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Big Ten's at-large hopes get major boost

11/20/2011

Once on life support, the Big Ten's streak of years with multiple teams in BCS bowls is very much alive.

Week 12 was very good to the Big Ten's quest for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

Losses by both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma increase the likelihood the Big 12 only sends its champion to the BCS bowls. The Cowboys and Sooners meet Dec. 3 in Stillwater. An Oklahoma loss would all but guarantee OU doesn't get an at-large berth at 9-3. An Oklahoma State loss would be its second consecutive setback to end the season, hardly a selling point to the big bowls.

Four Big Ten teams are in the mix for a possible at-large berth: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. But because Penn State plays Wisconsin and the winner plays Michigan State, at least two of these teams will finish the season with three losses. One will earn the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth to the Rose Bowl.

Again, it's very difficult to see any Big Ten team with three losses receiving an at-large berth. Also, league title game losers often get shut out of the BCS. For BCS at-large purposes, it's almost better not to go to the conference championship game than to go and lose.

Michigan remains the league's best hope for an at-large berth. The Wolverines recorded a signature victory Saturday against Nebraska. Another solid win against archrival Ohio State would make Michigan 10-2 with three wins to end the season. The Wolverines are a national program with a national fan following. They haven't been to a BCS bowl in five years, so the fans would be motivated to travel.

A lot could change in the next two weeks, but if Michigan beats Ohio State, the Big Ten would be in good shape to send two teams to BCS bowls for a seventh consecutive season.