B1G's lone bowl debate: Wings, Gator

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
5:00
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The Big Ten's bowl lineup will be revealed Sunday night, and there shouldn't be much drama this season.

Unless Ohio State crushes Michigan State in the Big Ten championship, the league should send two teams to BCS bowls. Ohio State is essentially assured of a BCS bowl, win or lose. If the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio loses No. 2 Ohio State to the Vizio BCS National Championship, the Rose almost certainly will take No. 10 Michigan State if the Spartans remain in top 14 of the final BCS standings. The Spartans would have to lose convincingly to slip to No. 15 or lower.

Assuming Ohio State and Michigan State both are headed to the big bowls, the Capital One Bowl is expected to take No. 21 Wisconsin. Iowa has one of the nation's best traveling fan bases and missed a bowl last season, so it would be a mini surprise if the Hawkeyes didn't head to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. The Hawkeyes beat Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota this year, and likely has a more motivated or larger traveling fan base when it comes to this year's bowls.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBo Pelini and Nebraska's finish to the season could scare off the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl.
That brings us to what's likely the only real debate in this year's Big Ten bowl rundown.

It starts with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., which picks before the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., in the final year of the Big Ten's current lineup. Three teams are in the mix for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska.

A lot depends on how the Big 12 side of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl plays out. Oklahoma visits Oklahoma State and Texas visits Baylor on Saturday. Wins by either of the road underdogs could alter the BCS picture and the bowl selection process. After the Big 12's automatic BCS berth, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selects third in the Big 12 lineup after the AT&T Cotton Bowl and the Valero Alamo Bowl.

From talking to some folks in the bowl community and reading stories like this and this and this, here's how I see the debate playing out:

  • Oklahoma is the team to watch. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would love to have the Sooners and revive the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry. But it's unlikely OU falls below the Alamo Bowl, even with a loss Saturday.
  • Texas is the likelier option for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Some Nebraska fans would love another shot at their old Big 12 nemesis, but there's not as much enthusiasm on the other side. Although the matchup could be compelling, the bowl would face a tough decision with Michigan also on the table.
  • Nebraska's win over Michigan on Nov. 9 won't be a major factor. How both teams finished the season might be more important. Michigan, which played arguably its best game last Saturday against Ohio State, has the edge against Nebraska, which was crushed by Iowa on Black Friday in Lincoln. Nebraska fans always travel well, but how motivated are they after the way things went down both during and after last week's game? That's a question bowl officials are trying to answer.
  • Michigan hasn't played a game west of Arlington, Texas, since the 2007 Rose Bowl. The school has a large alumni presence in the West that could easily attend a game in Tempe, Ariz. Nebraska hasn't played a bowl in Arizona since the 1996 Fiesta.
  • If the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl takes Michigan, Nebraska likely will go to the Gator Bowl, and vice versa. Although Minnesota has more wins than Michigan and a win against Nebraska, it would be a surprise if the Gator Bowl, which gravitates toward brand-name schools, passes up Nebraska or Michigan. While Minnesota fans are understandably excited about their team, arguably more so than Nebraska fans and Michigan fans, they're fighting a reputation for traveling poorly for bowls.

Our latest projections have Nebraska to the Wings, Michigan to the Gator and Minnesota to the Texas Bowl. We'll have our final projections Sunday, but a lot will depend on how those Big 12 games shake out.

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