11/03: Big 10 Rankings & Bowl Projections

Could you imagine five Big Ten teams finishing with a 7-5 record? HN Publisher Jon Miller thinks that could happen, and is actually projecting that scenario in this week's look at the Big Ten. He offers his power rankings, plus his bowl picks...

Time to take our weekly look at Iowa's bowl prospects…

To compare to last week's update, CLICK HERE

First, a look at this week's Big Ten Standings:

First, here are the current conference standings, sorted by best overall record:

PSU 9 0 - 5 0
OSU 7 2 - 4 1
MSU 8 2 - 5 1
MINN 7 2 - 3 2
NW 7 2 - 3 2
ILL 5 4 - 3 3
IOWA 5 4 - 2 3
IND 3 6 - 1 4
PUR 3 6 - 1 4
MICH 2 7 - 1 4
WISC 4 5 - 1 5

Here are my Big Ten Power Rankings for this week:

#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. PROJECTED RECORD: 10-2

#3 Michigan State: MSU jumps up into the #3 spot all by themselves this week after sharing the spot with Minnesota last week. The Spartans didn't lead Wisconsin until the final seconds this past week, and they were able to pull out a nail biter against the Badgers. They host Purdue and have Penn State on the road, so I still have Sparty with the same final projected record: PROJECTED RECORD: 9-3

#4 Illinois: The Illini jump from 6th to 4th in my power rankings this week. I know they lost at home to Minnesota, but I watched that game and turnovers were their undoing. If these two teams played ten times, I think Illinois would win at least six, so I have them in this slot. Illinois gutted out a close one against Iowa, but to say they are the fourth best team in the Big Ten is somewhat of an indictment in how far this league is away from the Big 12. I also don't think Illinois will hold this spot come the end of the year, but there are a handful of teams that you can throw a blanket over after PSU and OSU. Illinois has to play a salty Western Michigan team in Detroit, before hosting Ohio State and traveling to Northwestern to close out the year. They had better win against WMU, or they could still miss out on a bowl game. PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5

#5 Iowa: This is the same slot that I had the Hawks in last week. I know that Northwestern beat Iowa, and the Hawks are 5-4 while the Cats are 7-2. But again, if these two teams played 10 times, I like the Hawks to win at least six of those meetings. Iowa has lost its four games by a total of 12 points. They should have scored 30 or more against Illinois this weekend, but their first four trips to the Illini 12 yard line at worst resulted in three field goals and one missed field goal. As poorly as Iowa executed in the redzone on Saturday, it still should have come away with a win on the road. I think Iowa and Illinois are very evenly matched teams, but the Illini get the nod due to the experience at quarterback. PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5

#6 Northwestern: That was a gritty and gutty win against the Gophers this weekend. Do you think Tim Brewster is second guessing his decision to try and get into field goal range with a minute or so left as opposed to playing for overtime at home? Mike Kafka was lethal in the speed option, and he made some great throws early on. Can he keep that up? If he can, the Illini are going to have a hard time in Evanston in the season finale. They host Ohio State, travel to Michigan and host Illinois the rest of the way. PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5

#7 Minnesota: Oh geez. Something happened on the way to the Rose Bowl, eh? You betcha! The Gophers laid an egg against a Northwestern team that was without Tyrell Sutton at running back and C.J. Bacher at quarterback. WR Adam Decker has a tweaked ankle. They do have Michigan coming to town this weekend, and the Wolverines were pathetically porous against a Purdue dual threat quarterback last week. Makes you wonder if the Wolverines can muster an attack against the Gophers in the dome. I know this might sound crazy, but I think they will. Minnesota is guaranteed a bowl game this year, but after this week's game against Michigan, they travel to Wisconsin, who will be fighting for its bowl life. They close against Iowa. I think Minnesota was who I thought they were; pretenders PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5

#8 Wisconsin: Maybe Bret Bielema was right after all; Wisconsin is the team that is beating Wisconsin. They lose by one point at Michigan State on a field goal with :07 remaining on a day when they outgained Sparty 430 to 312, and they had 121 yards taken away from them through 12 penalties! That's astounding. They should have blown Michigan State out of the water, but they lost. They had two backs top the century mark and they held Javon Ringer to a season low 54 yards on 21 carries. And they lost. They close at Indiana, vs Minnesota and Cal Poly. I think they right the ship. PROJECTED RECORD: 7-5.

#9 Purdue: Nice win the for the Boilers against Michigan. They ran the hook and lateral to top the Wolverines. Love that play! PROJECTED RECORD: 4-8

#10 Michigan: The Wolverines 33 year bowl streak is over. Their streak of 40 straight non-losing seasons is over. They close out at Minnesota, home vs Northwestern and at Ohio State. Like I said earlier this year, they traded in their tradition for this? PROJECTED RECORD: 3-9

#11 Indiana: You don't just roll out the helmets and beat a solid team from the MAC late in a disappointing season. Just ask Iowa. PROJECTED RECORD: 3-9

My friend Steve Deace might be right after all. In his preseason preview, I think he had at least four teams finishing with a 7-5 record overall. As I review my current projections, I have Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Northwestern with that exact season ending total.

I still believe that Penn State and Ohio State will get BCS invites, so that ‘bumps' Michigan State up to the Capital One bowl with no chance, according to my projections, that any other Big Ten team could unseat them from that position.

Here is where it gets real, real interesting if my picks would hold to form with three games to go.

The Outback Bowl would have to pick one of those five 7-5 teams. Iowa trumps Minnesota and Northwestern because of how the fan base travels, and the Outback has taken a 7-5 Iowa team before; the 2005 Outback Bowl when both Iowa and Michigan had 7-5 records.

Do you think that the Outback would pass on the bankable bowl commodity that is the black and gold faithful from Iowa City over the Illini Nation?

Me neither.

And Wisconsin went to the Outback last year. Though taking the same team two years in a row would not be unprecedented for this bowl, Wisconsin began the year ranked inside the Top 10, and Iowa began the year totally off the radar. Both fan bases have impeccable traveling reputations, so the Outback folks would have to make a call; which fan base would be more likely to buy more tickets for this game?

As crazy as it sounds, and believe me, I didn't sit down to write this planning on making this prediction, but after projecting how I think the rest of the season is going to go for the Hawks, Illini, Badgers, Gophers and Wildcats, if all of those teams wind up 7-5, Iowa goes to the Outback Bowl.

If the Outback picked Illinois, I think the Alamo would take Iowa, sending Wisconsin to the Champs. If the Outback picked Wisconsin, I think the Alamo would be tempted to pick Illinois, since the Illini have never played in that game and Iowa has been there four times, including in 2006. Then Iowa would go to the Champs.

Again, in this scenario, I don't see Minnesota or Northwestern being selected over Iowa for any of these bowls.

NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: Other than Iowa going 0-3 down the stretch of course….

If Iowa were to lose to Penn State, beat Purdue and lose to Minnesota and if the Badgers, Cats and Illini schedules play out as I am calling for above, that would lock Iowa out Outback, Alamo, Champs, and Insight because the other four teams would have seven wins. That would mean Iowa would go to Detroit. Remember two weeks ago when I said Iowa needed to root for Illinois to beat Wisconsin, as to put the Badgers out of their misery?

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