Bowl projections: Sorting out the Big Ten

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The BCS' final year has reached crisis mode, where everybody expects the unbeatens to stay perfect. But that's just not realistic.

There may be one undefeated squad left out with an argument, like Auburn in 2004. But at least one of the four major unbeatens -- Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor -- will slip up between now and Dec. 8. That's just the way the college football world works.

Florida State has the easiest road to the title game. The Seminoles play Idaho (you da ho?), a way-down Florida and then probably Duke in the ACC title game. At this point Florida State looks worthy of a BCS Championship appearance. But if other schools have more impressive finishes, it's worth heavily scrutinizing both the mediocre ACC and Florida State's late-season schedule.

Alabama gets FCS opponent Chattanooga this week before playing archrival Auburn in the SEC West's winner-take-all Iron Bowl. If the Tide roll and then clinch the SEC title, Alabama no doubt deserves another title appearance.

The national narrative dumps all over the Big Ten, and Ohio State suffers because of it. But the Big Ten is no more down than the ACC or Big 12. The league's recent past has created backlash from voters, and it picks up the most scorn when it doesn't deliver. If Ohio State beats Indiana, archrival Michigan on the road and then tops likely 11-1 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, the world should give the Buckeyes a second look alongside Florida State.

Baylor has the toughest stretch ahead and is the most vulnerable to an upset. The Bears have enjoyed a resurgence recently but are new to championship-contender game. They get back-to-back road games, including this Saturday at No. 10 Oklahoma State, that should decide the Big 12 title. If Baylor escapes against the Cowboys, it could be ripe for an inconceivable upset at longtime rival TCU. The Bears won't have any problem getting ready to face Texas at the end of the season if they remain perfect.

I still see Fresno State and Northern Illinois tripping up, although if the Huskies win at Toledo this week, they could land in the Fiesta Bowl. Fresno State plays San Jose State in the season finale and then probably Boise State in the Mountain West title game.

As for the Big Ten, there's a two-tiered bowl structure this year. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all seem primed for two BCS bowl berths and the Capital One Bowl among them. Afterward comes a nebulous mess of Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa. Any of the four could rise to the Outback Bowl or fall to the Texas Bowl. We'll know for sure in two weeks.

Let's say Iowa beats Michigan this week and loses at Nebraska in the finale. Nebraska finishes with two wins, while Minnesota and Michigan lose twice. That puts the final records at: Nebraska 9-3, Minnesota 8-4, Iowa 7-5, Michigan 7-5.

So who goes to the Outback? Naturally, Nebraska would seem the automatic pick with two straight wins but the Cornhuskers lost decisively to Minnesota. Plus, Nebraska has played consecutively years in Florida and the potential for a bowl against former Big 12 rivals Oklahoma or Kansas State in Arizona has great appeal. So I'd give the Outback edge to Minnesota, although the match-up might not appear too favorable against an SEC opponent. I'll slide Nebraska in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

As for the Gator Bowl, Michigan appeared there three years ago and endured a miserable experience. So based on Iowa's hypothetical win this week, the Hawkeyes should spend New Year's Day in Jacksonville and Michigan hangs out after Christmas in Houston.

As for other scenarios, what if Iowa wins out? I think that puts the Hawkeyes in the Outback, Nebraska in the Buffalo, Minnesota in the Gator and Michigan in the Texas Bowl. If Iowa loses out, I'll look for Minnesota in the Outback, Nebraska in the Buffalo, Michigan in the Gator and Iowa in Texas.

In three weeks we'll know the bowl destinations and match-ups for every qualifying school. Plan accordingly.

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP -- Alabama vs. Florida State

ROSE -- Ohio State vs. Oregon

ORANGE -- Clemson vs. Wisconsin

SUGAR -- Auburn vs. Stanford

FIESTA -- Oklahoma State vs. Central Florida

CAPITAL ONE -- Missouri vs. Michigan State

OUTBACK -- LSU vs. Minnesota

BUFFALO -- Oklahoma vs. Nebraska

GATOR -- Ole Miss vs. Iowa

TEXAS -- Texas Tech vs. Michigan

COTTON -- Baylor vs. Texas A&M

PEACH -- South Carolina vs. Duke

MUSIC CITY -- Georgia vs. Virginia Tech

LIBERTY -- Tennessee vs. East Carolina

COMPASS -- Vanderbilt vs. Houston

ALAMO -- USC vs. Texas

HOLIDAY -- UCLA vs. Kansas State

PINSTRIPE -- Rutgers vs. Notre Dame (Big 12 replacement)

SUN -- Arizona State vs. Maryland

LAS VEGAS -- Arizona vs. Fresno State

KRAFT -- Washington vs. BYU

RUSSELL -- Louisville vs. Miami

BELK -- Cincinnati vs. North Carolina

NEW MEXICO -- Utah vs. Colorado State

HEART OF DALLAS -- North Texas vs. Syracuse (Big Ten replacement)

LITTLE CAESARS -- Toledo vs. Boston College (Big Ten replacement)

INDEPENDENCE -- Georgia Tech vs. Tulane (SEC replacement)

BEEF O'BRADY'S -- Florida Atlantic vs. SMU

MILITARY -- Marshall vs. Pittsburgh

POINSETTIA -- UNLV vs. Ball State (Army replacement)

POTATO -- Northern Illinois vs. Boise State

HAWAII -- Rice vs. San Diego State

NEW ORLEANS -- Middle Tennessee State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

GODADDY -- Bowling Green vs. Arkansas State


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