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Big Ten BCS tiebreaker primer

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several of you have e-mailed in asking about the Big Ten's tiebreaker procedures for BCS bowl selection, which have changed for this season. The race for the league title is certainly taking shape, so these questions are becoming more and more relevant.

If you want the entire tiebreaker explanation, click here, but let me tell you what you need to know.

1. If two teams finish atop the standings with identical records and have played each other, the winner of the head-to-head matchup earns the league's BCS bowl berth (usually the Rose Bowl).

2. If two teams tie with identical records and don't play each other, the following tiebreakers go into effect.

  • Overall win percentage

  • BCS standings (the team ranked higher in the final standings gets the BCS berth)

3. If more than two teams tie atop the standings, the same selection procedures apply with the following exceptions:

  • If one team beat the other two teams, it earns the BCS berth

  • If three teams are tied and two of the teams beat the third team, the third team is eliminated. The two-team tiebreaker procedures then go into effect.

  • If two or all of the tied teams don't play each other, the team with the highest win percentage gets the berth. If the overall win percentage is the same, the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings gets the berth.

There are other tiebreakers, but the chances of them actually going into effect are slim to none.

Now let's examine the Big Ten's title contenders. Though the league has only one unbeaten team, I don't think a squad with two conference losses will win the title. It could happen, but it's unlikely.

Iowa -- The Hawkeyes clearly are in the best position as the league's only unbeaten team and boasting a No. 6 ranking in the initial BCS standings. Ohio State's loss to Purdue on Saturday benefited Iowa in more than one way. If Iowa finishes the season at 11-1 with only one loss to Ohio State on Nov. 14, it would earn the league's BCS berth unless the Buckeyes run the table the rest of the way. Looking at the remaining schedule, Iowa will be in excellent shape for at least a share of the league title if it wins Saturday at Michigan State.

Penn State -- The Lions can't afford to lose the rest of the way, and they still need some help to return to Pasadena. Penn State won't win a head-to-head tiebreaker against Iowa because of its Sept. 26 loss to the Hawkeyes. The Lions need Iowa to lose twice, ideally to both Michigan State and Ohio State, two teams Penn State still faces (and can beat).

Ohio State -- Jim Tressel has bigger worries than the Big Ten title race right now, but he knows the Buckeyes can't afford any more losses. Ohio State must win out, which would eliminate Penn State, and hope that Michigan State loses at least once more. Since Ohio State and Michigan State don't play, the BCS tiebreaker could go into effect if they're the only two teams to finish at 7-1. The Buckeyes are 19th in the initial BCS standings, while Michigan State is unranked, and both teams still play Iowa and Penn State. Ohio State would have the better overall record as long as it beats New Mexico State.

Michigan State -- The Spartans are very much alive in the Big Ten title race despite their slow start. Michigan State faces both Iowa and Penn State at home, and its road trips (Minnesota and Purdue) look manageable. The Spartans obviously need to win out and hope Ohio State stumbles once along the way. Michigan State also can't afford to lose to Western Michigan because it hurts the overall win percentage.

There are obviously a lot of possibilities, and things could get tricky with the new BCS standings tiebreaker and because Michigan State and Ohio State don't play. So stay tuned.