Michigan Wolverines: bowl index 2012

For the first time this fall, we can say that bowl projections are actually pretty easy this week.

All the Big Ten regular-season games are done, so we know exactly which teams are going bowling and which teams are not. And unless Wisconsin pulls an upset in the Big Ten championship game, the slotting looks fairly clear as well.

We know this much: If Nebraska wins, it will obviously go to the Rose Bowl. There will definitely be no at-large BCS bid in that scenario. The Capital One Bowl would then likely take Michigan with its No. 2 pick. Northwestern would go to the Outback, while Wisconsin would go to the Gator. Michigan State is a near-lock for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, with Minnesota going to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and Purdue joining the Gophers in the Lone Star State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The monkey wrench comes in if Wisconsin were to win Saturday in Indianapolis. Nebraska could still be in range for an at-large BCS bid with a loss, but a potential 10-3 Huskers team would probably need some help -- and for a big bowl to be enamored with the Big Red fan base.

If the Huskers were to sneak into an at-large BCS game, everyone but Michigan would then likely just move up a spot. If Nebraska misses out on the BCS party, the Capital One Bowl says it still can select Michigan ahead of Nebraska despite a 2-win differential. The Cap One would like to avoid a Nebraska repeat, but it also doesn't want a Michigan-Alabama rematch if it comes to that.

But for now, we're sticking with our projection of Nebraska as Big Ten champion, though we reserve the right to change our mind before our official Big Ten title game picks later this week. So the bowl lineup looks like this:

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Northwestern
Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 29: Michigan State
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 28: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Purdue
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26: At large (will not filled by Big Ten)

Oh, Gene Smith. If only Ohio State had self-imposed a bowl ban in 2011 before the NCAA did (for 2012), there's a good chance the unbeaten Buckeyes would be headed to some BCS game, perhaps the big one Jan. 7 in Miami.

As it stands, Ohio State is out of the mix (along with Penn State), and Michigan, despite two losses to top-10 teams, looks like the Big Ten's best bet to reach the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines have been dominant in their first two Big Ten games, and enter a crucial Legends stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska. Right now, Brady Hoke's squad clearly is the team to beat.

Wisconsin makes a nice move in the projections after dismantling Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium. Following back-to-back trips to Pasadena, the Badgers are pegged for a familiar bowl site -- Orlando, Fla. -- in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska drops a spot in the projections, partly because of its struggles and partly because it visited the Capital One Bowl last season. Iowa, meanwhile, moves up after its road upset of Michigan State. Although Iowa and Northwestern could finish with similar records, Iowa's larger fan base gets it the nod to the Gator Bowl.

Michigan State, our preseason Rose Bowl pick, tumbles to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas following its third home loss of the season. The Spartans could be looking at more defeats, as their upcoming schedule (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska) only gets tougher.

We're keeping both Minnesota and Purdue in the bowl projections for now, but both teams have some work to do. The Gophers certainly could get to six wins with MarQueis Gray, but the senior quarterback's health remains a question mark. Purdue is an absolute mess and could have a tough time winning three more times. Indiana isn't in the projections just yet but has shown impressive fight in Big Ten play and has some winnable games left.

Here's our latest way-too-early stab at projecting the postseason:

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska

Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 29: Northwestern

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Dec. 28: Michigan State

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Minnesota

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26: Purdue


So ... how about you, Nebraska?

We need to project somebody from the Big Ten to win the league and make the Rose Bowl. Michigan State's passing offense is too anemic. Michigan is too sloppy and still too reliant on Denard Robinson. Ohio State is ineligible. Wisconsin still has offensive issues. Northwestern and Minnesota are both 4-0 but probably not ready. Purdue would have to take a major step up.

So why not Nebraska, which we know at least has a seriously potent offense? We're not projecting Nebraska to the Rose Bowl because of anything that happened against Idaho State, mind you (well, except maybe for Rex Burkhead's return). There just isn't a better candidate right now.

The Huskers take the top spot for now. Northwestern, Purdue and Minnesota are all trending upward, while Iowa is hanging on by the thinnest of threads. Illinois is out after its 52-24 loss at home to Louisiana Tech.

Our latest attempt at picking the bowls (at least it's officially fall now):

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1): Nebraska
Capital One Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1): Purdue
Gator Bowl (Jan. 1): Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 29): Northwestern
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Dec. 28): Wisconsin
TicketCity Bowl (Jan. 1): Minnesota
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Dec. 26): Iowa

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12