Why Michigan State Is the Big Ten's Best Hope for the Rose Bowl

Adam JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2012

EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans looks for running room between Jamar Taylor #5 and Samuel Ukwuachu #82 of the Boise State Broncos at Spartan Stadium on August, 2010 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 17-13. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Dark days in the Big Ten this season. Dark, dark days.

Penn State's in the opening throes of a long and painful set of sanctions that will cripple the program for years. Ohio State is under sanctions and won't get a shot at the postseason. Wisconsin is in utter shambles after a disastrous 1-1 start, and Montee Ball's Heisman campaign is upside down in a ditch, its wheels spinning fruitlessly atop the wreckage.

And that's just in the Leaders Division.

Michigan has been MIA on defense in the first two weeks, getting pounded by Alabama before eking out a victory over Air Force. But as bad as the Wolverines rush defense has been, it's nowhere near as bad as Nebraska's, which sits at 119th in the nation after its horrid start.

And with Minnesota and Northwestern looking feisty, perennial bowl team Iowa may well have staked its claim as the worst team in the conference with two straight eggs laid on offense against Northern Illinois and Iowa State.

How bad has it gotten? Indiana is the only team in the Leaders Division with a 2-0 record and postseason eligibility (which is to say, any hope of a BCS Championship bid), and the Hoosiers just lost star QB Tre Roberson with a badly broken leg.

Not that Indiana was going to put together a title run. But seriously, it's the only team that even could at this point.

So it's almost by default that Michigan State is the Big Ten's last and best hope to not only get a Rose Bowl bid, but any BCS bowl bid.

Now, of course, the Big Ten will get a team into the Rose Bowl, because the Rose Bowl is committed to taking the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions unless they're in the BCS title game. But there's no minimum BCS ranking a Big Ten Championship-winning team has to achieve to make it to Pasadena.

In other words, if Michigan State doesn't make it to the Rose Bowl, it's not as if no team from the Big Ten will. 

That said, the way things stand now, we'd better hope it's Michigan State going to the Rose Bowl. That's because anybody else is going to get utterly wrecked whether USC or Oregon makes it to Pasadena in December (we're assuming the other of the two will be in the BCS Championship game).

If Alabama could do what it did to Michigan, imagine what USC would do to the Wolverines. Heck, look at how badly UCLA carved up Nebraska's defense. Now imagine Oregon facing the Blackshirts. If UCLA can top 650, the Ducks might hang half-a-mile of yardage (880 yards) on Nebraska.

Ah, but Michigan State has a defense, and while all the linebackers in the world aren't going to stop DeAnthony Thomas in the open field, look no further than Ohio State vs. Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl for a perfect example of what a proper Big Ten defense can do to derail that Ducks' attack before it starts rolling.

Does Michigan State have a truly great team? Probably not. Not with Andrew Maxwell thus far proving only that he'd be pretty successful as a MAC quarterback. (Yes, it's only two games into a long season, but we saw that Boise game and so did everyone else.)

But that passing attack will only improve as everyone gains experience, and 245-pound Le'Veon Bell is still the most man-some running back in the nation until someone proves otherwise.

So if that offensive line stays healthy, Michigan State should be able to outscore pretty much anyone who's facing that nasty Spartan defense.

And having looked around the league, sadly, that's the best hope for Big Ten fans.