Which Big Ten Team Will Get the Short Straw Bowl Game?
When bowls with Big Ten agreements make their selections, they'll likely have a lot of options. While there's a pecking order for the bowls to make their picks, the teams can be taken in just about any order based on what the bowl committees want most. Here's the rundown. Who might get stuck in the Texas Bowl or even Heart of Dallas?
Ohio State (12-0)
The Buckeyes will likely play for a national championship with a victory over Michigan State or get an at-large BCS bid with a loss to the Spartans. If somehow, Auburn jumped ahead of OSU after both schools win, you'd see Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. In any case, they seem like a lock for a BCS bowl.
Michigan State (11-1)
Most projections have the Spartans in a BCS bowl win or lose on Saturday. It's not inconceivable that they could fall out of the BCS mix with a loss which would send them to the Capital One Bowl (which would be required to take them).
The assumption is that the Capital One Bowl will take Wisconsin if they don't take Michigan State. But they have the right to choose from Iowa, Nebraska, or Minnesota as well. If the Huskers hadn't played in the last two Capital One Bowls, you might have seen NU taken here. The average attendance was higher in the Capital One Bowls that featured Nebraska than Wisconsin and NU managed better TV ratings against a common opponent this year (Minnesota). It's probably overthinking it to suggest someone other than the Badgers will play in this one, but it's not impossible.
The Hawkeyes seem like the next most deserving team given that they beat Nebraska, Minnesota, and Michigan. But deserving is a ways down the list of criteria for how these bowls make their selections. The Outback Bowl is the first bowl to select after the Capital One. If two Big Ten teams are in BCS bowls, they are free to choose anyone. Otherwise, they'll be free to take any team with at least 8 wins. It's not inconceivable that they could choose Nebraska here. They might actually be thinking Michigan if the Wolverines hadn't played there a year ago, even then it wouldn't be shocking to see the Maize and Blue here. The Gator Bowl likes to take teams on a roll. If for some reason the Hawkeyes aren't in the Outback, the Gator Bowl won't pass on the only remaining team to finish the regular season on a winning note.
There's an argument to be made about who the next most deserving team is. Minnesota is also 8-4 and beat the Huskers head to head in Minneapolis. But their 4-4 conference record is worse than NU's 5-3 finish and they lost at Michigan while Nebraska won. In the eyes of bowl selectors, the Cornhuskers probably come out ahead. That's why a lot of people think the Huskers will head to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. That bowl may find Michigan irresistable, though don't discount the time zone given how late this game is played. A Husker-Sooner or Husker-Longhorn matchup seems irresistible. The Wolverines are sure to get major consideration. If the Huskers don't get picked by the Capital One, Outback, or Buffalo Wild Wings, look out.
Based just on its brand-name, a lot of people are thinking Minnesota is in line for the short straw. But the Gator Bowl just might come to their rescue. The Gator Bowl will likely select Georgia given the chance. Bulldog fans already come to Jacksonville annually and the proximity should get a lot of tickets sold. Only a bowl-eligible Florida team would delight the Gator Bowl more. Since the Gator Bowl expects to fill the stadium with Bulldogs, they don't want to scare them off with a rematch with Nebraska. That's still got to be more interesting than Minnesota, but it sounds like they really don't want a replay of last year's Capital One (which was certainly exciting). It's expected that the Chick-fil-A Bowl will automatically take Texas A&M over Georgia. Apparently, that game is already a sellout, so filling the stadium with home state fans won't be necessary and having Johnny Football in potentially his last game is too enticing.
Whether it's the conference record or the overall record, the Wolverines seem like the team that ought to go to the Texas Bowl. They did manage to beat Minnesota pretty soundly and finished with something of a moral victory against Ohio State. It seems unlikely that the Wolverines will slip past the Gator Bowl just given the ratings they can deliver.
And the Short Straw Goes To...
That likely leaves either Minnesota or Nebraska holding the short straw and facing a Big 12 also-ran like Texas Tech. At least NU would get a ninth win in that scenario. Should Michigan State fall out of the BCS bowl mix, then an even shorter straw is added to the mix in the form of the Heart of Dallas bowl. If a game against the Red Raiders (losers of five straight games) sounds dull, how does a game against North Texas sound?
These Games May Matter
That also makes some remaining games more meaningful than you might expect in how the bowls shake out. A Michigan State win over Ohio State is a slam dunk to get two Big Ten teams into BCS bowls. If that doesn't happen, a Bowling Green victory over Northern Illinois on Friday would probably help Michigan State's chances of grabbing a BCS at-large bid. Similarly, wins by Louisville and UCF could push the American Athletic (formerly Big East) champion ahead of Northern Illinois in the BCS rankings which could also keep smaller conferences out of the BCS at-large mix. A loss by Baylor and/or Oklahoma State might also help Michigan State's cause by keeping the Big 12 limited to just one BCS bid. Some of that might backfire if that Texas sneaks in along with a 10-2 Baylor or Oklahoma State team. A win by Stanford over Arizona State might get a second Big Ten team an at-large bid ahead of the Pac-12. A Duke upset of Florida State would be bad in that it would solidify two BCS bids for the ACC, which isn't a sure thing at this point. So there's plenty of rooting interest for Husker fans out there in the coming week.