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Who to Root For and Against (You Make the Call!)

[Because who YOU root for definitely makes a difference.]

With the BCS Title Game dream now decisively back out of reach, it's all about (1) getting a share of the Big Ten title and (2) getting to a big-time bowl game--ideally the Granddaddy of Them All.  With four teams tied with one loss at the top of the Big Ten standings, how exactly MSU gets there is not immediately clear.  To try to sort it all out, I've put together a handy table of plausible scenarios.

First, assumptions:

  • MSU, of course, has to win out.  So definitely root for that.  There are scenarios with a multi-team tie at 2 losses, but (1) the odds of those scenarios occurring are exceedingly small (see SpartanDan's post at OTE for the complete list of such scenarios) and (2) they're even less likely to end well in terms of MSU going to a BCS bowl game.  (Note: Even with a loss at Penn State, it looks like MSU should fall no further than #4 in the Big Ten pecking order (likely the Outback Bowl), so WOOOOO!!! New Year's Day bowl.  If they somehow lose to Minnesota or Purdue at home, I wouldn't get too bent out of shape about getting sent to any bowl destination.)
  • MSU will almost certainly be below Ohio State and Wisconsin in the final BCS rankings if they're tied in number of losses.  That's probably true for Iowa, too; beating Ohio State would likely compensate for Iowa's (narrow) out-of-conference loss (to a very good team).
  • Similarly, I'm working under the assumption that MSU will be the lowest in the pecking order among potential BCS at-large selections among any teams tied for the Big Ten title.  Badgers/Buckeyes/Hawkeyes travel.
  • On that note: I'm assuming that the Big Ten will get two BCS slots (automatic bid to the Rose Bowl plus an at-large bid) as long as at least two teams have only one Big Ten loss.

Without further ado, the table (after the jump):


Click to BLOW IT UP.

All very neat, right?  The only problem is it's not presented in chronological order.  We won't know the winner of the Ohio State-Iowa game for another two weeks.  Here's what we know about rooting for upsets over the next two weeks:

  • Ohio State losing is unambiguously good.  If they end up beating Iowa, then we want them out of the picture to get the tie-breaker down to us and Wisconsin.
  • Also true for Iowa.  If they end up beating Ohio State, we're looking pretty good regardless, but getting them out of the way would ensure a Rose Bowl trip rather than an any-old-BCS-game trip.  (Should have mentioned that earlier.  16 days from now: GO HAWKEYES!  BEAT THE BUCKEYES!)
  • Wisconsin is where it gets interesting.  A Wisconsin loss is good from the perspective of ensuring (or almost ensuring) some sort of BCS trip.  But it also takes the Rose Bowl out of the picture.  BUT (it's a reverse!) Wisconsin winning out would introduce the SHAFT factor--ending up in a 3-way tie and getting sent to Orlando (which is lovely but not the home of a BCS bowl) despite going 11-1--if Ohio State were to beat Iowa.

For me, the Rose Bowl is the PRECIOUS.  It's been 23 years now since the Spartans made the trip to Pasadena.  A return would make this pretty clearly the best MSU football season of my lifetime.  Dropping to the Capital One bowl despite only losing once would be a bummer, but the gap between the Orange/Sugar/Fiesta Bowl and the SHAFT isn't as big, to me, as the drop between the Rose Bowl and everything else.  So I say, "On Wisconsin."    (Plus: There's some risk with going for the BCS-game-as-the-floor scenario since it's not an absolute lock we wouldn't get squeezed out of one of the four at-large slots.)

The rest of you will have to choose your own rooting adventure.  If you choose differently, the chances are our collective Badger-related rooting will then cancel itself out with the football gods anyway.

In the end, we're back to: GO STATE!

P.S. Adam Rittenberg's less graphical, but national-level, version of "who MSU should root for/against" (specific to this week) is here.  He says we want Wisconsin to lose, but only if Iowa loses.  I think that only really matters if we care about trying to win the Big Ten title outright--which I do care about, but not that much compared to the rest of it.  On the national level, Arizona beating Stanford seems like the key, as that would get the number of BCS conferences with plausible at-large picks down to three (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten).

P.P.S. In terms of plausible losses for Iowa/Ohio State/Wisconsin, outside of the Ohio State-Iowa game, we're really relying on friends in Ann Arbor.  Michigan still plays both Wisconsin (at home) and Ohio State (on the road).  Formula: top-five offense plus the Badger/Buckeye offense going on the fritz of its own accord for 20-30 minutes.

P.P.P.S.  For as much work as it turned out to be, I hope I got all this right.  Paging SpartanDan . . .