With the month of October fading into the rear-view mirror, the BCS picture is beginning to take shape as teams around the nation race towards the finish line of the 2013 college football season. It's no different in the Big Ten, a conference eager to reassert its national credentials in the BCS this season. And with five teams all with two or fewer overall losses on the season, there are several scenarios that can lead to possible BCS glory for the Big Ten.
The BCS Championship Game is the ultimate destination, but it's not the end-all, be-all for the Big Ten, or any conference. Even in the era of a separate BCS championship matchup, the Rose Bowl holds special significance to the conference. The 2014 Rose Bowl Game also marks the 100th edition of the "Granddaddy of Them All," and will be the final edition in its current Pac-12 vs. Big Ten format without the College Football Playoff taking a central role.
There are also potential bids to the Fiesta, Sugar or Orange bowls up for grabs as well.
So where does the Big Ten fit into the BCS selection formula this season? What are the best-case scenarios for the conference as we near the end of the regular season? Here are our top five.
There are likely five (give or take) remaining BCS scenarios that have at least some sort of positive spin to them, and Nebraska winning out comes in at the bottom of that list.
Call it "least good" or "best bad" scenario, but from the standpoint of the Big Ten as a whole (meaning you ignore team loyalties as a fan), Nebraska finishing the regular season with a 10-2 record might be the worst possible thing for the Big Ten's hopes of redemption in the eyes of the nation.
If Nebraska wins out, that would mean the Huskers have knocked off two teams with BCS hopes still very much alive: Michigan and Michigan State. And even if that does occur, Nebraska isn't a serious BCS contender unless it manages to beat Ohio State in the conference title game.
And that's not very likely.
Sorry, Nebraska fans, but a collapse against a now-plummeting UCLA squad earlier this season combined with a loss to Minnesota leaves the Cornhuskers as a pretty unattractive option for both the human pollsters and BCS computers. There won't be any at-large bids handed out in Lincoln this season, so Nebraska would have to screw things up for the rest of the conference to play in the BCS.
And there are 11 other programs that would hate to see that happen.
Why isn't Michigan, with its massive national following and status as the winningest program in history winning out higher on our list? Simply because Michigan would need to knock off No. 4 Ohio State to do it.
Michigan fans will be the first people in the universe to tell you that keeping Ohio State from winning anything is a good thing, but since we're talking about what's best for the conference here, we can't agree with that sentiment. Ohio State is a clear favorite not only to earn a BCS berth this season, but also win the Big Ten—and quite possibly earn a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in January.
Should Michigan win the regular season finale in Ann Arbor against the Buckeyes, we're also likely to see a rematch the following week in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Football Championship Game. Even if Michigan wins that game, too, there's no chance the Wolverines—currently at No. 21 in the BCS—will move up 19 spots to find themselves heading off to face Alabama or Oregon or Florida State for a national title.
This scenario also puts Michigan State at 10-2 (7-1) or Nebraska at 9-3 (6-2) at best. That would certainly eliminate Nebraska from any BCS consideration, and likely the same for Michigan State. Regardless of who wins the resulting Big Ten title game between U-M and Ohio State, the winner would be the only Big Ten program in the BCS this January.
That's never a good thing.
The Badgers currently sit at 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin, having already lost to Ohio State, would need the Buckeyes to lose twice to have any shot at the Big Ten title game this season, and that's just a pipe dream.
Besides the loss to the Buckeyes, Wisconsin's only other setback was a "loss" to Arizona State back on September 14.
The Badgers sit at No. 23 in the Coaches' Poll and No. 24 in the Harris Poll. Those numbers should rise as teams in front of them continue to falter (as either Michigan or Michigan State will this weekend). With Iowa, BYU, Indiana, Minnesota and Penn State remaining, there's a fair-to-decent chance the Badgers can win all of those games to finish 10-2.
Wisconsin also doesn't need to worry about a potential loss in a conference title game, and could use a No. 14-or-higher ranking in the BCS to slide into an at-large spot.
With several games remaining across the nation between two teams ranked above Wisconsin, it's still possible we'll see the Badgers in their fourth-straight BCS game this winter.
But what really gives Wisconsin a leg up is the ability to win out without knocking any other program out of BCS contention.
This is sure to ruffle some feathers in the Great Lakes State, especially during this week leading up to the Michigan-Michigan State battle.
Before you light the Twitterverse ablaze with incendiary tweets and and flaming "Go Blue" graphics, listen to the explanation. While Michigan likely carries a larger national following from a football standpoint, Michigan State gives the conference as a whole a better BCS scenario should the Spartans beat Michigan—and every other remaining team on their schedule—this season.
In order for Michigan to win out, the Wolverines would need to defeat Ohio State. The reason why that's bad for the conference should be pretty obvious; Ohio State is the Big Ten's best (and likely only) shot at a BCS title this season without some sort of rankings apocalypse between now and December.
To knock off Ohio State, while thrilling for every Michigander and those who love the Maize and Blue, would be devastating to the Big Ten's national reputation. Can't you just hear those SEC-philes now with their "we told you the Big Ten's best can't even beat lowly ranked teams in their own conference" nonsense?
Michigan State avoids Ohio State during the regular season. If Ohio State and Michigan State were to meet in the Big Ten championship game, it would likely guarantee a rise in the rankings high enough for Michigan State to endure a title game loss and still earn an at-large berth.
If Michigan and Ohio State beat up on each other for two consecutive weeks, on the other hand, the lone selection to the Rose Bowl Game would be the best the Big Ten could do this season, especially if the Buckeyes and Wolverines split those two games.
Fans of the Big Ten must come to grips with one very uncomfortable truth: the conference still isn't well respected by the human element that is part of the BCS system.
Ohio State, with an undefeated 8-0 record and the nation's longest active win streak (20 games), sits at No. 4 in both the Coaches' and Harris polls. Ohio State also fails to get a single first-place vote in any of the three major human polls (including the AP, which is not part of the BCS).
Okay, so the Buckeyes haven't been knocking off all comers by 49 points each and every week, but a win is a win, isn't it? But perhaps to better illustrate the lack of Big Ten respect out there, we need to look a little lower in the polls.
At No. 21 in the Harris and Coaches' polls is Michigan. The Wolverines are a one-loss team (which came on the road in quadruple overtime). While some shaky performances against some less-than-impressive competition have severely hurt Michigan's ranking, the Wolverines are still winning football games. There are four two-loss programs ahead of Michigan in both of the BCS human polls, and five two-loss teams ahead of the Wolverines in the AP Poll.
Then there's Michigan State (No. 24 in the Coaches' Poll and No. 23 in the Harris Poll. Up until this week, Michigan State was the only program in the nation from the five "power conferences" to have only one loss without appearing in the Top 25—in any human poll. Michigan State, by the way, fields the nation's No. 3 scoring defense and No. 1 overall defense.
Why do Michigan and MSU rank so low compared to, say, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or Lousiville, all one-loss teams? How about two-loss Texas A&M, South Carolina or UCLA?
And don't spew that nonsense about not playing and beating the best of the best in the Pac-12 or SEC. UCLA, Texas A&M and South Carolina didn't do that either, which is why those programs are sitting with two losses.
Instead, it's all about perception, and until the Big Ten can start winning the big-time non-conference and bowl matchups against the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12, the lingering condescension towards the Big Ten will remain.
The best chance the conference has to dispel those feelings quickly, however, would be with a strong performance—or even a victory—in the BCS National Championship Game this season. To do that, however, Ohio State (the only legit contender for a title game berth) would need two of the top three teams in the current rankings to lose.
Were that to happen, the Buckeyes would earn a spot int he BCS title game assuming they remain undefeated, whiole simultaneously opening up a spot in the Rose Bowl Game for the next-highest Big Ten program in the BCS rankings, assuming that team can keep its head above the magical No. 16 spot in the rankings.
It's far from certain, but easily the best-case scenario for the Big Ten this year.
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