The final week of the Big Ten season has arrived, and there couldn't be more at stake this weekend. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State all enter the weekend with one conference loss. The scenarios play out as follows:
- If all three win out, Wisconsin gets the conference's automatic BCS bid because of their higher BCS ranking at the end of the season (unless, by some unbelievable stretch of the imagination, Ohio State jumps the Badgers).
- If Wisconsin and Ohio State win, Wisconsin gets the bid since the Badgers beat the Buckeyes head-to-head.
- If Wisconsin and Michigan State win, Michigan State will get the bid since the Spartans beat the Badgers head-to-head.
- If Ohio State and Michigan State win, since the two teams did not meet in the regular season, the BCS tiebreaker is used, and Ohio State would most likely get the automatic bid.
However, things get interesting when one considers the new Rose Bowl rules.
Starting with the 2011 Rose Bowl and extending until the 2014 edition of the granddaddy of them all, the first time the Rose Bowl loses one of its traditional hosts (Big Ten or Pac-10 Champion) to the BCS National Championship Game, and a non-BCS team automatically qualifies for the BCS, that non-BCS team will be selected by the Rose Bowl.
Since Oregon is currently on pace to play for the national championship, and since both Boise State and TCU qualify under the above rule, there is a possibility that the Big Ten automatic bid will not play against a Pac 10 opponent. Only one non-AQ team can automatically qualify, though, so if the season were to end today, Wisconsin would be playing TCU in the Rose Bowl.
Finally, since the Big Ten has three teams in the Top Ten of the BCS rankings, there is a very good chance that the conference will have two teams playing in BCS bowls.That means that Penn State, Northwestern, and Michigan all get to play the role of spoiler on Saturday. Will that happen? Let's look at the games.
Michigan at Ohio State. Ohio State has the easiest path to finishing with one loss, as only the Michigan Wolverines stand in the way. Normally, "The Game" carries much more weight, but three years of Rich Rodriguez have set the Wolverines back quite a bit. Their defense is abysmal, something the Buckeyes can easily exploit with their offensive firepower. Ohio State 44, Michigan 28
Indiana at Purdue. Neither of these teams will be playing in a bowl game, neither having a chance to make it to the requisite six wins. Each has four wins on the season, but none of Indiana's have come in-conference. Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch will be on the hot seat at the end of the season regardless, but a winless conference record could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Purdue wins based solely on its homefield advantage. Purdue 8, Indiana 5
Michigan State at Penn State. Penn State has been dominant in this series over the past decade, holding the same hex over Michigan State that Iowa seems to have over Penn State. Still, this Michigan State team will be tough to beat, even in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Controlled optimism says Penn State keeps it close for some of the game, but reality might not be as kind to the Nittany Lions. Michigan State 31, Penn State 21
Iowa at Minnesota. If Michigan's defense has been abysmal this year, Minnesota's entire 2010 season has been equally horrid. With only two wins (one of which was a seven-point victory over an FCS team), the Golden Gophers fired their head coach in the middle of the season and have essentially written off the rest of this year. Look for Iowa to win big at TCF Bank Stadium. Iowa 39, Minnesota 13
Northwestern at Wisconsin. This would have been a lot closer of a game with a healthy Dan Persa leading the way for Northwestern, but a ruptured Achilles tendon will keep Persa out of this game. Wisconsin's vaunted running attack will prove to be too much for the Wildcats, and the Big Ten will end its regular season with a three-way tie for the conference lead. Wisconsin 51, Northwestern 23
Final Conference Standings (ranked by bowl selection eligibility)
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Penn State