November 30, 2010
Michigan State has a couple national championships in the books, so the 2010 team isn't going to go down as the best in school history. But it's pretty close. Even before the bowl game, it's already the first 11-win outfit ever in East Lansing, and only the second to win 10 in the regular season. The Spartans beat Notre Dame in thrilling fashion. They beat Michigan for the third year in a row, taking back-to-back trips to Ann Arbor for the first time in 45 years. They won at Penn State for the first time since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten. They won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990 – that is, for the first time in most of the players' lifetimes – and beat the co-champion they played, Wisconsin, by 10 points.
It's the last point that had coach Mark Dantonio slightly miffed Monday, a few hours after Wisconsin was apparently handed the golden ticket to the Rose Bowl by virtue of its No. 5 ranking in the latest BCS standings – one spot ahead of co-champ Ohio State and three spots in front of Michigan State. The conference's vote in 2008 to make the standings part of the tiebreaker process in case of a three-way deadlock, putting the Badgers in line for Pasadena, Ohio State for the league's coveted at-large bid to (in all likelihood) the Sugar Bowl and MSU bound for the Capital One Bowl, the Spartans' exact landing spot when they finished alone in third place and barely cracked the final polls two years ago.
Orlando is nice enough, but no place for a Big Ten champ coming off a once-a-generation season. And frankly, Dantonio was the only one who tried to warn everybody that this was going to happen:
Dantonio said he preferred it when the Big Ten decided who got to the Rose Bowl in the event of a tie -- if head-to-head records weren't applicable, then the team furthest removed from its last Rose Bowl trip got the nod.
But two years ago, the conference voted to reward the highest-ranked BCS school instead. Dantonio said it was 10-1 in favor of the change.
"You know who voted against it?" he asked. "You are looking at him. Computers don't see every team play. If I'm going to make decisions in my family, I'm not going to outsource it. I know that may make me old-fashioned."
Screwed by the computers! Ah, those dastardly, inscrutable machines are obviously behind it all.
Even though, in this case, they aid Dantonio's cause by explicitly excluding margin of victory from the formula: The Spartans' advantage for the year was 11 points per game, less than half the margins of victory by Wisconsin and Ohio State, neither of which suffered anything like the 37-6 beating MSU took in its only loss, at Iowa. Still, Michigan State comes in behind Wisconsin in five of the six computer polls, and behind Ohio State in three of the six.
That's a much better ratio than they got from the human polls, which consist of voters who can watch the games, and who have slotted the Spartans behind the Badgers and Buckeyes across the board. The only possible metric that would send the Spartans to Pasadena is the old clause rewarding the longest drought, which favors Michigan State here by more than a decade.
The Big Ten bowl order isn't set in stone: Dantonio's lament was also a plea for human voters to reconsider his team's merits before casting their ballots for the final, decisive BCS standings this weekend. But as Texas learned the hard way two years ago, and Auburn before them, and USC before them, the lesson re: three-way ties is always that someone is going to get screwed. It isn't fair, but it might as well be you.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.