After a loss to Nebraska in Week 9, the Michigan Wolverines appear to be on the outside looking in at the Big 10 championship game. Still, there's more than one option for their placement in this year's bowl games.
The Big 10 has the Rose Bowl, where the winner of the championship game will automatically represent the conference. That's not the only option, though, as the conference has strongholds in some other high-profile cities that would be fitting for Denard Robinson's swan song.
Michigan still has three conference games to play. In Week 11, they'll get the newly-ranked Northwestern Wildcats, fresh off a big win over Iowa. The following two weeks, the Wolverines play those same Hawkeyes in Week 12 before closing out the season against rival Ohio State.
Simply put, there's plenty of what-if's for Michigan the rest of the way. Here's a look at what it will take for the Wolverines to achieve their greatest position in these bowls and, conversely, what a collapse would look like.
Rose Bowl (Best Case Scenario)
The crown jewel of the Big 10 over the past few years has been the Rose Bowl game. Michigan took a major blow after losing to Nebraska, but aren't completely out of the race. For this to happen, the Wolverines need the Huskers to lose at least once—maybe twice, considering the strength of the schedule the rest of the way.
Both Michigan and Nebraska have one conference loss, but Nebraska holds the head-to-head. Additionally, Michigan would likely have to go 4-0 the rest of the way, culminating with a championship game win over Wisconsin or Indiana.
It's an odd year with both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play, but Michigan needs to take advantage by doing what they can to get one of the nation's most-storied New Year's events.
Capital One Bowl
This bowl in Orlando, Fla. is one of the best options for the team if it can't achieve the highest standard with the Rose Bowl. Awarded to the No. 2 team in the Big 10, Michigan would have to finish No. 2 in the Leaders division to get there. That would mean a win over Northwestern this weekend.
Facing an SEC team in SEC country would be a tall task. But it would also help validate Robinson on a national stage one more time. It could also be the final stamp on his up-and-down career. Either way, a matchup against one of the SEC's best has to be what Brady Hoke wants for his team's final game.
The Big 10 No. 3 team also lands in Florida, at the Outback bowl against another SEC team. Another less-than-ideal location still proves to be valuable on the national stage.
Michigan would have to hope for Wisconsin to slip up before the Big 10 title game and finish the season 2-1 if they wanted to end up here. There are a lot of variables with the rest of the conference, but even if Wisconsin gets the Big 10 championship game, they could end up with more conference losses than Michigan.
In the third Florida matchup, the Wolverines will get—you guessed it—an SEC team. A loss to both Northwestern and Ohio State would put Michigan in this position.
It's not the worst thing that could happen, but certainly not ideal with the Rose Bowl still in sight and two other marquee bowls of the same stature and with a better finish available.
Where will Michigan finish in the Big 10 (excluding Ohio State/Penn State)?
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Worst Case Scenario)
Mathematically, it looks like this is the worst place that Michigan could end up. This is a bowl for the No. 5 team in the Big 10. It would take an 0-3 mark the rest of the way to push the Wolverines here.
Even still, they have the tiebreak over in-state rival Michigan State, so they would bounce the Spartans out of a potential berth. Facing a Big 12 team, the defensive prowess won't be there, but the offense surely will.
It's less than ideal, but at this point anything other than the Rose Bowl has to feel less than ideal for Michigan fans.
It all starts with Week 11 and Northwestern. After Kain Colter and the Wildcats leave town, we'll know a lot more about where Michigan could end up.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.