The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart released his 2012 bowl projections for Week 4, and contrary to our assertion that the Big Ten would struggle to get to eight bowl teams, Dienhart raises the standard and calls for nine Big Ten bowl teams, including two in BCS bowls (Michigan State to the Rose, Michigan to the Fiesta).
Let's just get out in front of this right now and say Mr. Dienhart is incorrect. Stunningly, mind-blowingly incorrect. Granted, there's still a lot of football to be played this season, but there is little reason to believe Dienhart's fantasy comes true.
Even more objectionable than placing Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, however, is Dienhart's projection of Wisconsin to the Capital One Bowl as the top non-BCS team in the Big Ten (and, ostensibly, the loser of the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State).
Has Dienhart even watched a minute of Wisconsin football this year? That is a bad, bad team.
The offensive line is in disarray, Tom O'Brien has already been benched, and Montee Ball barely looks like a first-team All-Big Ten running back, much less a Heisman contender. We're not even sure Wisconsin is a bowl team at all, much less a serious conference title contender.
That all being said, we did figure out a way to get to Dienhart's end result after going through the season slate game by game. It's scarcely plausible, but this is what needs to happen—and there isn't exactly much wiggle room on the results.
Michigan State: 11-2 (7-1)
Michigan: 10-2 (7-1)
Nebraska: 9-3 (6-2)
Northwestern: 8-4 (4-4)
Iowa: 6-6 (3-5)
Minnesota: 6-6 (2-6)
Wisconsin: 10-3 (7-1)
Ohio State: 8-4 (4-4)
Purdue: 7-5 (4-4)
Illinois: 6-6 (4-4)
Penn State: 3-9 (1-7)
Indiana: 2-10 (0-8)
Who's the most likely at-large BCS bowl team in the Big Ten?
There. That's pretty much exactly how it has to go.
Sure, you could theoretically say Ohio State beats Wisconsin, but does a 9-3 Badger team still go to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl over a 9-3 Husker team—especially if Nebraska takes the head-to-head?
Past Wisconsin somehow ending up with double-digit wins, the Michigan result is the least plausible. The Wolverines have to get to 10-2 to even sniff at-large eligibility for the Fiesta Bowl, especially with so much ground to cover in the polls. Two more losses, and Michigan's just not going to be ranked high enough.
But getting to 10 wins (with the only loss locked in as against Michigan State, since the Spartans are in the Rose Bowl) means Michigan has to beat Notre Dame, Purdue, Nebraska and Ohio State...all on the road.
Oh, and Minnesota's a road game too, we suppose. But still: Dienhart is projecting Michigan—complete with Denard Robinson, who is not exactly strong away from Ann Arbor—to win every single one of those road games.
Ohio State as a four-loss team frankly beggars belief, but we're not sure where the Buckeyes can pick up another victory in this scenario. Against Michigan? Then there go the Wolverines from the Fiesta. Against Michigan State? Not if you want Sparty in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin? Not a Capital One Bowl-attending Wisconsin.
The only possibility for OSU picking up a win is against Nebraska, especially because the Outback Bowl won't have much incentive to look elsewhere with Northwestern and Purdue next in line. So there: We've found one game of wiggle room in the Dienhart scenario thus far.
If Northwestern's going to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl with Iowa right behind in the bowl lineup, the Wildcats have to be at least two games ahead of Iowa, since bowl committees have a well-established history of not inviting Northwestern unless they have to.
But wins are going to be awfully hard to come by for Iowa in this scenario, to the point where Iowa needs to pick up a win against the Wildcats to get to six wins. So that means eight wins for Northwestern, which even with its fast start seems a little high.
Getting Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois all to six wins felt more like filling out a Sudoku grid than a legitimate imaginative process. Iowa has to lose to Minnesota, who has to lose to Purdue to get the Boilermakers into the Gator Bowl, while Purdue has to drop one to Illinois so the Illini can get to six...seriously, folks, this is a very rigid, specific scenario Dienhart has in his head.
And yet, technically it's possible.
And being that we're talking about an analyst at a network where the primary focus is to promote the Big Ten and its best interests, it's much more in Dienhart's best interests to advance the idea that a two-BCS team season can still be in the cards. So we get that.
But that's the definition of propaganda, and this propaganda is so exceedingly unlikely that it really just makes us not want to listen to Dienhart anymore, and that's kind of a shame.