- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio have a story to tell. It's a really good story.
The Michigan State athletic director and head football coach just hope somebody is listening, especially in New Orleans and Miami.
Michigan State's chances of earning the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth are virtually gone after the latest BCS standings. The Spartans moved up to No. 8 but still trail both No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 6 Ohio State by substantial margins.
All three teams tied atop the Big Ten with identical records (11-1 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten play), and because Michigan State and Ohio State don't play, the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings earns the automatic berth. It's an imperfect tiebreaker in a league without a championship game until 2011, and Dantonio saw the potential drawback when the Big Ten coaches voted on the method two springs ago.
"It was a 10-1 vote," Dantonio told ESPN.com earlier Monday. "Who do you think voted against it? If we were using the same rules [before the 2009], we would be going [to the Rose Bowl] because we were the ones that had not gone [for the longest period]."
Michigan State can't change the tiebreaker rules, and barring a seismic shift this weekend, it won't be heading to Pasadena. The Spartans instead are trying to put themselves in the discussion for a BCS at-large berth, which hasn't been easy.
Dantonio acknowledged he's on a "public awareness" campaign this week.
"No disrespect to the other two teams," Dantonio said. "They're great football teams. They deserve to be in the mix, and they are in the mix. I just feel like we're being left out of the mix, and I don't know why.
"We're an interesting story, and I think people like to watch a storybook team."
Let's get on with the story. Michigan State has a good case for BCS selection, and here's why:
The Spartans won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990 and claimed a team-record 11 victories.
Judging by the BCS standings, the Spartans have the best win among the Big Ten leaders, a 34-24 triumph against Wisconsin on Oct. 2.
The Spartans are the only team out of the three that hasn't lost to one of the other two.
The Spartans have played the nation's 38th toughest schedule based on cumulative opposition. Ohio State's schedule ranks 54th, while Wisconsin's ranks 66th.
The Spartans have eight wins against bowl-eligible teams, more than both Ohio State (6) and Wisconsin (4).
Michigan State received the highest TV rating among Big Ten teams for games played on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. It's only fair to point out that the Spartans got a major boost from their Sept. 18 double-overtime thriller against Notre Dame, a reliable ratings grabber.
There are also circumstantial factors that add to Michigan State's case.
The Spartans were responsible for two of the most exciting plays of the college football season: a fake field goal that resulted in the game-winning touchdown in overtime against Notre Dame ("Little Giants), and a fake punt that led to the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against Northwestern ("Mouse Trap). They completed the special teams trifecta with a fourth-quarter punt block against Purdue that Dantonio simply called "punt block."
Michigan State also faced a unique challenge after Dantonio suffered a heart attack following the Notre Dame victory. He missed two games, including the Wisconsin victory, and didn't return to the sideline for more than a month.
"When you look back at the 'Mousetrap' and the 'Little Giants' and you look at coach Dantonio's heart attack, you look at a situation where we've really overcome a lot of adversity both on the field and off the field," Hollis said. "Those are stories that are important to college sports. There are some schools that have had many, many opportunities to participate in BCS games. Michigan State never has.
"Now we're sitting here with an opportunity with the Sugar Bowl, or if it drops to the Orange, for them to select an 11-1 Michigan State with a great story behind it."
Michigan State has come the farthest distance of the three Big Ten champions, which can work both ways.
Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in both preseason polls, while Wisconsin was ranked No. 12 in both polls. Michigan State was unranked, receiving 10 votes in the Coaches' poll and none in the AP.
Does the preseason perception have a carryover effect?
"Absolutely," Dantonio said. "Last year at this time, we were 6-6 and hoping to go to the Alamo Bowl. We weren't a top 25 team coming in, so we had to work our way into it, we had to battle our way. But we were in the top 25 for 11 weeks. That's a long time."
Michigan State rose to No. 5 in the BCS standings after beating Northwestern to improve to 8-0. But the next week, the Spartans were crushed 37-6 by Iowa.
"It would have been interesting to see if we would have played Iowa in the fifth week and lost and then played Wisconsin in the ninth week and won, how that would have affected everything," Dantonio said. "If you look at things statistically, Ohio State lost 31-18 to Wisconsin and we beat Wisconsin 34-24. If you were just taking those things into consideration, things ought to weigh more in our favor.
"We didn't play well at Iowa and we lost decisively, I understand that. But Iowa's not in the mix here. It's Wisconsin, Ohio State and us."
Both Dantonio and Hollis mentioned several times that all three Big Ten teams deserve consideration and that Michigan State will be pleased with whatever bowl invitation it receives. But the fact is the Spartans are competing for a BCS spot with their Big Ten brethren, most likely Ohio State, one of the biggest brands in college sports.
BCS bowls know what to expect with Ohio State. The Spartans have traveled well to bowls, but they're more of an unknown.
"When you're talking about a Big Ten program, you can almost put the risky part of it on the shelf," Hollis said. "You can look at the performance we've had, especially in [bowl] games in Florida with the numbers we've drawn down there, We've done extremely well.
"And there's always a level of excitement with a team that's rising."
Dantonio struggles to figure out why Michigan State's BCS computer numbers aren't better and looks forward to the introduction of a Big Ten championship game, which will make the picture a lot clearer in most seasons. The coach understands why a BCS bowl might pick Wisconsin or Ohio State -- "If I had a pick, maybe even I would pick somebody else," he said.
But Michigan State needs to be in the conversation right up until Selection Sunday.
"If you look at three teams that are 11-1 and you just pick the ones that are most popular and turn it into a beauty contest, there's going to be the same teams," Hollis said. "You're trying to overcome that tradition, you're trying to overcome the long-term success.
"We're looking for a BCS that provides full disclosure, full understanding and creates opportunities for those that [the bowls] want to bring into their communities."
Mark Hollis and Mark Dantonio have a story to tell. It's a really good story.The Michigan State athletic director and head football coach just hope somebody is listening, especially in New Orleans and Miami.