Here are a few thoughts on the subject.
First, keep in mind that when bowl selection time comes the key factor is TOTAL WINS – not conference record. After the conference champion receives its BCS bowl berth, the remainder of the bowls can select any team they want with one caveat – you cannot skip over a team that has two or more wins.
For example, if UM finished 7-4 and Wisconsin was 10-2 (9-2 for bowl selection purposes), a bowl could not pass over Wisconsin. Yet, if they wanted, a bowl could select an 8-3 Michigan team over a 9-2 Wisconsin regardless of what their conference records are.
Second, if (and that's a BIG IF) eight Big 10 teams are bowl eligible, there are no worries about getting shut out of a bowl completely even though the Big 10 has only seven guaranteed spots -- and I promise that MSU wouldn't be the one looking for an at-large spot.
With that said, there could be some very attractive openings available when bid day comes. The Poinsettia (San Diego) and the Liberty Bowl (Memphis) are the only two with at-large bids, but the SEC won't meet its obligations and it's likely that Big 12 won't meet its as well, as well as possible openings from the Pac-10, ACC and Big East.
Hence there are potential openings for an eighth Big 10 team in the Liberty, Poinsettia, Ft. Worth, Houston, Champs and Emerald Bowls. I'd think that the new Poinsettia Bowl would likely take Navy (as in Miramar and the Fleet being in, etc.) and be removed from this picture, though.
There's also a possibility that the Big 10 won't meet its obligation to the Motor City Bowl, either. If Michigan State and Iowa fail to win six games or two of PSU, Wisconsin or Ohio State should win out to earn a second BCS berth, the Motor City Bowl would once again go without.
Here's what the Big 10 currently looks like:
Penn State 6-1/9-1 - @MSU
Wisconsin 5-2/8-2 - Iowa, @Hawaii
Ohio State 5-1/7-2 - Northwestern, @Mich.
Michigan 4-2/6-3 - Indiana, Ohio State
Northwestern 3-2 5-3 - @Ohio State, Ill.
Iowa 3-3/5-4 - @Wisconsin, Minnesota
Minnesota 3-3/6-3 - MSU, @Iowa
Michigan State 2-4/5-4 - @Minn, PSU >
Both MSU and Iowa have the odds against them in reaching bowl eligibility – and ironically, both will likely have to beat Minnesota to reach the six-win plateau. MSU will travel to Minneapolis this weekend and then host Big 10 leader Penn State the following week. The Hawkeyes travel to Wisconsin this weekend and then close with the Gophers in Iowa City.
At this point, the top four Big 10 bowls are locked up by PSU, OSU, UM and Wisconsin. At worst, one of those schools will be playing in San Antonio and potentially each could be playing on New Year's Day or later.
At that point, things become interesting.
Minnesota has the best shot to reach eight wins, but they'll have to beat two bowl-hungry teams to do it. If they lose both, they likely would be the Big 10 school looking at finding an at-large berth. Hence, they probably have the widest range of possibilities right now. Win eight games and they could climb as high as the Alamo Bowl (if the Big 10 gets two BCS berths), but would assuredly get at least a Sun Bowl berth. If they beat MSU and lose to Iowa, they're likely looking at a Motor City Bowl berth. Lose to MSU, but beat Iowa and their likely destination is El Paso. After two visits in the past three years, it's unlikely that Nashville's Music City Bowl would extend another invitation to the Gophers.
Iowa's destiny is probably the most clear-cut – beat Minnesota at home in the season finale and they're going to the Sun Bowl regardless of what happens in the other games. Iowa's traveling history makes them much more attractive than any of the other second-tier Big 10 teams. If they beat Wisconsin and lose to Minnesota, then it's off to the Music City Bowl.
Northwestern looks likely for seven wins, that could get them to El Paso if the Big 10 gets two bowl berths, but it seems more likely that they'll be headed to the Music City Bowl in Nashville. It's likely that the only way NU would fall any further would be an Iowa upset over Wisconsin and Minnesota winning out. Look for the Wildcats to become the Spartans biggest fans this weekend.
With their recent collapse, MSU's options also look to have narrowed. Unless they win out over Minnesota and Penn State, it appears the only ones MSU will appear attractive to is the Motor City Bowl in Detroit should they close out the season 2-5 in their final seven.
Of course, should Michigan State and Iowa be unable to pull the upset one of the most promising Big 10 campaigns in recent memory could end up with the league unable to meet its bowl obligations once again.