With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the postseason, the Big Ten will be missing two of its top teams in bowl games. The conference did not have a team ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll this week, while the Buckeyes are really the only team that merits consideration in the top 10 of any poll they are eligible to be ranked.
Who Is the Big Ten's Best Bowl-Eligible Team in 2012?
Coach John Cooper, former head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, Arizona State Sun Devils and Ohio State Buckeyes, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
I thought Nebraska would be that team but their defense has been awful. They gave a lot yardage to Ohio State and UCLA earlier this year. I don't know what happened to the black shirt defense. I would have to pick Michigan at this point in the season. They are starting to show the most improvement in the Big Ten.
Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com, (@KevinonCFB)
Picking the best bowl-eligible team out of the Big Ten is difficult because there are huge holes everywhere you look. No bowl eligible team in the conference has come up big in the spotlight this season, and that should be very alarming for the conference moving forward. But now that we are in conference play the question will be which team will rise to the top and that is why I am suggesting Michigan. After getting trounced by Alabama in week one Michigan's defense has been pretty solid, holding their last three opponents under 14 points. In conference play the offense should be able to get by, although a home game against Michigan State could be tough. Even if they slip up against the Spartans, I think they somehow manage to end the regular season as the best bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
What a mess. I guess we’re down to Michigan and Nebraska, whose signature wins this season are over Purdue and Wisconsin, respectively. When Nebraska gets a good game from Taylor Martinez and when the mix of Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead are moving the ball, the Cornhuskers are pretty tough to beat. But I’ve given up on that defense. Not many teams in the Big Ten are as good on offense Ohio State, but two of them -- Michigan and Northwestern -- face Nebraska in the next two games. Where Nebraska had to come back to beat a subpar Wisconsin team, at least we saw Michigan dominate Purdue, a solid team with an elite defensive tackle, Kawann Short. That’s a good sign for the Wolverines. We may have overreacted to Michigan’s two losses as well. Alabama and Notre Dame are two of the nation’s elite defenses, if not the top two. Michigan won’t see teams that good the rest of the season until Ohio State -- and that includes Nebraska.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
Bueller? Bueller? Anyone in the Big Ten want to take this one? Michigan and Michigan State have looked really strong at times and really poor at others. Nebraska had a chance to put its stamp on the league last weekend but allowed 63 points to Ohio State. And Wisconsin and Purdue will battle this weekend for what should be the Leaders Division title in West Lafayette. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are beginning to look like the best two teams in the league, so that means the eventual champion — and Rose Bowl participant — will be the third best team in the league at best. A two-week round robin between the Wolverines, Cornhuskers and Spartans will start next weekend and a 1-1 finish for all three is likely. I will tentatively take the Maize and Blue after the very impressive showing on the road against the Boilermakers, but road games at Nebraska and Ohio State likely make 6-2 in the Big Ten the high water mark for any bowl eligible team.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
I think the answer to this question boils down to two teams: Nebraska and Michigan. Although Michigan State has to be in the conversation, the Spartans still have road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, and I still need to see more from quarterback Andrew Maxwell. I’m going to give a slight edge to the Wolverines over the Cornhuskers, but my opinion might change from week-to-week. Michigan has one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers (Denard Robinson) but needs other parts of the offense to step up. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has only 169 yards in four games, while the defense is allowing 156.8 rushing yards per game. Although the Wolverines are allowing some yards, the defense has not given up more than 13 points to an opponent in each of the last three games. Michigan isn’t perfect but I think this team will finish as the Big Ten’s best bowl-eligible squad at the end of the year.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
I’ll stick with Michigan. The Wolverines are 3–2 on the season, but two of the losses have come away from home against teams ranked in the top five in the nation — Alabama (in Arlington, Texas) and at Notre Dame. Michigan played its best game of the season last week, rolling past Purdue 44–13 in West Lafayette. That’s probably the best win for any of the bowl-eligible teams in the Big Ten. Michigan was obviously manhandled in the loss to Alabama in Week 1 and had some trouble with the Air Force option the following week, but the Wolverines have been solid defensively over the last few weeks. They gave up 13 points to both Notre Dame and Purdue, which will be good enough for this team to win on most Saturdays.
For me, I considered four teams, all of which reside in the Legends division, but in the end it came down to the two from the state of Michigan. The Wolverines have been a little under the radar since getting beat soundly by Alabama in their opener and then losing to Notre Dame 13-6 a couple of weeks ago. However, the Maize and Blue reasserted themselves in convincing fashion in their 44-13 dismantling of Purdue last week. Denard Robinson still makes his share of mistakes and isn't the most polished passer, but there's no denying his ability to make plays. The defense also has been solid as they are currently No. 19 in the nation. Meanwhile Michigan State has been fine defensively (No. 8 overall), it's the offense that has been the issue. That said, the Spartans' two losses have been by one point to Ohio State and a 20-3 defeat to Notre Dame. Between the Wolverines and the Spartans, all three teams they have collectively lost to are currently ranked among the top 8 in the country. But since I have to choose one, I give a slight edge to the Spartans over the Wolverines. The Spartans are a little better on defense, especially against the run, and when these two teams meet next Saturday in Ann Arbor, it will be Sparty's ability to contain Robinson and company that will be the difference in the game. As long as the Spartans continue to play good defense, I think the offense will continue to develop under quarterback Andrew Maxwell with a healthy assist from running back Le'Veon Bell and the Spartans will earn a second straight trip to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
With Ohio State on sanctions, I would have to go with Michigan State as the league’s best postseason team. The Spartans schedule will be difficult with trips to Michigan and Wisconsin remaining, but Pat Narduzzi’s defense should make the difference in the end. Despite sleepwalking through some of last week’s game at Indiana, the Spartans have the ability to run the ball (Le’Veon Bell) and stop the run (10th nationally) better than anyone else in the Big Ten. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell should improve in the second half of the season, especially if heralded freshman receiver Aaron Burbridge plays like he did versus the Hoosiers.
Michigan obviously has the talented Denard Robinson as a top playmaker, but the Wolverines passing game and run defense are major concerns. Nebraska can scare opponents with Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead on offense, but unfortunately the Huskers defense is scaring the fan base for a second straight season. With the league’s top defense and a physical run game, I’ll take Sparty to top the B1G’s bowl list.
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