First, here are the current conference standings, sorted by best overall record:
Now, here is how I would rank the teams according to what I have seen this year. I have watched each Big Ten team play at least three times, and all but two of them (Purdue and Indiana) at least five times.
#1 Penn State: Before the year began, I said that this conference was a one team race and everyone else was playing for second place. I might wind up being right, but I felt that Ohio State would win the league by two games. Penn State may be the team that does that, though I did pick the Nittany Lions to finish the regular season 10-2. PROJECTED RECORD: 12-0
#2 Ohio State: It will be interesting to see how Coach Tressel keeps the hearts and minds of his players focused on the task at hand, winning games, the rest of the year. Their schedule is not demanding the rest of the way and they should win them all. But as my friend Steve Deace pointed out on my radio show Monday, the goals these Buckeye players started the year striving to achieve are now out the window. Many of these players have multi-million dollar NFL futures ahead of them. Do some of them start playing for the name on the back of the jersey? PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2
#3 Minnesota: While I did pick the Gophers to go 7-5 this year, as did Brian Finley, they have already beaten two teams I felt they would lose to before the year began; road games at Illinois and Purdue. Their offense has some bite, and they are tied for the college football lead in turnover margin. Their defense is better, but it couldn't have been any worse. If they were a stock, I am finally willing to admit I would start buying, because they play a battered Northwestern team, then host Michigan, at Wisconsin before hosting Iowa in the season finale. A 2-2 record against that slate hardly seems impossible at this point in the year. A perfect 4-0 mark isn't out of the question. Minnesota has taken advantage of a favorable schedule, plus they scored a big upset win on the road against Illinois. PROJECTED RECORD: 9-3
#3 Michigan State: I have the Spartans tied with the Gophers here, and it's too bad these two teams don't face one another. Michigan State bounced back from their loss against Ohio State with an impressive ground attack against Michigan. Javon Ringer racked up nearly 200 yards in Michigan Stadium. I know these are not your father's Wolverines, but it's still impressive. They host Wisconsin and Purdue, get a bye then play at Penn State. A 2-1 finish seems likely. PROJECTED RECORD: 9-3
#5 Iowa: This a tough call. I actually believe the Hawkeyes are the third best team in the Big Ten right now, or at least they went into their bye week being that in my eyes. I think they have the best combination at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in all of the Big Ten. This is the kind of year, had the quarterback position been settled coming into this season, where Iowa could have snuck into the BCS Bowl discussion. But that was not to be the case, and the Hawks sit at 5-3 believing they could be 7-1 or 8-0 right now. Given their three losses were by a combined nine points (1, 5 & 3), it's not a homeristic view on things. Iowa still has a shot at a January bowl game, but they have to win Saturday. I think they will. PROJECTED RECORD: 8-4
#6 Illinois: I know they just lost at Wisconsin, but the Badgers were backed into a corner something fierce, and the game was in Madison. Juice Williams picked a bad weekend for his worst game of the year. Their defense is suspect; we are eight games into a season that began with them giving up a half mile's worth of offense against Mizzou, and they do not stop the run all that well. Two of the teams on their remaining schedule, Iowa and Ohio State, do run the ball well. Their game in Detroit against Western Michigan will be testy, but their season finale against Northwestern is looking better for Illinois all the time. I picked this team to finish 6-6 before the season started and I believe that is where they are headed. PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6
#7 Northwestern: and fading fast….Tyrell Sutton has an injured wrist, and that's a bad, bad thing for the Cats. C.J. Bacher is also dinged up, and the Wildcats just lost at Indiana, sans Kellen Lewis. It's a good thing this team got to six wins already, because I think that's where they finish for a second straight year. Their remaining four games are at Minnesota, home against Ohio State, at Michigan and home against Illinois. PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6
#8 Wisconsin: Since I have patted myself on the back for some of my predictions, I need to face the music on this one. I picked the Badgers to finish 10-2, with losses against Iowa and Ohio State. While I probably got those two losses right, I was way off on the other side, but not as bad as a member of the HN Staff (12-0). Rob Howe picked Wisconsin 7-5, so he was nearer the mark. Wisconsin is making most of the pundits look foolish, however. Even though they just beat Illinois, they are a battered team. TE Travis Beckum suffered a nasty looking ankle injury and they are already down two or three offensive linemen. Their brutal schedule of playing Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois has caught up with them, and Michigan State is there to pound them some more. They play at Michigan State and Indiana back to back, and Kellen Lewis could be back for the Hoosiers. Then they host Minnesota before finishing up against Cal Poly. Somehow I think they go 2-2 the rest of the way. PROJECTED RECORD: 6-6
#9 Michigan: The Wolverines are one loss away from guaranteeing them their first bowless season since in 33 years. Since they play at Ohio State to close the season, that's pretty much a lock right now. PROJECTED RECORD: 4-8
#10 Indiana: Being down Kellen Lewis has not been a good thing, but I couldn't make any sense of Coach Lynch's QB rotation when Lewis was healthy. Life without James Hardy stinks, doesn't it? PROJECTED RECORD: 5-7
#11 Purdue: So long, Cowboy Joe. It was fun. This year is kind of funny, for those of us that are not fans of the Boilermakers. Funny as in we are entertained week to week with regards to who is getting thrown under the train over there in West Lafayette. PROJECTED RECORD: 2-10
Now that I put all of that together, I am sure that someone will email me and tell me that my math doesn't add up. If so, here is the email address to save you some time: email@example.com. Just be nice.
As it relates to the Big Ten Bowl outlook based on my projected records, there are a couple of directions we can go here.
First things first, how many teams will the Big Ten put into the BCS? With Penn State beating Ohio State, and with Boise State beating San Jose State last week, both of those tumblers went against the Big Ten's chances. Boise State has one more tough out, but that's at home against Fresno State. They rarely lose at home, and it appears as though BSU will make it into the top eight of the final BCS standings, which will guarantee them a BCS bid. Utah is currently 10th in the BCS standings, one slot ahead of Boise State. But they must face TCU and BYU in their final four games. They get both at home, but they have a tricky road trip at New Mexico to navigate as well. I think they lose at least one game, knocking them out. TCU is currently 13th, but I am not sure they will make it into the Top 8.
So as of right now, I think the non-BCS conference teams will take up just one slot in the BCS. That's good news for Big Ten fans, because the Ohio State Buckeyes should win out, finish 10-2 and be in the BCS at large selection pool; they are 12th in this week's standings. Their alumni base is immense, and they will be too hard for a BCS bowl to pass over. So I still believe the Big Ten gets two in the BCS in Penn State and Ohio State.
Next up, the Big Ten bowl slots.
Here are a few ground rules; the Cap One, Outback, Alamo and Champs cannot select Team A over Team B if Team B has two or more wins that Team A. It's the ‘two game rule'. Also, the Alamo has the pick ahead of the Champs Bowl this year, and in even years going forward.
That means if Iowa does finish 8-4, the Alamo couldn't take a 6-6 Wisconsin or a 6-6 Illinois team over the Hawkeyes.
What is very, very interesting, is if the above Big Ten projected record scenarios hold true.
Theoretically, the Capital One Bowl could select an 8-4 Iowa team over a 9-3 Michigan State or a 9-3 Minnesota team. If the Cap One takes Michigan State or Iowa, the Outback could select Iowa over the remaining 9-3 team.
I don't know if something like that has happened to a team not named Michigan or Ohio State, meaning, getting ‘bumped up'. Iowa's fan base and its national reputation for traveling would certainly be tempting for both the Orlando and Tampa communities, because they are a proven commodity.
Michigan State and Minnesota's fan bases, not so much. There is a reason that when Minnesota was winning and going to bowl games under Glen Mason that they were passed over by the bowls higher in the Big Ten pecking order; they don't travel well.
Will that be different now that the program is on the rise?
In 2003, Minnesota and Iowa finished with identical 9-3 regular season records. The Hawks had beaten the Gophers and were selected by the Outback Bowl. Michigan State was also 5-3 in league play that year, but was 8-4 overall. The Spartans were selected to play in the Alamo Bowl, sending the Gophers to the Sun Bowl.
Also, in my above scenario, both Iowa and Minnesota finish with 5-3 records in league play with Iowa beating Minnesota head to head. Technically, the head to head meeting doesn't matter; Michigan beat Iowa in 2005 and the Hawkeyes were selected by the Outback Bowl with a 7-4 regular season record, the same mark held by the Wolverines, who went to the Alamo Bowl.
Here is how I see things pursuant to my above scenario:
Capital One picks Michigan State: Ringer to the Magic Kingdom
Outback picks Iowa: Legends of the Outback
Alamo picks Minnesota: Congrats Minnie! Now, here's Texas Tech.
Champs picks Wisconsin: Bielema lives to fight another year
Insight picks Illinois: Two years ago, any bowl would have sounded good
Motor City picks Northwestern: Because someone has to go to Detroit
In the event that the Big Ten gets just one team in the BCS:
Cap One: Ohio State
Outback: Michigan State
Motor City: Illinois (who plays at Ford Field in a few weeks)
In the event that Iowa finishes 7-5, and even if the Big Ten gets just one team into the BCS, I don't see the Hawks sliding beyond the Insight's bowl selection slot.