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Conference Corner: Big Ten bowl projections heading into championship weekend

With just Ohio State-Northwestern remaining, who ends up where this bowl season?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

One game remains. Ohio State and Northwestern meet Saturday in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship (Dec. 1, 8 p.m. ET on FOX).

It’s the perennial juggernaut versus the surprise contender. A tale as old as time in its own right.

The side-story is how the entire championship weekend affects the rest of the conference and potential bowl destinations.

No. 6 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1), Cotton Bowl for CFP Semifinal

Last week: routed No. 4 Michigan 62-39

The Buckeyes need help, but the College Football Playoff is within reach.

The first step, obviously, is to take care of business over the Wildcats. Even if the game is somehow close, there’s little chance Central Florida leaps over them into the top-four.

Next step, Alabama needs to top Georgia in the SEC Championship. A loss by the Tide to another CFP contender would look far better than the 29-point loss to Purdue.

To be safe, the Buckeyes want Texas to complete the season sweep of Oklahoma. It’s possible the obliteration of Michigan is enough to sway the committee, but the Sooners would possess three top-25 victories with a win over the Longhorns.

If any of these blocks fall, Urban Meyer gets his first Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Michigan (10-2, 8-1), Rose Bowl

Last know what happened.

A top-10 team with Michigan’s brand and Jim Harbaugh at head coach will always make a New Year’s Six bowl.

To make Pasadena, it puts Wolverine fans in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Ohio State to make the playoff. The Rose Bowl committee is contractually obligated to take the conference champion or the highest ranked team outside the final CFP.

The other alternative is the Peach or Fiesta, presumably against UCF, LSU, Washington State or Florida.

Northwestern (8-4, 8-1), Citrus Bowl

Last week: defeated Illinois 24-16

The Florida bowl shuffling begins.

It’s important to note that the Big Ten’s bowl contracts restrict repeat appearances over eight-year cycles. With the Wildcats’ 2015 Outback Bowl berth, that leaves out Tampa.

Since Northwestern will assuredly lose to Ohio State, it would take the No. 2 bowl slot. It would be the first appearance for the Purple in Orlando since 1997.

A monumental upset in Indy would vault them to Pasadena for the first time since 1995, when head coach Pat Fitzgerald was middle linebacker.

No. 14 Penn State (9-3, 6-3), Outback Bowl

Last week: dispatched Maryland 38-3

The Nittany Lions are a top-15 team with a rabid fanbase. Since Northwestern can’t go to Tampa, Penn State is pushed down out of necessity.

Iowa (8-4, 5-4), Holiday Bowl

Last week: squeaked by Nebraska 31-28

The Hawkeyes sport the next best overall record after Northwestern, so the conference’s No. 4 bowl slot beckons.

With Wisconsin (2015) and Michigan State (2017) recently trekking to San Diego, Iowa’s spot is cemented.

Wisconsin (7-5, 5-4), Gator Bowl

Last week: routed by Minnesota 37-15

At this point, the selection is purely based on which team passes the eye test.

Both the Badgers and Michigan State stand at 7-5. Wisconsin has Jonathan Taylor, who is 11 yards away from a 2,000-yard season. The Spartans limp into bowl season with an anemic offense barely capable of scraping past Rutgers.

Throw in the travel-happy Badger fans, and it spells a trip to sunny Jacksonville.

Michigan State (7-5, 5-4), Pinstripe Bowl

Last week: edged Rutgers 14-10

It’s either the sputtering Spartans or two 6-6 teams. One is Purdue, who MSU stymied 23-13.

The other is Minnesota, who needed their first win over Wisconsin in 14 years just to be eligible.

A trip to New York is a far cry from preseason (and midseason) Rose Bowl hopes.

Purdue (6-6, 5-4), Quick Lane Bowl

Last week: outlasted Indiana 28-21

Jeff Brohm helmed the Boilermakers to the Foster Farms Bowl last year. This year, that bowl is sponsored by Redbox.

Therefore, the next highest slot is Detroit’s own Pizza Pizza...err...Little Caesar’s...errrr...Quick Lane Bowl.

Minnesota (6-6, 3-6), Redbox Bowl

Last week: axed Wisconsin 37-15

The clincher that sends the Gophers to San Francisco? They won the Quick Lane Bowl three years ago over Central Michigan. The no-repeat rule comes into effect.

By the way, kudos to P.J. Fleck for guiding a young and injured team to bowl season.