Neither the Big Ten or Pac-12 conferences have a real shot for its champion to advance to the BCS Championship this year. But the contrasting styles should make a terrific Rose Bowl match-up.
Oregon is likely to win the Pac-12, and its up-tempo offense has a stout defensive counter if the Big Ten champ is Penn State or Michigan State. If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, then the Rose Bowl pits two high-powered, yet completely different running games. I look for a Wisconsin-Oregon match-up.
As for the rest of the Big Ten, get ready for some heavy backroom discussions. The league officially doesn't get involved and forbids its members from guaranteeing more tickets than the Big Ten-negotiated allotment. But reputations carry weight with bowls, which select teams based on filled seats and television ratings.
There are interesting scenarios in play, beginning with the league's second potential BCS slot. If, say, Wisconsin wins the league title game, and the Big Ten is in line for a Fiesta or Sugar bowl bid. What kind of competition will result between Michigan (10-2) and Michigan State (10-3)?
If fairness dictates, the Spartans would head to the better bowl. Michigan State clearly was the better team on the field, won its division and was the unfortunate team out from a BCS berth last year from the league's tri-champion posse. But Michigan has a stronger national brand, would have three straight wins, including two quality wins in its last two games (Nebraska and Ohio State), and a marketable quarterback.
Michigan fell apart both on the field and at the gate last year at the Gator Bowl. Mississippi State blasted the Wolverines 52-14, and Michigan/Big Ten absorbed 7,265 tickets of its 12,000-ticket allotment. Michigan State suffered a similar fate at the Capital One Bowl, losing to Alabama 49-7 but absorbed just 1,877 tickets from its 12,500-ticket allotment. But Michigan was reeling late in the season and Rich Rodriguez was on the brink of becoming an ex-coach (which happened days after the Gator Bowl). I see the Wolverines jumping the Spartans, which should bring their hotly contested rivalry from a simmer to a boil.
The next situation involves Iowa and Nebraska. Say the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska this Friday. Both teams would finish 8-4, Iowa would have won three of four to finish the season, and Nebraska would have lost three of four. Iowa's fan base has a strong bowl reputation for traveling and in the past often had jumped Big Ten competitors for bowl slots.
However this is Nebraska with, perhaps, the best reputation among bowl officials. There's new bowl blood in Florida for the Husker faithful, and those bowls are looking to capitalize on that. Nebraska hasn't participated in the Capital One Bowl since losing to Georgia Tech in the Florida Citrus Bowl after the 1990 season. Even in a down year, Nebraska fans are willing to travel.
Last year, both Iowa and Nebraska finished way below expectations on the field. Both had BCS aspirations, but Nebraska qualified for the Holiday Bowl and Iowa went to the Insight Bowl. Each school had an 11,000-ticket allotment. Nebraska sold 8,470 tickets through the school, while Iowa's ticket department sold just 4,255 tickets. Granted, way more Iowa fans bought tickets from the game itself, but these are the official statistics. Nebraska likely trumps Iowa in the bowl lineup regardless of Friday's game.
Other interesting Big Ten bowl scenarios include the ongoing Penn State fallout. Should the Nittany Lions lose to Wisconsin, how far will they fall? At 9-3, Penn State usually is an automatic pick for the best bowl available but the child sex abuse scandal dampens any enthusiasm. I still think Penn State gains a bowl bid and goes somewhere like Arizona, which is far enough to give the fans a reprieve and allow the team enough space to compete.
Ohio State usually jumps teams in the bowl lineup and could do so again if the Buckeyes beat Michigan this week. But a loss at Michigan ends the Buckeyes' season at 6-6 with three straight losses. Coupled that with an ongoing NCAA investigation and uncertainty at head coach pushes Ohio State down farther than usual. Now if the school hires Urban Meyer and he's in place by the bowl, Ohio State is heading to Florida, Big Ten rivals be damned.
Illinois is bowl eligible but could lose its sixth straight game this week. The school failed to sell 8,424 bowl tickets last year from a 12,000-ticket allotment. To say enthusiasm for a bowl game is waning makes an understatement look like an overstatement.
Northwestern also is eligible, and Purdue will join the club if it beats Indiana. Purdue hasn't played in a bowl since 2007, but judging by the 25,000 or so empty seats Saturday, it's more like boiler down the bowl lineup.
As for Iowa State, its bowl hopes depend largely on the BCS. If the Big 12 earns two BCS bids, then Iowa State could shoot up to either the Insight, Holiday or Pinstripe bowls. Iowa State's fan base has allowed it to jump over schools like Missouri in the past, and this year the Big 12 likely would push the Cyclones over Missouri or Texas A&M for a non-Texas bowl.
But the scenario could be even better for Iowa State should the league fill up its spots without the Cyclones. Up to five bowls could lose a contracted team, partly because of both Navy and Army suffering through losing seasons. The locations are terrific with bowls potentially open in San Francisco (Kraft Fight Hunger) and Hawaii (Hawaii). I think Iowa State gets it pick of the open bowls, and San Francisco is perfect in late December.
As for the BCS, it looks like an epic Alabama-LSU rematch for the title. The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner earns the Fiesta Bowl berth, and the Clemson-Virginia Tech (or Virginia) winner claims the Orange Bowl berth. Stanford might automatically qualify for the BCS if it finishes in the top four, and the Fiesta Bowl is a good bet. Houston automatically qualifies for the BCS if it wins the Conference USA title game and finishes in the BCS' top 12. I'm still not sure it happens, and a Houston loss could send an at-large Kansas State, Oklahoma or Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl.
As for the Big East, you just shake your head and pick West Virginia.
|BCS Championship||Jan. 9||New Orleans, La.||7:30 p.m.||1 vs. 2||LSU||Alabama|
|Rose||Jan. 2||Pasadena, Calif.||3:30 p.m.||Big Ten vs. Pac-12||Wisconsin||Oregon|
|Fiesta||Jan. 2||Glendale, Ariz.||7:30 p.m.||Big 12 vs. At-Large||Oklahoma State||Stanford|
|Sugar||Jan. 3||New Orleans, La.||7:30 p.m.||SEC vs. At-Large||Michigan||Houston|
|Orange||Jan. 4||Miami, Fla.||7 p.m.||ACC vs. At-Large||Clemson||West Virginia|
|GoDaddy.com||Jan. 8||Mobile, Ala.||8 p.m.||MAC No. 1 vs. Sun Belt No. 2||Northern Illinois||Arkansas State|
|BBVA Compass||Jan. 7||Birmingham, Ala.||Noon||SEC No. 8/9 vs. Big East No. 5/C-USA||Mississippi State||Cincinnati|
|Cotton (FOX)||Jan. 6||Arlington, Tex.||7 p.m.||Big 12 No. 2 vs. SEC||Oklahoma||Arkansas|
|Outback (ABC)||Jan. 2||Tampa, Fla.||Noon||Big Ten No. 3 vs. SEC||South Carolina||Nebraska|
|Gator||Jan. 2||Jacksonville, Fla.||Noon||Big Ten No. 4/5 vs. SEC No. 6||Florida||Iowa|
|Capital One||Jan. 2||Orlando, Fla.||Noon||Big Ten No. 2 vs. SEC No. 2||Georgia||Michigan State|
|TicketCity (ESPNU)||Jan. 2||Dallas, Tex.||11 a.m.||Big Ten No. 7 vs. C-USA||SMU||Illinois|
|Chick-fil-A||Dec. 31||Atlanta, Ga.||6:30 p.m.||ACC No. 2 vs. SEC No. 5||Auburn||Virginia Tech|
|Liberty (ABC)||Dec. 31||Memphis, Tenn.||2:30 p.m.||C-USA No. 1 vs. Big East/SEC No. 8/9||Tennessee||Southern Miss|
|Kraft Fight Hunger||Dec. 31||San Francisco||2:30 p.m.||Pac-12 No. 6 vs. Army*/ACC||California||Iowa State*|
|Sun (CBS)||Dec. 31||El Paso, Tex.||1 p.m.||ACC No. 4 vs. Pac-12 No. 4||Washington||Georgia Tech|
|Meineke/ Texas||Dec. 31||Houston, Tex.||11 a.m.||Big 12 No. 6 vs. Big Ten No. 6||Texas A&M||Ohio State|
|Insight||Dec. 30||Tempe, Ariz.||9 p.m.||Big 12 No. 4 vs. Big Ten No. 4/5||Kansas State||Penn State|
|Music City||Dec. 30||Nashville, Tenn.||5:40 p.m.||ACC No. 6 vs. SEC No. 7||Vanderbilt||North Carolina State|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 30||New York, N.Y.||2:20 p.m.||Big 12 No. 7 vs. Big East No. 4||Missouri||Rutgers|
|Armed Forces||Dec. 30||Fort Worth, Tex.||11 a.m.||BYU* vs. C-USA||BYU||Tulsa|
|Alamo||Dec. 29||San Antonio||7 p.m.||Big 12 No. 3 vs. Pac-12 No. 2||Baylor||Utah|
|Champs Sports||Dec. 29||Orlando, Fla.||4:30 p.m.||Big East No. 2 vs. ACC No. 3||Florida State||Notre Dame|
|Holiday||Dec. 28||San Diego, Calif.||7 p.m.||Pac-12 No. 3 vs. Big 12 No. 5||Texas||Arizona State|
|Military||Dec. 28||Washington D.C.||3:30 p.m.||ACC No. 8 vs. Navy*||Wake Forest||Air Force*|
|Belk||Dec. 27||Charlotte, N.C.||7 p.m.||Big East No. 3 vs. ACC No. 5||Virginia||Louisville|
|Little Caesars||Dec. 27||Detroit, Mich.||3:30 p.m.||MAC No. 2 vs. Big Ten No. 8||Northern Illinois||Northwestern|
|Independence (E2)||Dec. 26||Shreveport, La.||4 p.m.||MWC No. 3 vs. ACC No. 7||TCU||North Carolina|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||Honolulu, Hawaii||7 p.m.||WAC vs. C-USA||Louisiana Tech||Purdue*|
|Maaco||Dec. 22||Las Vegas||7 p.m.||MWC No. 1 vs. Pac-12 No. 5||Boise State||UCLA|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 21||San Diego, Calif.||7 p.m.||MWC No. 2 vs. WAC||San Diego State||Nevada|
|Beef O'Brady's||Dec. 20||St. Petersburg, Fla.||7 p.m.||Big East No. 6 vs. C-USA||Pittsburgh||Fla. International*|
|New Orleans||Dec. 17||New Orleans, La.||8 p.m.||Sun Belt No. 1 vs. C-USA||East Carolina||Louisiana-Lafayette|
|Idaho Potato||Dec. 17||Boise, Idaho||4:30 p.m.||MAC No. 3 vs. WAC||Utah State||Ohio|
|New Mexico||Dec. 17||Albuqurque, N.M.||1 p.m.||MWC No. 4/5 vs. Pac-12 No. 7/WAC||Wyoming||Toledo*|