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College Football Rankings, Week 10: How Far Will Michigan State Fall?

Michigan State's loss to Iowa on Saturday knocked the Spartans out of the national title picture, so you may be wondering why the rankings still matter to them. Obviously you always want to be up there in the rankings regardless of if your national title hopes are still alive or not, but for MSU and the other Big Ten teams in the conference title hunt, the rankings actually could matter quite a bit. Why? Well, the BCS standings serve as the determining tiebreaker for which team gets the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl if conference record, overall record and head-to-head matchups aren't able to make that determination.

So, even though Michigan State isn't worrying the BCS standings for reasons involving the national title game, it will still be keeping an eye on the rankings going forward. For the new standings that come out on Sunday night, the thing to watch for is how far MSU falls and where the other Big Ten teams end up.

Looking at this past week's BCS standings and how each team did, let's start with the No. 5 Spartans. As we all know, MSU lost and was dominated by Iowa. The interesting thing is that No. 6 Missouri also lost and was dominated for most of its game against Nebraska. The final score only produced a 14-point loss for Missouri, but Nebraska rolled in that game. To answer the question about how far MSU will fall, one must consider if a Missouri team that lost would pass the Spartans in the rankings. Both teams lost in games dominated by their opponents, but would Missouri fall fewer spots since it does have a win over Oklahoma in its back pocket? I certainly think it's possible.

Looking at teams behind MSU that didn't lose, we have Alabama, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ohio State to round out the top 11. Alabama and Wisconsin were on a bye, Oklahoma and Ohio State rolled in their games against bad teams (Colorado and Minnesota, respectively) and Utah edged out Air Force. Based on the fact that none of these teams lost, I think MSU will fall at least to No. 10 (or No. 11 if Missouri doesn't fall as far as MSU). It's a lock that Alabama and still-undefeated Utah will pass the Spartans, and I see the voters favoring a one-loss Oklahoma team as well. It may seem stupid that Wisconsin could pass MSU after losing to the Spartans earlier in the year, but polls are all about what have you done for me lately. As a result, I see the Badgers passing MSU, and in all likelihood the Buckeyes will move ahead of MSU as well.

Continuing down last week's BCS standings, spots 12 through 15 are all one-loss teams. LSU was ranked 12th and had a bye, while No. 13 Stanford rolled over Washington, No. 14 Nebraska defeated Missouri and No. 15 Arizona edged out UCLA by eight points. To me, this seems like the range MSU is probably going to be looking at for the new BCS standings. I don't think the Spartans will drop 10 spots and have all of these teams pass them in the rankings, but I have a tough time seeing them any higher than 12th. The Spartans were perceived by many voters as requiring a lot of luck to even be undefeated coming into the Iowa game, and regardless of if that is fair or not, the ugly loss to the Hawkeyes won't help that perception. It's anyone's guess as to what the computers do, but I would expect the humans to drop MSU to around 12th or so in the standings.

Perhaps the best news for MSU going forward is that Iowa and Ohio State still have to play, which will knock one of those teams out of contention for a Big Ten title. One scenario that could emerge is both MSU and OSU winning out, which would create at least a two-way tie at the top of the standings. Wisconsin could win out as well, and because MSU and OSU don't play each other and their records would be 7-1 in the conference and 11-1 overall in this scenario, the BCS standings would determine which team goes to the Rose Bowl. A BCS at-large bid would be likely for the other team in a two-way tie, but if it's a three-way tie one team would be left out of the BCS. A maximum of only two teams from each conference can go to a BCS bowl, so it's possible that in a scenario where MSU, OSU and Wisconsin win out, the Spartans would be left out because their one loss was later in the season.

The tiebreakers are not very fair whenever you leave it up to the BCS, but for MSU fans it will be worth keeping an eye on the new standings each week. Assuming MSU keeps winning, they will be able to inch forward in the polls, but this is out of the Spartans' hands now. The best thing for them would be if Iowa beats Ohio State and Wisconsin wins out, as MSU would own the tiebreaker and automatically go to the Rose Bowl. But in a different scenario where the BCS comes into play, the Spartans have to hope that they are at least the second-highest ranked Big Ten team. If not, an 11-1 season could end up producing only a trip to the Capital One Bowl, which would be a letdown after having such a great season.

There is still a lot of football to be played and for the BCS standings to even matter Michigan State has to win out, but as long as the Big Ten is up for grabs, the BCS will continue to be something to keep an eye on for Spartan fans. There are scenarios out there where the BCS is made irrelevant, but until those are the only scenarios left, the BCS will continue to be a potential factor in the hunt for the Rose Bowl.