BIG TEN SPOTLIGHT: Making bowl becomes goal for some teams
While Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State head into the last Saturday of October harboring College Football Playoff hopes, several Big Ten teams that got off to promising starts now are just trying to make a bowl.
Maryland is 3-4 after opening 3-1 with a surprising road win against Texas.
Purdue matched its 2016 win total of three on Oct. 7 but hasn’t won since.
Indiana had a quality road win over Virginia and was 3-2 before a couple of close losses to Michigan and Michigan State.
Iowa and Minnesota each has lost three of four after 3-0 starts.
For Iowa, the three losses have been by a total of 16 points, including last week’s 17-10 overtime loss to Northwestern.
“To lose three games basically at the end of all three of those games, it’s disappointing, a little bit frustrating certainly, and not easy for the players to deal with,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So the biggest thing we have to do right now is get back up on our feet and really go to work on solutions to see what we can do about performing better on Saturdays.”
No doubt, many of Ferentz’s counterparts around the conference would agree.
Ten of the 14 teams played in bowls last year. Here’s a look at the teams that need to win two or three of their last five to achieve eligibility:
This year seems eerily similar to 2016, when the Terrapins lost six of eight after a 4-0 start and had to beat Rutgers in the final regular-season game to earn a Quick Lane Bowl invitation.
The Terps must go at least 3-2 the rest of the way to make a bowl for the fourth time in five years. They’ll play their fourth straight game with their third-string quarterback, Max Bortenschlager, when they host Indiana on Saturday.
After the Hoosiers, Maryland finishes with Rutgers (away) Michigan (home), Michigan State (away) and Penn State (home).
One of Purdue’s stated preseason goals was to go to a bowl for the first time since 2012, and first-year coach Jeff Brohm looked to have the Boilermakers headed that direction. A 17-9 loss at Wisconsin didn’t stop the positive vibe around the program, but a 14-12 loss at Rutgers last week did.
“I’m sure some of our players’ confidence was shot a little bit,” Brohm said. “We’ve got to get that back up and really get back to where we were at before we took the field the first game, and that is believing that you can get it done when you take the field. If you have any type of doubt ... that can snowball, and that’s what happened the last game.”
The Boilermakers need three wins among games against Nebraska (home), Illinois (home), Northwestern (away), Iowa (away) and Indiana (home).
There’s no shame in any of the Hoosiers’ losses. All four were against ranked teams. Indiana’s schedule eases a bit with Maryland (away), Wisconsin (home), Illinois (away), Rutgers (home) and Purdue (away).
First-year coach Tom Allen’s message to his team?
“Here we are with the first half already completed plus one, and you got five games left. How are you going to respond? How you going to finish?” Allen said. “So that word ‘finish,’ applies to the game, it applies to a lot of things. That’s going to be something you’re going to hear me say a lot here over the next several weeks.”
IOWA and MINNESOTA
More than Floyd of Rosedale is at stake Saturday in Iowa City. The winner is one win closer to a bowl.
The Hawkeyes have the tougher remaining schedule after this week, with Ohio State (home), Wisconsin (away), Purdue (home) and Nebraska (away).
The Gophers’ last four games are against Michigan (away), Nebraska (home), Northwestern (away) and Wisconsin (home).
RUTGERS and NEBRASKA
Each is 3-4 and needs three more wins. The Scarlet Knights have one more victory than a year ago, and the Rutgers faithful sense progress under Chris Ash after back-to-back Big Ten wins. At Nebraska, a sizeable portion of the fan base is ready to part ways with coach Mike Riley.
Rutgers faces a huge challenge to find three wins among Michigan (away), Maryland (home), Penn State (away), Indiana (away) and Michigan State (home).
Nebraska closes with Purdue (away), Northwestern (home), Minnesota (away), Penn State (away) and Iowa (home). The Huskers haven’t missed going to a bowl since 2007.
“I don’t have any excuses for it,” Riley said of the season. “We should and could be better. It doesn’t have to look like this.”
This version corrects Purdue’s final opponent to Indiana instead of Michigan State.
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