginia)
Heart of Dallas: Minnesota (Marshall)
Little Caesar’s: Northwestern (Northern Illinois)