Race for the Roses 2011: Week 6

Last week's results:

  • Nebraska 24, MSU 3: The defense did enough to keep things interesting; 24 points and 270 yards is not a bad day against a solid (albeit one-dimensional) offense, and it could easily have been even better if what felt like a half-dozen forced fumbles didn't all bounce directly out of bounds before anyone could recover them (or, in one case, be ruled - correctly - to have occurred after the ball broke the plane of the goal line). Unfortunately, the offense could not get going at all.
  • Minnesota 22, Iowa 21: Two fourth-quarter touchdowns erased a 21-10 deficit and gave the Gophers the stunning upset in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale. Amazingly, at 2-2 Iowa still controls their own destiny in the West; more on that later.
  • Northwestern 59, Indiana 38: The battle of the worst defenses in the Big Ten lived up to its billing; over 1100 combined yards of offense, and with the exception of two kneel-downs to end the first half and a clock-killing drive to end the game Northwestern only failed to score once (a punt early in the fourth quarter).
  • Michigan 36, Purdue 14: Michigan finally found a running game outside of Denard Robinson, as Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Penn State 10, Illinois 7: The Nittany Lions never took the lead until a Silas Redd touchdown run with just over a minute to go; Illinois drove for a potential tying field goal but bounced it off the upright at the horn. Chalk up another narrow escape for JoePa's crew, who seems to have specialized in it this year; their five conference wins have come by a combined 34 points.
  • Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29: It may have been Halloween weekend, but for the Badgers it must have felt like a scene out of Groundhog's Day. Blocked punt leading to a touchdown? Check. Two-score deficit on the road? Check. Two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the second coming with a little over a minute left? Check (although this time the second TD gave them the lead instead of a tie). Give up a 40+-yard bomb for the loss, having to sit through a replay to decide if it would count? Check (this time to determine whether Braxton Miller had crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing to a wide-open Devin Smith).

After the jump, the division races. I've dispensed with the standings tables and season simulations in favor of a more detailed breakdown, as the tiebreaker situations are becoming clearer.

The division tiebreakers are as follows:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Division record
  3. Record against the highest-placed team or teams in the division outside of the tie (ties not broken among these), on down to the bottom of the division
  4. Record against common conference opponents
  5. BCS standings, except that if the top two are one spot apart they are considered tied (and thus the winner of that game wins)

If after any step the tie is reduced to two teams, they revert to head-to-head.

West Division Race: The Contenders

Michigan State (6-2, 3-1, 22nd, 26th)
Division record: 1-1 (win over Michigan, loss to Nebraska)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Minnesota 90.7% 96.7% +23
@Iowa 67.5% 57.6% +2
Indiana 94.7% 96.9% +23.5
@Northwestern 77.5% 73.0% +7

Distribution of possible records:
  7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 44.92% 41.82% 12.03% 1.19% 0.04%
Margin-aware 39.39% 46.17% 13.66% 0.76% 0.01%

If they win out: They need a Nebraska loss; they own the tiebreaker over Michigan.
If they lose one: The only way they can get by with just a Nebraska loss and a Michigan loss is if MSU loses to Indiana (the only non-divisional opponent left), Michigan loses to Illinois (the non-common division opponent), Nebraska loses to Michigan (to make head-to-head even), and the BCS favors MSU (by at least two spots over Nebraska) or puts them just one spot behind Michigan. Head-to-head, division, individual teams in the division, and common opponents would all be tied, forcing the BCS to break the tie. This is unlikely to favor MSU due to the non-conference loss (which neither Nebraska nor Michigan have), so realistically they need two Nebraska losses and a Michigan loss.
In addition, if the loss is to Iowa, Iowa must lose a game.
Probability of winning the division (assuming that two losses knocks them out): 51.17% no-margin / 44.37% margin-aware (assuming the BCS tiebreaker goes against MSU). They need help, but with the softest schedule remaining of all the contenders, the odds aren't bad.

Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 in conference; ranked 14th in no-margin, 11th margin-aware)
Division record: 2-0 (wins over Minnesota and MSU)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Northwestern 90.3% 93.3% +18
@Penn State 42.2% 52.6% +0.5
@Michigan 45.4% 35.8% -4
Iowa 84.9% 87.5% +13

Distribution of possible records:
  7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 14.71% 41.98% 35.23% 7.62% 0.46%
Margin-aware 15.37% 44.72% 33.90% 5.76% 0.25%

If they win out: They win the division, as they will give Michigan a second loss and own the tiebreaker with MSU.
If they lose one: If it is to Northwestern or Penn State, they need only an MSU loss (they would give Michigan and Iowa the necessary losses).
If it is to Iowa, they need an MSU loss and an Iowa loss.
If it is to Michigan, things get complicated; they need one of the following:
1) Michigan loss to Ohio State + MSU loss to Indiana only (three-way tie split on head-to-head and division, all beat the bottom three, Ohio State is only common opponent to all three from the other division, so Michigan drops out)
2) Michigan loss to Iowa + MSU exactly one loss (Michigan drops out on division record, MSU may or may not but Nebraska has head-to-head)
3) Michigan loss to Illinois + MSU loss to Indiana only + finish top among the three in the BCS (at least two spots ahead of Michigan) or one spot behind MSU; due to timing of losses this would probably favor Michigan rather than Nebraska.
4) Michigan multiple losses + MSU loss to anyone
Probability of winning the division: 31.19% / 30.19%, plus a 0.09%/0.06% chance of the BCS-tiebreaker scenario. The Huskers control their own destiny, but they have two tough games ahead.

Michigan (7-1, 3-1, 16th, 8th)
Division record: 2-1 (wins over Minnesota, Northwestern; loss to MSU)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Iowa 72.8% 73.8% +7
@Illinois 60.5% 69.1% +5.5
Nebraska 54.6% 64.2% +4
Ohio State 72.5% 81.2% +10

Distribution of possible records:
  7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 17.44% 39.01% 31.42% 10.79% 1.34%
Margin-aware 26.56% 42.30% 24.50% 6.10% 0.55%

If they win out: They need an MSU loss; they would knock off Nebraska in the process of getting to 7-1.
If they lose one: A loss to Ohio State would require a divisional loss by MSU (dropping MSU out of the tie on division record and allowing their head-to-head win over Nebraska to decide the tie); an MSU loss to Indiana would not be sufficient because with equal division records, the common non-division opponent (Ohio State) would knock Michigan out. If Nebraska loses a second game, MSU must also lose a second game.
A loss to Illinois would also require a divisional loss by MSU to guarantee the title, but if MSU loses to Indiana instead it would go to the BCS standings. Given that Nebraska would have the later loss and Michigan would only need to be within one spot of the Huskers to win the tiebreaker, this probably favors Michigan but it's not certain.
A loss to Iowa would require two MSU losses and an Iowa loss; in a three-way tie with Nebraska and MSU at 6-2 they would fall out on division record (hence the second loss for MSU being necessary).
A loss to Nebraska would be disastrous; they would need two losses each from MSU and Nebraska.
Probability of winning the division: 15.12% / 23.67%, plus the same BCS scenario as Nebraska. Not too bad a schedule, but the team they need to lose has an even softer finishing kick.

Iowa (5-3, 2-2, 70th, 50th)
Division record: 1-1 (win over Northwestern, loss to Minnesota)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Michigan 27.2% 26.2% -7
Michigan St
32.5% 42.4% -2
@Purdue
43.6% 50.3% 0
@Nebraska
15.1% 12.5% -13

Distribution of possible records:
  6-2 5-3
4-4
3-5
2-6*
No-margin 0.58% 6.79% 26.60% 42.49% 23.53%
Margin-aware 0.70% 8.49% 30.78% 41.53% 18.51%

* = not bowl eligible
If they win out: They win the division, since all three of the teams a game ahead of them would pick up a loss and they would own the tiebreakers.
If they lose one
: They're probably doomed. Scenarios where no one finishes at 6-2 or better are very, very messy and I'm going to ignore them for the moment for calculation purposes. As for tiebreakers: If the loss is to Purdue, Iowa needs an additional loss from each of the top three and possibly a loss by Minnesota; if the loss is to one of the top teams, they need that team to lose at least two and possibly all three of their other games.
Probability of winning the division at 6-2: 0.58% / 0.70% Even though Iowa controls its own destiny, their role is likely to be limited to playing spoiler or kingmaker.

Unless I've missed some scenarios in adding everything up (which is possible), this leaves odds that the champion will be 5-3 (or 4-4!) at 1.85% according to the margin-aware system, 1.01% no-margin.

The Rest of the West: Playing for Pride and/or Detroit

Northwestern (3-5, 1-4, 90th, 74th)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Nebraska 9.7% 6.7% -18
Rice (non-con)
55.4% 79.3% +9
Minnesota 67.7% 86.7% +13
Michigan St
22.5% 27.0% -7

Distribution of possible records:
  4-4* 3-5^ 2-6 1-7
No-margin 1.48% 19.56% 56.35% 22.61%
Margin-aware 1.57% 26.30% 63.05% 9.09%

* = bowl eligible
^ = bowl eligible if they beat Rice
Can they win the division? Not outright, and I'm not checking the tiebreakers for 4-4 scenarios because they're far too remote to even think about at this point.
Probability of bowl eligibility: 12.31% / 22.42%

Minnesota (2-6, 1-3, 109th, 111th)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Michigan St
9.3% 3.3% -23
Wisconsin
19.8%
4.5% -21
@Northwestern 32.3% 13.3% -13
Illinois
23.3% 14.2% -12.5

Distribution of possible records:
  5-3* 4-4 3-5 2-6 1-7
No-margin 0.14% 2.66% 16.75% 42.70% 37.75%
Margin-aware 0.003% 0.18% 3.67% 27.57% 68.58%

* = bowl eligible
Can they win the division? Actually, yes. Outright, even. It won't happen, but it is theoretically possible.
Probability of bowl eligibility: 0.14% / 0.003%

East Division Race: The Contenders

Penn State (8-1, 5-0, 13th, 23rd)
Division record: 3-0 (wins over Illinois, Indiana, Purdue)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
BYE N/A
N/A
N/A
Nebraska
57.8% 47.4% -0.5
@Ohio State 61.9% 44.4% -1.5
@Wisconsin 58.6% 24.3% -8

Distribution of possible records:
  8-0 7-1
6-2
5-3
No-margin 20.96% 43.02% 29.36% 6.66%
Margin-aware 5.11% 27.99% 44.74% 22.16%

If they win out: They win the division, and finish the first undefeated conference (regular) season in the Big Ten in five years.
If they lose one: They still win the division without any help.
If they lose two: Whichever of Ohio State and Wisconsin they lose to must lose a game. (If they lose to both and beat Nebraska, both must lose a game.)
If they lose all three: At minimum, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue must each lose a game. It's fairly likely that Wisconsin and Ohio State would have to lose twice, but I haven't gone through all the tiebreaker cases here and won't until things clear up a little bit (or they become moot).
Probability of winning the division (at 6-2 or better): 85.20% no-margin / 53.53% margin-aware. There's an interesting split in the two systems for Penn State - they're favored in all three games by the no-margin system, underdogs in all three by the margin-aware system. The sheer number of narrow escapes they've had is the reason.

Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2, 29th, 9th)
Division record: 1-1 (win over Indiana, loss to Ohio State)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Purdue 75.5% 92.3% +17
@Minnesota 80.2% 95.5% +21
@Illinois 47.5% 68.0% +5
Penn State 41.4% 75.7% +8

Distribution of possible records:
  6-2 5-3
4-4
3-5
2-6
No-margin 11.90% 36.81% 36.74% 13.06% 1.50%
Margin-aware 45.38% 41.84% 11.72% 1.03% 0.03%

If they win out: Penn State and Ohio State must each drop a game (not including the PSU-Wisconsin game). A three-way tie would require Ohio State to win out, and the Buckeyes would have the head-to-head sweep to win the tie. (Purdue drops out of the equation since Wisconsin would have to beat them.)
If they lose one: A loss to Penn State eliminates them completely. A loss to Illinois requires Penn State to lose out and Ohio State to lose two of their remaining three (other than PSU); Purdue falls out on head-to-head and Illinois will fall out of a three- or four-way tie due to either head-to-head or division record. A loss to Purdue requires Penn State to lose out, Ohio State to lose two of the remaining three, and (I think) Purdue to either lose twice or lose to Ohio State (if the latter, it would go to the BCS standings as everyone's 1-1 head-to-head, beat Illinois, lost to OSU, beat Indiana, no common cross-division opponents). A loss to Minnesota, as it's a non-division game, is actually the least damaging, but since Ohio State would survive a division-record tiebreaker while Penn State would not, the result is the same as a loss to Illinois: Penn State has to lose them all and Ohio State has to lose two.
Percentages aren't calculated for these at this point; the scenarios are too messy.
Probability of winning the division (at 6-2): 6.96%/32.90%. Opposite of Penn State: margin-aware loves their blowouts and doesn't care too much about the close losses; no-margin isn't impressed by the huge margins against the bad teams on their schedule.

Ohio State (5-3, 2-2, 34th, 32nd)
Division record: 2-0 (wins over Illinois and Wisconsin)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Indiana 92.3% 96.1% +22
@Purdue 59.3% 64.2% +4
Penn State 38.1% 55.6% +1.5
@Michigan 27.5% 18.8% -10

Distribution of possible records:
  6-2 5-3
4-4 3-5
2-6*
No-margin 5.75% 28.87% 43.69% 20.29% 1.40%
Margin-aware 6.46% 36.86% 42.12% 14.05% 0.50%

* = not bowl eligible
If they win out: Penn State needs to lose one additional game; the Buckeyes would have the tiebreaker with any combination of Penn State and Wisconsin due to a head-to-head sweep.
If they lose one: A loss to Penn State eliminates them. A loss to Michigan or Indiana requires Penn State to lose out and Wisconsin to lose one game; Ohio State would still have the head-to-head sweep of relevant teams. A loss to Purdue requires Penn State to lose out, Wisconsin to lose one, and Purdue to lose at least one and possibly two (the potential five-way tie with Illinois makes analysis very, very complicated).
Probability of winning the division (at 6-2): 3.80%/5.72%. They need less help than most, but the finale at Michigan makes getting to the point where said help can actually matter difficult.

Purdue (4-4, 2-2, 73rd, 68th)
Division record: 1-1 (win over Illinois, loss to Penn State)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Wisconsin 24.5% 7.7% -17
Ohio State 40.7% 35.8% -4
Iowa 56.4% 49.7% 0
@Indiana 76.7% 75.5% +7.5

Distribution of possible records:
  6-2 5-3
4-4
3-5*
2-6*
No-margin 4.32% 24.25% 41.46% 25.43% 4.54%
Margin-aware 1.03% 15.65% 41.65% 34.38% 7.29%

* = not bowl eligible
If they win out: Penn State has to lose all three. Both other two-loss teams will pick up an extra loss and Purdue has already lost to Penn State and would therefore lose the tiebreaker.
If they lose one: They need a multi-way tie which knocks Penn State out without giving another team a decisive advantage. This probably means they have to beat both Ohio State and Wisconsin and have neither of them lose another game, in addition to Penn State losing out. This would give Purdue only one loss in the head-to-head group along with Ohio State, then they beat Ohio State head-to-head.
Probability of winning the division (at 6-2): 0.29%/0.23%. Major long shot in part due to the remaining schedule and in part because their non-conference losses are cratering their rating; much more likely to miss a bowl game than to make the title game.

Probability that the division winner is 5-3 (assuming that all scenarios are correctly accounted for in the 6-2 cases above): 3.75% / 7.62%. With Penn State facing their toughest tests ahead and Purdue having to play both Wisconsin and Ohio State (plus some moderately tough games ahead for both Wisconsin and Ohio State), the possibility of PSU losing all three and everyone else relevant dropping one is significant.

The Rest of the East: Playing for Pride and/or to Escape Detroit

Illinois (6-3, 2-3, 38th, 43rd)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
BYE N/A
N/A
N/A
Michigan
39.5% 30.9% -5.5
Wisconsin 52.5% 32.0% -5
@Minnesota
76.7% 85.8% +12.5

Distribution of possible records:
  5-3 4-4
3-5
2-6
No-margin 15.87% 43.56% 33.85% 6.72%
Margin-aware 8.50% 38.41% 46.41% 6.68%


Can they win the division? No. No combination of teams at 5-3 can get them past head-to-head or division record.
Probability of bowl eligibility: Already clinched; goal now is to escape the Motor City Bowl.

Indiana (1-8, 0-5, 117th, 113th)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Ohio State 7.7% 3.9% -22
BYE N/A N/A N/A
@Michigan St 5.3% 3.1% -23.5
Purdue 23.3% 24.5% -7.5

Distribution of possible records:
  3-5 2-6 1-7 0-8
No-margin 0.09% 3.13% 29.67% 67.10%
Margin-aware 0.03% 1.75% 27.91% 70.31

Does this team have any redeeming qualities whatsoever? Well, the offense is actually capable of putting up points; they scored 20 on Illinois, 24 on Iowa, and 38 on Northwestern. The problem is the defense, which is a Michigan-under-Greg-Robinson--level tire fire. Apart from inexplicably holding Penn State to 16, no BCS-level team has scored less than 34 (Virginia), and no Big Ten team has been held short of 40.

Next week, some of the 5-3 scenarios will probably have been clarified enough to consider including them.

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