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Race for the Roses 2011: Week 9

Last week's results:

  • Michigan State 55, Indiana 3: Total annihilation of a hapless opponent is a good way to send the seniors out from their last home game. Made even sweeter, in some respects, by:
  • Michigan 45, Nebraska 17: Nebraska could do very little against Michigan's suddenly de-GERG-ified defense (260 yards, three fumbles lost). The resulting great field position for Michigan and the complete inability of Nebraska's offense to stay on the field (less than 19 minutes of possession; time of possession can be a misleading stat at times - see Oregon - but in this case it does not lie) made things very easy for Denard and company. With Michigan the only two-loss team standing behind us in the West and a head-to-head victory over them, the division is ours.
  • Penn State 20, Ohio State 14: For the first half, this looked like it could be more of a shootout than anyone expected. Then sanity was restored in the second half, which featured a goal-line stand by Ohio State following a turnover deep in their own territory and no other real scoring chances by either side. This game eliminated the Buckeyes from the conference title race.
  • Wisconsin 28, Illinois 17: An early Illinois lead made it appear that the title game matchup might be set in stone before Thanksgiving; had Illinois hung on, Penn State's later win would have been enough to clinch the division. However, a botched punt due to a dropped snap led to Wisconsin's first touchdown late in the second quarter, and the Badgers rallied in the second half to complete the comeback and set up a winner-take-all showdown with Penn State next week.
  • Northwestern 28, Minnesota 13: The Wildcats became the ninth bowl-eligible team in the conference with this win, riding a hot start (a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter) to a comfortable victory.
  • Iowa 31, Purdue 21: Purdue also had a chance to become eligible for a bowl last weekend, but an Iowa touchdown right before the half gave them the lead for good. A Purdue comeback was put to rest for good when Robert Marve had an apparent touchdown overturned on review, as he lost control before crossing the goal line and fumbled into the pylon for a touchback.

After the jump: a quick overview of this week's games and what's at stake. No tables since it's all one week to go.

Bowl Selection Order and Rules

From The Gazette (HT: Adam Rittenberg):

  1. The winner of the Big Ten Championship Game goes to the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Jan 2, 5:00 ET) unless selected for the national title game, which won't happen this year.
  2. A team with at least nine wins and a top-14 BCS ranking may be selected as an at-large BCS participant. This would most likely be the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, Jan 3, 8:30) but might be the Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ, Jan 5, 8:30), especially if the title game is LSU-Oklahoma State rather than an all-SEC matchup.
  3. The Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Jan 2, 1:00) gets first selection after the BCS but may not select a team with a record more than one game worse than the best available record. (For instance, assume we beat Northwestern. The loser of the championship game would be at 10-3; therefore the Capital One Bowl cannot take a team that is 8-4 or worse.)
  4. The Outback Bowl (Tampa, Jan 2, 1:00) has the next selection. If the Big Ten does not have an at-large BCS representative, the Outback is under the same restriction as the Capital One regarding records; if a Big Ten team is chosen as a BCS at-large, the Outback's choice is unrestricted.
  5. The Insight Bowl (Tempe, AZ, Dec 30, 10:00 PM) has third choice after the BCS with no restrictions. (This is a change from last year; the Insight and Gator Bowls alternate between the fourth and fifth slots.)
  6. The Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Jan 2, 1:00) must take the Big Ten Championship Game loser if still available. In the likely case that that team has already been selected, the Gator Bowl's choice is unrestricted.
  7. The Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (Houston, Dec 31, noon), TicketCity Bowl (Dallas, Jan 2, noon), and Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl (Detroit, Dec 27, 4:30) select with no restrictions from any remaining eligible teams in that order.
  8. Any remaining eligible teams may fill bowl slots from other conferences that are unable to fill all of theirs.

Michigan State (9-2, #16 no-margin/#16 margin-aware) @ Northwestern (6-5, #69/#59)

No-Margin Odds: Michigan State 67.8%
Margin-Aware Odds: Michigan State 64.0% (4 pt favorite)

What's at stake for Michigan State: Guaranteeing consecutive 10-win seasons and keeping some momentum going into the title game. Obviously, if we win the title game we go to the Rose Bowl no matter what, but if we lose it may be important to keep our overall record up. If we win here but lose the title game, the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl are the most likely destinations, although it's possible to slip to the Insight if Nebraska and Michigan are both selected ahead of us but neither makes a BCS game. If we lose both, I would expect the Insight or Gator Bowl, depending on whether the Big Ten has an at-large.
What's at stake for Northwestern: A win might see them sneak as high as the Car Care Bowl if the Big Ten gets a BCS at-large; at minimum it would likely guarantee them a place in a Big Ten-affiliated bowl ahead of Illinois and Purdue. Even with a loss, however, I suspect Northwestern would be taken ahead of free-falling Illinois (losers of five straight coming into this week), and there is a good chance they would go ahead of Purdue too if Purdue is eligible.

Rose Bowl odds for Michigan State: 53.0% no-margin (51.5% against Penn State, 54.1% against Wisconsin); 34.2% margin-aware (56.5%/+2 against Penn State, 30.4%/-5.5 against Wisconsin)

Penn State (9-2, #19/#23) @ Wisconsin (9-2, #21/#8)

No-Margin Odds: Wisconsin 58.9%
Margin-Aware Odds: Wisconsin 85.4% (12 pt favorite)

What's at stake: Oh, nothing much. Just a chance to play Michigan State with the Rose Bowl on the line. The loser is probably no better than fourth in the pecking order (behind the winner, Michigan State, Michigan if they beat Ohio State, and maybe Nebraska too if they beat Iowa). Penn State, due to the ongoing horrorshow surrounding their program, would be more likely to be hurt badly by a loss and could fall even further. The winner, should they lose in the title game, is probably looking at the Capital One or Outback Bowl, with a chance of falling to the Insight if there is no BCS at-large.

Rose Bowl odds for Penn State: 19.9% no-margin, 6.4% margin-aware
Rose Bowl odds for Wisconsin: 27.0% no-margin, 59.4% margin-aware

Iowa (7-4, #45/#40) @ Nebraska (8-3, #22/#21)

No-Margin Odds: Nebraska 76.0%
Margin-Aware Odds: Nebraska 79.6% (9.5 pt favorite)

What's at stake for Iowa: Relatively little, aside from the opening salvo in what should eventually become a good Big Ten rivalry. Iowa is at virtually no risk of being passed by Illinois, Northwestern, or Purdue and is likely to stay ahead of Ohio State unless they lose and Ohio State wins. That corresponds to the Gator or Car Care Bowl, depending on whether there is an at-large selection or not. With a win at Nebraska they may even move up a spot, ahead of Nebraska, to the Insight or Gator Bowl.
What's at stake for Nebraska: With a win, Nebraska's big following might be enough to vault them as high as the Capital One Bowl, although I suspect the Outback (or possibly Insight, if there is no at-large bid) is more likely. A loss, however, puts them clearly behind Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State and possibly behind Iowa as well, dropping potentially as far as the Car Care Bowl if there is no at-large.

Ohio State (6-5, #52/#43) @ Michigan (9-2, #14/#10)

No-Margin Odds: Michigan 82.9%
Margin-Aware Odds: Michigan 90.0% (15 pt favorite)

What's at stake for Ohio State: Primarily keeping their rivalry streak alive. A win and an Iowa loss could see Ohio State as high as sixth in the bowl selection order (most likely the Car Care Bowl, since this would all but ensure the Big Ten does not get an at-large). With a loss, they're still safely ahead of Purdue and Illinois, most likely, but Northwestern could get a surprise bump with a win (the bowls might still take Ohio State since they're a much bigger name, but they're also unlikely to be enthusiastic about a third-tier bowl on a three-game losing streak), sending Ohio State as far down as the Pizza Bowl if there is no at-large.
What's at stake for Michigan: The last, best hope for a BCS at-large in the conference. However, I don't think this is as much of a foregone conclusion as everyone else seems to think. Yes, if they make the top 14, they're a big enough name to almost certainly be selected. The problem is that there is a huge gap between them at #15 and us at #14; a split of our games is not certain, albeit likely, to knock us behind them (and even if it does, the team that beats us in the title game almost certainly leapfrogs Michigan to undo that effect). Similarly, if South Carolina loses to Clemson, Clemson may jump Michigan (although they could fall back with a loss in the ACC title game). Best hope for Michigan is for Georgia to eat it in their rivalry game against Georgia Tech (a loss to the SEC West champion might not be damaging enough).
That said, with a win, Michigan is almost certainly in the Capital One Bowl if they do not get to the top 14. With a loss, things are a bit murky, as they'll be in the muddled pile with the loser of Wisconsin-PSU at 9-3, the title game loser likely at 10-3, and Nebraska possibly at 9-3. How that plays out is anybody's guess, but I'd think probably the Outback behind the title game loser.

Illinois (6-5, #61/#60) @ Minnesota (2-9, #110/#113)

No-Margin Odds: Illinois 71.0%
Margin-Aware Odds: Illinois 79.7% (9.5 pt favorite)

What's at stake for Illinois: A loss almost certainly relegates them to hoping an at-large bowl spot opens up elsewhere, as they will have lost six straight going into bowl season. At best, if Michigan gets an at-large bid and Purdue fails to become eligible, they can sneak into the Pizza Bowl. Even with a win, there's a reasonable chance that Illinois is odd man out due to the terrible slump to end the season, although this at least gives them a prayer of jumping Purdue, Northwestern, or Ohio State should those teams finish at 6-6.
What's at stake for Minnesota: Another chance to show some progress under Jerry Kill. The Gophers have been competitive for the last month or so but still only have one conference win to show for it.

Purdue (5-6, #78/#77) @ Indiana (1-10, #115/#112)

No-Margin Odds: Purdue 71.4%
Margin-Aware Odds: Purdue 66.7% (5 pt favorite)

What's at stake for Purdue: They must win to become bowl eligible; I think they get picked ahead of Illinois due to the late slide even if the Illini beat Minnesota, but if Michigan does not get a BCS at-large that still leaves them hunting for a spot outside of the Big Ten's tie-ins. (There's a chance Purdue gets picked over Northwestern, but I think this is relatively unlikely.)
What's at stake for Indiana: Avoiding the first winless Big Ten season by any team in six years. (They are in no danger of achieving any historic levels of futility, however, as measured by scoring ratio; in order to match Illinois 2005's 21% they would have to lose 150-0. Indiana is not good, but they are not "lose 150-0 to Purdue" not-good.)