SjT: Big 10 Breakdown

Another day for fantastic finishes -- Iowa/Mich OT and then the defensive slugfest in the SEC (who knew there was a place in college football that still plays defense!) between Bama and Rocky Top. SjT breaks down the Big 10 races and projects a few big finishes here at home...

PSU won, so the Big Ten is starting to sort out a bit in the race. A brief breakdown ...

THE FAVORITES
PENN STATE (7-1 / 4-1)
----------
* REMAINING GAMES: Purdue, Wisconsin, @MSU
* SjT PROJECTION: 10-1 - Fiesta Bowl vs. Notre
Dame/UCLA

The Nits are young, but the schedule is favorable for them to run the table. Their toughest game -- Wisconsin -- is senior day at Happy Valley (and JoePa always likes to go out strong at home) and then they have two weeks to prepare for MSU, and no one in the Big Ten has defensed the spread attacks as well as PSU. If they beat the Badgers, they hold all the tiebreakers and are the team to beat.

OHIO STATE (5-2 / 3-1)
----------
* REMAINING GAMES: @ Minnesota, Illinois, NU, @ Mich.
* SjT PROJECTION: 9-2 - Citrus Bowl vs. Florida

The Bucks have the league's best defense (by default?), and that should be enough to get them past a rough road game at Minny and the usual season-ender in Ann Arbor. They do need to watch out about looking ahead to Michigan though and overlooking NU in Columbus, but it's Senior Day there and that will probably be enough for them to run the table.

The tiebreaker (which is against OSU against both PSU and Wisconsin because OSU lost out of conference and lost to PSU) keeps 'em from the automatic BCS berth, but if Notre Dame slips up and there are two open BCS spots, don't count out an OSU Orange Bowl berth vs. Alabama or Georgia.

WISCONSIN (7-1 / 4-1)
---------
* REMAINING GAMES: @ Illinois, @ PSU, Iowa, @ Hawaii
* SjT PROJECTION: 10-2 - Outback Bowl vs. Tennessee

Bucky would love to send Barry out with a Big Ten title, and if they can win at Happy Valley, they probably will, since they don't face OSU and hold the tiebreak (overall record). But that's a tall task. More likely, they'll win at Illinois, slip up at PSU, rally for Barry's home finale vs. Iowa and outscore Hawaii for a January 1 sendoff for Coach Alvarez.

THE DARKHORSES
NORTHWESTERN (5-2 / 3-1)
------------
* REMAINING GAMES: Michigan, Iowa, @ OSU, @ Illinois
* SjT PROJECTION: 7-4 - Music City Bowl vs. South Carolina (though the Alamo vs. Texas Tech might be more fun for a promotional standpoint - first one to 100 wins! YEEHAW!)

The Cats are the team nobody wants to play right now - PSU was fortunate to escape and since then, the offense has been ON FIRE! A split of the homestand coming up and a win over Illinois would get the Cats to 7 wins, but lack of respect keeps us from the big bowls again. If we miss the Alamo, we could slip down to Nashville because ASU may be headed to the Sun Bowl yet again. But if Baz stays on fire and the defense improves, who knows? 8-3 or 9-2 are not out of the question.

MICHIGAN (5-3 / 3-2)
--------
* REMAINING: @ Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State
* SjT PROJECTION: 7-4 - Alamo Bowl vs. Oklahoma

If NU is the team nobody wants to face, Michigan is the team that's back from the dead who people thought they had gotten rid of. But after a poor start, Michigan is rebounding and still has the most offensive talent in the league. They need help to win the Big Ten, and I don't think they'll run the table, but they will get 2 of 3, slipping either (hopefully) at NU or vs. their nemesis from Columbus.

Still, a 7-4 record, a strong finish and the Michigan name is enough to get the Wolverines the top non-Jan. 1 bowl in the league in a "preseason top 10 but what happened to 'em" Alamo Bowl vs. Oklahoma. They could even sneak into Tampa with a 3-0 finish or if we get a BCS bid in the league.

BOWL CONTENDERS

IOWA (5-3 / 3-2)
----
* REMAINING: @ Northwestern, @ Wisconsin, Minnesota
* SjT PROJECTION: 6-5 - Sun Bowl vs. Oregon

The loss to Michigan ended a lot of hopes in Iowa City, and a tough three game stretch to close the season makes a bowl bid anything but a lock. They do get a week off to prepare for the Cats in Evanston, but then have to face Wisconsin in Barry Alvarez' home finale and then face a rested Minnesota in the pig game. I think they win at Kinnick, but slip up on the road to squeak into the bowl picture.

MINNESOTA (5-2 / 2-2)
---------
* REMAINING: Ohio State, @ Indiana, MSU, @ Iowa
* SjT PROJECTION: 6-5 - Motor City Bowl vs. Bowling Green

Will the week off be good or bad for the Gophers after that heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin? The schedule is tough the rest of the way, with the angry Bucks coming into the Dome and a road game at Iowa to close things out. I think they drop both of those and split the two in the middle (losing on the road at IU but rebounding at home vs. MSU) to sneak into Detroit for an entertaining Motor City Bowl.

MICHIGAN STATE (4-3 / 1-3)
--------------
* REMAINING: Indiana, @ Purdue, @ Minnesota, PSU
* SjT PROJECTION: 5-6

Traditionally, MSU has been the most mentally-affected team in the Big Ten ... and when they get in a funk after losing the Michigan and OSU games, it stays around and affects their performance the rest of the year. I think they still have enough talent to beat Indiana at home, but will slip up at Purdue and Minny and blow the home finale to PSU to let a season that started so promising result in no bowl. If they can win at Purdue, however, the Motor City Bowl will take them in a heartbeat over Minnesota.

INDIANA (4-3 / 1-3)
-------
* REMAINING: @ MSU, Minnesota, @ Michigan, Purdue
* SjT PROJECTION: 6-5 - Insight vs. California

The Hoosiers have a different attitude under Hoeppner (you can tell he was on Walker's staff - he has the same hard-nosed, us-against-the-world approach) and are tough enough to win their two remaining home games and sneak in a bowl. Where is the big question -- could be San Francisco, but I think with the Big Least struggling, Phoenix starts its Insight Bowl association with the Big Ten a year early.

THE SPOILERS

PURDUE (2-5 / 0-4)
------
* REMAINING: @ PSU, MSU, Illinois, @ Indiana
* SjT PROJECTION: 4-7

The Boilers, once ranked #11, won't make it to a bowl game (they'll need a perfect finish), but could play a big role in the conference bowl picture. For starters, they get a chance to spoil PSU's title hopes next week and then have big games against MSU and Indiana down the stretch that Sparty and the Hoosiers will NEED for any postseason hopes. I think the Boilers win their two at home and lose the two on the road.

ILLINOIS (2-5 / 0-4)
--------
* REMAINING: Wisconsin, @ OSU, @ Purdue, Northwestern
* SjT PROJECTION: 2-9

The Illini are improved under Zook, and it's tough to see them losing the rest of the way (but it's even more difficult to pick who they'll beat, with their best chance -- Purdue -- on the road ... hopefully it's not NU in the finale). They won't be in the bowl hunt, but they could play spoiler to both Wisconsin and NU, who will be on upset alert when they visit Champaign.
Of course, I'd LOVE to be wrong, have the Nits slip somewhere along the way and NU win out and see the CATS win the league title. The only things for sure -- it's gonna be a WILD finish and our game Saturday night against Michigan will be HUGE in determining whether we make it to a first-tier bowl or have to hope to make a second-tier one.

GO CATS!!!
-SjT

Stephen J. Truog has his own NU oriented Web Site
Visit SjTonline


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