INDIANAPOLIS — No. 4 Ohio State is chasing perfection and a chance to play for a national championship. No. 18 Michigan State has the inside track to the Big Ten championship game.
Four other conference teams are bowl-eligible, and Iowa could join that list with a win this weekend.
But with only four weeks left in the regular season, the Big Ten is looking at the possibility of coming up short in postseason play again — even before the bowl lineups are announced. With eight bowl tie-ins, six qualifiers and Iowa on the cusp, the last available spot will have to be filled by one of three teams that are a combined 1-12 in league play: Illinois, Indiana or Northwestern.
“I think it’s pretty evident to our guys that our backs are against the wall,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “We’ve had every opportunity to win four out of our last five games, and unfortunately we haven’t coached our guys well enough or our guys haven’t executed well enough in games, especially in the fourth quarter, to win. It’s disappointing but with games left ahead of us, we have opportunities and really we just have to coach our guys to play better, and if we do that, we’ll be all right.”
For the Big Ten, this is not an unusual predicament.
The league failed to produce enough bowl-eligible teams to fill its allotment four times in the past five years, and it could happen again. The lone exception during that five-year span came in 2011 when conference officials had to find a bowl game to take the Fighting Illini because there were more bowl-eligible teams from the league available than actual game commitments.
A league spokesman wrote in an email to The Associated Press that commissioner Jim Delany was not available for comment Tuesday because of meeting and his travel schedule. But clearly, this is not how the conference envisioned the final month playing out.