Handicapping the Big Ten & Bowls

Regular season play in the Big Ten Conference will kickoff this weekend with some key matchups. Michigan will host Penn State & Iowa will travel to Madison. HN.com Publisher Jon Miller ranks the league through three games, plus takes a look at the Big Ten Bowl picture...

As Iowa prepares to begin the Big Ten portion of their 2007 season, here's a look at how I see the league as of this week:

1 Ohio State: The Buckeyes proved me wrong on Saturday, and they turned in the best performance of the year by a Big Ten team. Washington is a salty football team, and their quarterback can beat you with his legs as well as his arm. Ohio State's defense did it's job and this week, the offense decided to chip in.

2 Penn State: This is not a normal BCS caliber football team, but the Nittany Lions are a very solid club. Anthony Morelli is not an elite quarterback, but he gets the job done. Their defense is #1 in the nation against the run, but they haven't played anyone.

3 Wisconsin: This was a tough call for me, but the Badgers have found a way to win over the past two years in games where they could have lost. They must be doing something right. This is not a dominant football team right now, but they are certainly a Top 20 team at this stage of the year.

4 Purdue: This year's Boilermaker team resembles that of the early Joe Tiller years; an average defense but a light's out, explosive offense. Curtis Painter is ‘quietly' putting together an incredible season, they are averaging more than 500 yards per game and they have arguably the most dangerous kick returner in college football.

5 Michigan: At 1-2, it would not surprise me to see this team finish the regular season 9-3. That's if they can get by Penn State at home this weekend. Purdue will challenge their defense, but that game is also at home, as is the season finale against Ohio State.

6 Michigan State: Sparty is 3-0, and even though Dave Wannstedt coaches Pitt, it was still a solid win for a club that has lacked many of those in recent years. We still don't know a lot about this club, but more than some others.

7 Iowa: As of today, this might be as much a homer slotting as anything. Iowa has scored the fewest points in the league through three games, but they have also given up the fewest points. I worry that last week's game film of Iowa State's defensive effort is going to be making the rounds the next couple of weeks

7 Illinois: I put the Fighting Illini in a tie here with Iowa. Their offense is Dangerous, and their defense might be better than last year and it was salty then. This team is going to make some noise in the Big Ten this year. Last year, they were almost a spoiler. This year, they will be. And their spread look will make things hard for Iowa.

7 Indiana: Again, another tie. I think it's a tossup between these three teams right Now and Indiana's spread offensive attack scares the daylights out of me, as it should any Iowa fan.

10 Losing to Duke doesn't help the Wildcats in my rankings, but their offense will Give Iowa problems again this year.

11 Minnesota: Finally, we find a team that I am certain belongs in this spot. Losing to Florida Atlantic was downright bad. Losing at home to Bowling Green to start the year wasn't great, either. Beating Miami of Ohio in overtime underscores it for me.

A LOOK AT POSSIBLE BOWL DESTINATIONS

After Saturday's loss to Iowa State, thinking about bowl destinations is probably not something a lot of Hawkeye fans have spent time on. If we can count Minnesota and Western Michigan as home wins for Iowa, that puts four in the ‘bank' right now. So 4-1. A 3-4 record against the rest of the Big Ten schedule means a 7-5 record, a 4-3 record means 8-4. A 2-5 finish would mean 6-6. I can't see it getting worse than that, which means Iowa will likely go bowling.

As of right now, there don't appear to be two teams from this league that will get BCS bids. I know that Notre Dame is down and out of BCS consideration, so that helps every other conference's chances to get another team in. There are 10 BCS slots now for the second year in a row, so there will be at least one if not two teams with 10-2 records that will nab one of those four at large BCS bids. That could be on top of another Big Ten team at 10-2.

Two BCS bids is key when slotting the Big Ten bowl picture. In the first scenario, let's go with just one Big Ten team making it in the BCS.

Rose: Ohio State
Cap One: Penn State
Outback: Wisconsin
Champps: Michigan
Alamo: Purdue
Insight: Iowa
Motor City: Michigan State

Before the season began, I picked Iowa to go 9-3 and go to the Champps Bowl in Orlando. As we all know, they went to the Alamo last year, and I don't see back to back invites there. Even at 6-6, I think the Insight would take Iowa over a Michigan State fan base that hasn't been a traditionally strong travel team, but at 6-6 for the second year in a row, would even the great Iowa fan base travel well? If it's to Arizona, I think so, because so many native Iowans living there, and their children still living back in the state of Iowa. More than 20,000 Iowa fans showed up for a regular season game against Arizona State in 2004.

But right about now, that's getting the cart way ahead of the horse. The loss to Iowa State has left this year's team little margin for error right now…but there is still a lot of season left to play.


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