Let the lobbying begin.
There's still a week left in the regular season — plus the conference championship games — yet all anyone seems to be talking about is who will wind up in the BCS bowl games. It's an annual college football ritual that will only somewhat change next season, as this is the BCS' final year. But with a two-team BCS championship game replaced by a four-team playoff, the same heated arguments for or against inclusion figure to remain.
Anyway, the Big Ten is hardly immune to this talk, and outside the SEC, it might be the conference with the most confusion over which team or teams will actually wind up in the most prestigious postseason games.
The conference title game is set, as undefeated No. 3 Ohio State and one-loss No. 11 Michigan State will battle for the conference's automatic bid. Then there's two-loss No. 15 Wisconsin, who won't be playing for the conference championship but still boasts a strong resume when it comes to making a big-time bowl.
The Buckeyes seem a virtual BCS lock, that is if they avoid a Week 14 loss at Michigan. They're undefeated, and even if they stumble and lose in the conference title game, it would be their first loss and come against a soon-to-be top-10 team in Michigan State. That would be bad news for the Badgers, as the Spartans would likely head to the Rose Bowl with the conference's automatic bid and the Buckeyes would get an at-large spot with just their one loss.
But if the Buckeyes win the title game, that sets up a pick-em scenario in which only one team between the Spartans and Badgers can head to a BCS game.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio — not looking past the Spartans' final game against Minnesota or the Big Ten title game, of course — believes it should be his group that deserves a BCS slot.
"Yeah, I think those are the stakes that you have to play for as you move forward here. You have to think about those things. Certainly we have to win this game to even be in the talk in that regard," Dantonio said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. "And then the next thing you have to ask yourself is, are the two best teams playing for the championship. I think they are. But we're going to find out after Saturday if that's the case, because we have an opportunity to challenge in Minnesota. And then you worry about things as they shake out. But I think that you make a case by getting in the top 10, and you make a case by winning this football game and saying, OK, we've won 11 games, now what? But I also don't — next week you're not going to hear me talking about going 11-2. We're going to go 12-1."
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Similarly and unsurprisingly, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen believes the Badgers — assuming they win their final game vs. Penn State — should be the ones in the BCS in the event of a head-to-head comparison between the two teams.
"If (the Badgers are) given that opportunity and they're deemed to be in that position you know, the best thing I say about that is if they can find a way to win this game against Penn State, do I think that they deserve that opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game? Absolutely, yes," Andersen said at his weekly press conference Monday. "Again, I don't have a bunch of say in that, but I do believe that. I think that they've put themselves in the elite of the elite position in the Big Ten conference. And to do what they've done, if they can win on Saturday, then I believe they should be given that opportunity. I don't get into the formulas. I don't know the formulas. But I would be in full support if they got that opportunity."
So what do the resumes look like?
A little assumption has to be done to really look at what the BCS bowls could be looking at. First, assume that all three teams — the Buckeyes, Spartans and Badgers — win their final regular-season games on Saturday. Then assume the Buckeyes beat the Spartans in the Big Ten title game the following week.
Both the Spartans and Badgers would have two losses, with both losses coming against ranked good teams: Wisconsin fell to No. 12 Arizona State by two points and lost to No. 3 Ohio State by seven, while Michigan State lost to No. 25 Notre Dame by four and would have a second loss against No. 3 Ohio State. Wisconsin's losses appear to be slightly better, and both teams dominated their Big Ten schedules, save for games against the top-dog Buckeyes.
So, if Michigan State does lose to Ohio State, much about the Spartans' future could be determined by just how much they lose by, given that the Badgers lost to the Buckeyes by just one score.
If this is the scenario that plays out — and college football's omnipresent wackiness means there are many different ways this could end — there's going to be a big argument and a big decision to make: Spartans or Badgers? Dantonio is going to try his hardest to make sure its his team heading to a BCS bowl.
"Oh, yeah, I'll campaign," Dantonio said Tuesday. "Yeah. We beat Wisconsin the last three out of four years. We can start with that, OK.
"But we'll worry about that later on. We're not going to deal with that now. Our focus has got to be on Minnesota. That's where it is. Our coaches are preparing. That's where I've been all morning. So our focus has to be there. So you can't really put things — I don't think we can put the cart before the horse. We've got to deal in the present, and we'll deal with those things after the fact. I can tell also you this: We lost by one point to Ohio State last year. One. So we'll be ready to play."