Whether the Big Ten Conference likes it or not, a good portion of the national perception of the conference falls onto the Ohio State football team's shoulders when it enters the bowl season at the end of each year.
As the winner of the conference the last five consecutive seasons - whether it be a shared title or an outright championship - the Buckeyes have been the powerhouse, and the face, of the conference and its performance in bowl games has been a good the measuring stick for the Big Ten as a whole.
Needleless to say, the Buckeyes haven't held up their end of the bargain, losing their last three trips to BCS bowl games, two of which were in the national title game in blowout fashion.
But before the Big Ten rushes to blame only Ohio State, the conference as a whole hasn't had an overall bowl record over .500 since 2002 and since have only posted a total 15-28 record in postseason games in the following six seasons.
This year if the Big Ten hopes to break out of their funk and gain some national respect, they will have their opportunity.
Again, it is the Buckeyes who will play in the biggest bowl game of them all when they face Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but the Big Ten has some interesting matchups as well against some outstanding teams.
Ahead, BuckeyeGrove.com takes a loot at the bowl matchups for Big Ten teams as we head toward yet another bowl season.
No. 15 Miami (9-3) vs. No. 25 Wisconsin (9-3) - Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29: The Badgers had a typical year from what you would expect from them, but the discouraging thing was that Wisconsin lost both of its big games on their schedule this season in consecutive weeks when losing to Ohio State and Iowa and then were upset by Northwestern down the stretch. Wisconsin proved to be one of the better teams in the conference yet again, but there wasn't really anything exciting about what they did. Meanwhile, Miami had some of the more entertaining games this year and quarterback Jacory Harris has been a ton of fun to watch. This is a tough matchup for the Badgers.
The Pick: Miami 29, Wisconsin 17
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Iowa State (6-6) - Insight Bowl, Dec. 31: Iowa State isn't a particularly good team this season, but a big upset win over Nebraska in October seemed to be enough to propel the Cyclones to bowl eligibility. Iowa State did start off the season 3-1 with wins over North Dakota State, Kent State, and Army, but they finished by losing three of their last four games. Meanwhile, Minnesota had an up and down year particularly after losing wide receiver Eric Decker for the season. The Gophers lost four of their last five Big Ten games to finish the year off slow as well, but its hard to pick Iowa State in this game. Minnesota is a solid team that hung around with some tough opponents this season. They should pull this one out.
The Pick: Minnesota 31 Iowa State 21
Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5) - Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: You have to hand it to Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has really seemed to turn the culture around in Evanston. Northwestern wasn't necessarily a powerhouse this season, but eight wins is a big step and now the Wildcats have a shot at their first bowl victory since 1949's Rose Bowl. Auburn has been a team, however, that has had some success behind the scenes this season and actually gave Alabama a run for their money toward the end of the season. The Tigers got off to a quick 5-0 start before it came crumbling down, but this seems like a favorable matchup for Auburn despite Northwestern's strides this season.
The Pick: Auburn 27, Northwestern 21
No. 12 LSU (9-3) vs. No. 12 Penn State (10-2) - Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: It looked like Penn State was going to have a shot at an at-large bid to the BCS at the end of the season, but when looking back at it, there isn't really a big argument for them. Penn State did what they couldn't afford to do - blowout all the inferior opponents but lose both big games on their schedule to Iowa and Penn State. Meanwhile, LSU kind of did the same ting when losing to both Florida and Alabama. LSU's offense has sputtered at times this season, but Darryl Clark and his men haven't been to impressive in big games either. This one is as close to a toss up as you can get.
The Pick: Penn State 24, LSU 23
Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Michigan State (6-6) - Alamo Bowl, Jan. 2: Michigan State has always been the popular pick in the preseason to be a dark horse in the Big Ten race. Yet again, those prognosticators who picked the Spartans to make some noise were left disappointed. Now, on top of a season in which they lost six games, Michigan State will be without 10 players in the bowl game after an off-the-field incident. Texas Tech, who finished the year off the year winning three of their four games, seems to be hitting all cylinders. It would be really tough to pick the Spartans in this one, so it isn't going to happen.
The Pick: Texas Tech 38, Michigan State 17
No. 9 Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. No. 10 Iowa (10-2) - Orange Bowl, Jan. 5: In a year that Iowa had national title hopes down the stretch, the Hawkeyes ended up losing two games in a row after losing quarterback Ricky Stanzi to injury. The Hawkeyes, however, who showed they know how to find ways to win all season, found themselves in a BCS bowl anyway. However, Georgia Tech is a tough team to stop offensively. They run the option offense better than anyone and though their defense isn't amazing, Iowa's offense isn't a unit that is going to punish anyone anyways.
The Pick: Georgia Tech 33 Iowa 24
No. 7 Oregon (10-2) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (10-2) - Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Perhaps one of the more intriguing games of the bowl season, Ohio State's offense goes against one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country. You have all the story lines you could ask for between quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Jeremiah Masoli, the offense vs. defense matchup, and Ohio State's recent bowl funk. Yet again, the Buckeyes will be in the Big Ten's spotlight and this time I see them coming through. Ohio State's defense should be able to hold their own and Jim Tressel should be good for some offensive changes like last year in the Fiesta Bowl. Heck, Ohio State has to win one of these BCS bowls eventually, right?
The Pick: Ohio State 30 Oregon 27
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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