- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten has received an at-large BCS bid in each of the past six seasons and in eight of the past nine.
That streak is in jeopardy this season, thanks in part to the addition of a league championship game. Whoever loses in the Dec. 3 title game next week will have at least three losses and likely won't finish in the Top 14 of the BCS standings, which is needed to qualify for an at-large bid. That means the league's best shot at an at-large bid is probably Michigan, which would finish 10-2 if it beats Ohio State this week, even though it didn't make the conference title game.
If the season ended today, only Michigan State would finish in the Top 14 of the BCS standings, at No. 14. So does the Big Ten even deserve a second spot this year?
Not surprisingly, the coaches of the teams who could be lobbying for such a bid all defended the strength of the league and its credentials when I asked them about it on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference.
Brady Hoke might be the one who has to do the most convincing. His Wolverines could be measured up against teams from the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC when the at-large spots are handed out.
"This conference always deserves whatever it can get, to be honest," Hoke said. "The competitiveness that's shown every Saturday, I don't know why they wouldn't [give the league a second bid]."
Michigan State is in an interesting position. The Spartans have already locked up the Legends Division title, are the league's highest ranked team right now and will go to the Rose Bowl if they win next week in Indianapolis. But should the Spartans lose next week, they would almost certainly get passed over for a BCS bid at 10-3 while Michigan, a team they beat earlier this year, could go instead. That would be a bitter pill for a program that finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title last year but saw the other two tri-champions -- Ohio State and Wisconsin -- go to the BCS.
"I think the Big Ten deserves another BCS bid, absolutely," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Week in and week out, we face some of the toughest competition in America, and I think that warrants the opportunity to play at a special time."
I asked Dantonio his thoughts about a Big Ten title game potentially hurting the league's chances at another bid.
"It may," he said, "but I think it also allows things to sort of be settled on the field, as opposed to the BCS. This year it sort of maybe doesn't favor us, while last year it would have been good to have a playoff."
Wisconsin would seem to be an appealing team for an at-large bid, with a large fan base, two exciting and marketable players in Russell Wilson and Montee Ball, and an attractive style of play. Should the Badgers beat Penn State this week but lose in the title game, they'd be 10-3, but two of their losses would be to the same team (Michigan State). Yet Wisconsin would have almost no chance to make it because of low computer rankings.
"There's a lot of good football players and good football teams in this league this year," coach Bret Bielema said "Defensively, I think it's probably as good as we've ever had.
"I know this: I look at the board in front of us and see teams that have two losses similar to us, but sometimes there are blowout wins at home or against unranked teams, and you just don't know how some of these votes go or how the computers work. But as a member of this conference, I think everybody in this league thinks it's as competitive as anybody out there."
The other team with a dog in the fight is Penn State, which can get to Indy with a win in Madison this week. An at-large bid appears impossible for the Nittany Lions, who are dealing with a public relations nightmare that wouldn't appeal to BCS bowls even if the team qualified. Interim coach Tom Bradley hasn't had much time to think about those scenarios, but also emphasized that the Big Ten is worthy.
"I certainly think a heck of a lot of good football is being played in the Big Ten, maybe more so than people realize," he said. "We've got, what, like 10 teams bowl eligible [if Purdue wins this week]? So it's a tough league."
Of course the coaches will defend their league and lobby for the Big Ten to get a second bid. We'll have to see if the voters, computers and bowls themselves agree.