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Big Ten hits BCS title game snag

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Associated Press
October 26, 2011

Wisconsin was looking like the Big Ten’s best bet in the BCS championship race. Now, the conference appears to be looking in from the outside.


The Badgers tumbled eight spots to No. 12 in the AP poll after losing 37-31 to Michigan State on a 44-yard touchdown pass at the end of Saturday’s game, leaving the Big Ten with no undefeated teams.


Ohio State coach Luke Fickell insisted a team from the league can still make the BCS title game.


“I think you’re going to see the balance of this conference,” he said Tuesday. “It’s happened several times here in the past few years, and there’s a good chance it could happen again this year. It’s a part of the game. It’s a part of showing there’s a lot of great teams in this league.”


Other than the 2006 and 2007 Ohio State teams under Jim Tressel, no conference program has played in the BCS title game, and the Buckeyes got blown out by Florida and LSU.


The Big Ten has been a spectator since then and the picture isn’t promising at the moment.


With byes this week, No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama will go into their showdown Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa with perfect records and almost certainly as the nation’s top two teams. The next four teams in the AP poll—Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State and Clemson are all unbeaten. So are No. 10 Kansas State and No. 18 Houston.


Michigan State is the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the BCS standings at No. 11. The Badgers are No. 15, Michigan is No. 18 and Penn State is 19th.


So the Big Ten will probably need some help.


Don’t forget, though, that it now has a title game. That could provide a boost in a year where everyone in the conference has at least one loss.


“I think there’s great football played in this conference, and I do think that having a 13th game, where that eventual champion would beat another football team with a lot of wins, is going to give their power rating a big boost and maybe that can happen,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “But I guess it’s dependent on what everybody else does as well.”


With Nebraska starting conference play this year, the Big Ten split into two six-team divisions and created a lucrative championship game. Along with the added revenue, the conference also got a boost in prestige with one of college football’s marquee programs now in the mix.


One drawback to a title game is a team in line to play for the national championship could fall out of contention with a loss, but in a year like this, it could also be an advantage. A one-loss team could jump into the picture by winning the conference title if other dominos fall into place.


“You could obviously look back at history and see ways that it helps and then ways that it hurts,” Fickell said. “I guess it’s on a year-to-year basis, but people would say, ‘You get to play another game so you’re not having such a layoff.’ Who knows? Sometimes, in those situations, you take yourself out of the running for a BCS or even a national championship. That’s a year-to-year thing. All we know is we got one this year and we’ll be excited.”


For now, there are more immediate concerns at hand.


Wisconsin is trying to shake off that gut-wrenching loss to Michigan State, and the ninth-ranked Spartans are trying to move past that thriller, too, as they prepare for Nebraska.


The Badgers have a chance to knock off Ohio State for the second straight year when they visit the Buckeyes on Saturday, and as tough as last week’s loss was, coach Bret Bielema had no trouble finding some positives for his team afterward.


“What I tried to stress to them is you didn’t capitalize on an opportunity you had, but I think we over the last two years had nine straight Big Ten wins, by almost 30 points a game,” he said. “In the last three-and-a-half years, this year included, there are only three or four teams in the world of college football that have won more games than Wisconsin and nobody else in the Big Ten. I kind of put that record in front of them and said, ‘Hey, that doesn’t happen by chance. What we do is good. Stick to the plan.’


“Anytime you lose a game, a lot of people tend to flinch or start looking for answers, but the answers are in front of you. We just have to do what we do better and capitalize on the opportunity.”



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