Suddenly a conference whose championship was destined to feature Nebraska and Wisconsin is clouded in uncertainty. Penn State has just one loss to arguably the best team in the country, and they hold a commanding Leaders lead (damn it…) over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue. Meanwhile, Michigan is tied with Nebraska and Michigan State atop the Legends.
First of all, here are the basic tiebreakers in the Big Ten division:
- Conference record
- Records against each other
- Division record
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the contenders.
Penn State: For a team with just one loss, Penn State hasn’t exactly separated from teams this year. The defense is one of the country’s best, but the offense struggles to score points. They’re fourth in scoring defense, but 101st in scoring offense. They squeaked by teams like Temple, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern and Illinois, but Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin—the latter two on the road—await. Things are tough, but they’re the only Leaders team with their fate in their own hands.
Wisconsin: Speaking of the Badgers, if you ask them they’d probably tell you that things are already real enough. Back-to-back losses on last minute Hail Mary passes has them 2-2 with four left to be played. One of those games left to be played, though, is against Penn State in the finale. They’ll get their shot at Penn State, but the Nittany Lions need to lose one more. And with the loss to Ohio State, the Badgers need the Bucks to lose another one.
Ohio State: Don’t forget about Ohio State. They’re in better shape than Wisconsin. Ohio State needs to hope for a Penn State loss and then take care of business when the Nittany Lions visit on November 19. That win over Wisconsin was vital, and both of their losses came to Leaders teams. So if all three finish with two (meaning OSU and Wisconsin do not lose anymore and both beat Penn State), or even three (meaning Penn State loses all three remaining games including those against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and Ohio State and Wisconsin lose one more apiece), conference losses, Ohio State will go to the title game. They’d be 2-0 against Penn State and Wisconsin. Wisconsin would be 1-1. Penn State would be 0-2.
Purdue: Purdue is sort of forgotten in all of this because nobody expects them to contend for the division crown. I’m not saying they will, but they’re in it now so we’ll go ahead and take a look. They face Wisconsin and Ohio State and already lost to Penn State. Hey, if they win out and Penn State loses all three of their remaining games, the Boilermakers are Leaders champs.
Nebraska: Nebraska fell to Wisconsin earlier in the year, but they’re 7-1 overall with a 3-1 conference record same as the Wolverines. They’ll meet Michigan on November 19 and they hold a tiebreaker against Michigan State. If Nebraska wins out, they’re going to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State: Michigan State holds a tiebreaker over Michigan, but they fell to Nebraska last Saturday. So they now must root for the archrival Wolverines—or anybody I guess—to beat the Huskers. Andy they probably can’t afford to drop another one against Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, or Northwestern. Hey, the Huskers may control their fate, but the Spartans may be in the best position considering Nebraska’s remaining schedule, particularly at Penn State and at Michigan. Just sayin’.
Michigan: The Wolverines are looking to avoid another late-season collapse. They’ve taken a giant leap forward on defense this year. Sure there are still problems, but they’re 26th in pass defense so far compared to last year’s injury-riddled unit 112th-ranked unit. They need Michigan State to lose to somebody and they need to beat Nebraska. And they have three other games to worry about, too.