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Michigan State's Big Ten Hopes Hinge On ... Michigan?

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Bitter rivals on the field, Michigan and Michigan State will have something in common this Saturday: both will be hoping the Wolverines can oust Ohio State from the Big Ten picture.

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Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State football team don't like their rivals from down south.

This Saturday, though, those feelings might loosen just a bit.

Michigan State is poised to win at least a share of the Big Ten title this weekend for the first time since 1990. All that stands in their way is a victory in their final game against Penn State. To also clinch the program's first Bowl Championship Series berth, however, arch-rival Michigan must pull off a major upset on Saturday, otherwise the Spartans might be shutout of the BCS altogether.

That's right, Michigan, MSU's sworn enemy, will need to down Ohio State if the Spartans plan on heading out to Pasadena this year. 

With MSU, OSU and Wisconsin all sitting on a 10-1 record, it's become highly likely that all three teams could finish the season with just one loss. There's also a chance for all three to earn the conference's bid to the Rose Bowl.

If Wisconsin and Michigan State win and OSU loses, Michigan State would get the Rose Bowl bid via their win over Wisconsin earlier this season.

Michigan State and Ohio State don't play each other this season, so if those two tie and Wisconsin loses, it will come down to who has the higher BCS ranking. Right now that's advantage Buckeyes. 

If all three win on Saturday, the tiebreaker once again goes to BCS ranking. Right now, that's advantage Wisconsin, who was fifth in the latest BCS standings.

Since Wisconsin and Ohio State are both ranked in the top ten, there's a good chance that one of those teams will get an at-large bid to a BCS bowl if all three finish 11-1. Since the BCS doesn't allow a conference to send three teams to BCS games, one team is guaranteed to be left out if all three tie for the championship.

That means unless OSU plants a major dud on Saturday, MSU could very well be looking at a second-tier bowl after losing only one game.

The best-case scenario obviously would be for both Ohio State and Wisconsin to fall, leaving MSU as the outright champion. Anything's possible in "The Game" and Northwestern has played everyone well this year, so it's not entirely out of the question. But again, it's unlikely. 

The next best case would be for just Ohio State to fall, as MSU holds the tiebreaker with Wisconsin. But that will be asking a lot of the Michigan defense, which is giving up points by the dozens.

And of course, this is all dependent on the Spartans beating Penn State.

Michigan State will travel to Happy Valley on Saturday, where they haven't won a game since 1965. In case you're wondering, that was before Joe Paterno took over the program. Michigan State's last visit to Beaver Stadium didn't yield promising results, either: MSU was blasted 49-18 in 2008. Last year on their own turf, Sparty was crushed 42-14.

The names are different and the Nittany Lions aren't quite what they used to be, but they won't be a pushover. With everything on the line, this will be MSU's toughest game of the season. The Spartans escaped another late-season collapse against Purdue last week. An effort like that against Penn State won't end well.

There's certainly a lot riding on Saturday for both Michigan and Michigan State. A win over the Buckeyes would be the most significant victory of the Rich Rodriguez era for the Wolverines. It would also be a colossal upset that would shake Ohio State fans to the very core.

For Michigan State, even a three-way tie for the title is marked improvement for the program. Just four years ago, MSU was on the tail end of three straight losing seasons. Now they're one win away from being a champion. In that regard this season will be remembered positively no matter what. How this season will be remembered from a bowl game perspective, however, hinges on whether their arch rivals can pull off the upset of all upsets.

Some Spartans fans will tell you that they'll never cheer for Michigan under any circumstances. Don't believe them. This weekend, any Spartan fan worth his salt will be whispering "Go Blue."