The focus in the final five weeks of the season will be on the chase for championships. But there is plenty of intrigue happening just below the top contenders in the Big Ten.
As we stand right now, the league has five teams that are on the precipice of making a bowl game. But there's no guarantee that any of them can avoid staying home for the holidays. They are: Illinois (4-3), Indiana (4-4), Minnesota (4-3), Nebraska (3-4) and Rutgers (3-4).
Which teams in this group of five will go bowling? That's the issue in today's Big Ten round table:
Brian Bennett: Indiana and Nebraska
I had Minnesota here before Wednesday morning's shocking news about Jerry Kill's retirement. That's just too much to overcome, with that schedule. I know I shouldn't trust the Hoosiers, but if they can just beat Purdue and Maryland, they're in. As for Nebraska, I see Mike Riley's team beating Purdue and Rutgers and pulling off an upset against either Michigan State or Iowa. Heck, the Cornhuskers are due for some luck, right? Rutgers will finish with five wins and Illinois will live to regret moving its home game vs. Northwestern to Chicago.
Jesse Temple: Illinois and Indiana
I feel quite confident the Illini will beat Purdue on Nov. 7. That means Illinois must win just one other game against Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota or Northwestern. I don't know which game it will be, but I think the Illini will win one to earn a bowl in Bill Cubit's interim season as coach. The Hoosiers will likely lose the next two weeks against Iowa and Michigan. I think they will still sneak into a bowl by closing the regular season with victories against Maryland and Purdue on the road. I simply can't trust the other three teams. Minnesota's schedule is brutal, Nebraska keeps losing close games, and Rutgers has endured one of the more tumultuous seasons around.
Dan Murphy: Illinois and Indiana
It would have been hard to imagine a week before the regular season started that a coach-less Illinois team would be headed to the postseason while Mike Riley's Nebraska stayed home to watch, but that's where we're headed as the end of the college football season starts to come into focus. Indiana and Illinois should each beat Purdue in November and pick up one more win along the way to punch their tickets to a bowl. Nebraska, Rutgers and a Minnesota team without Kill have a harder road ahead. Iowa has a chance to wipe out both the Huskers and the Gophers if it stays unbeaten, and Rutgers doesn't look capable of finding the upset it would need to get to six wins.
Josh Moyer: Illinois and Indiana
It's simple -- Illinois and Indiana simply have the easiest paths to six wins. They should both beat Purdue and then need just one more win for a spot in the postseason. (Neither exactly faces a Murderer's Row of Big Ten opponents, either.) Other conference teams like Minnesota aren't so lucky. Four of the Gophers' five remaining opponents are either ranked or receiving votes. As for Nebraska and Rutgers, they simply have too much working against them now that they both share losing records.
Austin Ward: Indiana
Given this field of candidates and the preseason expectations surrounding them, it’s pretty surprising that only one can reasonably be projected to earn a bowl bid at this point. Potentially even more shocking is that Indiana is the only one that doesn’t need to spring an upset to hit the six-win mark and extend its season. The Hoosiers do have to win on the road against Maryland and Purdue, but it has the talent to get the job done and could finally give Kevin Wilson the sign of progress he needs to stick around with the program.