Penn State Nittany Lions: bowl index 2013

If you want to see the changes in our bowl projections this week, work your way up from the bottom of the list.

Really, there wasn't a whole lot this week that changed our minds about the top of the projections. Ohio State retains the Rose Bowl spot, for obvious reasons. The biggest question on the Buckeyes right now is whether they can grab a BCS title game spot. Michigan, though certainly still shaky in some areas, is the only other unbeaten team in the Big Ten at this point and remains an attractive draw for bowl partners.

Nebraska won a game it had to have and has a very favorable schedule, while Wisconsin could be favored in the rest of its games, though this week's home contest against a good Northwestern club won't be easy. Michigan State definitely deserves to be ahead of Iowa after a convincing win in Iowa City, but we'll need to see some consistency from the Spartans' defense to believe they can climb the bowl ladder.

So the real change this week is that we now have Indiana in the postseason, going to Detroit. The reason? Indiana improved to 3-2 by beating Penn State and has winnable games left at home versus Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. The Gophers need only two more wins for bowl eligibility but have inspired very little confidence the past two weeks, especially considering their schedule. The Illini are much improved, but their blowout win over Cincinnati doesn't look quite as good now that we know the Bearcats stink.

The Hoosiers, then, get the last spot, with Minnesota and Illinois on the outside looking in for now.

Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Ohio State
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28: Northwestern Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27: Michigan State
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26: Indiana
Nonconference play is just about finished in the Big Ten, save for a few more stray games. The last two-thirds of the season will really determine who ends where in the postseason.

But, as we do every week, we're attempting to project those bowl bids now.

We won't be surprised if the Big Ten receives a BCS at-large berth because, well, that's what happens most seasons. But it's hard to justify giving this league two BCS spots right now, as Michigan's struggles move the Wolverines out of the mix. Also, leagues such as the Pac-12 and ACC seem better positioned for two BCS berths, along with the SEC, which definitely will get two.

Although Wisconsin and Northwestern have been more consistent than Michigan so far, we don't expect the Capital One Bowl folks to pass up the Wolverines, who last played in Orlando in Lloyd Carr's final game as coach (Jan. 1, 2008). Wisconsin hasn't been to the Sunshine State since 2009 after a lengthy run of Florida bowl appearances. The Outback Bowl gladly will scoop up the Badgers.

Northwestern won't make a repeat appearance in Jacksonville, so we like Nebraska to go there, while the Wildcats head to the desert. Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa round out the Big Ten bowl tie-ins, while we expect Illinois to grab an at-large spot. Indiana's 2-2 mark in nonconference play will make reaching the postseason a challenge.

Things will change during the next few weeks as there really isn't much separating teams such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State.

Without further ado, the projections ...

Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Ohio State
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Michigan
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Wisconsin Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Nebraska
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Dec. 28: Northwestern
Texas Bowl, Dec. 27: Michigan State
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Jan. 1: Iowa
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26: Minnesota
At-large bowl: Illinois
Projecting where Big Ten teams will go bowling after only two weeks of the season is a nearly impossible task.

How, for example, can we really say with any certainty that Ohio State is better than Michigan or Northwestern right now? Or that Wisconsin, which has played nobody so far, is either for real or a paper tiger? How will the lower tier sort itself out in the conference race in the battle for bowl bids?

We can only make some educated guesses. Ohio State retains the top spot until we see strong evidence to change our opinion of the Buckeyes, but we admit that Michigan and Northwestern look awfully good after two games. The bigger questions this week are whether to continue giving Indiana the nod for a small bowl, whether Illinois can actually sneak into the postseason and what to make of Michigan State and Iowa.

Our answers, for now, are: no on Indiana (defense not good enough, two more tough nonconference teams); yes on Illinois (sounds crazy, but Illini should be no worse than 3-1 going into league play and would be favored right now over Purdue and Indiana); Michigan State is still too good defensively to not win at least six games and Iowa still needs to show us more to be included.

Like we said, it has been only two weeks. These things can change dramatically. Today, however, our projections look like this:

Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, Jan. 1: Ohio State
BCS at-large: Michigan
Capital One, Jan. 1: Wisconsin
Outback, Jan. 1: Northwestern Gator, Jan. 1: Nebraska
Buffalo Wild Wings, Dec. 28: Minnesota
Texas, Dec. 27: Michigan State
Heart of Dallas, Jan. 1: Illinois