Here is the lineup for the bowls involving Big Ten teams, plus the BCS schedule. As expected, the Big Ten picked up an at-large bid to the BCS, with Ohio State getting the nod to join Penn State on the big stage. The Buckeye bid pulled everyone else in the conference up a notch. One consequence of this was that the Motor City Bowl on December 26 will not have a conference team involved. The Motor City is contracted to get the #7 team. But only seven teams were bowl-eligible, and once OSU got into the BCS and the ladder moved upward, there was no eighth team to fill in. Instead, Florida Atlantic from the Sun Belt Conference will play MAC champ Buffalo. A definite blow to the Motor City which was surely thinking about having a decent Big Ten team (Minnesota or Wisconsin) playing unbeaten Ball State. Then the Cardinals lost their conference title game, the Buckeyes made the BCS and a nothing game took its place.
Anyway, enough about the Motor City's fate. Here's the schedule:
Wed, 12/24: Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Notre Dame (8 EST, ESPN)
Remember as recently as 1996 when an 8-3 Notre Dame team declined a minor bowl bid? Now, America's foremost Catholic university will play on Christmas Eve. On a historical note, Gerry Faust's penultimate year in South Bend ended with a tough loss in this very locale (then called the Aloha Bowl). Is that an ominous portent for Charlie Weis? Whatever it is, to say this is must-win, understates the importance for him.
Sat, 12/27: Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin-Florida State (4:30 EST, ESPN)
The Badgers make their first trip to this bowl game, but it will be their fifth straight trip to Florida and the third time they've been in Orlando in four years. An interesting subplot to the game will be whether UW fans make their usual strong showing. The game itself is a pretty good one on the undercard. Neither team can really make its season with a win, but for either, it would be a nice way to go into the offseason after a rough year.
Mon, 12/29: Alamo Bowl: Missouri vs. Northwestern (8 EST, ESPN)
What an opportunity for Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. On the merits, they should be playing on January 1, but the chance to take on Chase Daniels in a prime-time spot is nothing to sneer at. Both teams have won nine games, but for Missouri that's a big disappointment. Will the Tigers come in looking for redemption or will they have already mailed it in?
Wed, 12/31: Insight Bowl: Minnesota vs. Kansas (5:30 EST, NFL Net)
The Gophers return to the scene of the crime. Glen Mason's career ended here when his team blew a huge lead to Texas Tech following the '06 season. Rick Brewster makes his first bowl appearance here. Minnesota has been coming apart the last three weeks of the season, capped off with a humiliating 55-point loss to Iowa in the finale. Will some time to step back and re-focus be exactly what they need?
Thur, 1/1: Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. South Carolina (11 AM EST, ESPN)
Give the Hawkeye fans credit for this one. Iowa trailed Northwestern by a game in the conference standings and lost to them head-to-head, but the traveling tour de force that is Iowa football got them this bid. On more football-related grounds, even if this bid is beyond what the Hawks earned on the field, 2008 was an impressive comeback year for Kirk Ferentz. A New Year's Day matchup with Steve Spurrier will send that message to the rest of the country and provide a great showcase for Shonn Greene.
Thur, 1/1: Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia (1 EST, ABC)
Another showcase for another turnaround Big Ten program. It only took two years for Mark Dantonio to get his program to this level. Georgia opened the year ranked #1, but an inexperienced offensive line and underperforming defense did them in. They were blown out by Alabama and Florida and just lost a shootout to Georgia Tech. They also won a shootout with LSU, and with a defense like this there is reason to hope Javon Ringer can run wild on New Year's afternoon.
THE BCS BEGINS
Thur, 1/1: Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. USC (5 EST, ABC)
The Big Ten's chances for redemption start here. USC is not happy to be here, and the nation is assuming the Trojans will outrun another slow Big Ten team. But Penn State is faster then people give them credit for, and one need only ask Jimmy Johnson's 1986 Miami team what can happen when Joe Paterno gets this much time to prepare.
Thur, 1/1: Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (8:30 EST, Fox)
The Hokies lost this game last year to Kansas and the ACC hasn't won a bowl game since Florida State's national championship in 1999 (ironically over then-Big East team Va. Tech). Cincinnati is the new kid on the block and head coach Brian Kelly has the last name and pedigree to use this as a platform for a job in South Bend if things don't get better there in 2009.
Fri, 1/2: Sugar Bowl: Utah vs. Alabama (8 EST, Fox)
Utah is the only undefeated team still standing. Though no chance at a national title, they could get themselves a considerable sympathy vote in the AP poll (which is not bound by the results of the national title game) if they beat the Crimson Tide. Can 'Bama get up for a midmajor opponent after being less then a quarter away from playing for the big prize?
Mon, 1/5: Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Texas (8 EST, Fox)
The Buckeyes won the national championship here in 2002 and lost it here in '06. They won this bowl game in 2003 and 2005. Arizona is their new home away from home. Just as the Big Ten needs redemption nationally, so too does Jim Tressel's program. There's no better way to get it then by beating the team many consider the best in the country. This will also be the rubber match of a memorable two-game series these schools played in 2005-06, with the road team winning each one.
Thur, Jan 8: BCS National Championship Game: Oklahoma vs. Florida (8 EST, Fox)
Fitting that this season should be settled by the champs of the Big 12 and SEC. By kickoff we'll know if Tim Tebow joins Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman winner, or if Sam Bradford will win the trophy and make this the first showdown between Heisman winners. The key question for the game is simply this: Are Big 12 offenses that good or are their defenses just that bad? OU won some impressive games, but when you win a game 61-41 (vs. Oklahoma State a couple weeks ago) I tend to see it as more evidence that you belong in the old WAC conference then collectiong a national championship trophy. I don't have a strong rooting preference on this one--in fact, I lean OU because I do like Bob Stoops--but I'm picking the Gators as a prognosticator.