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Big Ten Selection Update – Week Eight

The great thing about days like last Saturday is that they remind us of why we
love college football.  Michigan State’s miracle Hail Mary against
Wisconsin was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime moment that Spartan fans will cite
for years to come.

The “bad” thing (not really bad) about those days is that on the following
Monday, our Team Selection Committee has to sit down and make sense of it all. A
wild weekend in college football changed the landscape for the Capital One Bowl
as we approach the end of October.

Big Ten Results
Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31
Nebraska 41, Minnesota 14
Iowa 45, Indiana 24
Penn State 34, Northwestern 24
Purdue 21, Illinois 14

The biggest B1G game was in East Lansing, where the Spartans rallied from a
two-score deficit to upset the #6 Badgers. Wisconsin surrendered the lead and
then battled back, erasing their own deficit late in the game to seemingly force
overtime. With seconds remaining, Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins’ Hail Mary pass
bounced into the hands of his former backup, Keith Nichol, for the winning
score.  That game did several things that impacted our game:

  • Hurt Wisconsin’s chances at a BCS National Championship Game appearance, which
    in turn affects the conference’s odds at receiving a second BCS berth for an
    at-large team
  • Put the Badgers one game back in the Leaders division behind quiet contender
    Penn State (now 4-0 in conference)
  • Lined up a gauntlet series in the Legends division between Michigan State
    (6-1, 3-0), Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) and Iowa (5-2, 2-1) with Michigan (6-1, 2-1)
    also lined up to play the latter two.
  • Opened up the Capital One Bowl’s selection pool.

Although it wasn’t a foregone conclusion by any means, the committee had very few
discussions about Wisconsin as an option early in the season, as the Badgers
seemed BCS-bound through six games. They remain a very strong team with a good
shot at the Rose Bowl – they meet Penn State in the final week of the season and
have shown the ability to score on two of the three Legends contenders – but
until they win the rest of those critical games, our committee must prepare for
the Badgers to be on the board. With Russell Wilson and Montee Ball leading the
way, they’re a dynamic team and a great matchup for any top-shelf opponent. The
question is whether Wisconsin fans would be too disappointed to make the bowl
trip if they fall short of Pasadena. Fan passion plays heavily into our
discussions.

To that end, our representatives in East Lansing got to hear some great things
from Spartan fans. Like Wisconsin, Michigan State has made a few appearances in
Orlando in recent years (split between the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports
Bowl), most recently on the receiving end of a 49-7 thumping by Alabama in
January. Despite those painful memories, the MSU faithful praised Orlando and
their experiences here and expressed a desire to come back whenever the
opportunity is presented. We can only hope that sentiment is shared throughout
the fan base.

Elsewhere in the conference, the aforementioned Nittany Lions have slowly built
up a resume and currently hold the best record in the conference at 7-1, 4-0.
Their defense looks as good as any in the Big Ten but their offense has been
unable to find consistency prior to Saturday’s win over Northwestern. It remains
to be seen if Saturday’s 34-point output (their highest against BCS competition
this year) was the start of a trend or the result of Northwestern’s struggling
defense.  Another conference team found their touch against the Wildcats a
week ago: Iowa scored 41 points against NU and followed it up by scoring 45 on
Indiana. Both games came at home and the teams have a combined 12 losses, so
it’s too early to tell if Iowa is coming on strong in the second half. They face
all the other Legends contenders in November, so we’ll find out as the season
comes to a close.

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