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Race for the Roses 2011: Week 7

Last week's results:

  • Michigan State 31, Minnesota 24. Time to repeat the mantra: Ugly wins are still wins. Ugly wins are still wins. Ugly wins are still wins. It could be worse, just ask Nebraska ...
  • Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25. A big thanks to the Wildcats for giving us the help we needed to control our own destiny for the division title again. The Huskers once again had difficult with a mobile quarterback, as Kain Colter and Dan Persa combined for 92 rush yards on 22 carries (this includes sacks, so it might even be better). Those two and Trevor Siemian combined for 261 pass yards as well (yes, three quarterbacks threw at least four passes each). Taylor Martinez shredded the Northwestern secondary for 289 yards and a 75%+ completion percentage, but two early red zone turnovers did Nebraska in.
  • Ohio State 34, Indiana 20. The Buckeyes also struggled to put away one of the dregs of the league, before taking the lead for good with Braxton Miller's second TD run at the end of the third quarter.
  • Wisconsin 62, Purdue 17. Unlike the other three contenders playing teams out of contention (and Purdue was not as far out of it as the rest), Wisconsin went back to their demolition-crew ways after consecutive last-minute losses. The Boilers hung in there early, down only 14-10 at the end of the first quarter, but it was 38-17 at the half and only got worse from there. The Badgers ran for 365 yards and six touchdowns, with Montee Ball accounting for 223 yards on 20 carries and three TDs.
  • Iowa 24, Michigan 16. Iowa's home-road schizophrenia continues: 6-0 at home, 0-3 elsewhere. Michigan got near the goal line but came out on the wrong end of one borderline call and one probably incorrect one (a possible catch by Junior Hemingway was ruled not to have been in his control when he hit the ground, and what appeared to be rather blatant pass interference on fourth down was not flagged).

After the jump: the detailed breakdown of the division races. I've begun using home field advantage parameters calculated from this season's games rather than last season's; the advantage is a bit higher so far this year (a factor of 1.62 for the no-margin and 1.43 for margin-aware - equivalent to about 4.5 pts - instead of 1.36 and 1.30, respectively). The home field parameter will fluctuate over the last few weeks of the season as more games get added.

West Division Contenders

Michigan State

Record: 7-2 (4-1 in conference)
Ranking: 21st (+1 from last week) no-margin, 29th (-3) margin-aware
Division record: 2-1 (wins over Michigan, Minnesota; loss to Nebraska)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Iowa 55.4% 41.7% -2.5
Indiana 95.3%
96.9% +23.5
@Northwestern 65.2%
58.8% +2.5

Distribution of possible records:

  7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4
No-margin 34.45% 47.77% 17.05% 0.73%
Margin-aware 23.76% 50.61% 24.88% 0.75%

Several reasons for the percentages to shift against us here: a narrow escape over a team we were supposed to blow out (for margin-aware), both of our toughest opponents remaining beating past marquee opponents for us (increasing their rating and dropping our SOS), and the larger home-field advantage factor with both of our toughest games on the road.

If we win out: We win the division outright.
If we lose one: If it's to Indiana or Northwestern, all we need is for Nebraska to lose a game. If it's to Iowa, Iowa has to lose one too.
If we lose two: MSU can't win a tie at 5-3 if Nebraska is involved (the details are in the Nebraska section; technically there are a couple of ways it can go to the BCS standings, but with a non-conference loss there's no realistic chance we would come out ahead there), so Nebraska has to lose two. Michigan has to lose one as well. If the win is over Iowa, that would be enough. If one of the losses is to Iowa, Iowa has to lose to both Purdue and Nebraska, and Nebraska has to lose to Penn State and Michigan, and Michigan has to lose to one of Illinois and Ohio State.
Probability of winning the division: 77.24% no-margin / 68.07% margin-aware. We got the one piece of help we needed, and although there are some non-trivial obstacles remaining our schedule is much softer than Nebraska's or Iowa's and we hold the tiebreaker plus a one-game edge on Michigan.


Record: 7-2 (3-2)
Ranking: 26th (-12), 18th (-7)
Division record: 2-1 (wins over Michigan State, Minnesota; loss to Northwestern)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Penn State
28.4% 38.5% -3
@Michigan 36.5%
29.6% -6
Iowa 74.9%
80.4% +9.5

Distribution of possible records:

  6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 7.77% 35.69%
Margin-aware 9.17%

What appeared to be the easiest remaining game for Nebraska turned into a loss, dealing a blow to their numbers in every remaining game as well.

If they win out: They need a loss from MSU to make it a two-way tie at 6-2 (Iowa and Michigan could finish no better than 5-3 due to losses to Nebraska).
If they lose one: A loss to Penn State is the least damaging, as every possible tie at 5-3 would go to Nebraska on head-to-head. So all they would need is a pair of MSU losses.
A loss to Michigan requires two MSU losses and a Michigan loss, at minimum. Then the tiebreakers are somewhat complicated:

  • If Michigan loses a second, Nebraska wins the tiebreaker regardless of whether it is MSU, Iowa, or both.
  • If MSU is not involved in the tie (loses all three) but Iowa is (only loss to Nebraska), head-to-head is split, division record is tied (everyone at 3-2, as Michigan's extra loss would have to be either Illinois or Ohio State), and everything depends on the ordering of the remaining teams. If Minnesota reaches 4-4 along with MSU, Nebraska would win the tie for having beaten both (Iowa lost to Minnesota, Michigan to MSU). If Northwestern does, it would instead go to Iowa. If neither does, Michigan would be eliminated, at which point head-to-head gives it to Nebraska.
  • If Iowa is not involved in the tie but MSU is, head-to-head is split. Division record depends on who MSU's two losses are to: if neither is Indiana, MSU drops out and Michigan wins the tie; if not, we move on to the ordering of the remaining teams (and which of Iowa and Northwestern MSU lost to). If Iowa and Northwestern finish with the same record, it goes to common opponents (and that depends on whether Michigan loses to Ohio State or Illinois: if they lose to Ohio State, they drop out and Nebraska wins; if they lose to Illinois, common opponents fails and it goes to the BCS); if Iowa finishes ahead, Nebraska wins regardless of who MSU lost to (Michigan will drop out, Nebraska has head-to-head in case MSU does not); if Northwestern finishes ahead (only possible if they win out and Iowa loses out), Michigan wins the tiebreaker (because MSU must have lost to Northwestern). Confused yet?
  • If both MSU and Iowa drop an extra game, Michigan must as well since they would hold head-to-head.
  • If it's a four-way tie, Nebraska is 2-1 along with the winner of MSU-Iowa. Since Nebraska beat both in this scenario, Nebraska wins the tiebreaker.

A loss to Iowa requires two MSU losses and an Iowa loss at minimum. Michigan is always moot since they will have lost to every other contender and would fall out on head-to-head immediately. If MSU loses all three games, Iowa would have to lose both of their non-Nebraska games to avoid the direct head-to-head; this is impossible since Iowa plays MSU. If it's a three-way tie and Iowa beat MSU, Iowa wins. If it's a three-way tie and MSU beat Iowa while losing the other two, it's messy: head-to-head and division record are tied, so it depends on the order of Minnesota and Northwestern in the standings. If Northwestern finishes ahead, Iowa (as the only one of the trio to beat them) wins the tie; if Minnesota does, Iowa drops out and Nebraska wins. If the bottom two are tied, lack of common opponents in cross-division play sends it to the BCS.
If they lose two: There is a 4-4 chaos scenario in which Nebraska wins the division: Nebraska beats Iowa (losing the other two), MSU loses all three, Iowa only beats MSU, Michigan only beats Nebraska, and Minnesota beats Northwestern. This produces either a four- or five-way tie at 4-4; if four-way, Nebraska and Iowa are 2-1 and Nebraska beat Iowa; if five-way, Nebraska is the only team at 3-1. (The probability of this? 0.004% according to the no-margin system, 0.0008% according to margin-aware.)

Probability of winning the division: 9.54% / 12.64%, plus about a 0.02% chance of getting to a scenario where the BCS decides it (most likely Michigan-MSU-Nebraska, although there's a very slim chance of it happening with MSU-Iowa-Nebraska). A tough road ahead and needing the team with the softest schedule to lose is not a good recipe for a title.


Record: 6-3 (3-2)
Rating: 51st (+19), 41st (+9)
Division record: 2-1 (wins over Northwestern, Michigan; loss to Minnesota)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Michigan State
44.6% 58.3% +2.5
57.7% +2
19.6% -9.5

Distribution of possible records:

  6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 5.53% 29.03%
Margin-aware 6.58%

A good win and a narrow escape for one marquee opponent and shocking loss for another have combined to give Iowa a significant boost in the projections, although the odds are still against them.

If they win out: They win the division thanks to head-to-head over MSU and Nebraska.
If they lose one: A loss to Michigan State puts them in serious trouble - MSU would have to lose the other two, Nebraska must win their two non-Iowa games to make it a three-way tie, and Northwestern must finish with a better record than Minnesota (so that after head-to-head and overall division record fail to break the tie, with everyone in the tie beating Michigan, Iowa's win over Northwestern while Nebraska and MSU both lost to them vaults them into the lead).
A loss to Nebraska is also very bad: two losses by Nebraska, one by MSU (other than the Iowa game), and one by Michigan would suffice (giving them a head-to-head sweep over the Michigan schools). If Nebraska loses only one, it must be to Michigan, Michigan must lose only one of the other two, MSU must lose all three, and Northwestern must win both of their conference games.
A loss to Purdue is somewhat more survivable: MSU must lose one game other than against Iowa and Michigan must lose one.
If they lose two: Iowa can also win in a 4-4 chaos scenario: beat MSU (losing the other two), MSU loses their other two, Nebraska only beats Iowa, Michigan only beats Nebraska, and Northwestern beats Minnesota. In the resulting five-way tie (everyone but Minnesota), Iowa is the only team at 3-1. This is more likely than Nebraska's chaos scenario, at about 0.01% under both methods.

Probability of winning the division: 9.07% / 10.73%. They control their own destiny but have to face two of the contenders yet, so their margin for error is quite small.


Record: 7-2 (3-2)
Rating: 23rd (-7), 12th (-4)
Division record: 2-2 (wins over Northwestern, Minnesota; losses to Michigan State, Iowa)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
49.6% 58.1% +2
Nebraska 63.5%
70.4% +6
Ohio State 71.2%
80.1% +9.5

Distribution of possible records:

  6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5
No-margin 22.43% 44.74%
Margin-aware 32.76%

The Iowa game hurts a bit, but Nebraska's loss was worse and caused the odds to swing in Michigan's favor on that one.

If they win out: They would knock out Nebraska, so to avoid losing a head-to-head tiebreaker MSU would have to lose twice and Iowa once.
If they lose one: A loss to Nebraska is game over: the Huskers would have to lose their other two (giving Iowa a win), so Iowa would have to lose their other two (giving MSU a win), but MSU also has to lose all three. Can't happen; if Nebraska beats Michigan, someone among Nebraska-MSU-Iowa has to get to five wins, and whoever it is will have the tiebreaker.
A cross-division loss, at minimum, would require two MSU losses and two Iowa losses (Michigan loses every three-way scenario between Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan at 5-3 and the four-way if MSU joins them; see the Nebraska section.) If Nebraska loses to Iowa, that is also game over, as Nebraska falls out of the tie and Iowa and MSU can't both fall out as well. If Nebraska loses to Penn State, MSU must lose all three and Iowa must lose the two non-MSU games. If Nebraska wins out, the only cases in which Michigan wins a three-way tie with MSU are:

  1. MSU loses both of their division games
  2. MSU loses to Northwestern and Indiana; Northwestern wins out and Iowa loses out
  3. MSU loses to Northwestern and Indiana; Northwestern and Iowa finish with the same record (same result for NW against Minnesota as Iowa gets against Purdue); Michigan loses to Illinois rather than Ohio State and the BCS favors Michigan

Probability of winning the division: 4.14% / 8.53%, plus about 0.02% chance of a three-way tie with MSU and Nebraska broken by the BCS. Need a lot of help.

The Rest of the West


Record: 4-5 (2-4)
Rating: 75th (+15), 66th (+8)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Rice (non-con)
63.0% 83.8% +11
91.0% +16
Michigan State
41.2% -2.5

Distribution of possible records:

  4-4* 3-5^ 2-6
No-margin 28.00% 59.30%
Margin-aware 37.48%

* = bowl eligible; ^ = bowl eligible if they beat Rice

Winning the toughest game left on your schedule does wonders for your bowl chances. Can't win the division; at best they can get to a 5-way tie which Iowa would win.

Probability of bowl eligibility: 65.36% / 85.41%


Record: 2-7 (1-4)
Rating: 108th (+1), 110th (+1)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
20.0% 5.0% -20
9.0% -16
17.5% -10.5

Distribution of possible records:

  4-4 3-5
No-margin 0.98% 10.91%
Margin-aware 0.08%

The close loss at MSU didn't really hurt their rating, but Northwestern's huge surprise win at Nebraska made a plausible game look suddenly more difficult. The home-field factor is large enough, and the no-margin system down enough on Wisconsin, that at Northwestern and hosting Wisconsin are considered virtually equivalent if margin is not a factor.

East Division Contenders

Penn State

Record: 8-1 (5-0)
Ranking: 14th (-1), 27th (-4)
Division record: 3-0 (wins over Indiana, Illinois, Purdue)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Nebraska 71.6% 61.5% +3
@Ohio State 57.6%
41.0% -2.5
@Wisconsin 51.2%
18.8% -10

Distribution of possible records:

  8-0 7-1
No-margin 21.10% 44.04% 28.98% 5.88%
Margin-aware 4.73% 30.24% 46.57% 18.46%

The amazing disparity between the two systems continues: no-margin gives Penn State a better chance of winning out than margin-aware gives them of winning at Wisconsin.

If they win out or lose only one: They win the division outright.
If they lose two: If one loss is to Wisconsin, Wisconsin must lose a game. Same for Ohio State. If they lose to both, both must lose a game.
If they lose all three: No tie involving Ohio State can be won (the only ones not immediately lost on head-to-head are PSU-OSU-Purdue with or without Illinois, and OSU wins that by virtue of division record). Same for Wisconsin (Wisconsin-PSU-Illinois gets as far as division record, but Illinois falls out). So Ohio State and Wisconsin must both lose both games to non-Penn State opponents. Penn State beat Illinois and Purdue, so it doesn't matter if either of those teams wins out.
Probability of winning the division: 83.47% / 52.75%. "Win two of three and you're in" is a good position to be in, and Ohio State at least has another severe test ahead that may provide some help if Penn State needs it.


Record: 7-2 (3-2)
Ranking: 28th (+1), 8th (+1)
Division record: 2-1 (wins over Indiana, Purdue; loss to Ohio State)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Minnesota 80.0% 95.0% +20
67.2% +5
Penn State 48.8%
81.2% +10

Distribution of possible records:

  6-2 5-3
No-margin 17.82% 44.38% 32.24% 5.55%
Margin-aware 51.81% 40.06% 7.83% 0.31%

Still the polar opposite of Penn State - margin-aware makes them better than even money to win out, no-margin has them underdogs (albeit slight ones) in two games.

If they win out: They need Penn State and Ohio State to each lose once (other than the PSU-Wisconsin game).
If they lose one: A loss to Penn State is obviously game over. Penn State has to lose all three, and Ohio State has to lose the other two. Wisconsin cannot win a tie with OSU (best case is a four-way tie with Purdue, with OSU's loss coming to Purdue, but even then both are 2-1, which sends it back to OSU's head-to-head win over Wisconsin). If the loss is to Illinois, a three-way tie with Illinois and Penn State goes to division record, with Illinois dropping out and Wisconsin winning. A four-way tie with Illinois, Penn State, and Purdue in the same circumstance sees Penn State and Wisconsin at 2-1, so again Wisconsin wins. Therefore, it doesn't matter if Purdue or Illinois joins in the tie; all Wisconsin needs is for Penn State to lose out and Ohio State to lose two.
Probability of winning the division: 10.23% / 36.83%. They actually need the most help of the three contenders, but they're fairly likely to get it and margin-aware has them rated well ahead of the other two.

Ohio State

Record: 6-3 (3-2)
Ranking: 36th (-2), 32nd (no change)
Division record: 3-0 (wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Purdue 56.0% 62.7% +3.5
Penn State
59.0% +2.5
19.9% -9.5

Distribution of possible records:

  6-2 5-3
No-margin 6.85% 31.58% 43.54% 18.03%
Margin-aware 7.38% 39.14% 41.24% 12.24%

Not much movement in their numbers after beating Indiana, although they did clinch bowl eligibility.

If they win out: Penn State needs to lose another game; Ohio State would own the tiebreaker over both Penn State and Wisconsin.
If they lose one: Like Wisconsin, they must have Penn State lose all three (therefore, losing to Penn State would eliminate them). However, Ohio State wins any tie they are involved in at 5-3; the only team they could possibly lose to that would be involved is Purdue, and a three-way tie goes to Ohio State on division record. (Only Wisconsin can match OSU in division record at 4-1, if their loss is to Minnesota, and if that should happen head-to-head would give it to OSU anyway once everyone else is eliminated.) Thus, they only need Wisconsin to lose one of their non-PSU games.
Probability of winning the division: 6.29% / 10.35%. Tough schedule + needing help = slim odds.

The Rest of the East


Record: 6-3 (2-3)
Rating: 39th (-1), 44th (-1)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
50.4% 41.9% -2
32.8% -5
82.5% +10.5

Distribution of possible records:

  5-3 4-4
No-margin 20.48% 44.26% 29.54% 5.72%
Margin-aware 11.35% 41.36% 40.47% 6.83%

No possible tie can give Illinois the division title; Wisconsin-Illinois-PSU (the only one which they could survive on head-to-head) eliminates them on division record.


Record: 4-5 (2-3)
Rating: 78th (-5), 76th (-8)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
Ohio State
44.0% 37.3% -3.5
42.3% -2
67.6% +5

Distribution of possible records:

  5-3* 4-4*
No-margin 15.69% 41.88% 34.28% 8.15%
Margin-aware 10.67% 37.58% 40.02% 11.73%

* = bowl eligible

Purdue is also out of the race; a tie with Ohio State and Penn State (and possibly Illinois, but they would immediately drop out for going 0-3 head-to-head) is the best case but Ohio State would win it on division record.
Probability of bowl eligibility: 57.57% / 48.25%


Record: 1-9 (0-6)
Rating: 117th (no change), 112th (+1)
Remaining games:

Opponent No-Margin Prob Margin-Aware Prob Avg Margin
@Michigan State
3.1% -23.5
32.4% -5

Distribution of possible records:

  2-6 1-7 0-8
No-margin 1.39% 31.35%
Margin-aware 1.02%

Two chances left for Indiana to get off the schneid; the odds aren't particularly good.

EDIT: By request, adding the standings tables from the early-season editions (sorted by title chances rather than win total this time):

West Division, No-Margin (darker color within a row = higher percentage)

Team Wins 8-0 7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5 2-6 1-7 0-8 Bowl Title
Michigan State 6.16 N 34.45% 47.77% 17.05% 0.73% N N N N Y 77.24%
Nebraska 4.40 N N 7.77% 35.69% 45.14% 11.40% N N N Y 9.54%*
Iowa 4.19 N N 5.53% 29.03% 44.45% 21.00% N N N Y 9.07%
Michigan 4.84 N N 22.43% 44.74% 27.53% 5.30% N N N Y 4.14%*
Northwestern 3.15 N N N N 28.00% 59.30% 12.71% N N 65.36% N
Minnesota 1.65 N N N N 0.98% 10.91% 39.95% 48.16% N N N

*: does not include ~0.02% chance of a tiebreaker involving the BCS standings; Iowa and Michigan State can be involved in such ties but are not likely to win them due to non-conference losses.

West Division, Margin-Aware

Team Wins 8-0 7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5 2-6 1-7 0-8 Bowl Title
Michigan State 5.98 N 23.76% 50.61% 24.88% 0.75% N N N N Y 68.07%
Nebraska 4.49 N N 9.17% 38.67% 43.68% 8.47% N N N Y 12.64%*
Iowa 4.36 N N 6.58% 36.58% 42.65% 14.20% N N N Y 10.73%
Michigan 5.09 N N 32.76% 45.54% 19.23% 2.47% N N N Y 8.53%*
Northwestern 3.32 N N N N 37.48% 57.20% 5.31% N N 85.41% N
Minnesota 1.32 N N N N 0.08% 2.67% 25.96% 71.29% N N N


East Division, No-Margin

Team Wins 8-0 7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5 2-6 1-7 0-8 Bowl Title
Penn State 6.80 21.10% 44.04% 28.98% 5.88% N N N N N Y 83.47%
Wisconsin 4.74 N N 17.82% 44.38% 32.24% 5.55% N N N Y 10.23%
Ohio State 4.27 N N 6.85% 31.58% 43.54% 18.03% N N N Y 6.29%
Illinois 3.80 N N N 20.48% 44.26% 29.54% 5.72% N N Y N
Purdue 3.65 N N N 15.69% 41.88% 34.28% 8.15% N N 57.57% N
Indiana 0.34 N N N N N N 1.39% 31.35% 67.25% N N


East Division, Margin-Aware

Team Wins 8-0 7-1 6-2 5-3 4-4 3-5 2-6 1-7 0-8 Bowl Title
Penn State 6.21 4.73% 30.24% 46.57% 18.46% N N N N N Y 52.75%
Wisconsin 5.43 N N 51.81% 40.06% 7.83% 0.31% N N N Y 36.83%
Ohio State 4.42 N N 7.38% 39.14% 41.24% 12.24% N N N Y 10.35%
Illinois 3.57 N N N 11.35% 41.36% 40.47% 6.83% N N Y N
Purdue 3.47 N N N 10.67% 37.58% 40.02% 11.73% N N 48.25% N
Indiana 0.36 N N N N N N 1.02% 33.54% 65.44% N N