Assessing the Big Ten bowl picture

One Big Ten team will know its bowl destination tonight, as the winner of the inaugural Big Ten championship game between No. 13 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin will be headed to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Big Ten champion will face Pac-12 champ Oregon on Jan. 2.

After that point, the Big Ten bowl picture gets a bit foggy.

I've spoken to bowl officials, Big Ten officials, school officials and had a nice chat Friday with ESPN's BCS expert Brad Edwards to get a sense of where things stand right now. Let's dive in.


Michigan is the Big Ten's only realistic candidate for a BCS at-large berth. The problem: the Wolverines are No. 16 in the BCS standings and need to move into the top 14 by Sunday to be eligible for at-large selection. And they don't play today, so they can't strengthen their case on the field.

I felt pretty good about Michigan's BCS at-large chances until the latest standings, which moved Brady Hoke's crew down a spot.

Here's what Michigan should be rooting for today (in order of importance):

  • No. 1 LSU to beat No. 14 Georgia in the SEC championship game, preferably by a wide margin. A Georgia win increases the likelihood of three SEC teams in BCS bowls (if LSU and Alabama finish 1-2 in the final BCS standings). A convincing LSU win should drop Georgia below Michigan in the standings, but if the Bulldogs give the Tigers a close game, they might not move down.

  • Michigan State to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin undoubtedly would drop below Michigan with a loss. Michigan State, meanwhile, might not drop below Michigan if it loses a close contest to Wisconsin, especially since the Spartans beat the Wolverines on Oct. 15. Also, a Michigan State win strengthens Michigan's BCS profile because the Wolverines played the Spartans. They didn't face Wisconsin. If Wisconsin is to win tonight, Michigan should be rooting for a Badgers blowout.

  • No. 22 Texas to beat No. 17 Baylor. The Bears are directly behind Michigan in the BCS standings and could move up with an impressive win against Texas. Baylor isn't going to a BCS bowl, but it could keep Michigan out of the top 14.

  • No. 3 Oklahoma State to crush No. 10 Oklahoma. A Cowboys blowout win should drop perpetually overrated Oklahoma down in the BCS standings. Although the Sooners, like most Big 12 teams, boast much stronger computer numbers than Michigan, they should pay the price for a poor performance in Stillwater. But don't hold your breath on this one.

  • Iowa State to beat No. 11 Kansas State. A loss to the Cylones at home might be enough to significantly drop Kansas State in the BCS standings, perhaps below Michigan.


How the rest of the Big Ten bowl lineup shakes out depends largely on whether Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth or not.

Here are a few things to know:

  • The Capital One Bowl will select Michigan or Nebraska, most likely in that order. So if Michigan is available, expect the Wolverines to head to Orlando. If Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth, Capital One will go with Big Red.

  • It will be interesting to see what the Outback Bowl does if Nebraska is still on the board. The Florida bowls really want the Cornhuskers, who have played just one bowl in the state since facing Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl. Don't be surprised to see Nebraska head to Tampa if Michigan doesn't reach a BCS bowl. If Michigan reaches a BCS bowl and Nebraska goes to the Capital One, the Big Ten title game loser likely heads to Outback.

  • If Michigan and Nebraska go to Capital One and Outback, respectively, expect the Insight Bowl to select the Big Ten title game loser. Insight would be thrilled with this pick. The more interesting situation comes if Michigan gets a BCS at-large berth and Insight is selecting between Penn State and most likely Iowa. While Penn State has the better record by two victories and a head-to-win against the Hawkeyes, the Nittany Lions also bring negative publicity, which could turn off the Insight/Fiesta Bowl group that has had its own share in the past few years.

  • Where will Penn State end up? This is one of the bigger questions on Selection Sunday. If the Lions don't go to the Insight Bowl, I'd be surprised if they fall lower than the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. If they somehow drop below, the TicketCity Bowl will undoubtedly pick Penn State.

  • Although it's not official, the other Big Ten bowl matchup besides the Rose that seems set is the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which has made no secret about its intention to invite Ohio State and pair up the Buckeyes with Florida in the Urban Meyer Invitational. About the only way this doesn't happen is if the Big Ten doesn't receive a BCS at-large berth and the league title game loser falls below Insight, which would force Gator to select Wisconsin or Michigan State. Highly unlikely.

  • Purdue is most likely headed to the TicketCity Bowl if the Big Ten sends two teams to BCS games. If not, the Boilers and Northwestern would be in the mix for the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, while Iowa likely heads to TicketCity. Detroit appears to be the likeliest destination for Northwestern, although the Wildcats could be in the mix for an at-large selection if Michigan doesn't receive a BCS at-large berth.

  • Illinois is almost certainly looking at an at-large bowl selection. Among those likely looking for at-large teams: Kraft Fight Hunger, New Orleans and Military.

Got it? We'll find out for sure on Sunday. And if you need a refresher on the Big Ten's bowl selection rules, I've got you covered.