Rose Bowl might be a stretch, but UW's BCS prospects look good
Please excuse Badger fans for looking ahead.
While the last thing the players and coaches are worried about is the Big Ten BCS tiebreaking procedure, it appears that is all the fans want to talk about. With four very winnable games left on the schedule, my inbox has been flooded with questions about how Wisconsin can still get to the Rose Bowl and that same conversation has dominated B5Q's comments sections as well.
I will go through the tiebreaking procedures momentarily, but let me start by telling you that the bottomline is that there's a very good chance this is all going to come down to BCS standings so it is very important for Wisconsin to not only go 4-0 the rest of the way, but also win those games convicingly so they climb in the human polls. The computers don't factor in margin of victory, but the humans do. That is the best way for Wisconsin to keep climbing in the BCS each week.
Stay with me as I try to explain this:
Two-team ties: This is easy. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results so the Badgers have the tiebreaker over Iowa and Ohio State but lose the tiebreaker to Michigan State. Considering the Spartans only have one really tough game remaining -- at Iowa Saturday -- a tie with only Michigan State would not be good for the Badgers. But remember, Sparty still has to go to Penn State and it's never easy to win there.
Three-team ties: This is where it gets really complicated and it is hard to project what will happen because Michigan State and Ohio State both have to go to Iowa still. First, please read the three-team tiebreaking procedure:
If more than two teams tie for the championship, the same selection procedures shall be followed with the following exceptions:
a) If three teams are tied, and if one team defeated both of the other teams, then that team shall be the representative.
b) If three teams are still tied, and if two of the three teams defeated the third team, the third team is eliminated, and the remaining two teams shall revert to the two-team tie procedure.
c) If three teams are still tied, and there is a tie game between two of the three teams, or if two or all three of the teams did not play each other, the representative shall be determined on a percentage basis of all games played.
d) 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.
e) If three teams are still tied, and all three teams have the same winning percentage of all games played, the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings shall be the representative.
Let me present two different scenarios to you:
Scenario 1: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State all tie with a 7-1 Big Ten record and 11-1 overall record.
Because OSU and MSU don't play this year, we skip a) and b) and move on to c). But we still have a tie here because all three teams have the same overall record. Exception d) doesn't apply because all three teams are still tied so it comes down to BCS standings.
Timing is often everything. Wisconsin would likely be higher than MSU in the BCS because the Spartans' lone loss would come way after UW's last loss and the Badgers would be on a seven-game win streak to the end the season. That will count for a lot. But will UW be ahead of Ohio State? If OSU finishes with only one loss, that means they got a win at Iowa and considering UW is No. 9 and OSU is No. 10 in the BCS right now, it's very possible they would leapfrog Wisconsin with that win. That would seem unfair considering Wisconsin beat Ohio State, but hey, we already know how unjust of a system the BCS is.
That would put OSU in the Rose Bowl and Wisconsin would still have a great chance at an at-large BCS bid. Michigan State could then be left out in similar fashion as the Badgers were in 2006 -- only two teams from one conference can play in BCS bowls -- or the Badgers could be that team on the outside again if MSU slips ahead of them in the BCS standings somehow. Will this be 2006 all over again? It could be because the computers love Michigan State and a loss at Iowa might not change that. But this year's situation is different because remember in 2006 Ohio State and Michigan were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, down to the last week of the season and the Badgers didn't rise in the polls until the final few weeks of the year.
(Editor's note: I should have made it more clear that BCS at-large berths are not neccessarily given to the higher ranked team. It certainly helps to be the higher ranked team, but a school only needs to be ranked in the top 12 to be eligible for an at-large berth. The bowls then select from the pool of eligible at-large teams.)
The Badgers finished '06 on a similar seven-game win streak, but they had almost no chance to pass the Wolverines when they lost to OSU because they rose in the rankings so late in the season. This time around the Badgers are already No. 9 and I would expect Wisconsin to pass the Spartans next week if they lose at Iowa, even with UW on a bye week.
Scenario 2: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa all tie with a 7-1 Big Ten record. UW and MSU are both 11-1 overall and Iowa is 10-2.
We move past a) and b) because MSU beat UW, UW beat Iowa and Iowa beat MSU. But this is where Iowa's overall record is going to hurt Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes get eliminated because of their overall record and it becomes a two-team tie between UW and MSU, which we already know gives the nod to the Spartans.
Still, if this were the case, Sparty would go to the Rose Bowl but the Badgers will still be really high in the BCS standings and I can't see them getting passed up on for an at-large bid.
What does all this mean? Well, first off it means Wisconsin has to go 4-0 to close the season and considering the Badgers haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, that's no guarantee. But it also means you should root for MSU to lose at Iowa and at Penn State to make things easier. That's UW's best path to Pasadena.
Otherise, I'll take my chances with Wisconsin winning out. If that happens, it would be very, very hard to keep the Badgers out of a BCS bowl game. And who wouldn't want to take a trip to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl matchup against, say, Alabama?