The conference heavyweights may be on the sidelines this weekend, but there's some important jousting going on for good bowl bids elsewhere, and that includes down in South Bend, where the Big Ten's first couisins are angling for a Gator Bowl trip or perhaps even the Cotton Bowl. The ND blog Rakes of Mallow provides a good look at all the nuances to Notre Dame's current bowl possiblities.
Notre Dame plays host to Pitt. The Panthers had been steadily improving this year, building off the momentum of their season-ending shocker of West Virginia last November. Pitt beat Iowa back in September and remains in the hunt for the Big East title. A bad loss to Rutgers last week raised questions over whether they were looking ahead to this one or finally exposed. The Irish are making sure and steady progress themselves and in that regard Jimmy Clausen is a microcosm of the team. Notre Dame is better then Pitt--not by a lot, but they are better, and they are at home. A win here puts the Irish in great position to finish 8-4, allowing them cushion to lose at Boston College and at Southern Cal. And at least eight wins puts them in great position to be in Jacksonville or Dallas for New Year's.
Northwestern travels to Minnesota. The Wildcat loss to Indiana took a little bit of steam out of this game, which had been shaping up as winner-take-all for the inside track to the Outback and remaining in contention for something more. Minnesota's strength this season has been consistency in the midst of a chaotic middle. The Gophs have home field in this one, and the Wildcats have yet to play a really outstanding game. If Minny just keeps its consistency going, we've yet to see evidence that Pat Fitzgerald's team has enough firepower to overcome that on the road. Kent Youngblood of The Minneapolis Star Tribune says that turnovers have keyed the Gopher ascendancy.
Michigan State hosts Wisconsin. This game is an opportunity for Mark Dantonio to signal beyond a shadow of a doubt that his team is the only real challenger left to Ohio State & Penn State. The Spartans have taken care of Michigan. But there are rumblings that Wisconsin is going to have a revival after getting back on track last week against Illinois. UW is probably in too deep a hole to recover enough to play on January 1, but this game is their own opportunity to make a statement. Wisconsin wants to salvage respect. Michigan State can add to its own respect totals and all but seal a date on New Year's. Life is good right now on the hoops front in East Lansing as well. The basketball team is ranked #7 in the preseason AP poll, the highest-rated Big Ten team.
Illinois plays Iowa in Champaign. The Hawkeyes can become a serious threat for a postseason Florida trip if they can win here. And Illinois can start to reclaim some of the credibility their recent forays into the world of maddening inconsistency have cost them.
Michigan plays Purdue, as the Wolverines tries launch a last desperate push to get bowl-eligible, with no margin of error. And in the one non-conference game, Central Michigan goes to Indiana.
After that, the biggest game in the Big Ten will be down in the Lone Star state. A Texas loss to Texas Tech opens the door to Penn State for the national championship game. The Longhorns & Red Raiders tee it up at 8 EST on ABC.