BY DAN FELDMAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published October 8, 2008
The Michigan football team's six-game win streak against Illinois? Snapped.
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Its 17-year streak of holding opponents under 45 points at home? Snapped.
Its 33-year bowl streak? Well, we'll see.
The Wolverines have reached 33 straight bowls, and are just two short of Nebraska's record 35-year run from 1969-2003.
But for Michigan (2-3) to eke out a 34th straight appearance, it will have to win four, maybe five, more games in a year of transition under new coach Rich Rodriguez.
Michigan’s play has been unpredictable. The favorite is 1-4 in the Wolverines’ games this year. It's nearly impossible to tell if this team will come together or collapse.
Here's a simple way to look at it: assuming Michigan loses at No. 6 Penn State and No. 12 Ohio State, it must win its other five games to finish 7-5.
That means winning at home against Toledo, Michigan State and Northwestern and on the road at Purdue and Minnesota. This team hasn’t shown it can play consistently enough to sweep those games, but winning four of five is certainly reasonable. That leaves them at 6-6.
If the Wolverines win at least seven games, they will make a bowl. If they win five or less, they won’t.
But what about a 6-6 season? There are a couple rules that make it tougher for a .500 team to make a bowl.
1. When a bowl is selecting a team from a conference that has a tie-in to that bowl, it must pick a team with a winning record if one is available.
2. When a bowl is selecting an at-large team, it must pick a team with a winning record if one is available.
Just five of 12 teams with a 6-6 record made a bowl last year, and all of them had a conference tie-in. The Big Ten’s Iowa and Northwestern were left out with .500 records.
But two more bowl games were added this year, making it more likely a 6-6 team gets an at-large berth. And of the teams that could finish .500, Michigan — with its national prominence and traveling fanbase — will be the second most coveted behind Notre Dame.
But the Wolverines might not need to hope for an at-large bid.
As much as the conference is criticized nationally, the Big Ten will likely fill two of the 10 BCS slots.
The winners of the six major conferences — the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, ACC, Pac 10 and Big East — will get automatic bids. The SEC and the Big 12 will both get one at-large bid, only because conferences aren’t allowed to have more.
At least one of No. 9 Brigham Young, No. 14 Utah and No. 15 Boise State will probably go undefeated and grab another BCS spot.
So that leaves one BCS spot to go the best of the No. 2 teams in the Big Ten, ACC, Pac 10 and Big East. Right now, that’s far and away the 12th-ranked Buckeyes. No. 21 Wake Forest is the next best.
In addition to the BCS, the Big Ten has six bowl tie-ins. If Michigan finishes 6-6, and fewer than eight Big Ten teams win seven games, the Wolverines should get an automatic bid to a bowl.
But it's possible that eight teams — Penn State (6-0), Michigan State (5-1), Ohio State (5-1), Northwestern (5-0), Minnesota (5-1), Illinois (3-2), Wisconsin (3-2) and Iowa (3-3) — could all get seven wins. If that happens, or if seven of them reach seven wins and only one nabs a BCS spot, Michigan won't have an automatic tie-in and will have to search for an at-large bowl spot.
There are 24 non-BCS bowls this year. Most notably, the ACC may struggle to fill all nine of its tie-ins. The conference’s ninth spot is the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, one of this year’s two new postseason games. According to the Washington Times, the bowl would select between Big Ten, Big East and Conference USA teams if the ACC can’t provide a team, but it has no formal agreement with any of those conferences.
Navy (4-2), an independent, has agreed to play in the game assuming it becomes bowl eligible. Michigan is 12-5-1 against the Midshipmen but hasn’t played them since 1981.
The game, originally dubbed the Congressional Bowl, will be this year’s first bowl game and will be played at 11 a.m. on Dec. 20. It might not be the most desirable destination, but it sure beats having to start the streak over.
Fan guide: Obviously, it’s too early to tell how it will all shake out, but a few conferences might not fill their bowl tie-ins. Saving you all the details, here’s an early look at where Michigan fan’s rooting interests should lie.
For: Penn State, Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, USC, Oregon, California, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Western Michigan, Ball State, Tulsa, San Diego State and Arkansas State.
Against: Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Duke, Virginia, Maryland, Miami, Central Michigan, Colorado State, New Mexico, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy.