Chris Solari and Lansing State Journal sports columnist Graham Couch recap Michigan State’s 14-10 win over Rutgers on Saturday.
Graham Couch and Chris Solari, Lansing State Journal
If you’re a college football fan with a soul — and without an emotional or financial tie to Ohio State — your inclination is to root for Northwestern in Saturday night’s Big Ten Championship game.
The ’Cats are, by the nature of their existence in the Big Ten, the ultimate underdog. The Buckeyes are as good a villain as any.
If only it was that simple. The result of the game could still impact your team’s bowl destination, if you’re a fan one of several Big Ten schools, Michigan State included. Yet there’s no way to know exactly how much, or if at all, until the College Football Playoff rankings come out Sunday afternoon. What happens Saturday in the Big 12 Championship between Texas and Oklahoma could have an impact on MSU, as well. That game is at noon, so the situation will be clearer by kickoff at 8 p.m. in Indianapolis.
Here are scenarios heading into Saturday and what it might mean for the Big Ten and for the Spartans:
1. Ohio State wins and makes the College Football Playoff
If the Buckeyes wind up in the four-team playoff, the immediate impact is on Michigan, which would then be headed to the Rose Bowl. It also likely means that Texas upset Oklahoma, opening up a place for the Buckeyes in the playoff. Texas, as the Big 12 champion, would go to the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma would likely remain in the top 12, too, kicking Penn State out.
This is where it starts to impact MSU. If the Nittany Lions, who are right on the edge of the New Year’s Six bowls, are instead available to the Citrus Bowl, that’s a done deal.
The Outback Bowl has the next choice, looking at Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Holiday Bowl wants Iowa and isn’t hiding its feelings about that. Iowa fans want the Holiday Bowl, as well. But if the Outback (or Citrus) takes the Hawkeyes, it doesn’t matter what the Holiday Bowl or Iowa want. Either way, MSU played there last year, so that game isn’t an option for the Spartans.
There are reports that the Music City Bowl has been in talks with Purdue. If the Music City Bowl takes a Big Ten team, the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl is out for the Big Ten this year. The Pinstripe Bowl gets next choice, followed by the RedBox San Francisco Bowl in Santa Clara, California.
MSU won’t fall lower than that. But it could fall that far – if Iowa goes to the Outback and Wisconsin to the Pinstripe. If Penn State is a New Year’s Six team, the Pinstripe Bowl is likely the floor for the Spartans.
2. Ohio State wins and doesn’t make the playoff
This means Oklahoma won the Big 12 championship and is in the playoff. Texas, regardless of its ranking, is still in the Sugar Bowl, because, like the Rose Bowl with the Big Ten, that’s a direct tie-in. Penn State is on the fence and very well might be out.
Penn State is the key. If Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl and Michigan and Penn State both take at-large spots in New Year’s Six bowls, the Citrus Bowl is probably looking at Iowa or Northwestern, with the other one going to the Holiday Bowl. In this situation, with the Nittany Lions off the board before the Big Ten’s affiliated bowls begin their selections, I think the Spartans are very likely headed to the Outback Bowl for a warm New Year’s Day matchup with an SEC opponent in Tampa, Florida.
If Penn State isn’t in a New Year’s Six bowl, the situation is no different for MSU than it was in Scenario 1.
3. Northwestern wins; so does Oklahoma
If Northwestern wins, the ’Cats are in the Rose Bowl. Don’t believe other projections. The Big Ten champion, if not in the playoff, goes to the Rose Bowl this year. Period. The question is how far does Ohio State fall if the Buckeyes lose to the Wildcats. Below 9-3 Penn State? I don’t think so.
Northwestern being in the Rose Bowl and Texas in the Sugar, regardless of their rankings, pushes Penn State down and probably out of a New Year’s Six game. With Northwestern off the table and the Nittany Lions likely in the Citrus Bowl, the Outback is looking at Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Remember, MSU won’t be going to the Holiday Bowl. The absence of Northwestern helps MSU’s odds of landing in the Outback, but it’s far from a given. The Pinstripe would still be play. At trip to San Francisco, however, would not.
4. Northwestern wins; Texas upsets Oklahoma; Ohio State drops out of the New Year’s Six
This is the worst possibility for MSU, if the Outback Bowl is the hope. Because with Northwestern, Texas and Oklahoma all in New Year’s Six games, there’s a chance Ohio State and Penn State would both be out of the mix, meaning the Buckeyes are going to the Citrus Bowl, Penn State is available to the Outback, Iowa is going to the Holiday Bowl and, if Purdue is indeed headed to the Music City Bowl (again, meaning the Gator Bowl is out), then the Pinstripe and San Francisco bowls are choosing between Wisconsin and MSU. Neither is an awful landing spot for a 7-5 team. Nor are those games less than what MSU deserves. But it wouldn’t serve MSU’s Florida alumni and both are expensive fan trips. Worse yet, one would be played outdoors in, perhaps, 20-degree weather.
In other words, if the Outback Bowl is your preference for the Spartans, you’re rooting for the villain Buckeyes on Saturday night.
If you’d like to be in New York or Northern California, the Wildcats are your team.
Contact Graham Couch at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.