Race for the Roses 2012: Week 5

Jeff Gross

The East race (among eligible teams) is all but over, and the West could be all but decided this week.

Last week, some separation was beginning to appear in the West division, and Wisconsin had established a nearly insurmountable lead among eligible teams in the East. Thanks to a pair of late comebacks and a major beatdown, it appears the West may have its de facto Big Ten semifinal this week.

As always, ratings are here and division title chances are calculated from 100,000 simulated seasons. (Once there are few enough scenarios to compute them based on game probabilities and consider tiebreakers, I will. That may be as early as next week for the East, but probably not until at least Week 7 of conference play in the West.)

Last Week's Results

Michigan 12, Michigan State 10

Sigh.

Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 13

The other Paul Bunyan-related trophy game was nowhere near as close. Wisconsin led just 14-6 at halftime, but James White and Montee Ball combined for five rushing TDs (all from 14 yards out or further) and 341 yards on the ground as the Badgers pulled away in the second half.

Ohio State 29, Purdue 22 (OT)

The Boilers led for more than 55 minutes of regulation - jumping out to a 6-0 lead on the first play from scrimmage, returning the kickoff for a touchdown after Ohio State took a brief 7-6 lead, answering a third-quarter OSU touchdown with a four-minute drive, and extending the lead to 8 with a safety early in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes punched in the tying TD+2 with just 3 seconds left, then got the ball first in overtime and scored again. This time, Purdue couldn't answer.

Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28

Northwestern's reputation for late drama - for good or ill - was on display again. Nebraska rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns in the last six minutes. A long field goal attempt from Northwestern with a minute to go narrowly missed (about a yard to the right, with probably just enough distance), and that was that.

Penn State 38, Iowa 14

This one was over in a hurry - 14-0 in the first quarter, 24-0 with just under six minutes left in the half, and 38-0 before Iowa finally got on the board with a kickoff return early in the fourth quarter. Penn State outgained Iowa by nearly 300 yards, including a 215-20 advantage on the ground.

Navy 31, Indiana 30

Indiana, like Northwestern, gave up two scores in the final six minutes to erase their 30-21 lead. The Hoosiers outgained Navy by about 60 yards, including (unsurprisingly, given Navy's triple-option style) a large advantage in the air, but two turnovers (including an interception returned for a touchdown late in the first half) proved to be too much.

West Division Tables

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Michigan (#28) 5.61 N/A N/A N/A 1.69% 12.11% 31.30% 35.50% 16.84% 2.56% 98.31% 37.08% 63.06%
Nebraska (#26) 5.17 N/A N/A 0.58% 5.52% 19.89% 34.67% 29.49% 9.84% N/A 99.42% 20.19% 44.63%
Northwestern (#37) 4.42 N/A N/A 1.54% 13.74% 37.36% 36.38% 10.99% N/A N/A Yes 4.16% 17.62%
Iowa (#60) 4.27 N/A N/A 3.71% 19.41% 36.10% 29.10% 10.35% 1.33% N/A 76.88% 5.40% 17.17%
Michigan State (#54) 2.64 N/A 11.67% 33.93% 35.81% 16.06% 2.52% N/A N/A N/A 54.40% 0.01% 0.72%
Minnesota (#73) 2.33 3.66% 18.37% 34.57% 30.05% 11.75% 1.60% N/A N/A N/A 77.97% 0.01% 0.70%

Michigan's one-game lead in the standings works out to about a half-game lead in the projection since they have to travel to Nebraska and Ohio State (Nebraska still has to host Penn State). Northwestern reached bowl eligibility two weeks ago (an error in the tables last week) and has a big enough lead in the ratings to jump Iowa (who's a half-game ahead in the standings).

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Michigan (#31) 5.93 N/A N/A N/A 0.45% 5.91% 24.91% 41.31% 23.64% 3.78% 99.55% 52.13% 77.35%
Nebraska (#43) 4.98 N/A N/A 0.53% 6.92% 24.47% 36.83% 25.00% 6.23% N/A 99.47% 13.67% 35.93%
Northwestern (#44) 4.42 N/A N/A 0.46% 9.82% 44.59% 37.14% 7.99% N/A N/A Yes 3.44% 14.83%
Iowa (#66) 3.84 N/A N/A 7.26% 29.90% 38.55% 19.98% 4.04% 0.27% N/A 62.84% 1.86% 8.14%
Michigan State (#52) 2.98 N/A 5.18% 24.66% 40.69% 25.61% 3.85% N/A N/A N/A 70.16% 0.01% 0.95%
Minnesota (#90) 1.83 8.66% 29.62% 36.67% 20.09% 4.64% 0.32% N/A N/A N/A 61.72% <0.01% 0.16%

Michigan has enough of a lead in the ratings here (Nebraska's blowout loss to Ohio State drags them down) to maintain a full-game lead in the projections. This method is significantly more bullish on MSU than the basic one; losing three games by a combined six points will do that. The two methods split on their projections in the first two Big Ten games (with record-only leaning toward MSU in both); now, they're splitting again but in the opposite direction - margin-aware favors MSU (slightly) in each of the last three, while the basic method has us an underdog in every game (again, slightly).

East Division

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Ohio State (#6) 6.99 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.19% 4.04% 22.08% 44.18% 29.51% N/A 59.50% (N/A) 82.39% (N/A)
Penn State (#31) 5.77 N/A N/A N/A 0.90% 9.53% 29.03% 36.65% 19.98% 3.90% N/A 11.40% (N/A) 28.49% (N/A)
Wisconsin (#27) 5.34 N/A N/A N/A 1.97% 15.39% 38.60% 34.26% 9.77% N/A Yes 4.78% (94.74%) 17.10% (99.28%)
Purdue (#79) 2.29 3.68% 19.43% 35.21% 28.94% 11.12% 1.63% N/A N/A N/A 41.69% 0% (0.48%) 0.01% (3.37%)
Illinois (#94) 1.82 7.74% 29.84% 38.78% 20.01% 3.47% 0.16% N/A N/A N/A 3.63% 0% (0.08%) <0.01% (1.06%)
Indiana (#99) 1.36 19.85% 38.86% 29.11% 10.34% 1.73% 0.11% N/A N/A N/A 1.84% 0% (0.15%) <0.01% (1.15%)

It's official now: Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana cannot win the division outright if the ineligible teams are included - since OSU, PSU, and Wisconsin have not played each other at all yet, one of the three must reach five wins. Wisconsin cannot actually clinch an appearance in Indianapolis this week (the winner of Illinois-Indiana will still have the chance, however slim, to reach five wins and pass them), but for all practical purposes they already have and still control their destiny for a "true" division title.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Ohio State (#14) 6.59 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.19% 8.01% 37.76% 41.08% 12.96% N/A 35.17% (N/A) 62.24% (N/A)
Penn State (#23) 6.35 N/A N/A N/A 0.17% 3.13% 16.08% 34.99% 33.85% 11.78% N/A 28.95% (N/A) 53.69% (N/A)
Wisconsin (#25) 5.44 N/A N/A N/A 1.41% 12.81% 36.82% 38.09% 10.88% N/A Yes 5.82% (95.21%) 19.61% (99.32%)
Purdue (#69) 2.34 3.25% 18.10% 35.08% 30.13% 11.74% 1.69% N/A N/A N/A 43.56% 0% (0.43%) 0.01% (2.98%)
Indiana (#80) 1.77 8.99% 31.45% 37.51% 18.28% 3.58% 0.19% N/A N/A N/A 3.77% 0% (0.22%) <0.01% (1.82%)
Illinois (#99) 1.53 12.71% 36.91% 36.29% 13.09% 0.98% 0.02% N/A N/A N/A 1.00% 0% (0.02%) <0.01% (0.30%)

Here, Ohio State and Penn State look more even, and Indiana leapfrogs Illinois for the race to stay out of the basement. Notably, Purdue's bowl chances actually rose this week in both methods despite the loss - Ohio State was not a likely win in any case, and bad losses by future opponents Indiana and Iowa made those games look more plausible. (Also, in the margin-aware case Purdue's rating actually rose due to playing Ohio State close.)

This Week's Games

Game of the Week: Michigan at Nebraska

Winner claims bowl eligibility and the driver's seat in the West race. A Michigan win would give them an enormous lead, especially if Iowa falls to Northwestern. Not insurmountable - Penn State held a similar lead last year in the East before hitting a back-loaded schedule (and, of course, the whole Sandusky mess) - but two games up with the tiebreaker on the most highly regarded challenger is a good place to be. Nebraska winning, on the other hand, sets up a potential wild finish, but the Huskers would have a key edge with the tiebreaker.

Home field makes Nebraska the favorite here: 60% according to the basic method, 61% according to margin-aware (3 points).

The Ineligibowl: Ohio State at Penn State

This is one of two major threats to Ohio State's chances of running the table (a trip to Camp Randall in Week 8 looms as the other). The basic method puts Ohio State as nearly a 2-to-1 favorite (65%), but the Buckeyes' repeated narrow escapes make Penn State the favorite according to margin-aware (60%, 2.5 points).

The West Undercard: Iowa at Northwestern

Iowa controls their own destiny still, while a Northwestern win would likely simplify the division race by leaving both the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats needing help. Northwestern is a clear favorite here: 71% in the basic system, 83% (11 points) in margin-aware.

This Was Supposed to Be an Indianapolis Preview: Michigan State at Wisconsin

The Badgers have, if only by default, held up their end of the bargain after a slow start in non-conference play, but as you well know, MSU has not. Wisconsin is a 74% favorite according to the basic method, 82% (10.5 points) by margin-aware.

Any Other Week, This Would Easily Be the Pillow Fight of the Week: Purdue at Minnesota

These two teams are reeling after surprisingly strong non-conference results. Home field gives Minnesota the edge here: 63% in the no-margin system, 57% (2 points) when margin is considered.

It's not the Pillow Fight of the Week, because:

Pillow Fight of the Year: Indiana at Illinois

What happens when you put a team that's lost to Ball State and Navy on the same field as another team with four losses by 28+ points? Hilarity ensues! The no-margin method likes Illinois as a 64% favorite; margin-aware takes note of Indiana's multitude of close losses and gives them the nod at 52% (less than 1 point).

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