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With a little help, Michigan's BCS chances look good heading into the season's final weekend

Marissa McClain/Daily
Michigan coach Brady Hoke may have guided Michigan back to a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2006 season. Buy this photo

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 1, 2011

With his team sitting at No. 16 in the latest BCS standings with a 10-2 record and several marquee wins over the likes of Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, Michigan coach Brady Hoke likes his team’s chances of making a BCS bowl game.

“We’ve done all that we can do,” Hoke said Monday. “Is it deserving? Probably. A 10-win team out of the Big Ten conference, I think that speaks for itself.”

The BCS bowl committees hear Michigan loud and clear. But the Wolverines will need help this weekend if they’re to jump into the top 14 in the BCS standings to become eligible for an at-large selection.

According to two college football experts, if Michigan is in the top 14, it will play in a BCS game, likely the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La. or the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

“If they’re eligible, yes. I don’t think there’s any question,” said Dennis Dodd, a college football columnist for CBSSports.com.

“A 10-2 Michigan team? Yes. Coming off a win over Ohio State? Absolutely.”

“Yep, I think so,” said Jerry Palm, a BCS expert who runs the website CollegeBCS.com and contributes to CBSSports.com. “(But) they need a little help, some attrition in front of them.”

Luckily for Michigan, the three teams immediately in front of them in the BCS standings play this weekend, and two of them play each other.

Palm and Dodd agreed that one game was most crucial in determining the Wolverines’ fate: the SEC championship between No. 1 LSU and No. 14 Georgia.

If LSU wins, which is expected, Georgia would drop down in the polls, opening a spot for Michigan to jump up. But if the Bulldogs pull off the upset, the SEC could potentially have three teams in the 10 BCS spots.

“That’s a must,” Palm said of how an LSU win would help Michigan’s chances. “And the reason is because if Georgia wins and the voters are stupid and leave LSU and Alabama No. 1 and No. 2, then the SEC has three teams and there are no open spots for Michigan.”

Dodd contended that if Georgia did win, that wouldn’t necessarily mean LSU and Alabama would stay atop the standings. Both would be one-loss teams, and neither will have won its conference. The pollsters would punish Alabama, Dodd said, for not playing this week and for losing to LSU. Still, a Georgia win would mean one less team falling past Michigan.

It helps that No. 13 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin meet in the Big Ten Championship game Saturday — it’s likely that Michigan would jump whoever loses. But speculation has grown that a Spartan loss wouldn’t necessarily drop them past the Wolverines in the polls because Michigan State beat Michigan on Oct. 15. Dodd and Palm don’t consider that an issue.

“It’s what the voters have always done — when you lose, you drop,” Palm said. “They don’t care about head-to-head and stuff like that. They probably don’t even remember Michigan State beat Michigan. They don’t care about stuff like that. If you lose, you drop.”

Added Dodd: “In my experience, that third loss (for Michigan State) is huge. It will be valued by the (BCS) computers more than anybody else.”

Dodd described the “perfect example” to illustrate how Michigan would jump the loser of the Big Ten title game. In 2007, on the last week of the season, then-No. 4 Missouri beat then-No. 2 Kansas. The next week, Missouri was blown out in the Big 12 championship game by Oklahoma. Playing in the title game gave the Tigers an extra loss and cost them a seat in the BCS. Kansas went to the Orange Bowl, Missouri to the Cotton Bowl.

Just like that season, Michigan could be rewarded for being idle while Michigan State and Wisconsin beat each other up.

For Michigan to really be comfortable with a spot in the top 14, it would prefer No. 10 Oklahoma to lose to No. 3 Oklahoma State — the winner of that game would get the Big 12’s automatic spot. And a No. 5 Virginia Tech win over No. 20 Clemson would prevent Clemson from jumping Michigan in the polls — something Palm and Dodd said was a possibility.

No. 17 Baylor could also gain momentum with a win over No. 22 Texas. But with three losses already, Dodd didn’t think Baylor would gain enough momentum to topple Michigan.

Both experts said the broad BCS picture is shaping up nicely for Michigan. The SEC is expected to have two teams — whether it's LSU, Alabama or Georgia. The Pac-12 is expected to have two teams — its conference champion (likely No. 9 Oregon) and No.