The Big Ten's bowl lineup is set, and not surprisingly, it looks daunting. A league that failed to put any teams in the top 15 of the final BCS standings faces three teams in the top 10 -- No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Georgia and No. 10 South Carolina. The Big 12 matchups, as usual, don't favor the Big Ten, either.
We'll be breaking down these games for the next few weeks, but we wanted to share our first impressions of the lineup, which is as follows ...
Rose Bowl game presented by VIZIO: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan State vs. TCU
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue vs. Oklahoma State
Here we go ...
Adam Rittenberg's first impressions
Best game: Rose. Most people can't look past Wisconsin's five losses. After Saturday night's performance, I see a team that finally put it all together on offense and has had an underrated defense most of the season. The Badgers are healthy at the right time, and they match up better with Stanford, a power-oriented team, than they did Oregon last year.
Worst game: Heart of Dallas. I can't believe Oklahoma State fell this far in the Big 12's bowl pecking order. The Cowboys can put up big numbers on offense, and Purdue hasn't stopped good offenses all season. Maybe Robert Marve and the Boilers keep pace with the Pokes on the scoreboard, but this one might not be close.
Sneaky good game: Buffalo Wild Wings. Both Michigan State and TCU can play a little defense, and both teams have young offenses that could make strides in bowl practices. This should be a very physical game, as both squads are ranked in the top 10 nationally in rush defense. It'll be interesting to see how Spartans junior running back Le'Veon Bell performs in what could be his final collegiate game.
Matchup that excites me: South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney vs. Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Clowney is the most explosive pass-rusher in the country and could go to the NFL right now. Lewan will find out just how NFL-ready he'll be after going against the South Carolina star in the Outback Bowl.
The bowl season is a success if: The Big Ten wins the Rose Bowl, beats the SEC at least once and finishes at least 3-4 overall. Sure, that will be a sub-.500 record, but many will peg the Big Ten to go 0-7 after such an awful regular season. As I've written many times, a .500 bowl record for the Big Ten equates to a .750 bowl record in most conferences when you factor in the game sites and the opponents. The Big Ten has won just one Rose Bowl since the 1999 season. If Wisconsin prevails in Pasadena and the Big Ten gets a win or two in Florida, it will be a success.
Brian Bennett's first impressions
Best game: Outback. The Lewan-Clowney matchup is just one reason to get excited about this game. Michigan's offense changed directions with Devin Gardner at quarterback, and I think an extra month of bowl practices will allow the Wolverines to figure out how to best use Denard Robinson along with Gardner. Al Borges will have to call a good game to counter that tough South Carolina defense. Robinson playing his final college game in his home state is a nice story.
Worst game: Meineke Car Care. Getting to a bowl game this year was a great accomplishment for Minnesota, but the Gophers really struggled to score down the stretch and now must play Texas Tech in Houston. That's a tough, tough matchup. Jerry Kill's team will have to really make strides on offense -- and get healthy -- in the next 15 practices.
Sneaky good game: Capital One. It's only sneaky because both teams lost in their championship games. But imagine if we proposed this matchup last week when both teams were riding high? A month is a long enough time to get over a loss and both teams are capable of scoring a bunch of points. Bo Pelini will be under pressure to fix Nebraska's defense in time to face Aaron Murray & Co. The last time the Big Ten played Georgia in a New Year's Day bowl turned out to be quite a lot of fun, as Michigan State bit the Dawgs in overtime last year.
Matchup that excites me: Wisconsin's running game vs. Stanford's defense. No team has a better set of backs than the Badgers' Montee Ball, James White and emerging star Melvin Gordon. We saw that in the Big Ten title game when Wisconsin used all three to devastating effect. Well, Stanford has the No. 3 rush defense in the country, allowing just 87.7 yards per game on the ground. It will be strength against strength in Pasadena between two physical, disciplined teams.
The bowl season is a success if: Wisconsin wins the Rose Bowl and the other teams don't embarrass themselves. People remember BCS games way more than any other bowl result, so a victory at the top can go a long way. The Big Ten simply has to get back to winning the Rose Bowl, while the Badgers do not want to make it three straight losses in Pasadena. If a five-loss Wisconsin team can beat the Pac-12 champ in a BCS game, that would signal that the league is deeper than people realize. Remember that two of the conference's top teams, Ohio State and Penn State, were taken out of the equation. That has meant tougher matchups at the bottom, like Purdue and Minnesota each playing Big 12 teams in Texas. But if the Big Ten teams show up and compete, they should have a chance in the top five bowls. Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern need to play well against their SEC opponents. The chances for a winning record look slim, but a repeat of the New Year's Day massacre from two years ago is unacceptable.