Big Ten Country's bowl projections are updated and on the surface they're mostly holding firm, with the only exception being that I'm throwing the darts at a couple different teams to win the Big East & ACC. But while they may be staying the same on the surface, there are some major changes lurking and one of them stands to affect the Big Ten in a negative way.
Oregon State beat Cal and stayed in a tie for first in the Pac-10 race with USC. Since the Beavers have beaten Southern Cal, they get the Rose Bowl bid if they can only take care of Arizona (road) and Oregon (home) in their final two games. Assuming USC beats UCLA & Notre Dame they will without question get an at-large bid to the BCS--in fact they probably still get a bid at 10-2 if, by some miracle, they lose one of those games. The Big 12 & SEC are going to get an at-large bid, and with Utah, Boise State and Ball State all still undefeated the odds are overwhelming that a midmajor will qualify. Who does that leave frozen out? Ohio State, at least as the Big Ten standings line up right now.
There's no reason to weep for the Buckeyes just yet. One reason Oregon State hasn't been taken seriously is that they are a vulnerable team, as evidenced by their losing to Stanford. At this time of year we often see teams like this tighten up when their moment is in front of them, and while they'll be favored the next two games, neither are automatics. And even if the Beavers do freeze Ohio State out, there are worse places to be frozen out then the Capital One Bowl against Georgia.
But this would be a big hit on any chances for the Big Ten to regain some prestige in the BCS. Not only would the Buckeyes be out entirely, but Penn State would now be playing Oregon State instead of USC in the Rose Bowl. Instead of two chances to reclaim the conference's honor, there would be none.
Lest Michigan State fans think I forgot about them, that's not the case. I'm not jumping the gun and assuming a Penn State win on Saturday, but for the sake of this post I can only deal with one hypothetical at a time.
The race for Tampa is effectively down to Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota. In a world of pure justice, Northwestern would have the bid locked up. At 8-3, they are one game better then both rivals and beat both of them on the road. But we all know that there's one thing that never comes into consideration at bowl selection time and that's justice. Consequently, I think the 'Cats not only MUST beat Illinois, but they'll need further help in order to reach January 1. They do not travel well and by contrast, Iowa will bring the entire state down south for New Year's. It is for this reason that I think the Hawkeyes will get the bid if they beat Minnesota.
What if the Gophers win? Now's where it gets interesting. Minnesota doesn't have a sterling track record of travel, but as the only Division I-A football program in the state, they have a much larger fan base to draw from then the Wildcats. There is no question that they would travel better, but would it be sufficiently better to persuade the Outback Bowl to jump Northwestern? I lean towards yes, but that will depend on the caliber of both teams' presumed wins.
A Good Question
In the post "More Bowl Talk" down below, a reader raised a few issues, most of which are touched on in this post. One of the questions noted the rule which says that a bowl can ignore a one-game differential when making selections, but not a two-game margin. But does this apply to a situation in the lower bowls when the teams are 7-5 & 6-6? The answer here is no, the bowl does not have the same choice. A 7-5 team must always be chosen over a .500 team. This only applies within the conference that the bowl is contracted with(i.e., the Motor City Bowl doesn't have to go find a 7-5 team from the Big 12 if the Big Ten only has a 6-6 team left on the board).
Hoops season got rolling, as everyone except Ohio State is on the board with a win (The Bucks open on Thursday with Delaware State). None of the wins are noteworthy and the season will start to get underway for real with the major holiday tournaments on Thursday. Our coverage of basketball here will start to kick in after Thanksgiving with the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Living in the Baltimore area, I must launch an appeal to Big Ten teams to finally step up and win this event. Just got off the phone with my wife over lunch hour and she reminded me again how "there's ACC basketball and then there's everyone else." I suppose it could be worse. I could have married an SEC football fan.