While the matchups determining which teams make it to the conference championship game will draw most of the attention in the Big Ten this month, some of the less-appealing games will carry a lot of weight for the also-rans trying to achieve bowl eligibility.
Seven Big Ten teams already have hit the required six wins for postseason play. Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana each need two more wins, and Rutgers and Nebraska three apiece.
Interim coaches Tracy Claeys of Minnesota and Bill Cubit of Illinois would enhance their chances of landing the permanent jobs at their schools if their teams make bowls. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson would take another step in his rebuilding project if the Hoosiers get to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
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The Big Ten had its best postseason in 2014, matching its record with 10 bowl teams and setting a record with six victories. Ohio State won twice on its way to the national championship.
Minnesota faces the toughest schedule the rest of the way. The Gophers play back-to-back road games against No. 1 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa and host Illinois and rival Wisconsin.
Claeys surely would have strengthened his bid to be named Jerry Kill's permanent successor if the Gophers hadn't flubbed the end of last week's game against Michigan. The Gophers frittered away precious seconds getting set to run their second-to-last play from inside the 1-yard line and lost 29-26.
''I've said I want to be the next head football coach here. I think I can do it,'' Claeys said. ''But believe me, I'm not putting any pressure on myself as far as that goes. ... All I can do is make sure the football team is prepared as well as I can, and I'll live with the results.''
Illinois finishes with Purdue on the road, Ohio State at home, Minnesota on the road and Northwestern at home. Cubit, who took over for Tim Beckman the week of the season opener, said he's more concerned about his injury-riddled team than his own future.
''For me to really worry about that stuff would be useless,'' Cubit said. ''We've got great kids here and I want what's best for them. We'll go out there and we'll battle.''
Indiana is winless in the conference this season and 6-30 in Big Ten games in Wilson's five seasons. But the Hoosiers have become more competitive, recruited better and built some depth. They played Ohio State tough and lost 34-27, and were within 28-26 of Michigan State entering the fourth quarter before losing 52-26.
The Hoosiers have tough home games against Iowa and Michigan the next two weeks and finish with winnable road games against Maryland and Purdue.
Wilson said a bowl would be a reward for his seniors.
''I like a lot of things we have in place,'' he said. ''You have to have the victories on Saturday. We've gotten a little better, but not where we need to be. If we can get enough to be a bowl team, I want that for the seniors. It would be great for recruiting, great for player development. But it would be great for an awesome group of seniors. We're going to try to get that done.''
Nebraska, which has missed bowls only two seasons since 1969, would have to win out against Michigan State (home), Rutgers (road) and Iowa (home) to secure six victories.
Rutgers has four chances to get three wins, closing with Michigan (road), Nebraska (home), Army (road) and Maryland (home).
Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo said bowl eligibility hasn't been discussed.
''We've got four games left and we're just going to attack each game individually, one by one,'' he said, ''and whatever happens at the end of the season happens.''
Freelance writer Matt Sugam contributed from Piscataway, New Jersey.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org