Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State remains the Big Ten's BCS front-runner and a viable candidate for the national championship. Where does that leave Ohio State? What about Michigan State, Minnesota and the rest? Unlike last season, when the Big Ten had 10 bowl-eligible teams and seven wins was the bowl barometer, the league could get several six-win teams in the postseason.
As the calendar flips to November, here's a look at the Big Ten bowl race.
Bowl tie-ins: 7 (Rose/BCS, Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports, Insight, Motor City)
No. 3 Penn State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) -- The Lions got a boost in the BCS computers after knocking off Ohio State on the road. They likely won't pass Texas or Alabama if those teams remain undefeated, but there's little chance they'll be jumped by a one-loss team. The BCS title game looks like a good bet for Penn State.
No. 12 Ohio State (7-2, 4-1) -- There won't be a third trip to the national championship game, and the Buckeyes might miss a BCS bowl for the first time since 2004. If Penn State runs the table and the Buckeyes win out, the Rose Bowl remains a good possibility. Otherwise, plan on the Capital One Bowl for Jim Tressel's crew.
No. 21 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1) -- The Spartans snapped their six-game losing streak to rival Michigan and put a New Year's Day bowl back in the crosshairs. Wins on Saturday against Wisconsin and next week against Purdue should put Michigan State in position for either the Capital One or the Outback Bowl. And keep in mind that Michigan State still controls its own destiny. If the Spartans sweep the final three, including the finale at Penn State, they head to Pasadena because of the tiebreaker (no FCS opponents).
No. 17 Minnesota (7-1, 3-1) -- Can the Gophers win out? That's the buzz up in the Twin Cities with four winnable games remaining. Minnesota has only one win against a team with a winning record (Northern Illinois) and could go through the year without beating a ranked opponent. These factors likely keep them out of the Rose Bowl mix, but a New Year's Day destination is possible.
Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) -- A trip to sputtering Indiana proved costly for the Wildcats, who lost the game and possibly their starting offensive backfield. Win No. 7 looks a bit tough from here on out, but Northwestern still should go bowling. Upsetting Minnesota in the Metrodome would put Northwestern back on track for the Alamo, Insight or Champs Sports bowls.
ON THE CUSP
Iowa (5-3, 2-2) -- After a bye week, the Hawkeyes can get bowl eligible by beating Illinois for the sixth consecutive time. Two wins in the final four games puts Iowa in the mix for the Alamo, Champs Sports or Insight bowls. A loss in Champaign could make things tough. Penn State comes to Iowa City next week, and the Hawkeyes close with a trip to Minnesota.
Wisconsin (4-4, 1-4) -- The Badgers move up a category after knocking off Illinois last week. Since Wisconsin wraps up the regular season against Cal-Poly at home, it likely needs only one other win to ensure a bowl bid. A road victory against Michigan State could boost hopes for the Alamo Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl, while a loss puts the Badgers under .500 and facing a must-win game next week at Indiana.
SINK OR SWIM
Illinois (4-4, 2-3) -- There's a sense of disbelief among Ron Zook and his players that they're in this position with four games left. Illinois' final four opponents have a combined record of 24-9, so there are no gimmes left. A home win Saturday against Iowa would ease some concern before a potentially tough trip to Detroit to face 6-2 Western Michigan.
Indiana (3-5, 1-4) -- To be fair, the Hoosiers aren't completely out of the bowl mix. They ended their slide last week against Northwestern and can pick up another win against Central Michigan, a talented team that struggles with BCS opponents. A trip to Penn State doesn't look promising, so Indiana must beat Central Michigan, Wisconsin at home and Purdue on the road to have any chance at a second straight bowl.
Michigan (2-6, 1-3) -- The nation's longest current streak of consecutive bowl appearances (33) should come to an end in the next few weeks. A loss Saturday against Purdue ensures Michigan's first losing season since 1967 and its first bowl-less campaign since 1974. Michigan would have to win out, beating both Minnesota and Ohio State on the road, to have a chance at a bowl.
Purdue (2-6, 0-4) -- Coach Joe Tiller admits this isn't the way he envisioned his final season going. The Boilermakers likely will miss a bowl game for just the second time in Tiller's 12 years as head coach. A win against Michigan would be nice, but Purdue then must travel to both Michigan State and Iowa. With questions at the quarterback spot, things don't look good.