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An early look at the Big Ten bowl picture

The 2010-11 Big Ten bowl lineup is now set, with the Insight Bowl moving up in the pecking order and three new games -- Gator, Texas, Dallas Football Classic -- coming aboard. A ton of things can happen between now and Sept. 2, but there's no harm in taking a look at which teams likely will be packing their bags in late December or early January, and which teams will be staying home.

The Big Ten's first BCS entry will go to the Rose Bowl unless it qualifies for the national championship. Because of a new rule taking effect in 2010, if the Big Ten loses its champion to the national title game, it likely would lose a spot in the Rose Bowl to a non-BCS team if that team earns a BCS berth. If both the Big Ten and Pac-10 lose teams to the national title game, the Big Ten could still get a second squad to Pasadena.

Here's one last look at the Big Ten's bowl selection order:

Selection No. 1 (champion): Rose Bowl/BCS vs. Pac-10/BCS, Jan. 1, ESPN

Selection No. 2: Capital One Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1, ESPN

Selection No. 3: Outback Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1, ABC

Selection No. 4: Gator Bowl vs. SEC, Jan. 1, ESPN2

Selection No. 5: Insight Bowl vs. Big 12, Dec. 28, ESPN

Selection No. 6: Texas Bowl vs. Big 12, Dec. 29, ESPN

Selection No. 7: Dallas Football Classic vs. Conference USA or Big 12, Jan. 1, ESPNU

Selection No. 8: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl vs. MAC, Dec. 26, ESPN

With potentially nine postseason spots available, Big Ten teams that win at least six games are virtually assured of a bowl berth.

And here's how I see things shaking out ...

BOWL LOCKS

  • Ohio State: After winning or sharing five consecutive Big Ten championships, the Buckeyes should eclipse the six-win bowl minimum by mid-October.

  • Iowa: The team with the Big Ten's second-best bowl winning percentage (.542) will aim for its third consecutive bowl championship after winning in the Outback and the Orange the past two seasons.

  • Wisconsin: The Badgers' soft schedule would net them six or seven wins in a down season. This year's team, with the most starters returning in the league, should have no trouble winning eight or more.

  • Penn State: There should be some growing pains early on with a young quarterback, but Penn State boasts enough talent on both sides of the ball and a sparkling track record on defense to qualify for its sixth consecutive bowl appearance and its 37th under Joe Paterno.

  • Michigan State: I'm taking a bit of heat for my Spartans love right now, but if Michigan State can't win at least six games with this schedule, some significant changes may be in order.

ON THE FENCE

  • Northwestern: The Wildcats have been bowl eligible in each of the past three seasons and six of the past seven years. If they can win at least three nonconference games, they should reach the six-win minimum, but they lose some substantial pieces, including All-Big Ten quarterback Mike Kafka.

  • Purdue: If the Boilers can build on last year's 4-4 mark in Big Ten play, they'll be going somewhere warm in December or January. Last year's 1-3 nonconference performance was a killer, but Purdue seems like a good bet to end its two-year bowl drought.

  • Michigan: A third consecutive bowl-less season likely will signal the end for Rich Rodriguez in Ann Arbor, but the embattled coach has enough firepower on offense to reach the six-win plateau. There are a bunch of questions on defense, so this could go either way, but Michigan simply can't afford another winter at home.

BOWLING UPHILL

  • Minnesota: The schedule is the biggest thing working against the Gophers, who for years scheduled their way to six or seven wins. Minnesota must get through nonconference play with no more than one loss, as the home schedule looks very tough with USC, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa. Those teams went a combined 50-15 last season.

  • Indiana: Offensive firepower isn't the problem for Indiana, which boasts one of the Big Ten's top passing attacks. But the Hoosiers are fighting their history on defense and in struggling to get to bowl games. They've been to the postseason just once since 1993. Can they get over the hump this fall?

  • Illinois: Illinois' postseason fate could be decided in the first six games, as it faces Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, not to mention a solid team in Northern Illinois and a strong FCS program in Southern Illinois. The Illini must survive that stretch and make major strides on both sides of the ball. Won't be easy.