Iowa lost to Northwestern in Evanston earlier today, essentially taking the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten title race. What once was a four-way tie for first between Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State is now down to a three-team race, impacting MSU's road to the Rose Bowl quite a bit.
With Iowa now having two losses in the Big Ten, MSU, Wisconsin and Ohio State are atop the standings with one loss each. MSU is on a bye this week, so they got to watch from home as Wisconsin dismantled Indiana to stay tied for first. Ohio State is playing Penn State right now and is actually down 14-3 as of the time of this post, but the rest of this breakdown of scenarios will operate under the assumption that the Buckeyes end up winning. If OSU were to lose, MSU would control its own destiny and would simply need to win out to go to the Rose Bowl.
With Iowa losing today, Michigan State's chances of making the Rose Bowl basically come down to what happens when OSU plays at Iowa next week (again, assuming the Buckeyes come back to beat Penn State today). If Ohio State wins at Iowa, it will just need to get by Michigan to clinch a share of the Big Ten title and essentially clinch a trip to a BCS game. If Wisconsin also wins out, Michigan State would in all likelihood be stuck in the Capital One Bowl. One of Wisconsin and OSU would go to the Rose Bowl thanks to being ranked higher in the BCS and whichever team misses out on Pasadena would likely get an at-large bid to another BCS game. Even if only one Big Ten team somehow ended up in the BCS, it wouldn't be MSU in a scenario where OSU and Wisconsin don't lose again this season. If that were to happen, MSU could wind up playing in the Outback Bowl, but it's unlikely.
As far as rooting interests are concerned, MSU fans should cheer for OSU to lose to Iowa next week. An Iowa loss doesn't kill Michigan State's Rose Bowl hopes, but MSU fans would have to cheer for Michigan to pull off an unlikely upset in Columbus in two weeks. For the Spartans to have a shot at a non-Rose Bowl BCS game, however, MSU fans actually should cheer for Michigan to beat Wisconsin next Saturday. The Badgers finish the season against Northwestern, which just lost starting quarterback Dan Persa for the season because of an Achilles injury. The Badgers' best chance of losing is in Ann Arbor next week, and a loss would give MSU a shot at an at-large bid to a BCS game if OSU ends up in the Rose Bowl.
To recap, here is a quick guide to the final two weeks of the season (based on the assumption that OSU comes back and wins today and MSU wins its final two games, against Purdue and Penn State):
- To go to the Rose Bowl, MSU needs OSU to lose to either Iowa or Michigan. That's all it takes -- one OSU loss, which would put MSU into a tie with Wisconsin. Because the Spartans beat the Badgers earlier this year, MSU has the tiebreaker and would control its own destiny.
- To have any chance of an at-large bid, MSU needs Wisconsin to lose to either Michigan or Northwestern. If both OSU and Wisconsin win out, the Big Ten's two BCS berths would be taken right there, meaning an 11-1 MSU team would end up in the Capital One Bowl, which is yet another example of how crappy the BCS is.