The college football season is nearly over, so the bowl picture is becoming a bit more clear, and a week from now the Hoosiers should know where they will be making their first bowl appearance since 1993. I have discussed this in other posts, but here it is in a nutshell:
The Big Ten. Ohio State, of course, has secured the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid. Ohio State is ranked third in the most recent BCS standings, so it is not yet determined whether OSU will play in the Rose Bowl or the BCS Championship game. Illinois, at 9-3, has the required number of wins for BCS eligibility but is currently ranked #15, one spot short of the top 14, which would make Illinois BCS eligible. Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue all have seven wins. Iowa and Northwestern are conditionally bowl-eligible at 6-6 but don't matter to us. The Big Ten has seven bowl tie-ins and eight seven win teams. All indications are that unless Illinois gets a BCS bid, it will be MSU, IU, and Purdue fighting it out for the Insight and Motor City bowls, with the loser forced to the open market. Current conventional wisdom has Purdue as the odd team out. I'm not going to take that for granted. Purdue, like IU, has many fans close to Detroit and unlike IU, has a history of traveling reasonably well to bowl games. I think it's possible, even probable, that IU is more attractive than Purdue, but it's at least worth considering what bids might be available.
The hope for teams 2-8 in the Big Ten is that two things will happen: 1) Illinois will move into the top 14 and 2) Ohio State will move into the top 2. Number one is the most important. If number one doesn't happen, number two doesn't matter. If both happen, it's probably good for the Hoosiers and the other bowl eligible Big Ten programs. The Rose Bowl is believed to prefer to preserve the Big Ten-Pac 10 matchup whenever possible, and Illinois, which hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since after the 1983 season, would be attractive.
The national picture:
ACC: eight bids. Eight eligible, four eliminated. If the ACC gets only one BCS bid, then the ACC will fill all of its bids. [EDIT: If BC beats Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, the 10-3 Hokies, with their large fan base and the fresh memory of last spring's tregedy, might be a compelling BCS candidate. The ACC's #8 bowl tie in is the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise. Blue turf, baby!]
Big East: four or five bids. Five eligible, and Louisville still has a chance. And keep in mind that one of the tie-ins is the Gator Bowl, which can select a Big XII school or a Big East school. No BE team other than WVU, the conference champ, ranks in the top 14, so consider the Big East filled out.
Big XII: eight or nine bids. Eight eligible, four eliminated. It seems likely that either Missouri or Kansas will earn a BCS at large bid. At the very least, it seems unlikely that the Big XII will be able to fill its slot in the Texas Bowl in Houston, and possibly not its bid to the Independence Bowl in lovely Shreveport, Louisiana (please God, no).
Pac-10: Six bids. Six eligible. The Vegas Bowl is now off the table, thanks to UCLA's win over Oregon. If the Pac-10 gets a second BCS bid, then the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth will be available.
SEC: Ten eligible teams. forget it.
MAC: Three bids, locked up.
C-USA: Six bids, six eligible, no BCS prospects.
WAC: The WAC has three bids and three eligible teams, but Hawaii could sneak in to the BCS. If so, and if La. Tech and Nevada lose their finales, the New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque) could open up.
So, there it is. For what it's worth, if my quick review is correct, IU or Purdue (MSU will not get past the Motor City Bowl committee) will be the best, perhaps only, seven win team on the market. My quick guess is that Houston is the most likely destination for the Big Ten's odd team out. Here are the weekend's priorities for IU and all Big Ten teams:
- Root for Oklahoma over Missouri and/or for Pitt over West Virginia, to allow OSU to move into the title game and make Illinois more attractive to the BCS/Rose Bowl.
- Root for #5 LSU over #14 Tennessee in the SEC Championship so that Illinois can move into the top 14.
- Root for Arizona over #13 Arizona State for the same reason.
- Root for Washington against #12 Hawaii for the same reason.