Two weeks to go in the season and now the Gophers move from fretting about that sixth win to scoreboard watching and looking to add to our resume for a better game. There have already been several articles posted projecting possible destinations for the Gophers. I'm going to do it again.
Teams Out - Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois
Teams Likely Out - Iowa and Indiana
Still has a Fighting Chance - Purdue and Michigan State
IN (whooo HOOOO!) - Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan and Minnesota
Unless a miracle happens and the Big Ten earns an extra BCS bid, the bowl tie-ins will play out exactly as they should. One team in the Rose Bowl and then all other eligible teams will be fighting for non-BCS level bowls.
I'm going with Nebraska as my prediction after they win the Big Ten title game (which could also conceivably be Michigan, but that is less likely). Nebraska won this match-up earlier in the season after Wisconsin built a huge lead that they squandered. On a neutral field it could be a different outcome but I'll stick with the Cornhuskers, mostly because I really don't want to see Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl yet again.
This one is a really tough match-up for the Big Ten. Michigan could also leapfrog the Badgers for this bowl, but I'm also assuming the Wolverines lose to Ohio State tarnishing their bowl resume. So either Wisconsin shows off their ground game to beat a very good SEC team or they lose, I like either scenario.
This game will go to whoever is deemed third best out of the top three, my money is on Michigan. And while it may be a "better" match-up than facing the SEC's #2 team, it won't be that much better. LSU or Florida seem like the most likely opponents and both are very good. Michigan, I'm sure, will look forward to getting another shot at an SEC program after getting walloped by Alabama in week 1.
I think Michigan State sneaks into this game by beating Northwestern and Minnesota to get eligible and they would likely be more appealing to a bowl committee than Minnesota or Northwestern. Really, I think they only need to win one of those games and they still get selected ahead of NU or MN. The Gophers could get themselves into this game but seems highly unlikely at this point unless they manage to win at Lincoln. Whoever the chosen B1G team is, they will likely face either Texas A&M or Vandy.
Northwestern is likely 8-4, they beat the Gophers and would get selected ahead of Minnesota. Can we get here? Yes, but it will require a Gopher upset and probably would require Illinois beating Northwestern in the final week of the season. This does not seem like the destination for Minnesota. The Wildcats will likely face Texas Tech or Oklahoma State.
And we get to the Gophers, coming in as the sixth Big Ten team team. It is possible that we would get bumped but I think that the only scenario of us moving down is if Iowa wins back-to-back games at Michigan and then hosting Nebraska. Like we need more motivation to root for an Iowa loss, but they would certainly be picked over the Gophers if a bowl committee is given the opportunity. Purdue could also get to bowl eligibility with two wins over Illinois and Indiana (very possible) but I choose to believe 6-6 Minnesota would be chosen ahead of 6-6 Purdue. The ugliness here is that the Gophers might end up facing West Virginia.
I think Purdue's chances of beating Illinois and Indiana are solid. Indiana has to beat Penn State and then Purdue to gain bowl eligibility. We already talked about Iowa. The best shot at a 7th Big Ten team is clearly Purdue. And they would face the Big 12 #8, though they may not get 8 teams eligible. If they do it would be Iowa State.
So that is pretty much the Big Ten Bowl picture. Really there are the top 3 teams who could end up at any of the top 3 bowls. Then you have Northwestern and likely Michigan State who are fighting for the 4th and 5th bowls. Minnesota is in the driver's seat for #6 with opportunities to move up with an upset or two. And then a few teams are fighting like mad just to get to a 13th game.
Gopher fans were apparently chanting "Gator Bowl" following the win over Illinois, but I just don't see that happening. Maybe we play with some confidence and looseness in our remaining two games and surprise a couple more teams, but I think I agree with Phil Miller that we are pretty much locked into the Care Care Bowl in Houston. Don't book your flights just yet, but maybe start clearing your calendar.