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Breaking down Wisconsin's BCS problem

It hit me sometime between Jay Cutler's first and fourth interceptions Sunday, as I grew tired of Bears-Redskins and began to survey the bowl landscape for the Big Ten.

My thought: Wisconsin might get totally screwed. Or, to be politically correct, the Badgers might get BCSed.

The Badgers were still celebrating their come-from-behind victory at Iowa, which completed one of the best two-game stretches in team history. A Wisconsin program that, under coach Bret Bielema, had struggled to win the big one stood tall and won two big ones: against No. 1 Ohio State and No. 15 Iowa.

A bye week beckoned for Bielema's crew before a manageable closing stretch: road games against Michigan and Purdue, and home games against Indiana and Northwestern. An 11-1 season seems certainly within reach for Wisconsin.

So what's the problem?

The BCS standings don't favor the Badgers. And depending how things shake out in the Big Ten with tiebreakers, Wisconsin could be left on the outside when BCS bowl selections are announced Dec. 5.

Here's the best-case scenario for Wisconsin: the Badgers win out and Michigan State drops two games. Wisconsin holds head-to-head tiebreakers against both Ohio State and Iowa and would earn the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth to the Rose Bowl by virtue of those wins.

The second-best scenario for Wisconsin is for both the Badgers and Michigan State to win out. The Spartans would win the Big Ten outright, but Wisconsin would be in a great position for an at-large BCS selection at 11-1 with wins against both Ohio State and Iowa.

But there's another scenario, which I consider likely and could melt some cheeseheads on Dec. 5.

What if Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State all finish at 7-1 in Big Ten play? The Buckeyes and Badgers both would need to win out, and the Spartans would have to stumble once, most likely Saturday at Iowa, for this to happen. But it's hardly a stretch.

According to Big Ten tiebreaker rules, if there's a three-team tie and two of the teams don't play, like Michigan State and Ohio State this season, the automatic BCS berth goes to the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings.

Although Ohio State (No. 11) currently ranks behind both Michigan State (No. 5) and Wisconsin (No. 10) in the BCS standings, it's very possible the Buckeyes could leapfrog both teams. The Spartans would take a BCS hit with a loss, and Ohio State likely would get a sizable BCS boost with a road win at Iowa.

As for Wisconsin? The Badgers don't really have another opportunity for a signature win. So despite a convincing win against Ohio State, Wisconsin could be jumped by the Buckeyes, who don't trail by much in BCS average (.6584-.6356).

Wisconsin then would be competing with Michigan State for a BCS at-large berth, and the Spartans' head-to-head win would help their cause.

"It's a narrow edge, and the Buckeyes' remaining schedule looks slightly more difficult -- enough that it would probably swing the computers in their favor," ESPN's BCS analyst Brad Edwards wrote to me in an e-mail. "I don't think it's a slam dunk, but I would lean toward Ohio State coming out ahead in the BCS."

Unreal. Wisconsin would end the season on a seven-game win streak, but Ohio State, which lost to the Badgers, might go to Pasadena.

Badgers fans would be outraged, and understandably so. This is a little different than 2006, when an 11-1 Wisconsin team didn't make a BCS bowl because of the limit on teams per conference (2).

One culprit is the schedule, a sore subject for many Wisconsin fans who want upgrades. Ohio State's win against Miami helps its cause with the BCS computers much more than any of Wisconsin's nonconference wins (UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State, Austin Peay).

Wisconsin should stay ahead of Ohio State in the human polls because of Oct. 16, but the computers can swing things.

"Whenever two teams are basically equal in the polls, the computers serve to break the tie between those teams," Edwards told me. "Schedule strength is a major factor in the computers, and the conference portion of the schedule is basically equal, so the mere fact that Miami is better than Arizona State could be enough to swing the computers in Ohio State's favor."

Perhaps this will prompt Barry Alvarez to beef things up a bit.

There's still a long, long way to go, and hope for the Badgers. I'll get into this more later this week in my rooting interest piece, but Wisconsin should start pulling for whomever plays Ohio State and Michigan State. The Badgers also can help themselves with some convincing wins in November.

Wisconsin looks worthy of a BCS berth. Will the Badgers get one?

Stay tuned.