The bowl games for the 2016 postseason are finally set and, appropriately enough, 10 Big Ten teams are going bowling. So we decided to ask our Big Ten writers one important question about those squads -- who needs a win the most?
Austin Ward: Nebraska Cornhuskers
There is no denying that Mike Riley took a significant step forward with his program during his second season, but the closing stretch and the faceplants in a couple of the most important games have taken a bit of the shine off Nebraska. After such an encouraging start, with seven straight wins to open the year, and even after impressing in an overtime loss at Wisconsin, there was plenty for the Huskers to feel good about -- but that might be overshadowed by the 62-3 beatdown by Ohio State and a humbling 30-point loss to Iowa to close the regular season. The Huskers are still in position for a 10-win season and have a shot to beat a ranked opponent in Tennessee to get there, which should provide some motivation for Riley’s club. But given the way this year played out for Nebraska, it could surely use the victory as validation of the progress.
Dan Murphy: Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are carrying the flag now for the Big Ten. Of course, a second trip to the national title game in three years is a pretty obvious reason to mark this as the league's most important bowl game, but a win in Arizona could provide a lot of validation outside of Columbus as well. The other three teams in New Year's Six bowls carry some weight in upholding the perception that the Big Ten is the country's toughest conference this year. Ohio State, though, can do that almost single-handedly and justify the decision to stick a non-champion in the College Football Playoff if it knocks off Clemson. Without a good showing around New Year's weekend, the committee might think twice about putting four Big Ten teams in the top seven spots again next season. A playoff win for the Buckeyes would help.
Jesse Temple: Michigan Wolverines
A little more than three weeks ago, Michigan was an undefeated team. Even heading into the regular-season finale against Ohio State, the Wolverines controlled their path to a Big Ten East title and a possible College Football Playoff berth. But a 1-2 finish dropped Michigan into a pre-New Year's Day bowl game against Florida State. Last season, Michigan ventured down to Florida and obliterated a team from the Sunshine State in the Citrus Bowl. A similar performance this time around in the Orange Bowl could help the Wolverines build positive momentum toward next season, when the playoff will again be a major goal. A loss, however, would mean Jim Harbaugh finishes the year with the exact same 10-3 record as he did last season. And much of the offseason talk would be about what went wrong rather than what went right during a 9-0 start.
Brian Bennett: Indiana Hoosiers
The teams at the top of the lineup will get much more attention and will be under more pressure. But an otherwise anonymous postseason game, the Foster Farms Bowl, is an important one for the Hoosiers. The program looked to have some good momentum when it clinched its first back-to-back bowl bids in a quarter century. Then came the stunning dismissal of Kevin Wilson, as ugly allegations surfaced on how he treated injured players. Defensive coordinator Tom Allen, who has no FBS head coaching experience, was quickly elevated to lead the program and given a six-year contract. There could well be some divisions in the locker room. Add in the fact that Indiana is playing a Utah team that faded a bit down the stretch but was still one of the best teams in the Pac-12 most of the season. And Indiana still hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991 -- seven presidential election cycles ago. A win would be a big boost for Allen and a program needing a boost right now.
Josh Moyer: Iowa Hawkeyes
This isn’t the season that Kirk Ferentz envisioned back in August -- especially after last season’s magical Rose Bowl run -- but Iowa still has a chance to save some face here. The Hawkeyes already have a late-season victory over No. 6 Michigan, and a win over No. 17 Florida would help show this team is on the right trajectory. It hasn’t won a bowl game since 2010, and it hasn’t finished back-to-back seasons ranked in the AP poll since 2008-09. A win over the Gators should change all that, while giving Iowa some much-needed momentum over the offseason.