Six weeks into the 2009 season and the Big Ten standings are starting to take shape. Without a doubt, the biggest upset so far has been Iowa's victory in Happy Valley, continuing the Hawkeyes' dominance over the Nittany Lions for the past decade.
Penn State fans have been upset since the letdown, and with much reason. But the drive for a second straight Rose Bowl berth lies with unlikely Big Ten upsets and much more uncertainty along the rest of the way.
Currently, there are seven Big Ten teams in the hunt for the conference title. Teams with two losses in the conference are out. One more loss for the Nittany Lions and the fight for a January bowl game will be all that remains in 2009.
Two undefeated teams—(in conference play) Iowa and Ohio State—are the front-runners to take the title, then comes the Nittany Lions. Since the Hawkeyes won in Happy Valley, only two conference losses by Iowa will send them out of contention. This is quite possible—in fact, more than likely. They play at Wisconsin this coming weekend and then at Ohio State Nov. 14.
Assuming Iowa’s fortune plays out as above and Penn State wins the rest of its games, every Big Ten team except the Badgers, the Buckeyes, and the Nittany Lions will then have at least two losses.
Just as it has been the past two times the Nittany Lions have taken the title, a win against Ohio State on Nov. 7 would then force a tie between the two teams, with Penn State taking the tie-breaker.
In the event of a resulting tie-breaker between Wisconsin and Penn State, as mentioned before, Rose Bowl selection procedure takes the winner between the two teams’ match-up during the regular season.
The problem is, Penn State and Wisconsin do not meet this year. As per Rose Bowl procedures, the Big Ten representative will then be the team which played the least number of FCS teams in its schedule. The Badgers and the Nittany Lions each played one: Wofford and Eastern Illinois, respectively.
The next tie-breaking step eliminates the team with the worst overall record. If both win out, both will be 11-1.
In the event of a tie after all the steps mentioned above, the Rose Bowl selection committee will finally eliminate the team represented in the Rose Bowl last (Penn State).
As unlikely as it may seem, there could be three 7-1 Big Ten teams in conference play, with Wisconsin going to the Rose Bowl, Ohio State going to the Orange Bowl and Penn State missing out on the BCS party.
The only chance Penn State has to make it to Pasadena for the second straight year lies with an upset of Wisconsin late in the year, or the off-chance that Iowa beats Wisconsin, then proceeds to lose at the Buckeyes in addition to another loss later on in the year.
It's all very complicated, but as of right now, the possibilities aren’t looking too good for the Lions.