Michigan needs help to get into BCS talks.
No longer one of college football's top three conferences, the Big Ten's nosedive to No. 4 or No. 5 certainly won't reflect well on teams such as Michigan in the BCS standings.
However, the watered-down 12-team league has candidates capable of aiding Team 134's climb toward the coveted top-12 and -16 plateau. Finishing the schedule without getting dinged along the way, plus a conference title game appearance, could be enough for a BCS bid.
Michigan State (6-1, 3-0 Legends Division) hosts the Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) on Nov. 2 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. Winners of four of the past five, the Spartans have been a seasonal power under coach Mark Dantonio, whose 30 league wins are the most of any coach since 2008.
This year's duel will be full of theatrics. With everything on the line for both sides, the 2013 battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy should be a slugfest until the end. A win over Dantonio is necessary to keep Michigan's BCS hopes alive.
Which team can help Michigan's BCS hopes the most?
That point makes for an excellent opportunity to introduce another team that can help the Wolverines: Nebraska, which sits at No. 2 in the Legends behind Michigan State, one spot ahead of Brady Hoke.
The Huskers (5-1, 2-0), ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, travel to Ann Arbor for Nov. 9's showdown at The Big House. The matchup will have major implications on the race for a division championship.
And of course, there's No. 4-ranked Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), which ends its regular season Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor. Often criticized for a weak schedule, the Buckeyes are the No. 1 threat standing in between Hoke and a prestigious bowl game.
But here's the thing: He'll probably have to sweep Urban Meyer to get there.
A season-ending loss to "Ohio" wouldn't be the end of the world. But Hoke couldn't afford two, especially if the second came in the form of a Big Ten Championship Game loss.
There are other ways that the Spartans, Huskers and Buckeyes can lend a hand to Hoke. Those scenarios will be dissected in the following sections. As expected, a few "ifs" and "buts" will have to come true, but that's the magic of college football—anything can happen to any team at any time.
A Solid From Dantonio
Beating Michigan is always the goal for the Spartans, who trail 68-32-5 in the series. Winning the rest of the games from here on out wouldn't only help Michigan State, but would help Michigan.
Well, just as long as the Spartans fall flat on Nov. 2, that is.
Are the Spartans now a greater threat to Michigan?
Despite an inept showing during a 14-0 win over Purdue, the Spartans' offense has gotten better over the weeks. It fueled a 42-28 win over Indiana in Week 7. Finally with a clear picture at quarterback, Dantonio has Connor Cook planted firmly at No. 1.
Things are beginning to click for them.
Coordinator Pat Narduzzi's defense is among the best in the nation, giving up a paltry 13.6 points per game (No. 4 nationally). That should be enough to strike fear into opponents. And once their offense gets into full gear, which could be as soon as Nov. 2, the Sparans will likely make a late push for a Legends crown.
Pivotal Games: Nov. 2 vs. Michigan, Nov. 16 at Nebraska and Nov. 23 at Northwestern.
Scenario: Michigan ends the season at 11-1/7-1.
Sure, skeptics would point to struggles against Akron and UConn. They may even mention Penn State. But a win at East Lansing over a team that also finished with one division loss would be a highlight on Hoke's resume.
As is the case with the Spartans, Michigan stands to benefit from playing another solid Big Ten team. There aren't many, so taking advantage of the opportunity is the name of the game for Team 134.
Fans aren't going to see a pair of unbeatens on Nov. 30. That's Michigan's fault.
But by the looks of things, Ohio State, despite close calls with Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern, will be 11-0 when it faces the Wolverines, who could be 10-1 if they correctly play their hand.
Pivotal Games: Oct. 26 vs. Penn State and Nov. 30 at Michigan.
Scenario: Michigan enters "The Game" with one blemish—the loss to Penn State. It had since notched victories at Michigan State and against Nebraska. Those would serve as a pair of "see, they're not that bad" wins for the Wolverines.
Then, obviously, comes beating the Buckeyes. It's a tall order, but as long as Ohio State stays in the top 10, a victory over Ohio State would be one of Team 134's crowning moments.
Round 2 for the Title?: Splitting with the Buckeyes would be more likely than sweeping them. A Big Ten title victory would mean more than a season-ending win for Michigan's BCS title hopes. But a win over Ohio State may be necessary in order for Hoke's team to qualify for a shot.
Nonetheless, the help factor from a quality Ohio State unit would remain the same.
The Huskers are dangerous any time quarterback Taylor Martinez runs the show.
Surviving without T-Magic since he was sidelined with turf toe, they've racked up three victories. The good news for Nebraska is that Martinez could return this weekend versus Minnesota, per ESPN's Mitch Sherman.
Have your thoughts about the latter part of UM's schedule changed since the season started?
Coach Bo Pelini has a tricky road ahead. Minnesota is an unknown, so an upset is possible. After the Gophers, Pelini's team plays, in order, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa.
The Hawkeyes gave the Buckeyes a run this past Saturday, losing 34-24 after being shut out in the fourth quarter. Northwestern lost 40-30 to Ohio State, but it was much closer than the score would indicate.
Then at Michigan? Ouch.
Then it's Dantonio's Spartans. Then it's the Nittany Lions, who pulled off a 43-40 quadruple-overtime win over the Wolverines.
Nebraska, perhaps, has the roughest late stretch in the Big Ten. With that being said, coming out on the good end wouldn't only benefit Pelini, but it'd serve Hoke as well.
Pivotal Games: Nov. 2 vs. Northwestern, Nov. 9 at Michigan, Nov. 16 vs. Michigan State, Nov. 23 at Penn State and Nov. 29 vs. Iowa.
Scenario: As of Week 9, not one of Nebraska's remaining opponents appeared in the AP Top 25 (other than Michigan at No. 24). That's the downside to this equation: If the Huskers slip, beating them won't matter much. Wins over average teams don't provide many style points or ranking boosts.
In short, Michigan has to beat Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State. Then it's time for hope—as in, the Wolverines have to hope that the Spartans, Huskers and Buckeyes finish the year on a high note.
The Wolverines can't have those theorized wins tarnished by lackluster appearances from their fellow Big Ten constituents, right?
That wouldn't help their cause in the slightest.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81