On November 29 Adam Rittenberg posted an ESPN.com blog entry that I cannot help but agree with, making a case that the Michigan State Spartans really should play a BCS-class bowl game this year.

We share the Big 10 Championship with the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes and that is indisputable.  One can say that it is unfortunate all three teams played well and the only reason we share is because of our one horrifying defeat to the Iowa Hawkeyes.  That said, I think this stuff should measure up a little differently when it comes to how we play out the NCAA football post-season.

The common speculation is that Wisconsin will go to the Rose Bowl.  We likely will head to the Capital One Bowl.  We will likely be assigned a lesser bowl.  This is wrong because we beat Wisconsin!  To the victor go the spoils!  We should be telling them which bowl game that we get to play; which game they get to play; and then we get to date their girlfriends; and that is if all else is equal.

Here is a a more technical summary.

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.

At this point determining what bowl game we attend is dependent on votes and people.

The Spartans… 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… 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.. 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.

Then there is the Iowa issue.

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.” 

The Iowa defeat destroyed our chances of a clear and away victory and prize: a sole Big Tern Championship and a top-tier Bowl game, the ideal goal is the Rose Bowl.

The biggest issue right now is that despite a possibly superior performance at this point it is no longer about winning games. We never played Ohio State but we can set aside the question of whether or not we played a better season than OSU; we certainly beat Wisconsin. At this stage it is all about branding and brand names.

In the end we need to acknowledge one thing: placements in the BCS and the bowl system is more of a beauty contest then it is about winning football games.