How does one determine the importance of a Bowl? Well, I think it's pretty simple. Something like -
Preseason Expectations of the B1G team +
Preseason Expectations of the opposing team +
Meaningful nature of the Bowl +
National perception of the matchup +
Regional perception of the matchup +
B1G's perception of the matchup +
Importance of the matchup on regional/national levels +
Impact on 2012 season +
Impact on recruiting =
We could rate this with HilaryLee-like equations or graphs, but I think this shakes itself out nicely to give us an answer.
DOESN'T PASS THE SMELL TEST
TAMU-Northwestern is a big game...for Northwestern. If they win, streak over. And if Northwestern does win, people will just bemoan such a talented TAMU team falling apart. But on a national level, both teams are middle of the road.
Iowa-Oklahoma is actually more important than you would think, because a win here would be such a boost to the Hawkeyes (and a rarity too - a preseason #1 losing to an unranked team in a bowl game?). But it's still just a blip on the national level.
Illinois-UCLA. If Kraft had given one million dollars to poverty programs every time Illinois or UCLA underperformed during the last ten years, we really could have fought hunger. Kraft...would be bankrupt, but people would be eatin'.
OSU-Florida. This season was written off by Buckeye fans. This season was probably written off by most Florida fans.
GETTING MORE IMPORTANT
Houston-PSU. God only knows how this game will go. Impotent offense v. Impotent defense. Explosive mid-level conference offense v. Top 15 defense. PSU is going through changes though and I'm sure the rest of the B1G doesn't want the Nittany Lions being the bell-cow program right now. And how can you call a win over a non-BCS AQ team that important?
Nebraska-SC. This game may not be a monster on a national level, but it sure would hearten B1G fans to see our new brother beat a decent SEC team and push us closer toward a 6 or 7 win bowl season. This is why we got Nebraska, right?
Michigan-VT. This is the lack of expectations bowl. When a team picked by many to go 7-5 or 6-6 surprisingly goes 10-2 and gets picked for a BCS bowl, the presents are already under the tree. Michigan is making their way back to prominence via recruiting and defensive toughness; a loss here doesn't change that and a win doesn't enhance that comeback that much. Yes, it would be very nice to see Denard Robinson holding up the Sugar Bowl trophy with confetti streaming behind him. But that kind of scene, while big for Michigan, isn't a huge coup for the B1G as long as it's Virginia Tech you're knocking off.
ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID
MSU-Georgia. Beating an SEC team? Huge, especially if Nebraska and Northwestern win. Winning 11 games for the second straight year? Big for continued national relevance. But Georgia has flown under the radar this year until some late victories put them nicely on the map, so the win quality is just okay. And Michigan State already played essentially three Super Bowls this year (Wisconsin1, Michigan, Wisconsin2). You're telling me this Georgia game is as big as any of those games for MSU? I don't think so.
THE GRANDDADDY OF THEM ALL
Almost 3/4 of the country believes Wisconsin will lose this game. Most of you believe that if the Badgers can't slow Michigan State, how in God's name can they slow Oregon?
And that's what makes this Rose Bowl the biggest matchup of the B1G's bowl season. A blowout loss by Wisky, combined with a weak bowl performance, pushes us back into the MSM's standard "just not fast enough, not competitive enough" meme, which in turn hurts the B1G in BCS voting and recruiting. A win here shows us that the best a retooled Pac-12 has to offer isn't as good as our current bell-cow. A win in Pasadena, combined with a strong showing by B1G teams, shows Jim Delaney just might boost the deepest football conference in the land, even during a Buckeye off year. A win here erases that ugly TCU loss last year. And forgodssakes, a win here means that a B1G team won a damn Rose Bowl...and that by itself might be enough to call it the most important B1G game of the 2011-2012 bowl season.