Crowded at the top of the Big Ten

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year from now, there will be no debate.

Beginning in 2011, the Big Ten will thankfully dispose of its Little League-ish co-champs title and crown a definitive king in a league championship game. Until then, we're stuck with this: a three-way tie atop the league.

Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all finished the regular season with identical records (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten). Since Ohio State and Michigan State didn't play, the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth goes to the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings.

Judging by the roses hanging from the mouths of the Wisconsin Badgers late Saturday afternoon, it's pretty clear which team that will be.

But which is the Big Ten's best team? The debate is far from over.

Wisconsin is the league's hottest team, having won its final seven regular-season games, including the final four by a combined score of 235-84. Ohio State still can call itself the league's most talented team, boasting elite recruits on both sides of the ball. Michigan State might be the league's most accomplished team, with a 1-0 record among the league leaders and seven wins against bowl-eligible squads, more than both Wisconsin and Ohio State.

But each squad can make a case to be the league's best.

"We are the best team in the Big Ten," Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said.

Not surprisingly, Rolle isn't the only one who feels this way in central Ohio.

"I would say us," Buckeyes safety Jermale Hines said. "Am I supposed to say somebody else? I feel we're the best in the Big Ten, hands down."

Informed of the Buckeyes' sentiments later Saturday, Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi laughed.

"I guess that's Ohio State for you," said Carimi, whose Badgers beat the Buckeyes 31-18 on Oct. 16. "If Ohio State thinks that, then whatever. I'd only play with my team."

Michigan State has been somewhat forgotten in the debate, and most project the Spartans to miss a BCS bowl. But Spartans coach Mark Dantonio isn't about to back down after his team won a record 11 games.

"We're the only football team that's beaten Wisconsin, and I might add that we did it convincingly," Dantonio said after Michigan State's win at Penn State. "I'll say it twice: we did it convincingly. They're up there at six or seven [in the BCS standings], and we should be right there with them."

All three teams feel deserving of BCS berths, but only two will be rewarded. Wisconsin certainly knows the feeling after being shut out of the BCS bowls despite an 11-1 record in 2006.

Not that the Badgers are taking pity on Michigan State.

"The cards just didn't fall for us that year, kind of it's not going to fall for Michigan State this year," Carimi said. "But I'm a Badger, not a Spartan, so I honestly don't feel for them."

Tough talk at the top.