Bowl Projections 2011: Michigan State Likely Headed To Outback Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: B.J. Cunningham #3 of the Michigan State Spartan runs for yards after the catch against the Wisconsin Badgers during the second half of the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Michigan State is headed to the Outback Bowl to play Georgia.

Unlike Michigan, Michigan State controlled its own destiny for a BCS bid going into the final Saturday of the regular season. The Spartans didn't need the help of other teams or anything like that; they simply needed to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, Wisconsin was the victorious team on Saturday night in Indianapolis. The Badgers edged MSU by a score of 42-39 in an absolutely thrilling game. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Spartans not only because they came up short of a Big Ten title, but also because their hopes of ending their Rose Bowl drought came crashing down.

In the new BCS standings, Michigan State is projected to fall out of the top 14 and in turn not be eligible for an at-large BCS bid. Even if MSU manages to stay in the top 14 a BCS bid is unlikely. In fact, it looks as though the Spartans are headed to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. If that isn't their destination, MSU could actually be off to Arizona for the Insight Bowl depending on how things shake out. Here are the two main scenarios that exist for MSU:

If Michigan makes the BCS

As much as it would probably pain MSU fans, the Spartans will be helped out quite a bit in terms of their bowl destination if Michigan makes the BCS. With Wisconsin already locked in to the Rose Bowl, Michigan ending up in a BCS game would clear some space in the slew of New Year's bowl games in Florida. The Capital One Bowl would likely choose Nebraska since Michigan State has been to Orlando three out of the past four seasons, and this would allow the Outback Bowl to select the Spartans. No other Big Ten teams would be a threat to push MSU past the Outback Bowl in the lineup, so Spartan fans should expect a matchup with Georgia (and a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl) if this scenario plays out.

If Michigan is left out of the BCS

This is where things could get pretty interesting. If Michigan isn't ranked in the top 14 of the BCS and misses out on an at-large bid, chances are the Capital One Bowl will jump at the chance to take the Wolverines. The Outback Bowl could still decide to take Michigan State, but it would not be surprising if the game opted for Nebraska instead. What this means is that Michigan State could be shuffled down the bowl lineup all the way to the Insight Bowl, likely matching up against a 7-5 Texas team. MSU most certainly does not deserve to be in the Big Ten's fourth bowl game, but it is a distinct possibility if Michigan doesn't end up in a BCS game.

Prediction

When all is said and done, I expect Michigan to be in the top 14, just as I expect Nebraska to be in the Capital One Bowl. This leaves the door wide open for Michigan State to play in its first ever Outback Bowl against the runners-up from the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs. While it's certainly not the Rose Bowl or a BCS game, spending New Year's (or Jan. 2, in this case) in Tampa would not be a bad consolation prize by any means.

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