Penn State's Road to the BCS

It has been a while since Penn State has been in a Big Ten championship race this late in the season. While the title is great, the most important prize is the automatic BCS bid that goes with it. And that's where league tiebreakers come into effect. Learn about them, and get our take on the Nittany Lions' path to the BCS and various bowl options.

How do the Big Ten tiebreakers work?

The Big Ten championship goes to the team with the best conference record. In the event of a tie, the following factors will determine the BCS representative.

First tiebreaker:

Head-to-head competition.

Second tiebreaker:

Overall winning percentage.

Third tiebreaker:

Most recent BCS participant is eliminated.

Three-team tiebreaker:

If one team defeated the other two, that team gets the title.

If two teams both beat the third team, that team is eliminated and the previous tiebreakers go into effect for the remaining two teams.

If team A beat team B, team B beat team C, and team C beat team A, or if two of the teams did not play each other, the champion is determined by overall winning percentage. If two teams are still tied after that, the two-team tiebreakers are used.

If all three teams remain tied after all of those tiebreakers, the team with the most recent BCS appearance will be eliminated and the two-team tiebreaker will go into effect.

The tiebreakers for four or more teams follow a similar pattern. If one team defeated all the others, it gets the nod. If two defeated the other two, the latter are eliminated and the former revert to two-team tiebreakers, and so on through overall-winning-percentage and most-recent-BCS tiebreakers.

See the Big Ten's official tiebreaker descriptions here.

Now that we have that settled, how does it all impact the Nittany Lions?

If Penn State wins its final two games:

The Nittany Lions are the Big Ten BCS rep because they will only have one conference loss. A PSU win over Wisconsin would give the Badgers two losses in the league. The only other team with one Big Ten loss at this point is Ohio State, which PSU beat head to head.

Sit back and relax while the engravers put the finishing touches on the championship trophy. Start packing for Tempe (Fiesta Bowl) or Miami (Orange Bowl).

If Penn State goes 1-1 in its final two games:

This is wild because as many as five teams could finish 6-2 in the conference — PSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern or Iowa (both have two losses and they play this week).

As it stands, PSU, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all 4-1 in the conference. Penn State holds the key tiebreakers over the Buckeyes (head-to-head and overall record) and can secure the same advantages against the Badgers this weekend. With that in mind, it would be better for the Lions to beat Wisconsin and lose to Michigan State than the other way around.

With so many teams in the mix, there are dozens of possible scenarios that may unfold. Not sure what to hope for just in case the Lions stub their toes in one of the final two games? Follow these rules of thumb while watching the next few weeks of football:

1). A win over Wisconsin will be huge. A loss could come back to crush PSU in multiple-team tiebreakers. If PSU has to lose a game, hope it is at Michigan State. If the Lions fall to Wisconsin, the odds of securing the Big Ten's automatic BCS bid become extremely long.

2). Losses by Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan are almost always a good thing for Penn State from here on out. Since the Wolverines hold a key tiebreaker edge over PSU (head-to-head), Lion fans really want to root against them.

3). The only reasonable way a Michigan win would be good? If the Wolverines somehow fall to Indiana at the Big House Nov. 12 — thus taking themselves out of title contention — it could help Penn State if Michigan then beats Ohio State in the regular-season finale. But remember this will only matter if PSU has two losses at the time and if OSU goes into the finale with only one league loss and if Michigan is out of it by then. Lots of ifs. Admit it, you didn't want to root for the Wolverines, anyway.

Bottom line: If Penn State loses one of its next two, start packing for Orlando (Capital One Bowl) or Tampa (Outback Bowl). The Big Ten's automatic BCS bid will be a possibility but not a probability. Also, sustaining a second loss this late in the season would make it very difficult for the Lions to climb back into contention for a BCS at-large bid.

If Penn State goes 0-2 in its final two game:

The Nittany Lions will be, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from the Big Ten BCS bid race. Start packing for Tampa or San Antonio (Alamo Bowl).

OK, now that we know all of that, what is the lowdown on all of these bowls you mentioned?


Where: Tempe, Ariz.

When: Jan. 2, 5 p.m. (ABC)

Opponent: BCS Team TBD

Payout: $14.8-$22.8 million per conference


Where: Miami, Fla.

When: Jan. 3, 8 p.m. (ABC)

Opponent: BCS Team TBD

Payout: $14.8-$22.8 million per conference


Where: Orlando, Fla.

When: Jan. 2, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Opponent: SEC Team

Payout: $5.313 million per conference


Where: Tampa, Fla.

When: Jan. 2, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Opponent: SEC Team

Payout: $2.85 million per conference


Where: San Antonio, Texas

When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Opponent: Big 12 Team

Payout: $1.65 million per conference

And finally, when Penn State goes bowling, with Fight On State be there?

Most definitely. And we'd love for you to join us through one of our official bowl tour packages. While we have to know the bowl destination before we can make specific package offers, you can get on a waiting list to receive that information the moment it is available.



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