In case you didn”t see, Northwestern was humiliated Saturday night in Columbus, when it lost to Ohio State 38-20.

Paul Wong
The SportsMonday Column<br><br>Raphael Goodstein

The Buckeyes beat up the smaller Wildcats and revealed what many thought all along all Northwestern has going for it is a lot of luck (see last week”s game with Michigan State) and a gimmick offense.

After the game, Northwestern linebacker Pat Durr said: “It”s plain and simple, the Big Ten is black and blue and we”re black and blue right now. They put it on us pretty good.”

So what does this mean for No. 12 Michigan?

It means that it controls its own destiny, as far as a BCS bid is concerned, but Northwestern is still looking pretty good.

How?

Because of its schedule.

Northwestern doesn”t play Michigan or Wisconsin this year, and has already played Michigan State and Ohio State. That means that a road game with No. 17 Purdue is the last game that the Wildcats won”t be a big favorite in.

So, for the sake of this column, let”s assume they win out and finish with one loss.

And, let”s assume that Michigan loses a game somewhere along the way and finishes tied for the crown with Northwestern. Who would go to the BCS game?

Northwestern.

Why, you ask? The Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls would all much rather have Michigan”s marketability and large fan base than Northwestern, which would bring neither big television ratings nor a large fan base.

All of that”s true.

But unfortunately for Michigan and my holiday travel plans there”s a check on the Orange Bowl picking Michigan every year it can, and it”s the Big Ten”s tiebreaker system.

The first BCS tiebreaker that would be used in this case is overall record. Because of Michigan”s 23-18 loss at No. 10 Washington, Michigan would finish 9-2 if it wins out, while Northwestern which played UNLV and Duke and still has Bowling Green on its schedule would finish 10-1.

This rule applies in case of a three-way tie as well.

Northwestern”s loss does mean that if Michigan wins out, every other Big Ten team besides the Wolverines would have at least one loss, and Michigan would receive the BCS bid. But with tough road games at Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin and home games with ranked Purdue and Ohio State still on the schedule, winning out is not likely.

If Michigan finishes 9-2, the Wolverines would still be a candidate for one of the two at-large BCS bids, as Michigan has the largest alumni base in the world, and many of these alumni travel with the team to bowl games. Also, ABC would love the prospect of Michigan playing another big-name team.

Two years ago, Michigan received an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl to play Alabama. The game received huge ratings and everyone was happy.

The Orange Bowl would not be as happy with a South Carolina-Fresno State game.

And, at least so far this year, there appear to be more candidates for those two at-large bids than in most years.

Fresno State, the Big 12 runner-up, SEC runner-up, Pac 10 runner-up, and the loser of the Miami (Fla.)-Virginia Tech game are all candidates for the spot, and could all finish with a better record than Michigan.

What”s more, since Michigan has played in the Citrus Bowl two out of the last three years, there”s a strong possibility that Michigan could slide all the way to the Outback Bowl.

Obviously it”s way too early to make plans for January, or even start thinking about Iowa or Michigan State, as Purdue”s passing attack will present Michigan with problems.

But what all of this means is that luck, once again, could smile on Northwestern.

Raphael Goodstein can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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