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Conference Corner: Big Ten bowl picture shaping up in final month

Does Michigan or Ohio State make the CFP? Who makes the Rose Bowl? What teams sneak to six wins?

Iowa v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Jim Delany has ensured the Big Ten has a lot of potential room for its teams during bowl season.

The conference currently holds 11 bowl tie-ins, from as minor as the First Responder Bowl in Dallas to as prestigious as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

With three games left in the regular season, 12 teams have a shot at six wins and a bowl berth — 2-7 Nebraska and 1-8 Rutgers are guaranteed to finish below .500. This week’s Conference Corner gauges everyone’s postseason chances and tries to nail down destinations.

No. 4 MICHIGAN (8-1, 6-0), Orange Bowl for CFP Semifinal

Last week: defeated No. 14 Penn State 42-7

There’s two parts to this projection. One, Bill Connelly gives the Wolverines 62 percent odds of emerging from Columbus with a win. Add on victories against Rutgers, Indiana and the West champion and a 12-1 Michigan team would be tough to keep out of the top-4.

The other part is who they can pass to avoid No. 1 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

The likelihood Clemson or Notre Dame drops one is higher than you’d expect. The Tigers have a 22 percent chance, while the Irish have a 38 percent chance. The committee showed a lack of respect for the latter’s resume last week by placing one-loss LSU in front at No. 3.

Brian Kelly’s team has the head-to-head, and a larger margin of victory over Northwestern. However, a 12-1 Michigan likely holds ranked wins between Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and PSU.

Both would make the playoff. The Wolverines would just edge the Irish out.

Next game at Rutgers (3:30 p.m., BTN)

No. 8 OHIO STATE (8-1, 5-1), Rose Bowl

Last week: defeated Nebraska 36-31

The Buckeyes have to be careful this weekend in East Lansing. A loss not only would assuredly clinch rival Michigan the East title. It could also botch their first trip to the Granddaddy of Them All since 2010.

While quarterback Adrian Martinez led the Cornhuskers to 450 total yards and 31 point in the Horseshoe, an injured Brian Lewerke or freshman Rocky Lombardi seems less capable of replicating that performance. The Spartans still rank as the No. 95 offense nationally per S&P+.

This means Urban Meyer likely closes the regular season 10-2 after The Game, and gets his first trip to Pasadena. This also potentially secures a second-straight bowl triumph over a Pac 12 champion.

Next game at Michigan State (noon, FOX)

No. 24 MICHIGAN STATE (6-3, 4-2), Outback Bowl

Last week: defeated Maryland 24-3

Should the Spartans split the next two matchups against OSU and at Nebraska, they will finish 8-4 (aka the finale is Rutgers).

Penn State and Wisconsin also are staring down 8-4 campaigns, according to Connelly. With that log-jam, Mark Dantonio and friends will walk arm in arm towards Tampa.

Here’s why: the bowl agreements look to avoid repeat appearances from teams. The Outback Bowl has seen Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Northwestern in its recent cycle.

With the tiebreaker over the Nittany Lions, MSU gets preference.

Next game against Ohio State (12 p.m., FOX)

NORTHWESTERN (5-4, 5-1), Holiday Bowl

Last week: lost to No. 4 Notre Dame 31-21

With Iowa’s last-second loss to Purdue, the Wildcats can afford a loss to the Hawkeyes this weekend. With tiebreakers over Wisconsin and the Boilermakers, they just need to take out flagging Minnesota and rival Illinois in the final two weeks to clinch Indianapolis.

As West champion, Pat Fitzgerald’s team deserves a spot in the first four bowl selections. Since Wisconsin played in San Diego in 2015 against Southern Cal, that leaves Northwestern as the next eligible team.

While the Purple may think the No. 4 bowl is a slap in the face to a division champ, they need to realize that a winless non-conference saps a lot of national respect for the program.

Next game at Iowa (3:30 p.m., FOX)

WISCONSIN (6-3, 4-2), Citrus Bowl

Last week: defeated Rutgers 31-17

The Badgers better be careful. Both road trips to Happy Valley and West Lafayette are statistical tossups per Connelly. Lose both, and they could tumble down the charts.

With that said, Paul Chryst’s cheeseheads are projected to split the pair, then pound rival Minnesota for Paul Bunyan’s Axe to end up 8-4.

For the reasons explained above, the Citrus Bowl would be the available choice in bowl. Also, Wisconsin holds a tiebreaker over Iowa. The fans travel well, which motivates bowls to justify selecting their team.

Next game at Penn State (12 p.m., ABC)

No. 21 PENN STATE (6-3, 3-3), Music City Bowl

Last week: lost to No. 5 Michigan 42-7

This one is tricky. On one hand, the Big Ten is required to split between the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville and the Music City Bowl in Nashville over six years starting in 2015.

That year, the Nittany Lions played in Florida, while the following two years Nebraska and Northwestern visited Tennessee.

With recent appearances from Penn State and Iowa, the TaxSlayer is out. That just means the next two years absolutely have to be in north Florida.

James Franklin’s squad looks to go 2-1 down the stretch to finish a down 2018 season 8-4.

Next game against Wisconsin (12 p.m., ABC)

PURDUE (5-4, 4-2), Pinstripe Bowl

Last week: defeated No. 16 Iowa 38-36

While Jim Harbaugh probably will take Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, Jeff Brohm has to be a close second. Three years ago under Darrell Hazell, the Boilermakers were a dreadful 3-9.

He made a bowl in his first year. His recovery from a 0-3 start — with the three losses by a combined eight points — to the edge of bowl eligibility is nothing short of impressive. The cherry on top was the absolute destruction of No. 2 Ohio State at night in an electric Ross-Ade Stadium.

With that said, his team has a chance to sweep its final three contests. Should that happen, the bowl prospects become more promising. The high-flying offense led by David Blough and freshman phenom Rondale Moore will attract bowl committees.

This projection assumes they fall to Wisconsin in two weeks, citing a lack of consistency exhibited against Michigan State two weeks ago.

Next week at Minnesota (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)

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

Last week: lost to Purdue 38-36

This may be harsh for a team that looks to conclude the regular season 9-3. However, with several higher teams holding head-to-head advantages, the Hawkeyes will move way down the pecking order.

Additionally, Kirk Ferentz took his team to New York last year for the Pinstripe Bowl, so Purdue bumps them from that. This leads to plane tickets to San Francisco after Christmas.

Next week against Northwestern (3:30 p.m., FOX)

MARYLAND (5-4, 3-3), Quick Lane Bowl

Last week: lost to Michigan State 24-3

The Terrapins need to get off the mat this Saturday in Bloomington. If they fade against the Hoosiers, daunting tasks await in Ohio State and Penn State.

Fortunately for interim coach Matt Canada, his counterpart Tom Allen fields an equally dispirited outfit. P.J. Fleck and the Gophers bashed the Hoosier defense over the head with their oars in a 38-31 triumph two weeks ago.

Maryland switches between dominating and pitiful offensive performances. One week, they rack up over 700 yards against Illinois. The next, they barely reach the century mark against Michigan State. Last week paled in comparison to similarly meek outings against Temple and Iowa.

With a bowl berth on the line, watch the turtles roll off their shells to snag win No. 6.

Next game at Indiana (12 p.m., BTN)


Lovie Smith and Illinois suddenly have life after over 400 yards rushing against the Gophers.

Reggie Corbin amassed 213 yards on the ground, while quarterback A.J. Bush, Jr. accounted for 343 total yards and four touchdowns. That level of production spells optimism heading into a tilt with Scott Frost and Nebraska. Can the defense hold up, though?

Seize that opportunity, and it’s possible Smith and company muster the gusto necessary to top rival Northwestern in the finale. With six victories, the Illini would earn a trip to Dallas and the First Responders Bowl on Dec. 26.

After a 55-31 drubbing, Minnesota’s goose is cooked. While holding four wins, it seems unlikely that the Gophers take out two between Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Indiana has yet to beat anyone in the conference outside of Rutgers. While it’s possible they catch Maryland emotionally drained after the D.J. Durkin drama from last week, they would need one more victory between surging Michigan or Purdue.

The other avenue for bowl eligibility is a high Academic Progress Rate. The Hoosiers don’t hold that card either, ranking No. 41 with a 976 mark. Illinois, for what it’s worth, carries a 986 score.

Next game for Illinois at Nebraska (12 p.m., BTN)

Next game for Minnesota against Purdue (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Next game for Indiana against Maryland (12 p.m., BTN)