Two weeks remain in college football’s regular season and three until we find out the bowl lineup. The Big Ten, led by College Football Playoff hopefuls in Michigan and Ohio State, has seven teams who have qualified for a bowl game by winning six or more games. Four others, including the Gophers, are among those who need one more win to qualify.
Here’s a look at how the Big Ten’s bowl situation could shake out. Projections are based on favorites winning the remaining games:
Michigan (9-1; vs. Indiana, at Ohio State): The Wolverines are having that breakthrough season they hoped for when they hired Jim Harbaugh as coach. If they can end a six-game losing streak against Ohio State on Nov. 24 in Columbus and get by pesky Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, they’ll likely land a spot in the College Football Playoff. Projection: Cotton Bowl national semifinal vs. Alabama.
Ohio State (9-1; at Maryland, vs. Michigan): That 49-20 blowout loss at Purdue hangs from the Buckeyes’ neck like an albatross. They’re No. 10 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, and it would take some serious upheaval among the teams ranked ahead of them for a playoff spot to open if they beat Michigan. Projection: Rose Bowl vs. Washington State.
Penn State (7-3; at Rutgers, vs. Maryland): Tight losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, plus a blowout loss to Michigan, torpedoed the Nittany Lions’ title hopes, but they should land nicely in Florida in bowl season. There’s also a chance Penn State is selected for the Fiesta or Peach. If that happens, other Big Ten teams would move up a notch. Projection: Citrus Bowl vs. Kentucky.
Michigan State (6-4; at Nebraska, vs. Rutgers): If the Spartans finish 8-4, they’ll have a good shot at landing in one of the three Florida bowls in the Big Ten’s mix. Projection: Outback Bowl vs. Mississippi State.
Wisconsin (6-4; at Purdue, vs. Gophers): This is not the way the Badgers envisioned this season going, but they still can salvage a trip to Florida. Projection: Tax-Slayer Bowl vs. Auburn.
Northwestern (6-4; at Gophers, vs. Illinois, Big Ten title game): The Wildcats can punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl if they win the Big Ten Championship Game. Remember, they led Michigan 17-0 before losing 20-17. Projection: Holiday Bowl vs. Utah.
Iowa (6-4; at Illinois, vs. Nebraska): If the Hawkeyes win out, they could be headed to Santa Clara, Calif. Projection: Redbox Bowl vs. Oregon.
Purdue (5-5; vs. Wisconsin, at Indiana): If the Boilermakers win at least one game, they’ll have a strong shot to make the Pinstripe Bowl. Projection: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Virginia.
Gophers (5-5; vs. Northwestern, at Wisconsin): The Gophers are one-point favorites over Northwestern, so I’ll project them to gain bowl eligibility. If that happens, their likely destination would be either the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit or the First Responders Bowl in Dallas. Since they played in Detroit in 2015, let’s put them in Cotton Bowl stadium against an opponent from either Conference USA or the ACC. If the Gophers beat both the Wildcats and Badgers, they could be in play for the Pinstripe Bowl. Projection: First Responders Bowl vs. North Texas.
Indiana (5-5; at Michigan, vs. Purdue): The Hoosiers likely need to win the Old Oaken Bucket to make a bowl. Projection: no bowl.
Maryland (5-5; vs. Ohio State, at Penn State): With that schedule, Terps will fall short. Projection: no bowl.
Illinois (4-6; vs. Iowa, at Northwestern): Two wins to gain bowl eligibility? Won’t happen. Projection: no bowl.
RJ's FIVE SPOT
USA Today annually publishes a database of college football salaries, and included in that are buyout figures if a coach is fired. Here are five large buyouts of coaches who have been or could be fired this season:
1. Clay Helton, USC, $15 million: This is an estimated buyout reported by Yahoo Sports, since USC, a private school, doesn’t have to reveal terms. Helton’s Trojans fell to 5-5 after losing to Cal for the first time in 15 years.
2. Bobby Petrino, Louisville, $14 million: Vince Tyra fired Petrino on Sunday after the Cardinals fell to 2-8 with a 54-23 loss at Syracuse on Friday. Speculation centers on Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, a former Cardinals QB and Louisville native, taking over.
3. Chris Ash, Rutgers, $12.6 million: The Scarlet Knights improved from 2-10 to 4-8 in Ash’s second season, but they’re back to 1-9 and 0-7 in the Big Ten with Penn State and Michigan State remaining on the schedule.
4. Larry Fedora, North Carolina, $12.2 million: Following up a 3-9 season with a 1-8 start doesn’t bode well for Fedora, who had the Tar Heels 11-3 as recently as 2015.
5. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, $10.3 million: Reports this week said MacIntyre was out, but athletic director Rick George said a decision hasn’t been made. Since going 10-4 in 2016, the Buffaloes are 10-12 and are riding a five-game skid.
RJ ranks ’em:
1. Michigan (9-1, 7-0)
Wolverines host Indiana as warm-up to next week’s colossal game at Ohio State. Last week: 1
2. Ohio State (9-1, 6-1)
Defense and the punting game worked wonders in win at Michigan State. Last week
3. Northwestern (6-4, 6-1)
Wildcats have punched their ticket to Indy, so the games against Gophers and Indiana are for bowl positioning. Last week: 3
4. Penn State (7-3, 4-3)
Final two games against Rutgers, Maryland give Nittany Lions a good shot at a Florida bowl, if not better. Last week: 7
5. Michigan State (6-4, 4-3)
Offense has failed them in their four losses. Last week: 4
6. Wisconsin (6-4, 4-3)
Badgers finish with Purdue and Gophers, hoping to salvage something in a lost season. Last week: 6
7. Purdue (5-5, 4-3)
The mercurial Boilermakers beat Ohio State by 29 and lost to Minnesota by 31. Last week: 5
8. Iowa (6-4, 3-4)
Three consecutive losses by a combined 12 points. Last week: 8
9. Maryland (5-5, 3-4)
Terps blew golden chance for bowl eligibility with loss vs. Indiana. Last week: 9
10. Nebraska (3-7, 2-5)
Beating MSU would be a solid step forward. Last week: 11
11. Gophers (5-5, 2-5)
Was that great defensive effort against Purdue an aberration? We’ll find out vs. Northwestern. Last week: 13
12. Indiana (5-5, 2-5)
To go bowling, Hoosiers must beat either Michigan or Purdue. Last week: 12
13. Illinois (4-6, 2-5)
Stinging from loss to Nebraska, Illini have lost nine of the past 10 against Iowa. Last week: 10
14. Rutgers (1-9, 0-7)
Scarlet Knights hung with Wolverines for a quarter, then reality took over. Last week: 14