First, the numbers:
Before the discussion, when was the last time only two Big Ten teams were ranked this late into the year? Don't we have a contractual obligation with the AP to have at least four teams up there by November? Pollsters, you're hurting America.
Second, that's one hell of a logjam forming at the 4-8 spots, isn't it? It won't get much better, either.
In the full story below, we've got predictions for the end of the season and all the bowl previews you could ever hope for. Press on, reader!
First, Illinois alone in third place is more than a bit misleading. The Illini will certainly finish with at least three Big Ten losses, as they play (and lose big) at Columbus this weekend. Afterwards is a home tilt against Northwestern that either team could plausibly win. Nonetheless, for simplicity's sake, let's say Illinois wins and ends 8-4 (5-3).
Penn State faces a--by their standards, anyway--resurgent Temple this week. We've said it for years: throw the records out the window when Penn State and Temple lock horns. After that is a road date against Michigan State that nearly claimed Sparty's in-state brethren; Michigan's postgame swag was indeed phenomenal, but they were far closer to losing that game than they'll ever admit. Still, it's fair to assume Sparty's slide will continue, and Penn State will close the season out at 9-3 (5-3). For discussion's sake, anyway. They still play the games, etc. etc.
Purdue is an interesting case; like Texas Tech, they make mediocre teams look bad, and they make better teams look like champions. They face Michigan State in a home finale that they might win by 60, then go on the road to play a game that nobody should want any part of: the Indiana Hep's Revenge Home Finale. The Hoosiers will likely be playing to solidify their own bowl picture, and to do so against a (we presume) hated rival like Purdue will be like gravy on the chocolate cake. Chocolate gravy. Unless the football gods take the weekend off, Indiana wins that one, and Purdue will finish at 8-4 (4-4).
Perfectly embodying the slightly schizophrenic and definitely mediocre spirit of the Big Ten this year is Wisconsin, a team that has looked great for maybe two quarters all season but still seems like it should win eight or nine games anyway. They finish up their home schedule this week with Michigan, who's ripping through the Big Ten like an unstoppable demon tornado. After the Oregon loss, quite a bit of luster was knocked off the Appalachian State upset, but considering that A) Oregon is a bona fide Top 5 team and B) Michigan hasn't lost since, that upset keeps looking more and more insane. The Wolverines are favored by about a field goal over the Badgers. The battle of the severely ill-tempered small mammals will be quite a bit of fun to watch, but as Vegas goes, so must we. Let's say Wisconsin finishes 1-1--they are most certainly winning at the Dome--and 8-4 (4-4).
And our Hawkeyes! Oh, the beloved Hawkeyes pulled off the improbablest of the improbables last week, winning a true road game for the first time all year. Moreover, it was their second win in as many weeks where they spotted the opponent a two touchdown lead and won anyway. After the Purdue game, that looked like a flatly ridiculous notion, as did any talk of bowl eligibility. And yet, here they are at 5-5 (3-4), facing two home games against bad, bad opponents. We'll talk more about those games in due time, but Iowa is finishing 7-5 (4-4), and that is all there is to it.
As mentioned before, Indiana is on the Coach Hep Revenge Tour as he rains down pain and suffering from on high. Yes, they're 6-4 (2-4), but it's Indiana--it's not like they're usually going to the Capital One Bowl or anything. The Hoosier Daddies are faced with the most uncertain future of any Big Ten team; they could quite plausibly win out, finish at (8-4) 4-4, and be sipping mai tais in Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl. They could also easily drop both games--neither Northwestern nor Purdue is a gimme--and spend a week or two begging with the representatives of the GET TO DE CHOPPA Bowl. They're facing a trip to Evanston this weekend to face a dangerous (if defensively inept) Northwestern team. The line's only at two points in the Hoosiers' favor, so it'll likely be a similar situation to the Iowa game up there last Saturday: fewest mistakes wins. I'm inclined to believe in the power of James Motherfucking Hardy against Northwestern Goddamn Secondary, so Indiana should bust the .500 barrier this weekend. The Purdue matchup is tougher to call, but as I mentioned before, I also believe in the football gods. Indiana should finish 8-4 (4-4).
Northwestern, then, joins Michigan State in the dreaded "One win away from eligible" category, which frees them up for Senior Bowls, finals, and Lord of the Rings marathons with the Gophers. As mentioned last week, "the bad teams sort themselves out of the discussion with a few key losses." That looks to be the case this season as the Big Ten "only" fields eight eligible teams. Here's how the standings would look:
OSU 11-0 (7-0)
Michigan 9-2 (7-0)
Penn State 9-3 (5-3)
Illinois 8-4 (5-3)
Purdue 8-4 (4-4)
Wisconsin 8-4 (4-4)
Indiana 8-4 (4-4)
Iowa 7-5 (4-4)
Northwestern 5-7 (2-6)
Michigan State 5-7 (1-7)
Minnesota 1-11 (0-8)
Again, I'm leaving the OSU-Michigan game unpicked. If Michigan wins (as everybody with half a brain cell reminded me last week), that would be good, not bad, for Iowa, as it would mean two Big Ten teams are in the BCS. That would bump the rest of the Big Ten up one slot in the bowl assignments, which would look something like the following:
BCS Super Fun Tortilla Chips Are A Big Deal Folks Title Game
LSU (12-1) vs. Kansas (13-0)
Technically you could insert Oregon with every bit as much confidence, but KU playing LSU for the title would be sublimely entertaining. In fact, I believe there's already a preview available.
BCS Rose/Orange/Who Cares It's A Shitload Of Money Bowl
OSU (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1)
It's not that I'm actively trying to antagonize Buckeye fans by hoping they lose this one. Trust me, I'm not. There are easier ways. But I would enjoy seeing Brent Musberger crying in the booth when the love of his life, Jim Tressel, goes down in a 44-17 drubbing.
BCS Rose/Orange/Who Cares It's Another Shitload Of Money Bowl And Did We Mention Tortilla Chips
Michigan (10-2) vs. West Virginia (11-1)
I just wanted to see that matchup in print. Also to see if anything I write can make Brian set himself on fire. I can see the UFR now:
|O33||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||Nickel||Run||67||Zone read keeper|
|White fakes a handoff to Slaton, Englemon (-2) loses contain. Literally nobody can touch White; Crable has an angle, but disappoints me and his family (-2, honor) when White runs through the arm tackle and breaks free. Easy trip down sideline, outruns Trent (-street cred).|
|Drive Notes: 12-63, 5 min 3rd Q. I'm moving to Siberia.|
Capital One Bowl Sponsored By Capital One What Is In Your Wallet Capital One Capital One Ignore Our Interest Rates Please
Penn State (9-3) vs. Georgia (10-3)
Anthony Morelli! Mark Richt! Disappointing white men with vaguely ethnic last names! Orlandoooooooo!
Outback Steakhouse Bowl, Not The Subaru Outback, Now Standard With Rainbow Bumper Sticker, Subaru And Lesbians, Life Partners Since 1997
(9-3) (8-4) vs. Auburn (8-4)
Seriously, did Subaru market the Outback to the alternative lifestyle community? If they don't have a rainbow bumper sticker they've got that blue one with the yellow equals sign on it. Did it receive the highest review in Flannel And Buzzcuts Weekly?
Alamo Bowl, Which Is Ironic, Since These Games Are Forgettable As Hell
Purdue (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Only on a very rare basis are there games that "must happen." This would be one of them. The only inherent danger to matching these two teams up is the timing; December 29 a Saturday night before the New Year's Holiday and likely the second night of a five-day vacation. Thus, any drinking games that involve this game and points scored will likely lead to acute alcohol poisoning and death. Why not try a cheese and Triscuits game instead? They're the world's perfect snack food!
Champs Sports Or More Accurately Sixth Place Finishers Sports Bowl
Iowa (7-5) vs. Florida State (7-5)
One of the most schadenfreudian aspects of this season is the invective being hurled at the FSU coaching staff from Tallahassee faithful; think how we feel about Ken O'Keefe multiplied by death threats. This game would likely be Iowa's fourth or fifth pillow fight of the season; we're currently 2-1, so I like those odds!
We Cannot Figure Out A More Boring Title Than Insight Bowl
Indiana (8-4) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
It's the Power of Hep vs. the Power Towel! Cower in fear! Don't watch the game! You won't anyway because it's on the NFL Network!
Motor City Eight Mile Bowl
Illinois (8-4) vs. Central Michigan (9-4)
Nobody deserves this. Even Mr. Zook Hook himself is staying in at night before gameday. Although, we must be honest; we can't wait for the 3:30 AM text messages about the awesome rap battles the Zooker's been at.
Incoming text message from R. Zook: "i slicf u like a ginsu n nething u saz can n wil b used agaimst u"
If Michigan loses, of course, you can put them in the Cap One and slide everyone else down a bowl. Let's hope that doesn't happen; I can't live with Iowa in the same bowl that we chided ISU for reaching in 2001.
You got beef? We got vegetables. Leave some thoughts below.