At times, the bowl picture can get murky. Actually, murky may be understating things.
There are, however, moments of clarity that leave little doubt as to what teams should be playing in what games.
The Capital One Bowl, which matches the Big Ten against the SEC, is one of those games.
Partners with the Capital One Bowl since 1992, the Big Ten will send Michigan State to Orlando, Fla. on New Year’s Day.
If all holds true during this weekend’s championship games, the 11-1 Spartans, currently ranked eighth in the BCS standings, will likely be the only one-loss school from an automatic-qualifying conference to be denied a spot in the BCS.
Despite navigating a tougher schedule and registering more wins over bowl-eligible teams than both No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 6 Ohio State—who appear to be headed to the Rose and Sugar Bowls, respectively—head coach Mark Dantonio and Michigan State will be on the outside looking in.
But who will they be looking at when they pull up to the Citrus Bowl?
All signs point to Alabama, which had some of its luster chipped with a 9-3 season to succeed a national championship run in 2009.
Nick Saban and the Tide could just as easily head to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl and a date with Texas A&M—giving way to 10-2 LSU, a team that beat Alabama—but the cachet that radiates from the program will be far too attractive for the Capital One, which lags behind only BCS selections in the SEC’s bowl order.
So, what of the matchup?
Well, you could argue that from player No. 1 to No. 85, Alabama has as much talent as anybody in the country. But the Spartans all season have shown a knack for winning games in which they appeared outmanned, riding fourth-quarter heroics en route to dramatic victories over Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue.
Either way, this should be an interesting pairing, if only because it will be the first-ever meeting between Alabama and Michigan State, Saban’s former employer. You just have to wonder how interested his old team will be after getting slighted by a bunch of computers.