Its become a trendy thing for college football pundits to produce bowl projections during the preseason. So, with only hours to go before the preseason melts into the real season, I figured I would join the crowd and offer my own projections, at least for the Big 10. Feel free to rake these guesses over the coals as much as you want. I welcome the discussion. I will be updating these throughout the year, but those will be projections based on how the season is actually playing out. These are my own predictions, but they will appear next to future projections in order to create some comparison fodder as the season progresses. We'll see how it stacks up. So without further adieu, here we go:
The first task of these bowl projections is determing if the Big 10 will received multiple BCS Bowl bids. Even as everyone pans the league, its still a pretty good bet the conference will notch two spots in the big money bowls. The Big 10 has earned two BCS bids in three straight seasons, five of the last six and in seven on the first ten years of the BCS existence. The league does not need to send a team into the title game for this to happen either. Check out 1998, 1999, 2003 and 2005 seasons as examples of this. This fact is pertinent to the following predictions as I dont feel a Big 10 team will be playing for all the mythical marbles come January.
Rose Bowl: Ohio State. Any regular idiot can slate the Bucks into the National Title Game, but I am no regular idiot. The Bucks fall twice this year, likely at USC and at Wisconsin, and a relieved nation can breathe easy knowing OSU will be out of the national title picture. The Big 10, however, will pay for it as the Bucks, with the pressure off, demolish everyone in their path over the second half of their schedule including a, gulp, fifth straight win over arc----nope, I just cant finish typing that sentence. Pasadena has not seen the Bucks in over a decade and never with the Sweater Vest leading the troops. They'll be there on New Year's Day. They'll square off with Oklahoma and get off their BCS Bowl losing streak, while continuing the Sooners.
Sugar: Penn State. While I hardly think the Nittany Lions are world beaters, I think its an easy road map to follow as far as them landing in this plush bowl. The slate is pretty easy early on, and PSU should be 6-0 heading into their showdown in Madison. They'll lose that game and at Ohio State later in October, but as long as they can end the Happy Valley nightmare that is the Michigan losing streak, they'll still be in strong contention for a BCS bid heading into November. They close with at Iowa, Indiana and MSU. They'll sweep those--the MSU game will be an amazing contest in possibly Joe Pa's final home game. Sugar Bowl officials wont pass up the chance of hosting Paterno at the site where he's had some of his more historic moments. That allure will be so strong that they'll get tabbed over a more deserving Badger squad, despite its head to head win over PSU. No worries, their Bourbon Street foe, Georgia will make them pay.
Capital One: Wisconsin. They should get a BCS bid, save for the politicking described above. This team is good enough to earn a split in September road games at Fresno and at Michigan. I'm calling their upset at home versus OSU. Will they have enough in the tank to beat PSU the next week? Honestly that could go either way. I see trouble in November in East Lansing, a result that will keep them from both the Big 10 title and a BCS bid. Despite being double digit underdogs, the Badgers will be leading LSU into the fourth quarter before succombing to a series a fourth down conversions by the Man in the Hat.
Outback: Michigan. I dont need to explain it dammit. Lets just put down 9-3, and have another swig of this Ufer-tastic Maize and Blue Kool Aid. Bring on Auburn. War Eagle this muthafucka! Michigan cruise to another win over the SEC in postseason play. And, yes, I have a whole keg of Kool Aid.
Alamo: Michigan State. I really like the Spartans this year. Think they do the league proud and spring the upset Saturday night in Berkeley. Heck, lets give them a 6-0 start (although the home team in the ND-MSU series has lost seven in row, so L'il Bro might want to consider protecting the 50-yard line from a Leprechaun flag planting). It's a whole new era in East Lansing, right? Ah, no. The team comes out 'Oh No Sparty' flat and drop a game at Northwestern as well as losing to OSU and UM (natch). But it is a new era at MSU and Dantonio gets them to rally and upset Wisconsin. They'll fall to 7-4 with the PSU loss and square off with Texas in the Alamo Bowl. It will be a Burnt Orange win, but closer than the experts think.
Champs Sports: Illinois. Seems like a low projection for a team that many have rated highly heading into the season. But, I dont like Illinois schedule. They could be better this year than last year, but their schedule will work against them. An uphill climb in the opener against Missouri, road games at UM, Wisconsin and Penn State and, oh yeah, good luck trying to beat Tressel two years in a row. This team could not avoid the upset bug last year losing an ugly 10-6 game to Iowa, so there's no reason to think that wont happen again somewhere along the line. It would not be a surprise to see this team 4-4 going into November. But, they would be the best .500 team in country. A win over Northwestern in the finale will give them a 7-5 record and this trip to Orlando. Juice Williams will be their MVP in a win over Miami that will give the Illini a lot of momentum as they gear up for a run at the 2009 league title when the schedule is set up a lot better for them.
Insight: Minnesota. The Gophers finished winless in league play last year. Obviously this is a risky pick. But, if they can get through the first four weeks undefeated (next week's game at Bowling Green will be an early swing game for this projection), Minnesota will be 6-5 heading into their finale at home against Iowa. The Gophers will have too much offense for the Hawkeyes and their 7-5 record puts them in the same bowl that Indiana, last year's dormant to bowl team story of the season, played in. In one of the more entertaining bowl games of the season, the Gophers will fall to Colorado in a shoot out.
Motor City: Northwestern. The Wildcats have the look of their 2005 bowl team. I project a 4-0 out of conference record. Combined with a duplication of their 3-5 league mark last year, that gives them a 7-5 record and a trip to Detroit to play Central Michigan. The Chips will leave one step away from being the Buffalo Bills of the Motor City Bowl, losing their third straight in this contest. Bacher will sling pass for pass with LaFleur, but Tyrell Sutton in his final collegiate game will go for over 200 yards in the win.
Iowa, Purdue and Indiana will not go bowling. Iowa just lacks consistency and are no longer an untouchable team at home. Their loss to Minnesota in the closer drops them to 6-6 and out of the post season. Purdue cant beat good teams. While most figure them to be an easy entrant into the bowl season, I see a team that is just 3-15 against bowl teams the last three years. Two of those wins came last year, against Central Michigan. They wont have four wins at the end of October. They'll prevent a losing season by winning their rivalry game at home with Indiana, but all that will do is close the Tiller era with a 6-6, bowlless season. As for Indiana, they will be doing well to equal last year's 3-5 league mark. Even if they do that, however, I dont think they'll go 4-0 in non conference play as I smell a CMU upset on the first of November. Optimistically the Hoosiers can be 6-3 after nine games, but a three game losing streak (Wisconsin, at PSU, and at Purdue) will knock them back to ,500 and out of a bowl.