With three weeks to go in the regular season and 23 days remaining until Selection Sunday for the College Football Playoff, the bowl picture is starting to come into focus, though it's still blurry around the edges and changing every Saturday. So don't book your flights quite yet.
For the Big Ten, the three beasts of the East this year – No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State – remain in the hunt for the playoff, and each has a great shot at a New Year's Six bowl should they not make the final four. In the West, four teams – the Gophers, Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue – are tied for the division lead, and one will emerge to try to play spoiler in the conference championship game.
All three East contenders, plus Penn State, have earned bowl eligibility, as have the first-place quartet in the West. Maryland (5-4) is one win away, while Rutgers (4-5) and Illinois (4-6) need two wins. There is one fewer bowl option for the Big Ten this year, with the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., canceled for the 2021 season.
Here are my projections for the College Football Playoff, New Year's Six and Big Ten:
College Football Playoff
Orange Bowl (Dec. 31, Miami Gardens, Fla.): Georgia vs. Oregon
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31, Arlington, Texas): Ohio State vs. Alabama
Comment: Picking the Buckeyes is contingent on them sweeping Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan and winning the Big Ten Championship Game. … Georgia looks like a lock, even if it loses in the SEC title game. … Oregon is in line for a spot if it doesn't lose, though Oklahoma has a shot. … A win, or possibly even a close loss, vs. Georgia in the SEC title game will get Alabama in. Sorry, Cincinnati.
New Year's Six
Peach (Dec. 30, Atlanta): Cincinnati vs. Wake Forest
Rose (Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.): Michigan State vs. Utah
Sugar (Jan. 1, New Orleans): Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Fiesta (Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.): Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Comment: This projects that Michigan and Michigan State each lose to Ohio State (and beat Penn State). With the Buckeyes off to the playoff, the Rose Bowl makes the pick. The head-to-head win for the Spartans should count for something.
Other Big Ten bowl games
Citrus (Jan. 1, Orlando): Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
Comment: The Badgers are playing the best among the four West leaders, so they're projected to land here. This assumes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the New Year's Six, so if only two of those teams get in, the rest of the Big Ten gets bumped down a bowl.
Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.): Purdue vs. Kentucky
Comment: If the Boilermakers finish 2-1 in their final three, earlier wins over Iowa and MSU help nab Outback nod.
Las Vegas (Dec. 30): Gophers vs. Arizona State
Comment: If the Gophers finish 2-1, Las Vegas and Music City will be in play, while their 2019 visit to the Outback makes that destination less likely. A 3-0 finish and trip to the Big Ten title game brings the Citrus Bowl into play. Finish 1-2 or 0-3, and the Pinstripe or Guaranteed Rate bowls are the more likely options.
Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville): Iowa vs. Arkansas
Comment: Hawkeyes could land in Citrus or Outback with 3-0 finish.
Pinstripe (Dec. 29, New York): Penn State vs. Virginia Tech
Comment: Beat Michigan and Michigan State, then the Florida bowls are within reach for Nittany Lions.
Guaranteed Rate (Dec. 28, Phoenix): Maryland vs. Texas
Comment: Terps likely need to beat Rutgers in finale to become bowl-eligible.
Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 27, Detroit): Unfilled by Big Ten