The race for the Big Ten championship has been taking shape for a few weeks now, as Michigan State took steady hold of the race for the Legends Division title and began to look like a worthy sparring partner for Ohio State when the league crown is settled in Indianapolis on December 7. After Saturday, the Spartans’ steady hold on the division became a chokehold.
Michigan State forced five turnovers at Nebraska, got out to an early lead, held off two different Cornhusker rallies in the third quarter and finally pulled away in the final period for a 41-28 win. Sparty’s running game was in devastating form, with Jeremy Langford going for 151 yards. Michigan State has now taken care of business against Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa, to move to the threshold of clinching their second appearance in the three-year history of the Big Ten Championship Game.
Both the Spartans and Buckeyes need one more win to put their divisions away. Michigan State goes to Northwestern and then visits Minnesota. The Gophers, two games behind, are the one team who can still displace Mark Dantonio’s team for first place.
Ohio State plays Indiana and Michigan for their chances to clinch, although Urban Meyer’s troops have bigger game on their minds–going undefeated and playing for the BCS National Championship if either Alabama or Florida State stumble.
Below are TheSportsNotebook’s current Big Ten bowl projections. Please note that if you presume Michigan State loses to Ohio State (which I do), that likely means the Spartans slip on the bowl ladder. Conversely, if Sparty pulls the upset, Ohio State would almost surely be chosen for a BCS at-large spot, so long as they close the regular season 12-0.
BCS Automatic: Ohio State (Rose, vs. Oregon)
Capital One: Wisconsin (vs. South Carolina)
Outback: Michigan State (vs. Missouri)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Nebraska (vs. Texas Tech)
Gator: Michigan (vs. Texas A&M)
Meineke Car Care: Iowa (vs. undecided)
Heart Of Dallas: Minnesota (vs. Marshall)
Little Caesar’s Pizza: Unfilled (vs. Ball State)
The unfilled spot could still be taken by Northwestern, but the Wildcats’ heartbreaking loss to Michigan means that Northwestern must now beat Michigan State on Saturday. If Pat Fitzgerald’s team pulls that off, they can close out bowl eligibility with a win over Illinois.
The Meineke Car Care opponent is contracted to be the sixth choice from the Big 12. There are going to be exactly six teams bowl-eligible from the Big 12, and I’ve currently that conference getting an at-large bid to the BCS (both Baylor and Oklahoma State). When that happens, everyone moves up a rung, and in this case, there’s no one available to fill the final spot. This spot would become a free agent, able to filled by a team from a league who has more eligible teams than bowl tie-ins, usually a midmajor.
In that same regard, if the Big Ten gets an at-large nod to one of the major bowls (either Wisconsin, or Ohio State if the Buckeyes finish 12-1), the league would leave at least one spot unfilled, and perhaps two, based on the current projections. The problem is that Penn State, at 6-4, remains ineligible for postseason play.