Friday, November 13, 2009

MSU's Bowl Chances: Two Weeks Out

We'll start this week by outlining the rules. Slight update from the last post: The Champs Sports Bowl picks before the Alamo Bowl this year. Also, if a 6-6 team gets picked before a 7-5 team, the 7-5 team must have an affiliated bowl to land in. With that, let's get to it.

To me, the Big Ten splits into three levels at this point. Iowa has one loss, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin have two. Iowa is @ Ohio State this weekend, and the winner of that will almost certainly go to the Rose Bowl. Realistically, the loser probably isn't going to get picked for the BCS. Penn State closes home to Indiana and @ MSU and if the Nittany Lions win both then they and their massive fan base will have an in at a second BCS bid. Should TCU lose to Utah, but especially if Boise State loses to Idaho, that shot would become almost automatic.

However, for these purposes, I'm assuming that Iowa/OSU gets to the Rose Bowl and that Penn State doesn't get picked as an at large. Three reasons: I think the MSU game may actually go our way. I also think that it would be next to impossible to pass on an undefeated Boise or TCU. Finally, Oregon and Arizona have the inside track on winning the Pac 10 and a two-loss USC would get picked ahead of a two-loss Penn State.

Given that, I've got Penn State in the Capital One Bowl, the loser of Iowa @ OSU (the guess here is Iowa) in the Outback Bowl and Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.

That leaves the second tier schools: MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan. Purdue, Illinois and Indiana can only finish 6-6 at best, and none would get picked ahead of the four second-tier schools.

Minnesota is an almost near-mortal lock to finish 6-6. Their next game is against South Dakota State, a good FCS school, but an FCS school nevertheless. Their final game is @ Iowa. 'Nuff said.

Northwestern and MSU both have a game they'll be favored in followed by a game they'll be picked to lose, though both are winnable or loseable. For NW, it's @ Illinois then home to Wisconsin. For MSU, it's @ Purdue then home to Penn State.

Michigan has by far the toughest road to a bowl, finishing up @ Wisconsin then home to Ohio State.

So who gets in? Well, we'll start by assuming that Minn., NW and MSU all finish up at 6-6. I simply don't think Michigan has another win left in them, and will finish 5-7. Their chance to get bowl eligible died when they let Purdue come back from two touchdowns last weekend.

Minnesota beat both Northwestern and Michigan State, but that doesn't matter at all compared to who will fill up the Alamo Bowl best. Frankly, that's probably Michigan State. Add that to the fact that MSU traveled very well in 2003 to the Alamo Bowl, and you'll see MSU headed to Texas once again.

That leaves Minnesota and Northwestern for the Insight Bowl, and conventional wisdom says Northwestern goes to the Insight Bowl. I wouldn't pick that way, but I think that's the read people much closer to the situation are getting, so I'll defer to their wisdom. That leaves Minnesota with a trip to Detroit and the Little Caesars Bowl.

Should Penn State get picked to go to a BCS bowl, who would go to Detroit? Well, another team would have to qualify, and of the other three schools, Purdue has the easiest road. They finish home to MSU and @ Indiana, and I think it would be easier for Purdue to win both than for Michigan to beat either Wisconsin away or Ohio State at home. Indiana has to win @ Penn State before that Purdue clash, and Indiana has never beaten Penn State, ever. Illinois closes out with winnable home games against Northwestern and Fresno State sandwiching a game they won't win - @ Big East leader Cincinnati.

With two games to play, the pick is MSU to the Alamo Bowl.

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