It's nice that Montee Ball had a great time in New York, and he seemed to represent an excellent ambassador for Wisconsin on a stage UW rarely takes. But the nagging feeling remains that the wrong Badger was hamming it up with RGIII and King Luck at the Best Buy Theater. There's just no way Ball even sniffs Barry Sanders' record without his superb quarterback's presence - and heck, there's a chance John Clay gets close to 38 TDs if Russell Wilson's back there. How many times did Russell Wilson take your breath away? How many times did Montee Ball? Sorry, the most valuable player for the Big Ten's Rose Bowl rep is its quarterback, not its potentially record-setting scorer.
Rose Bowl ~ vs. No. 5 Oregon (11-2), Jan. 2, 4 p.m., ESPN
2) No. 13 Michigan State (10-3); PR, 5
The Spartans got jobbed out of a BCS bid. If the Big Ten deserves a second bid (and it does) then it absolutely should be the team that actually won the all-Michigan matchup by two touchdowns. The team that actually had to play Wisconsin - TWICE - instead of the team whose schedule let them chicken out against a bona fide BCS contender all year. (But no, the BCS is totally flawless. Keep with it, NCAA lunkheads.) Sorry about that, MSU. At least the Outback Bowl organizers are thrilled. Suck down some Bloomin' Onion for us.
Outback Bowl ~ vs. No. 18 Georgia (10-3), Jan. 2, noon, ABC
3) No. 12 Michigan (10-2); PR, 7
In what has become typical Michigan fashion, they played to-heck-with-it defense and survived a shootout at the end of the year to secure a chance to get blown away by the ACC champion. No doubt more comforting to the folks of Ann Arbor is finally snapping that nasty Ohio State skid. (Never mind it came against Luke Fickell, dead coach walking, and Braxton Miller, who at this point makes Tim Tebow look like a clinic passer.) Sugar Bowl ~ vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2), Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
4) No. 20 Nebraska (9-3); PR, 2
For the past 15 years, Nebraska was accustomed to playing the day after Thanksgiving - you could call it Blackshirts Friday - against Colorado. The freshly-branded Heroes Game against Iowa makes far more sense in NU's new conference, you know, since Nebraska and Iowa like to talk about corn, and Coloradans like eating organic corn in the mountains. The Huskers are now 12-4 on Blackshirts Friday since 1996.
Capital One Bowl ~ vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2), Jan. 2, noon, ESPN
5) No. 23 Penn State (9-3); PR, 8
A defense coming in to its season finale allowing 12 points a game, gave up 45 in score-hindering weather. Don't tell me Sweet Caroline and Jump Around has THAT much of an impact - rain and a holiday weekend doused the crowd anyhow. Does the Camp Randall beatdown say more about Wisconsin, or Penn State? Bowl season could answer that question.
TicketCity Bowl ~ vs. No. 17 Houston (12-1), Jan. 2, 11 a.m., ESPNU
6) Ohio State (6-6); PR, 4
See, Urban Meyer just didn't want to have to put himself in a position to criticize, uh, his future team. But you bet he was watching on TV during the OSU-Michigan game days before his official hire and thought to himself, defense needs work, but boy, this Braxton Miller has some Gator No. 15 in him.
Gator Bowl ~ vs. Florida (6-6), Jan. 2, noon, ESPN2
7) Iowa (7-5); PR, 3
Just too many lackluster no-shows this season for a program still shaken by a former teammate's ongoing health scare. On the bright side, the Hawkeyes won the game after each of their four previous defeats, which in theory bodes well for the bowl. However, the biggest distraction has been their head coach's in-or-out saga related to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Insight Bowl ~ vs. No. 19 Oklahoma (9-3), Dec. 30, 9 p.m., ESPN
8) Northwestern (6-6); PR, 9
Contrary to Iowa's win-lose-win-lose ways, the Wildcats have only spoken in streaks this year. Start 2-0, lose five games, win four games. That was up until the regular season finale against motivated MSU, which was just the second team to hold the Wildcats' offense under three touchdowns. (The first? Surprise: Army.)
Meineke Car Care Bowl ~ vs. Texas A&M (6-6), Dec. 31, 11 a.m., ESPN
9) Purdue (6-6); PR, 10
When barely beating the league's worst team (but a rival) on the road arguably qualifies as your weakest conference victory, hey, that's not a bad resume at all. Purdue closed out 2-1, including the overtime win over Ohio State that has Badger fans exulting right now. Also on Purdue's list was destroying ranked-at-the-time Illinois' season. In a way, the Whatever Detroit Called Its Bowl This Year Bowl is kind of beneath the Boilermakers' resume.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl ~ vs. Western Michigan (7-5), Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
10) Minnesota (3-9); PR, 11
Actually considered moving up Minnesota just a spot to reflect how the Gophers finished the year ... except Purdue won the head-to-head matchup by four touchdowns. Still, Minnesota rebuilt some of that encouragement from a month ago when it beat Iowa and scared Michigan State. We'll see if the Gophers can actually sneak back toward bowl contention in 2012.
11) Illinois (6-6); PR, 6
Topic of discussion in the office before the bowls were released: how many teams have had a six-game winning streak AND a six-game losing streak in the same year? The consensus here was the Fighting Illini wouldn't be granted the opportunity to make it seven straight losses. Naturally, they're playing a team with a losing record. The Fight Hunger Bowl, everybody!
Fight Hunger Bowl ~ vs. UCLA (6-7), Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
12) Indiana (1-11); PR, 12
South Carolina State should be ashamed.