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Bowl thoughts.

I probably shouldn't jinx it by bringing it up, but this isn't meant to be a look ahead. I fully acknowledge that every team remaining on IU's schedule could beat us.
Consider this: IU's last bowl game was in 1993. IU was bowl eligible in 1994 but did not receive an invite. In 1994, IU began the season 5-1 and then dropped four consecutive games before beating Purdue to finish 6-5. At the time, the Big Ten had only four bowl tie-ins (Rose, Citrus, Holiday, Hall of Fame). A quick trip through the greatest website in the world, College Football Data Warehouse, suggests that since the 1994 Hoosiers, no bowl-eligible Big Ten team has stayed home. But I digress. IU never even came within a game of bowl eligibility from 1995 to 2005 (the 2001 team finished 5-6 but won its last two games). In 2006, IU improved to 5-4 after beating MSU, but lost to Minnesota, Michigan, and Purdue to finish 5-7. This season, IU began 5-1 but has now lost two in a row. My point? Since IU's last bowl game, the Hoosiers have gone 1-9 in games with the elusive sixth win on the line. Enough already.
But moving back to the subject, a point that hasn't been made clearly (either here or in the media), but that requires some consideration, is that being bowl eligible at 6-6 is not the same thing as being bowl eligible with 7 or more wins. Here's an excerpt from the NCAA's Postseason Handbook (.pdf):
Per bylaw exception an institution with a record of six wins and six losses may be selected for participation in a bowl game if 1) the institution or its conference has a primary contractual affiliation which existed prior to the first contest of the applicable season, with the sponsoring bowl organization. In the case of a conference contractual affiliation, all conference teams with winning records must be placed in one of the contracted bowl games before any institution with a record of six wins and six losses may be placed in a contracted bowl game; and 2) all contractual affiliations have been fulfilled and all institutions with winning records have received bowl invitations (either through a contractual affiliation or as an at-large selection.
Although I didn't see it, apparently on the BTN's nightly show, Howard Griffith suggested that he expected IU to finish 8-4, but that IU would be passed over for a bowl bid in favor 6-6 Iowa. The above makes clear that such a move is not possible. A 6-6 team is eligible for one of its conference's contractually guaranteed bowl slots only if all teams with winning records have been accommodated. If a 6-6 team isn't given one of its conference's bowl slots, then the 6-6 team is in the at-large pool but can only be selected if every I-A team with a winning record already has received a bowl bid. In sum, a team with 7 or more bowl bids is bowl eligible; a team with 6 wins really is only conditionally eligible. Again, this point has been blurred, certainly in the media and probably here.
Still, it's quite possible that the Big Ten will have a glut of bowl-eligible teams and that one or more eligible teams will be home for the holidays.
Here are the Big Ten standings today:
  1. Ohio State (4-0) (8-0)
  2. Michigan (4-0) (6-2)
  3. Illinois (3-2) (5-3)
  4. Penn State (3-2) (6-2)
  5. Purdue (2-2) (6-2)
  6. Wisconsin (2-2) (6-2)
  7. Northwestern (2-2) (5-3)
  8. Indiana (2-3) (5-3)
  9. Michigan State (1-3) (5-3)
  10. Iowa (1-4) (3-5)
  11. Minnesota (0-4) (1-7)

The teams in bold are eligible. The teams in italics are conditionally eligible. And here is the remaining Big Ten schedule, with the most likely winner in bold

Oct. 27

Ball State @ Illinois

IU @ Wisconsin

Northwestern @ Purdue

MSU @ Iowa

Minnesota @ Michigan

Ohio State @ Penn State

November 3

Ball State @ IU

Purdue @ Penn State

Wisconsin @ OSU

Michigan @ MSU

Iowa @ Northwestern

Illinois @ Minnesota

November 10

PSU @ Temple

MSU @ Purdue

Illinois @ Ohio State

Michigan @ Wisconsin

IU @ Northwestern

Minnesota @ Iowa

November 17

Penn State @ MSU

OSU @ Michigan

Purdue @ IU

Northwestern @ Illinois

Wisconsin @ Minnesota

Western Mich @ Iowa

Now, I don't want to quibble about any of these predictions. This is just my best shot at a plausible outcome. Many of these games would not be significant upsets if they went the other way. The scenario above would leave us with the following standings:

  1. Ohio State (8-0) (12-0)
  2. Michigan (7-1) (9-3)
  3. Penn State (5-3) (9-3)
  4. Purdue (5-3) (9-3)
  5. Wisconsin (5-3) (9-3)
  6. Illinois (5-3) (8-4)
  7. Indiana (3-5) (7-5)
  8. Northwestern (3-5) (6-6)
  9. Michigan State (2-6) (6-6)
  10. Iowa (2-6) (5-7)
  11. Minnesota (0-8) (1-11)

Under this specific scenario, IU would be headed for sunny Detroit, but it doesn't require much creativity to imagine a scenario in which IU could be shut out of Big Ten-affiliated bowls. For instance, the team that would seem to be the toughest to forecast (this year, every year) is Michigan State. I have MSU winning at Iowa, losing at Purdue, and losing at home to Michigan and Penn State. MSU could win or lose any of those games. If everything stays the same but MSU wins at home against Michigan, then MSU would have the same record as IU, a head-to-head win, a tougher schedule, and loads of fans near Detroit. In that case, IU would be at the mercy of the unpredictable at-large market. Less likely, but still possible, is that Iowa could win out. Iowa has MSU at home, plays Northwestern, and hosts Minnesota and Western Michigan. Even as unremarkable as Iowa has been, the last two games are locks, and neither of the first two would be a huge upset. In that case, Iowa would not have the head-to-head advantage over IU, but does have a much better fan following. On the other hand, if the Motor City Bowl is deciding between IU and Iowa, the proximity of Indiana may make a difference, as will the fact that IU fans and players would be much more excited about the Motor City than would be Iowa fans, who have become accustomed to warmer climes. Still, while Howard Griffith is wrong about the rules, IU could be shut out with seven or more wins.