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Badger fans contemplate the end of the season

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Jeff Potrykus
November 19, 2009
— As Wisconsin prepares for its crucial Big Ten Conference football finale Saturday at Northwestern before enjoying its second bye week of the season, Badgers fans are pondering several questions:

1. Can Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2) win a share of its first league title since the 1999 season?


That’s the easy one. Yes. A victory over Northwestern (7-4, 4-3), coupled by an Ohio State (9-2, 6-1) loss at Michigan (5-6, 1-6) would give Wisconsin a share of the title.


Losses by Penn State (9-2, 5-2) at Michigan State and Iowa (9-2, 5-2) to Minnesota (6-5, 3-4) likely would move Wisconsin ahead of the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes in the bowl pecking order.


2. Can UW, which closes the regular season Dec. 5 at Hawaii, land one of the four at-large berths in the Bowl Championship Series?


Anything is possible, but don’t bet the balance of your 401(k) on it.


The Badgers are No. 16 in the BCS standings and must move up to No. 14 to be eligible for an at-large berth. However, Iowa is No. 13 and Penn State is No. 14 in the BCS, and the odds of the Hawkeyes losing at home to Minnesota are slim. The Gophers last week needed a late turnover to set up a game-winning field goal in a 16-13 victory over South Dakota State. They lost to Iowa, 55-0, last season and lost at Penn State and at Ohio State this season by a combined 58-7.


3. To which bowl is UW likely headed if it finishes 10-2?


That hinges on whether a second Big Ten team joins Ohio State in the BCS. The Big Ten has sent two teams to BCS bowls in each of the last four seasons.


If the streak reaches five, UW could move up as high as the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. If not, UW could wind up in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.


“My guess is on Saturday we’ll know a lot about where we could possibly be going,” UW coach Bret Bielema said. “But there are so many variables out there, not only this week but the week after.”


There is a difference of opinion regarding the Big Ten’s chances to land one of the four BCS at-large berths.


Texas Christian (10-0, No. 4 BCS) will receive one of the at-large berths if it remains unbeaten because it will finish in the top 12 of the BCS.


The loser of the Southeastern Conference title game between Florida (10-0, No. 1 BCS) and Alabama (10-0, No. 2 BCS) should receive an at-large berth.


Boise State (10-0, No. 6 BCS), which has a potentially dicey game against visiting Nevada on Nov. 27, has a victory over Oregon (8-2, No. 11 BCS) on its resume. The Broncos are a strong candidate to land an at-large berth.


If Boise State is in, that leaves one at-large berth for a team from the Big Ten, Pacific 10, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 or Big East.


The Big Ten’s top two candidates entering the weekend are Iowa and Penn State. Iowa has road victories over Penn State, UW and Michigan State and a home victory over Arizona. Penn State has Joe Paterno and a history of traveling well.


Every Pac 10 team after Oregon has three losses. Ditto for the ACC after Georgia Tech (10-1, No. 7 BCS). Oklahoma State (8-2, No. 12 BCS) is the only legitimate Big 12 candidate, but the Cowboys still must face rival Oklahoma. In the Big East, either Cincinnati (10-0, No. 5 BCS) or Pittsburgh (9-1, No. 9 BCS), who meet on Dec. 5 in Pittsburgh, will win the league title and receive an automatic berth. Will the loser of that game get an at-large berth? Anything is possible, but remember that the Cincinnati-Virginia Tech matchup in the Orange Bowl last season was a marketing dud.


It is likely the BCS standings will undergo a bit of upheaval through the conference title games, set to be played Dec. 5. The BCS pairings are to be announced the next day. The worst-case scenario for any team looking to land an at-large berth is a Texas loss in the Big 12 title game, which would give that league two BCS slots.


“I know there is a chance that because we play in a conference that traditionally has two teams in the BCS,” Bielema said, “until this whole thing is done no one is really going to know the order of where everything falls.”


Bielema sounded like a coach who likes the fact his team will be playing Dec. 5. If UW beats Northwestern on Saturday and other BCS at-large candidates falter, particularly Iowa and Penn State, maybe UW can crash the party.


“We’re going to be playing a Hawaii game that will have implications hopefully on where things will end up,” Bielema said. “It allows people to talk about you longer.”


“There are so many variables out there, not only this week but the week after.”



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