Posted by Adam Jacobi
Week 9 has come and gone, and with Iowa's utter pantsing of Michigan State, the Rose Bowl picture is even murkier now than it was seven days ago. As mentioned before, with MSU's loss, there are now zero teams in the Big Ten that control their own destiny; every one of the four one-loss teams needs at least one of the others to lose (or, in one instance, win out) in order to reach the Rose Bowl. Let's go down the list.
Wisconsin can go to the Rose Bowl if...
- Wisconsin wins out AND Ohio State wins out;
- Wisconsin wins out AND Michigan State loses once.
If the season ended today, Jim Delany would probably be fired. I stole that joke from somewhere. But more to the point, Wisconsin would be the Big Ten's representative in the Rose Bowl. The Badgers are buoyed by wins over Iowa and Ohio State, but the Hawkeyes' loss to Arizona in the non-conference schedule may doom Wisconsin's Rose Bowl hopes. Huh? Here's the relevant portion of the Big Ten tiebreaker:If three teams are still tied, and one of the three teams is eliminated through the percentage basis of all games played, the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.
That two-team procedure goes head-to-head, overall record, BCS rating. So even though Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State split their three-team series and Wisconsin's got the highest BCS rating of the three, Iowa's 10-2 record eliminates it from consideration. That means only Wisconsin and MSU would be up for the Rose Bowl bid, and MSU won that meeting. Hence, Michigan State would go to Pasadena. Of course, that assumes Michigan State wins out; one more Spartan loss, and nobody can stop Wisconsin if the Badgers win out.
Ohio State can go to the Rose Bowl if...
- OSU wins out AND Wisconsin loses once;
- OSU wins out AND MSU wins out AND OSU's BCS rating climbs higher than Wisconsin's.
It's tough to overestimate just how much of a power position Ohio State is in relative to Michigan State. Since the two teams don't play and their non-conference records are equal, by rule, the team with the higher BCS ranking will get the nod. Observe:If there is a tie for the championship, the winner of the game between these two teams shall represent the conference.
If there is still a tie, or if the tied teams did not play each other, the representative shall be determined on the percentage basis of all games played.
If there is still a tie, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings shall be the representative.
MSU can't beat the Buckeyes in any of those three categories, but the Buckeyes can't beat Wisconsin in any of them either unless a win over Iowa vaults OSU over Wisconsin in the BCS standings. That might happen -- the Buckeyes are only two spots back -- but the gap in poll position between the two teams is pretty substantial, largely because OSU's schedule is actually pretty weak so far. Again, that'll change, but there's no telling by how much yet. Thus, everyone in Columbus would feel a lot easier if Wisconsin would just go ahead and drop another game.
Of course, if OSU wins out and passes a 7-1 Wisconsin in the BCS, that itself isn't enough; the key here is to get MSU involved in the tiebreaker, since its presence would cancel out Wisconsin's win over OSU as a disqualifying factor for the Rose Bowl berth (see the bolded part of the second rule above). Needless to say, there are plenty of Spartan fans in Columbus these days.
Michigan State can go to the Rose Bowl if...
- MSU wins out AND Wisconsin wins out AND Ohio State loses once;
- MSU wins out AND Iowa and Ohio State both lose once.
Make no mistake about it, Michigan State's 37-6 loss at Iowa dealt a major hit to the Spartans' Rose Bowl chances, but they're far from out of this race. The key for Michigan State is its win over Wisconsin, to the point that Michigan State basically can't win a tiebreaker for the conference title if Wisconsin's not involved.
The good news is that Wisconsin probably will end up at 7-1; the Badgers' last four games are against unranked opponents, and the toughest of the bunch is probably Northwestern -- a game that's in Madison. But the key here is Ohio State, whom Michigan State just can't catch if the Buckeyes finish at 11-1, as mentioned before. If OSU's in the mix, MSU's not. It seems incredibly counter-intuitive that Michigan State would rather be in a three-way tie with Iowam, a team that it lost to, rather than OSU, a team that it didn't play at all , but that's the nature of the Big Ten tiebreaker rules.
Iowa can go to the Rose Bowl if...
- Iowa wins out AND Wisconsin loses once.
This is the same scenario as last week, and on its face, it seems to be the simplest of the four. No ANDs or ORs here -- if Iowa wins out and Wisconsin loses, the only other team that can finish at 7-1 is Michigan State. Advantage: Iowa.
Of course, for Iowa to win out, it'll have to beat Ohio State AND Northwestern in Evanston. Iowa hasn't beaten an Ohio State team that ended the season with at least nine wins since 1983, and unless all hell breaks loose in Columbus in November (under Jim Tressel, that seems exceedingly unlikely), this OSU team will qualify with ease. Moreover, Iowa robbed Northwestern of a Rose Bowl berth in 2000 with a 27-17 win, and the Wildcats have been exacting their revenge on the Hawkeyes since, winning four of their last five against Iowa. So, yeah. Not a whole lot of history on the Hawkeyes' side on this one.
And lastly, we can't mention Northwestern -- the Big Ten's Loki -- without noting that it's lurking once again this season, waiting to unleash its special brand of discord on the conference title race. Northwestern has four wins over 9-win conference foes in just the last five seasons, and can completely blow this conference race to smithereens by winning out and getting a little help. Sure, the Wildcats have lost to Purdue, blew a 17-point lead to MSU, and have no rushing attack. You underestimate them at your own peril. So without further ado...
NORTHWESTERN CAN GO TO THE ROSE BOWL IF...
- Northwestern wins out AND Iowa wins out AND Ohio State loses another game on top of the Iowa loss AND Michigan State loses at least once and probably twice.
The crazy thing about Northwestern is that it really only has two plausible nemeses standing in its way in this race: Michigan State, who defeated the Wildcats two weeks ago, and Ohio State (one of Northwestern's byes). The Wildcats still have yet to play Iowa and Wisconsin; if they win those two games, they can be in the clubhouse at 6-2.
The problem is, though, there isn't much chance of Northwestern getting past either MSU or OSU in any tiebreaker scenario. The Wildcats' BCS rating is currently nonexistent, and even wins over Iowa and Wisconsin probably aren't going to be enough to push them past even a two-loss Ohio State. Heck, it's not even certain to get the Wildcats past a two-loss MSU, although that would at least seem a little more plausible. Still, this is quite clearly a longshot, and ony the most mischievous of football gods would set a plan like this into motion. And that only happens in the ACC.