Ohio State’s come-from-behind victory over Penn State last week changed the climate for the conference. The top of the Big Ten East got sorted out in that epic game. The Buckeyes gained the inside track.
It looked like then the conference was set to have three teams in the New Years Six. And, maybe if things fell the right way, two teams in the College Football Playoff. The conference could boast some of the best teams in the nation at the very top.
Things change very quickly in college football. A week of excess and success was followed by a disastrous week. At least if you are cheering for a team that had hopes of making the College Football Playoff.
Iowa downed Ohio State with a 55-24 victory at Kinnick Stadium. The odd offensive explosion from the Hawkeyes and defensive faltering from the Buckeyes was a complete shock.
Just as much of a shock as Michigan State’s game-winning field goal in a rain-soaked 27-24 win over Penn State.
In those two moments, the Big Ten picture changed completely. Wisconsin is the only team, it seems, that has a chance at making the College Football Playoff. And even undefeated, the Badgers are on the outside looking in.
For the Big Ten teams jockeying for bowl positioning, this shake-up at the top will trickle down to them. The conference is in a worse position this week than it was last week nationally. High profile losses will do that.
The conference will keep trudging along. The top has taken a stumble back. The middle is beginning to separate itself a bit more. And the conference outlook is very different.
A week after the seismic shifts around the conference, here are our Big Ten bowl projections:
College Football Playoff
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Rose Bowl Game: Notre Dame vs. Clemson
For now, only one SEC team will make the College Football Playoff. But the five top teams from last week continue to win. So there is not much change to the Playoff.
Last week, I projected Wisconsin in the College Football Playoff. And I still like their chances to some degree. But they will need some big wins to get there. The Badgers must go undefeated and win the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State or Penn State to get the style points to climb in. It does not seem the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is impressed with Wisconsin.
New Years 6
AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic: TCU vs. Auburn
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Wisconsin vs. UCF
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
Capital One Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Alabama
For now, the Big Ten looks set to have two teams make the New Years 6 bowl games. Wisconsin, even with one loss, should feel fairly comfortable in this group. As Big Ten champion, the Badgers would get in.
Ohio State, for now, seems like the likely second team to get into the New Years 6. Michigan State has a long way to go to climb the polls to get into the New Years 6 conversation. Their only way in is to win the Big Ten outright.
As far as placement, it is still up in the air. What the Cotton Bowl decides to do could go a long way to figuring out where teams go. Ohio State has a large traveling fan base in Arizona and do well selling the Fiesta Bowl. So I placed the Buckeyes there. It left Wisconsin to go to the Peach Bowl.
Something to watch here as we go through the other bowls. If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team to play an ACC opponent, that means an ACC team takes the Big Ten bid to the Citrus Bowl. With so many teams flirting with bowl eligibility at the moment, losing the Citrus Bowl would have major implications for the rest of the bowl lineup.
If they can get Miami-Alabama, though, I think the Orange Bowl would be fairly happy.
Citrus Bowl: Penn State vs. South Carolina
It is going to be hard for the Big Ten’s top non-New Years 6 bowl not to take Saquon Barkley. All due respect to Michigan State and what that team has accomplished so far this season. The Nittany Lions are still a very good team. It is just too bad the SEC seems very loaded and unable to provide a truly great team in opposition. Maybe Auburn’s late loss to Alabama will help the Tigers fall into this spot.
Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. LSU
The Outback Bowl tends to like going with quirky bowl picks rather than the obvious one. Michigan would seemingly be the obvious pick here. But I think they go off-board and go with this hot Michigan State team. It would also set up a really nice matchup elsewhere . . .
The Spartans though have earned this bid. They have recovered well from last year’s difficult season. And Michigan State fans would love this mini-Nick Saban Bowl.
National University Holiday Bowl: Michigan vs. Stanford
There is a small possibility still that USC ends up here. Or possibly even Khalil Tate and Arizona ends up here. That matchup against a strong Michigan team would be a fun one. So too would Jim Harbaugh going up against his former team in Stanford. This would be the time to get Michigan out West for this primetime matchup.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kentucky
The Big Ten still has one more TaxSlayer Bowl available to use. And a repeat Music City Bowl matchup with Mississippi State (from the 2012 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl) does not feel as appealing as this matchup between two perennial losing programs feeling success. Northwestern might prefer a trip out West to the Holiday Bowl or the Foster Farms Bowl. But Nebraska and Iowa have already been to the TaxSlayer Bowl (Iowa) and Music City Bowl (Nebraska). So it might leave Northwestern the choice here.
Of any team, Northwestern is probably hoping for three Big Ten teams in the New Years 6 so their bowl options open up much more.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Nebraska vs. Louisville
Yankee Stadium is never going to go small with its bowl selections. There is always some hook to help New York’s bowl game make a bigger splash. The Nebraska Cornhuskers and their Sea of Red against Lamar Jackson and Louisville? That should get some headlines on the tabloids.
Foster Farms Bowl: Iowa vs. Washington State
The names in this potential bowl match may not be sexy, but these are two very good teams. Iowa is just solid overall as they usually are. They have their marquee win now too. If the Hawkeyes cannot climb to the Holiday Bowl, a trip to Northern California seems like it would be in the cards.
Quick Lane Bowl: Purdue vs. Duke
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Rutgers vs. Army
This is where the bowl projections get very hairy.
The Boilermakers will be without David Blough for the rest of the season and can only afford two more losses to reach bowl eligibility and complete their impressive turnaround this season.
The Scarlet Knights are a surprise turnaround story this year. They have played really well to even flirt with bowl eligibility.
But Purdue and Rutgers are one of four teams at 4-5. Any of those 4-5 teams could fill these final two bowl slots. Maryland cannot go to the Quick Lane Bowl. But other than that, Purdue, Rutgers, Maryland and Minnesota are all jockeying for bowl position.
All they have to do is win to secure that spot. Clearly, not all of them will make it. For now, I will leave Purdue and Rutgers in my projections. But expect that to change in the coming weeks.