Saturday's games will be enormously important, particularly Ohio State's trip to Iowa and Wisconsin's road date with Michigan. The Notebook will look at the specifics of each in Saturday game previews, but in the big picture, they combine with Michigan State's year-end trip to Penn State on November 27 to be the three games to watch as this league comes down the stretch.
As things stand right now, the three-way tie is circular. Ohio State and Michigan State have not played, so head-to-head is out temporarily out the window, both Michigan State's win over Wisconsin and the Badger triumph over the Buckeyes. The league's second tiebreaker is overall record, but all three teams swept their non-conference games. Fortunately this strange tiebreaker, which penalizes a team like Ohio State for going out and playing Miami, will not come into play. There's been a change in the third tiebreaker. The Big Ten used to use what myself and friends called "the ineptitude tiebreaker", where the team that hadn't been to the Rose Bowl for the longest time got the trip. That tiebreaker no longer exists and it's down to BCS ranking.
Wisconsin currently holds the lead in the BCS, but not by much, as Ohio State is just two spots behind and with a road game at Iowa being this coming Saturday's best game, a win quite likely gives them the juice to push past the Badgers. UW did what they could to forestall the possibility when they hung 83 points on Indiana, but the computers don't give credit for margin of victory. The Badgers best hope for the Rose Bowl--besides the obvious of winning games against Northwestern and Michigan--is to hope for Michigan State to lose at Penn State. This realistic result will set up a two-way tie, where UW's head-to-head win over Ohio State would be the decisive factor. Michigan State lags behind in the BCS, so they also need a two-way tie. If Iowa beats Ohio State, then the Spartans are tied with the Badgers and their own head-to-head win punches their ticket west.
The other factor to look at is what the possibilities are for an at-large trip to the BCS. Even if a team loses a tiebreaker, I don't think too many fans in Columbus, Madison or East Lansing would gripe about a season that was 11-1, a co-championship and a trip to the Sugar or Orange Bowls. There are four at-large spots in the BCS. Right now you can pencil in an SEC runner-up, TCU & Boise State for three of those spots. Big Ten runner-ups are in a tough fight with a Big 12 runner-up and Stanford for the last trip. On the surface, that's a race they should win, but if the Rose Bowl decides Stanford is a good replacement team for Oregon, should the latter play for the national title, the Big Ten could be frozen out of a second bid for the first time since 2004. Consequently, you'll be seeing an 11-1 team, probably ranked in the Top 10 playing the Outback Bowl. It all adds up to a dramatic two weeks of games and another tense week of waiting between then and when the final bowl lineup is announced on December 5.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.