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Going Bowling…

December 1, 2011

Even though Michigan ended up in a New Year’s Day bowl game last year, there’s a lot more buzz around this year’s bowl scenarios.  Last year we snuck into a New Year’s game, this year we will deserve it.  At 10-2, some are talking about Michigan even ending up in a BCS Bowl game, but before you start making plane reservations for New Orleans, I thought I’d take you through the scenarios of what has to happen for Michigan to end up in the Sugar Bowl, and where the other Big Ten teams might end up as well.

BCS Eligibility

To start off, its important to understand that its not a foregone conclusion that Michigan will be BCS bowl eligible.  Under the BCS rules, for Michigan to get an at-large selection into the BCS, they need to be ranked in the Top 14 of the final BCS standings.  Currently, Michigan is ranked 16th and needs a few teams in front of them to lose in order to move up.  Fortunately, that’s a possibility.

  • With MSU ranked 13th and Wisconsin 15th, its likely that the loser of the Big Ten Championship game drops behind Michigan.  If you’re playing percentages, the safer bet would be to root for Michigan State, but I think either outcome moves Michigan up a spot. 
  • Georgia, ranked 14th, plays LSU in the SEC Championship Game.  If they lose, they will drop behind Michigan as well
  • Oklahoma, ranked 10th, plays Oklahoma State on Saturday.  A 3rd loss by the Sooners probably drops them behind Michigan, though it will help if it is a blowout loss. 
  • Kansas State, ranked 11th, plays Iowa State on Saturday.  Like Oklahoma, a 3rd loss by KSU will drop them behind Michigan.  Though to be fair, that’s pretty unlikely.
  • Oregon, ranked 9th, plays UCLA in the Pac-10 Championship on Friday.  It would be a shock if Oregon lost, but if they did, they would also fall behind Michigan.
  • Finally, Houston ranked 5th, plays Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship.  If the Cougars lose, even at 12-1 they may drop behind Michigan.

The other thing to worry about here is #17 Baylor, who plays #22 Texas on Saturday.  If Baylor wins, their strength of schedule might vault them ahead of us in the BCS, which means we’d need one more team to lose to stay in the Top 14.

Is there a spot?

However, even if a handful of those teams lose, and Michigan ends up at #14, they could still be left out of the BCS.   It is possible that there won’t be an available spot for Michigan based on automatic qualifiers.  Under BCS rules, there are 10 available BCS spots, with 6 automatic bids going to the winners of the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, and ACC conferences.  Additionally, if Houston beats Southern Miss on Saturday, they would get a bid as a non-BCS conference automatic qualifier champion based on their high BCS ranking.  Stanford would also get a bid based on being in the Top 4 of the BCS but not winning their conference, and Alabama will likely get a bid as they will finish ranked #2 in the country).  That leaves one available slot in the BCS to be doled out to an at-large team.  However, there is one weird scenario that would leave us with no available slots.  If Georgia defeats LSU in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia would be the SEC representative in the BCS.  However, most analysts agree that even under that scenario, LSU and Alabama (both SEC schools) would still remain #1 and #2 in the BCS.  The general rule of the BCS is that no conference may have more than 2 teams in the BCS – but there is an exception for this exact scenario, where Team A and Team B from a conference finish ranked #1 and #2 in the BCS, and a third team wins the conference.  In that case, all 3 teams go to a BCS game.  If Georgia beats LSU, that’s a very real possibility, and no matter how high Michigan is ranked in the BCS, there won’t be an available slot for them.

Will Michigan be Chosen?

Finally, though the consensus is that Michigan would be a slam-dunk choice by any BCS bowl looking to fill a slot, they aren’t the only option available.  If Virginia Tech were to lose to Clemson in the ACC title game, or if Oklahoma State were to lose to Oklahoma, both would be at-large candidates instead of automatic qualifiers, and at 11-2 each would be a potential threat to Michigan’s BCS chances.  Ultimately though I think Michigan would get the nod over them both.

So to recap, here’s who you need to root for this weekend if you want to see Michigan in the BCS:

  • Southern Mississippi over Houston
  • Oklahoma State over Oklahoma
  • UCLA over Oregon
  • LSU over Georgia
  • Virginia Tech over Clemson
  • Wisconsin vs. MSU probably doesn’t matter, but MSU is the safer choice
  • Texas over Baylor
  • Iowa State over Kansas State

**I’ve bolded the most important games

So let’s say that Michigan does get to #14 in the BCS and there is a BCS spot left for them – where would they end up?  As most have speculated, with LSU and Alabama in the BCS Title Game, the Sugar Bowl would have first choice to replace one of those teams from the at-large pool, and would likely choose Michigan.  The opponent would probably be Houston, assuming they beat Southern Miss on Saturday.   If something goes crazy this weekend and Oklahoma State jumps Alabama in the final BCS rankings, then there is a chance that Michigan could end up in the Fiesta Bowl playing Stanford instead – which is another reason not to make reservations at Commander’s Palace in NOLA just yet.

If Michigan doesn’t end up in the BCS, they likely landing spot will be the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day.  Although MSU and Wisconsin are playing for the Championship, and the logic would be that the Big Ten runner up should go to the 2nd place bowl, the Capitol One Bowl loves the idea of Michigan, and would snatch them up in a second.  Truthfully, the biggest threat to Michigan for the Capitol One Bowl is not MSU or Wisconsin, but Nebraska, and there well-traveled fanbase.  The Capitol One Bowl loves Nebraska, though I can’t see them leapfrogging the Cornhuskers ahead of Michigan and the loser of the Big Ten Championship game.  However, if Michigan does go to the BCS, its likely Nebraska ends up in the Capitol One Bowl and the loser of MSU/Wisconsin game on Saturday drops to the Outback Bowl.  The Big Ten Championship game is going to reward the winner with the Rose Bowl, but will likely punish the loser to a lesser bowl than the standings would suggest they are entitlted to. 

Predictions

Since life is no fun without predictions, here’s my best guess at what the Big Ten bowl picture will look like next Sunday.

Rose Bowl – Wisconsin (yes, I’m predicting they will beat MSU)

Sugar Bowl – Michigan

Capitol One Bowl – Nebraska

Outback Bowl – Michigan State

Gator Bowl – Ohio State

Ticket City Bowl – Purdue

Meineke Car Care Bowl – Penn State

Insight Bowl – Iowa

Little Caesar’s Bowl – Northwestern

All of that said, don’t be shocked if Michigan gets left out of the BCS game and ends up playing Arkansas in Orlando in the Capitol One Bowl.  There are just too many moving parts, and the BCS really seems to favor the Big 12 and SEC this year, which means Michigan may get pushed out of the Top 14.  If there is a spot in the Top 14 though, Michigan will be BCS bowling.   

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