The Big Ten has nine guaranteed bowl tie-ins, not counting a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. There's a chance that a lot of those spots will go unfilled this season -- or perhaps go to some 5-7 teams. That's real.
Right now, there are seven Big Ten teams who have clinched bowl eligibility. I am still projecting the league gets a playoff spot, and I'm still awarding that to Ohio State for now. And for the first time, I'm putting a second team in a New Year's Six Bowl, as Iowa's 8-0 start, No. 9 spot in the College Football Playoff selection committee's initial rankings and clear sailing ahead make the Hawkeyes look like a strong contender for a major bowl game. I've got Iowa in the Peach Bowl, with No. 7 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. Like the committee did, we're projecting No. 3 Ohio State into the playoff field.
But if all that happens, that leaves eight more spots to be filled with only four currently eligible teams. And who knows if any other Big Ten teams will get to the required six wins?
Nebraska fell to 3-6 after a highly-disappointing loss to Purdue. Illinois lost to Penn State to drop to 4-4. Indiana, which was idle Saturday, is also 4-4 but is 0-4 in the Big Ten. Minnesota is also 4-4 after its "Go-pher it" loss to Michigan and still has to play Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin with an interim coach. Rutgers is 3-5 and has been blown out in back-to-back weeks. Maryland and Purdue already have six losses and would need miracle finishes.
So there could be a lot of empty spaces in the bottom half of the Big Ten bowl lineup. The possible upside is that with 40 bowls this year requiring 80 teams, several leagues might struggle to qualify enough participants. And that could mean an NCAA rule allowing for 5-7 squads to make bowls if there are not enough eligible teams could be invoked. It's a long shot, but that might be the only way Big Ten teams actually play in Big Ten bowls.
As for now, I'm going to project Rutgers into a bowl. Yes, the Scarlet Knights have been pretty brutal the past two games, but they finish with scuffling Nebraska, Army and Maryland. They should be favored in all three, for whatever that's worth. Indiana has to get its fifth win before I can believe in the Hoosiers.
(Note: We're putting Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl mostly to fulfill the conference's desire for "freshness" in location and matchups. The Badgers have played in the Outback and Capital One bowls for the past two seasons).
College Football Playoff: Ohio State
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Iowa
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Michigan
Outback Bowl: Penn State
National University Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Northwestern
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers
Foster Farms Bowl: Not filled
Quick Lane Bowl: Not filled
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Not filled