- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last season, the Big Ten placed only one team (Wisconsin) in a BCS bowl, failing to earn an at-large berth for the first time since the 2004 season. The strength of the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 suggests the Big Ten could be limited to one entry again this year, although history says otherwise.
Since the BCS launched in 1998, no conference has made more appearances than the Big Ten with 26. As the BCS closes up shop after this year's bowls, don't be surprised if the Big Ten sends two teams to the big bowls.
Today's poll asks you which Big Ten team is likeliest to earn an at-large BCS bowl berth. Remember, teams that reach league title games and lose are often passed over for others that have ended the season on a positive note. Also, teams must finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.
The candidates (in alphabetical order) ...
Michigan (6-1; current BCS rank: 22): The Big Ten's last team to earn an at-large berth (in 2011 to the Sugar Bowl) could end up with one again this year. The Wolverines will be challenged during the month of November and likely can't lose more than one game to have a realistic chance. They boast a dynamic offense led by quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. Michigan also is a national brand name with a large fan base willing to travel. The Wolverines are the only candidate among these five guaranteed to face Ohio State, which could provide a big BCS boost.
Michigan State (6-1; current BCS rank: unranked): This is a bit of a sore subject for the Spartans, who reached the 2011 Big Ten title game, lost by three points and then watched rival Michigan earn the at-large berth (Michigan State actually didn't qualify for at-large selection as it finished No. 17 in the final BCS standings). Michigan State will need to climb into the BCS standings and then climb up them. The only loss MSU could afford likely would be against Ohio State in the league title game. The Spartans host Michigan to begin November before visiting Nebraska and Northwestern.
Nebraska (5-1; current BCS rank: 24): The Huskers have the best loss among the Legends division contenders, falling to No. 12 UCLA on Sept. 14. Like Michigan and Michigan State, Nebraska can't afford more than one loss to earn at-large consideration and likely would need that loss to be against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. Nebraska has some opportunities to boost its BCS résumé against Michigan and Michigan State.
Ohio State (7-0; current BCS rank: 4): Things would have to go poorly for Ohio State down the stretch to bring an at-large BCS berth into play. The Buckeyes either would have to stumble two times and fail to reach the league title game, or lose in Indianapolis to the Legends division champ. Ohio State is likely the only candidate here that could lose the league championship game and still receive strong consideration for an at-large BCS berth.
Wisconsin (5-2; current BCS rank: unranked): The Badgers have the smallest margin for error (read: zero) among the five candidates, but they also might have the most realistic chance to earn an at-large berth. They've already played Ohio State, and if the Buckeyes don't struggle down the stretch, they'll finish second in the Leaders division. Wisconsin likely will be favored in its five remaining games and could end the season on a seven-game win streak. Bowls like hot teams and Wisconsin travels well. The biggest problem is whether the Badgers can rise all the way to the top 14. They're currently not ranked.
It's time to vote in our poll. Make yours count.