Race for the Roses 2013: Thanksgiving Week

Harry How

The title game matchup is all set, but bowl position and rivalry trophies are still at stake.

Wins by Michigan State and Ohio State last week guaranteed that both of them will feature in the Big Ten title game on December 7. But there's still one weekend of conference play to go before that, with bowl selection stakes for five other teams (in addition to the MSU-OSU loser) and four more facing in-state rivals with hardware on the line. As always, ratings are here.

The bowl selection order is as follows (times EST):

0) National Championship (Pasadena, CA; Jan 6, 8:30 pm)
1) Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA; Jan 1, 5 pm)
2) BCS at-large selection (if any; most likely Orange Bowl, Miami, FL; Jan 3, time TBD)
3) Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL; Jan 1, 1 pm)
4) Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL; Jan 1, 1 pm)
5) Buffalo Wild Wings (formerly Insight) Bowl (Tempe, AZ; Dec 28, 10:15 pm)
6) Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL; Jan 1, 12 pm)
7) Texas Bowl (Houston, TX; Dec 27, 6 pm)
8) Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas, TX; Jan 1, 12 pm; only if no BCS at-large selected)

This is the same as last year except that the Buffalo Wild Wings and Gator Bowls are swapped in order. There will not be enough teams eligible to fill the Pizza Bowl slot.

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 30, Northwestern 6

Division championship achieved.

Ohio State 42, Indiana 14

The other clinching game. In yardage, Indiana actually kept this one close (471-442), and they won the turnover battle 3-0; however, a pair of missed field goals, three turnovers on downs in Ohio State territory, and the clock running out on them during a hurry-up drive right before halftime prevented them from turning the yardage and turnovers into points. Indiana didn't actually get on the board until garbage time.

Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 7

The Axe stays in Madison, as Minnesota's defense held Wisconsin to a respectable 324 yards but the offense couldn't get anything going at all (Minnesota's only points came on an Aaron Hill interception return) and turned the ball over three times. While OSU's win eliminates Wisconsin from the Big Ten title hunt, the Badgers stay alive for a possible BCS at-large bid.

Iowa 24, Michigan 21

How do you overcome four turnovers? Outgain your opponent 407-158 and shut them out for the entire second half. Mike Meyer's field goal with 6 minutes left completed a run of 17 straight for Iowa, and Devin Gardner fumbled as Michigan approached field goal range late.

Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 (OT)

A missed PAT in the first quarter for Penn State proved costly, as Nebraska tied the game with a field goal late in the fourth quarter. As in the Penn State-Michigan OT game earlier this year, Penn State lost the toss, had to go first, and missed their field goal attempt; unlike Michigan, Nebraska attempted to move the ball rather than just positioning for a moderate length field goal. While they failed to gain a first down and even backed up with a false start on the field goal try, the kick was good.

Illinois 20, Purdue 16

The Futility Bowl looked like it had shootout potential early, tied at 14 just after the second quarter started. Purdue's offense then disappeared entirely, missing a field goal after an Illinois fumble but otherwise achieving nothing at all. Illinois was able to close out the game with two fourth-quarter field goals, conceding a safety intentionally on the final play to run off a few extra seconds and finish kneeling out the clock.

This Week's Games

Iowa at Nebraska

Rankings: Iowa #39 basic / #42 margin-aware; Nebraska #35 / #57
What's at stake: The winner of this game gets the Heroes Trophy and is likely fourth in bowl selection, assuming neither Michigan nor Minnesota pulls the upset. (Nebraska might be even if one of those teams does.) An Iowa loss could send them all the way down to the seventh and final selection, though apathy over Michigan's late-season collapse might keep Iowa in front of them. (It's also possible that Iowa could jump Minnesota, even at 7-5 against 8-4, but I don't consider this particularly likely given the Jerry Kill storyline.) Nebraska's fan support and extra win is probably enough to keep them ahead of Minnesota and Michigan (assuming neither pulls the upset) even with a loss.
Basic method favors: Nebraska, 61%
Margin-aware method favors: Nebraska, 56% (1.5 pts)

Minnesota at Michigan State

Rankings: Minnesota #34 / #48; Michigan State #11 / #9
What's at stake: For Michigan State, a win keeps the possibility of a BCS at-large bid (with a loss to Ohio State in the title game) alive; however, even with two losses it's hard to imagine MSU dropping below third in the selection order. For Minnesota, a win would almost certainly vault them to 4th in the selection order if Iowa wins, although Nebraska might stay ahead with a win. Even with a loss, they're still likely ahead of Michigan and Iowa if those teams lose.
Basic method favors: Michigan State, 78%
Margin-aware method favors: Michigan State, 94.5% (18.5 pts)

Ohio State at Michigan

Rankings: Ohio State #3 / #4; Michigan #42 / #41
What's at stake: An Ohio State win keeps them alive in the national title race (needing a slip-up by Florida State or Alabama) and all but ensures a BCS bid, win or lose in Indianapolis. With two losses, Ohio State would likely drop out of the BCS entirely but still be the third Big Ten team picked. Michigan could possibly jump as high as 4th with a win if Iowa also wins, but a loss likely leaves them as the final selection among Big Ten teams.
Basic method favors: Ohio State, 74%
Margin-aware method favors: Ohio State, 86% (12 pts)

Penn State at Wisconsin

Rankings: Penn State #63 / #67; Wisconsin #14 / #5
What's at stake: Penn State is ineligible this year, so nothing but pride for them. For Wisconsin, like Michigan State, a win keeps them alive for a possible BCS at-large bid. A loss plus a Nebraska win gives them an outside possibility of dropping to fourth, but most likely Wisconsin would be the third selection if they lose.
Basic method favors: Wisconsin, 84%
Margin-aware method favors: Wisconsin, 98.2% (26 pts)

Northwestern at Illinois

Rankings: Northwestern #86 / #71; Illinois #85 / #88
What's at stake: The Land of Lincoln Trophy and a chance for Northwestern to avoid a winless conference season.
Basic method favors: Illinois, 60%
Margin-aware method favors: Northwestern, 53% (1 pt)

Purdue at Indiana

Rankings: Purdue #110 / #113; Indiana #75 / #64
What's at stake: The Old Oaken Bucket and a chance for Purdue to avoid a winless conference season.
Basic method favors: Indiana, 83%
Margin-aware method favors: Indiana, 97.8% (25 pts)

Outside Rooting Interests

For Ohio State's National Title Chances

This one's simple: a loss by #1 (all rankings from here out are BCS rank) Alabama (at #4 Auburn) or #2 Florida State (at Florida), and Ohio State is playing for a trip to the national title game. (While Auburn would potentially pick up a pair of impressive wins, no AQ unbeaten will ever get jumped for a one-loss team.) Alabama looks to be in for a tough game (52% to win by the basic method, 75% (+7) margin-aware), but Florida State looks likely to cruise (90.7% basic method, 97.6% (+24.5) margin-aware). Both will have conference championship games the next week as one final chance to slip up if they win this week (Florida State will go regardless, but Auburn would go to the SEC title game instead of Alabama with a win).

For BCS At-Large Chances

Ohio State can likely ignore this section; if they beat Michigan but lose to MSU, they're all but certain to go to the Orange Bowl, while losing twice would probably drop them out entirely (coming in off back-to-back losses would not make them a particularly attractive choice). Their rooting interests assume two losses, but the chances of a bid are remote if that happens.

For Michigan State, a loss to Minnesota would end any BCS at-large chances, and a win over Ohio State would earn an automatic berth. So MSU rooting interests in this section assumes a win over Minnesota and loss to Ohio State.

Wisconsin has no chance if they lose to Penn State, so their rooting interests here assume a win.

Four at-large bids are available; the SEC will almost certainly claim one, and #14 Northern Illinois or #16 Fresno State will claim another if they reach the top 12 or if they stay in the top 16 and ahead of #19 UCF (or another AQ conference champion). The AAC has no real chance of getting one. That leaves two being fought for by the B1G, Pac-12, Big XII, and ACC. After the replacements for #1 and #2, the Orange Bowl gets first pick; if a non-AQ team is given a bid, this will be the only discretionary pick (the Sugar and Fiesta will have to take the AAC champion and non-AQ).

Within the Big Ten:
OSU should root for: MSU over Minnesota to make the loss hurt as little as possible (MSU and OSU cannot be in direct competition for an at-large bid since one will win the automatic bid). Penn State over Wisconsin to eliminate the other at-large option in the B1G; Wisconsin's strong finish and OSU's weak one might make the Badgers a preferred candidate otherwise.
MSU should root for: OSU to beat Michigan to make the loss hurt as little as possible and possibly open up a spot in the Rose Bowl if OSU reaches the title game. (The Rose Bowl is less likely to select Wisconsin if there is a viable alternative than the Orange Bowl would be, because the Badgers have been to the Rose Bowl three times in a row.) Penn State over Wisconsin to eliminate them from at-large discussion.
Wisconsin should root for: Minnesota and OSU over MSU to eliminate MSU from contention. If MSU wins the title game, OSU would be a near-lock for an at-large, freezing Wisconsin out. Michigan over OSU could change that (and would also prevent OSU from reaching the title game and letting the Rose Bowl's potential Badger fatigue come into play).

American:
Best case for all three is for #19 UCF to move up and overtake NIU and Fresno to open up another at-large spot, but that's unlikely without those two teams losing (in which case it wouldn't mater what UCF does anyway). They host woeful South Florida this week, which won't help their case much; UCF is a 95.9% basic / 220-to-1 margin-aware / 35 pt favorite.

ACC:
Besides the Florida State-Florida rivalry game mentioned above, #6 Clemson travels to #10 South Carolina (South Carolina 54% / 53% / +0.5). The only other ACC team anywhere in the top 25 is #24 Duke, playing at North Carolina (Duke 56% / 50.3% / +0) with a chance to meet Florida State in the ACC title game.
OSU should root for: For their title game hopes, OSU is rooting against Florida State in both games, but in the event they're looking for an at-large after losing twice, they're better off with Florida State winning the ACC title game (to avoid having the Seminoles as competition for an at-large), especially if they beat Florida this week. South Carolina over Clemson, preferably in a blowout, puts a big damper on Clemson's at-large hopes and has a pretty good chance of limiting the ACC to one bid. (South Carolina is only relevant if it's a question of whether any B1G team remains in the top 14; even if they don't get an at-large bid, someone in the SEC will.)
MSU should root for: Florida State to lose to Florida to open a spot in the title game for Ohio State, but win the ACC title game to avoid becoming competition for an at-large bid. South Carolina over Clemson for the same reason as Ohio State.
Wisconsin should root for: Florida State to win out to keep Ohio State in the Rose Bowl (unless MSU loses to Minnesota; then root for Florida State to lose to Florida). South Carolina over Clemson.

Big XII:
Ohio State got one possible piece of the national title puzzle to fall into place with #9 Baylor's blowout loss to #7 Oklahoma State; however, that may be bad news for at-large hopefuls. If Baylor and Oklahoma State win out, Baylor would be 11-1 and have a pretty good case for a BCS at-large. Oklahoma lurks at #18 and might sneak into consideration if things break right. Baylor travels to TCU this week (Baylor 85% / 93.5% / +17.5) while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have a bye week before Bedlam next week.
OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin should all root for: TCU to upset Baylor and make it more likely that the Big XII is a one-bid league.

Pac-12:
The weekend before last, Stanford's loss to USC was good news as it meant Oregon was on course for the auto-bid and Stanford's travel reputation is nowhere near as strong. Then Oregon (now #13) had to go and mess everything up by losing to Arizona. The title game will be #8 Stanford vs. #12 Arizona State, with Oregon lurking as a potential at-large contender. UCLA (#22) and USC (#23) are also ranked but no threat to reach the top 14. This week, Stanford hosts #25 Notre Dame (Stanford 68% / 91.3% / +15.5), Arizona State hosts Arizona (ASU 81% / 88% / +13), Oregon hosts Oregon State (Oregon 81% / 97.1% / +23), and USC hosts UCLA (USC 60% / 67% / +4.5).
OSU should root for: Oregon State to upset Oregon, all but guaranteeing that the Pac-12 is a one-bid league. The rest really don't matter much, although knocking Wisconsin's strength of schedule down with an Arizona upset of Arizona State might help keep Wisconsin out.
MSU should root for: In addition to Oregon State over Oregon, Notre Dame upsetting Stanford would be helpful from a strength-of-schedule perspective. Arizona over Arizona State would also be nice to knock Wisconsin's strength of schedule down a peg.
Wisconsin should root for: Oregon State, Arizona State (for strength of schedule), and Stanford (to hurt MSU's strength of schedule). There is some risk here in that Wisconsin still has to move up a spot in order to reach the top 14 and an Arizona State loss might get them ahead.

SEC:
Besides the South Carolina-Clemson and Alabama-Auburn battles mentioned earlier, #5 Missouri hosts #21 Texas A&M (Missouri 76% / 93.3% / +17) and #17 LSU hosts Arkansas (LSU 90.2% / 98-to-1 / +30).
OSU should root for: If OSU is looking for an at-large after two losses, wins by Missouri and Arkansas to keep A&M and LSU from catching OSU would be helpful along with South Carolina over Clemson to remove any ACC competition.
MSU should root for: Same as OSU, plus Auburn over Alabama to open the way for a title berth for OSU and a Rose Bowl slot for an at-large.
Wisconsin should root for: Alabama to keep OSU in the Rose Bowl (unless MSU loses to Minnesota; then root for Auburn), plus Missouri, Arkansas, and South Carolina.

Non-AQ:
All three want Fresno State and Northern Illinois to drop out of contention. Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan (NIU 84-to-1 / 780-to-1 / +43.5) and Fresno State plays at San Jose State (Fresno 83% / 82% / +10).

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