The rest of the nation is still fighting it out for major bowl berths and position in the national championship game, but the Big Ten regular season is over. Seven teams are bowl eligible, and the conference is contracted with seven bowls. Here's a snapshot of how each team looks.
Penn State--locked into the Rose. The only way this changes if a series of upsets too outlandish to even think about right now somehow gets the Nittany Lions back into the national championship game. Joe Paterno's team will face either Oregon State or USC in the mid-afternoon time slot on New Year's Day.
Ohio State--this is discussed in more detail on the Bowl Projections page whose link is in the upper right hand corner of the blog. But the short answer is that the Buckeyes are right now pegged for the Capital One Bowl on January 1, likely against Georgia. They still have a realistic chance to make the BCS, and will almost surely do so if Oregon beats Oregon State on Saturday.
From this point forward, I'm going to project each team based on Ohio State going to the Capital One. If they get the break they need to move into the BCS, that automatically pulls every team on the ladder up on step along with them. So the entire league has a vested interest in pulling for the Ducks over the Beavers out on the Left Coast.
Michigan State--probably going to the Outback Bowl. It's possible the Tampa-based game could choose Northwestern, and Iowa is also eligible to be picked. But the Spartans have had a good year, their losses were all to good teams and they have a marquee back in Javon Ringer. Their fans are hungry to travel and I can't imagine the Outback passing them up. Likely opponent would be South Carolina, although this is pending the Gamecocks matchup with Clemson.
Northwestern/Iowa--This is going to be the key pick in the pecking order. The Alamo and Champs Sports Bowls are up next. Northwestern's 9-3 record is spiffy and the Wildcats are always a nice story because of their academic reputation. But they don't travel very well. Given how many fans 8-4 Iowa usually brings, I expect the Hawkeyes to get preferential treatment even though NU beat Iowa on the road. The fact that Iowa is surging and its fan base is hungry again after a bowl-less 2007 only enhances their marketing appeal. The Alamo game will be a prize plum, with the likely opponent being highly regarded Oklahoma State. The Champs Sports pits the Big Ten against the ACC, which is still being sorted out.
Wisconsin--looks the Badgers are Insight Bowl bound. Normally UW brings the same travel advantages Iowa does. But the Badgers, at 7-5, cannot be chosen ahead of Northwestern because a two-game differential in record can't be ignored. And there is little interest on the part of both the school or the Champs Sports game for a matchup there. That bowl is in Orlando, and Wisconsin's been there twice since 2005 for the Capital One. Phoenix would be a new travel destination and a lot of Wisconsin people are snowbirds with second homes there. A game here against a Big 12 team, probably Nebraska or Kansas, would be the tonic the Badger faithful need to come out after a disappointing year.
Minnesota--the Motor City Bowl in Pontiac awaits. A far cry from what they were dreaming of when November opened, but its still a return to the bowl party. And if Ball State can close the year unbeaten, this game will have an attractiveness it's not used to.
Should Ohio State get into the BCS and everyone comes up a notch, the Motor City has to look outside the Big Ten to fill its berth opposite the MAC champ.