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The Voice: Story of season could come down to style points

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgFans of both the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers might have needed two television sets in their living rooms Sunday night. As the Packers were about to begin their beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys, ESPN was airing its weekly BCS Countdown show.

Anyone who has lived in this state longer than five minutes knows about the popularity of the Packers. When they play, much of our world stops. I'm just not sure how many fans figured that a show about the BCS rankings would be appointment viewing.

As the regular season heads into the stretch drive, the seventh-ranked Badgers remain the Big Ten's highest-rated team in the BCS standings, two notches ahead of Ohio State. In a potential three-team tie-breaker scenario, that is very significant.

Who knows how the final few weeks of the regular season will play out, but one possibility would be a dead heat featuring Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. In that specific case, the highest-ranked team would be the conference representative in the Rose Bowl.

That raises an interesting issue for head coach Bret Bielema.

The BCS standings are made up of three components, two of which are polls with human beings who vote. A computer will care if you beat a highly-ranked team, but it won't care if you win by one point or 30 points. Humans probably do care.

When Barry Alvarez was coaching, he never really worried about margin of victory. His idea of beauty meant leading 17-7 in the closing minutes, then watching his offense run the ball play after play, burning off the final five or six minutes of the game.

Given this current tie-breaking formula, I asked Alvarez on his radio show whether he might change his thinking. He smiled and said, "I might," adding he had a conversation with Bielema about that very topic.

(Note: if a three-team tie had Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa at the top, the Spartans would get the nod. Each team would be 1-1 against the other, but the Hawkeyes would be eliminated because they have two overall losses. Then MSU and UW would go head-to-head, and because the Spartans won that game, they would win the tie-breaker. Got it?)


The potential dilemma for the Badgers is that Ohio State still has a road game at 13th-ranked Iowa. The Buckeyes also face Penn State and Michigan. Wisconsin closes with Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern. Any of those games is losable, but none of Badgers' opponents is ranked in the top 25. If Ohio State wins out, the computers will like it because of Iowa's ranking.

How impressed will the voters be with a late-season victory at Iowa? Would they be impressed enough for the Buckeyes to jump the Badgers, especially if Wisconsin just squeaks by in one or two of its remaining games?

Last Saturday, the Badgers broke loose in the fourth quarter to take a 21-point lead at Purdue. When Wisconsin was back on offense in the closing minutes, I started to wonder whether the Badgers would take a shot at one more score, maybe put the ball in the air a few times? Turns out Scott Tolzien handed off to Montee Ball 10 straight times.  

No doubt there are many voters who watch as many games as they can. There also is no doubt that many voters just check the final score, and maybe take a glance at a couple of highlights, then fill out their weekly ballots.

When the voters noticed Wisconsin beat Purdue 34-13, they moved them up accordingly. Antonio Fenelus' 36-yard interception return for a touchdown may very well have made that decision to go into "ground and pound" mode a little easier.

A few weeks ago, Bielema's decision to go for a two-point conversion sparked some lively debates. After last Saturday's game, I did not notice many folks talk about the Badgers' opting to run out the clock. Bielema certainly did not have to, but he chose to do so.

The topic of tacking on late points is probably the last thing on the minds of most players and coaches. Winning the final three games is anything but a guarantee. To assume otherwise is foolish.

Opinions vary, but if the Badgers are able run the table, some college football insiders are saying in order to stay ahead of Ohio State, Wisconsin needs to look good in the process.  

Just another storyline for fans to think about as the Badgers worry about things they can control, such as preparing for Indiana.

2 Comments

Wouldn't the Badgers win the tie breaker with Ohio St, if we have the same record, because we beat them head-to-head, and wouldn't we have to be ranked only ahead of Michigan St, in the BCS Standings, if they are also tied with the Badgers?
In other words if Wis, Ohio St and Michigan St are all tied at the end of the season. Wouldn't my above scenario be correct as far as the Rose Bowl? I guess maybe you are talking about the National Championship game.
If Iowa beats Ohio St, and are tied with Badgers in the Big Ten. Penn State would have to beat Michigan St. and everybody would have two losses overall, except the Badgers, and the Badgers would go to the Rose Bowl. I'm as confused as hell!

I think the problem really stems from Ohio State and Michigan State not playing against each other this season. If MSU, UW and OSU all end up with only one loss on the season, the tiebreaker initially comes down to the head-to-head results. MSU could claim that they should win because they defeated UW. OSU would object to this, because they also only lost one game, and they beat the team that MSU lost to (Iowa). UW would object to OSU's claim because they defeated OSU. So what happens is that the situation is dead-locked and cannot be decided on head-to-head record alone. The next step is to compare overall records, which would be the same. After that, the final determination is the BCS ranking. Currently UW has the highest BCS ranking of the three teams, and thus is in the lead to be the Big 10 champion. If OSU should end up advancing in the BCS standings ahead of UW, then OSU would be the champion, again assuming all three teams end up with only one loss on the season. Any way you look at it, it would not be a very satisfactory decision, and again largely stems from the unfortunate fact that each Big 10 team plays all but one other conference team each season.

ON WISCONSIN