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Race for the Roses 2013: Week 9

Last week's games eliminated three teams and pushed two more to the brink. This week could set the Big Ten Championship Game matchup.

Robert Laberge

Last week, Michigan State took firm control of the West Division, while Ohio State and Wisconsin pounded overmatched division-mates to maintain the status quo in the East. Each division title race is down to two teams, with the second hanging on by a thread in both cases. As always, ratings are here.

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 41, Nebraska 28

Had this game gone the other way, the West race would be wide open. Instead, it's all but over. Nebraska is out of the running for the Rose Bowl now.

Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT)

In a season where Northwestern has seemingly found every bizarre way to lose a game imaginable, this one might take the cake. Michigan successfully executed a fire drill field goal (clock running on 4th down, so they couldn't spike) in a remarkably short amount of time to tie the game at 9 to force OT; after the teams traded touchdowns in the first OT and field goals in the second, Devin Gardner ran for the eventual winning touchdown in 3OT and Northwestern couldn't match it.

Wisconsin 51, Indiana 3

For the second year in a row, Indiana's somehow-still-existing Rose Bowl hopes died at the hands of Wisconsin. By recent Wisconsin-Indiana standards, this was a merciful beating. The Badgers ran for a ridiculous 554 yards. Jared Abbrederis ran for 86 - and was the fourth-leading rusher for the team.

Ohio State 60, Illinois 35

The Buckeyes raced out to a 28-0 lead and pretty much put it on cruise control from there, although Illinois did get it as close as 47-35 with eight minutes left. Ohio State now needs just one win (or a Wisconsin loss) to go to Indianapolis.

Penn State 45, Purdue 21

A 100-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter and a quick touchdown drive to start the third got Purdue within a touchdown at 28-21. For the Boilers this year, that qualifies as progress. But Penn State outgained Purdue 501-264 on the day and closed the game with 17 unanswered to pull away.

West Division

Michigan State (9-1, 6-0 B1G)
Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #13 #11
This week: @NW 79% 84% (+11)
Next week: Minn 73% 91.3% (+15.5)
Win both 57.3% 76.4%
Split 36.9% 22.2%
Lose both 5.8% 1.4%
Division title 96.9% 99.69%

If MSU wins either of its last two or Minnesota loses to Wisconsin, the Spartans will go to Indianapolis with the Rose Bowl on the line. With two wins followed by a loss to Ohio State, a BCS at-large bid is still a possibility. If MSU should fall to Northwestern, that would be impossible, so our rooting interest would be for Wisconsin over Minnesota to ensure a stress-free Thanksgiving weekend. Rooting interests for BCS at-large possibilities are listed later.

It would take a major collapse (likely losing out) for MSU to fall out of the Big Ten's top three bowl selections.

Minnesota (8-2, 4-2)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #29 #41
This week: Wisc
54% 22% (-8.5)
Next week: @MSU 27% 8.7% (-15.5)
Win both 14.9% 1.9%
Split 51.9% 26.9%
Lose both 33.2% 71.2%
Division title 3.1% 0.31%

If Minnesota can upset the Badgers and get some help from Northwestern this week, the game in East Lansing Thanksgiving weekend will be winner-take-all for the division. However, their last two games are their toughest all season. They likely have too far to climb to get into the BCS at-large discussion, but if they finish with wins over Wisconsin and MSU at 10-2 (without making the title game) and OSU wins the title game, it's not completely impossible - especially since those would be two high-quality wins.

Win both and even if not in the Big Ten title game, Minnesota likely ends up one of the Big Ten's first three bowl picks; it's hard to see both Wisconsin and MSU going ahead of them when Minnesota would have 10 wins and beat both. A split probably leaves Minnesota fourth but possibly vulnerable to being vaulted by one of the other West teams, especially if Nebraska or Michigan wins out. However, the discontent in those fan bases (this being a year they were supposed to win the division) and excitement for Minnesota exceeding expectations might keep them ahead. Lose both, and it's likely that one of the three teams below jumps them but probably not more than that.

Nebraska (7-3, 4-2)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #42 #62
This week: @PSU 44% 34% (-4.5)
Next week: Iowa
64% 58% (+2)
Win both 28.0% 19.6%
Split 51.7% 52.6%
Lose both 20.3% 27.8%

Nebraska could finish in a tie for the title, but they lose the tiebreaker with Michigan State (and with Minnesota, should it be a three-way tie). Winning both games might get them as high as third pick if MSU or Wisconsin falls apart, but most likely fourth. Split and they're no higher than fifth, depending on what Michigan and Iowa do. Two losses would almost certainly drop them behind Iowa and probably Michigan as well (unless they also lose twice).

Michigan (7-3, 3-3)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #38 #40
This week: @Iowa 46% 34% (-4.5)
Next week: OSU
32% 17% (-10)
Win both 14.8% 5.9%
Split 48.6% 39.4%
Lose both 36.6% 54.7%

Michigan has a somewhat daunting finishing schedule. Trying to guess what bowl execs will do is an exercise in futile speculation, but my gut sense is that if Nebraska and Michigan finish equal in overall record, Nebraska would be the more attractive choice. If Michigan loses out, they're almost certainly the #7 choice; a split (beating Iowa) makes them probably #6 unless Nebraska loses twice. Win both and they're in reasonable shape for a Buffalo Wild Wings or Gator Bowl berth.

Iowa (6-4, 3-3)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #47 #46
This week: Mich 54% 66% (+4.5)
Next week: @Neb
36% 42% (-2)
Win both 19.4% 27.9%
Split 51.1% 52.6%
Lose both 29.5% 19.5%

With a one game worse overall record than Nebraska or Michigan, Iowa probably can't do better than sixth in the bowl selection order with a split and maybe not even that. Losing both leaves them certainly last. Winning both gives them a possible chance at #4 if Minnesota loses both of their difficult finishing games.

Northwestern (4-6, 0-6)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #85 #66
This week: MSU 21% 16% (-11)
Next week: @Ill
47% 60% (+3)
Win both 9.8% 9.8%
Split 48.1% 56.9%
Lose both 42.1% 33.3%

Northwestern needs to win both to get to a bowl at all; if they do, they're almost certainly last in the order. This is a far cry from where they expected to be after non-conference season.

East Division

Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 B1G)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #3 #6
This week: Ind 92.4% 98.0% (+25.5)
Next week: @Mich 68% 83% (+10)
Win both 62.8% 80.9%
Split 34.8% 18.8%
Lose both 2.4% 0.34%
Division title 99.14% 99.74%

Ohio State needs to just win one or hope Wisconsin loses one to get to Indianapolis. If they get to Indy at 12-0, even a loss will not knock them out of the BCS (although it would knock them out of the Rose Bowl). With a regular season loss and an Indianapolis loss, OSU probably drops out of the BCS (they might still be ranked high enough to be eligible but the late slide would make them somewhat less attractive). Even losing out, though, it's hard to see Ohio State fall further than third pick.

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #19 #7
This week: @Minn 46% 78% (+8.5)
Next week: PSU 76% 97.5% (+24.5)
Win both 35.5% 76.1%
Split 52.3% 23.4%
Lose both 12.2% 0.54%
Division title 0.86% 0.26%

Can Wisconsin get to a BCS game (without a monumental collapse from OSU letting them into Indy)? Hard to say. At #19, they would have to move up five spots in the BCS standings to get there, which is possible but by no means certain. If they do reach that threshold, history would be on their side; since the BCS expanded, the Big Ten has not failed to get an at-large team if one was eligible (none were last year), and conference title game losers tend not to be chosen if there is an alternative unless they were in the national title hunt prior to an upset loss (which would apply to OSU but not MSU).

With a loss, Wisconsin could drop to fourth behind Minnesota (if the loss is to Minnesota) but even that is somewhat unlikely; they would probably be the third pick from the Big Ten. Lose twice, and it's hard to guess where they'll end up since Iowa still has to play both Nebraska and Michigan.

Penn State (6-4, 3-3; ineligible)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #51 #64
This week: Neb 56% 66% (+4.5)
Next week: @Wisc
22% 2.5% (-24.5)
Win both 12.6% 1.6%
Split 53.4% 65.5%
Lose both 34.0% 32.9%

No bowl game due to sanctions, but Penn State's a clear third-best in the division.

Indiana (4-6, 2-4)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #79 #63
This week: @OSU 7.6% 2.0% (-25.5)
Next week: Pur
81% 98.2% (+26.5)
Win both 6.2% 1.9%
Split 76.6% 96.3%
Lose both 17.2% 1.8%

Indiana can reach a bowl with two wins, but the first of those two will be an extremely tall task. Amazingly, the only taller task in the remaining games is the one their final-week opponent will face. (At the time of the game, Ohio State was a 31-point favorite at Purdue; by now the projected margin would be up to 36 points.)

Illinois (3-7, 0-6)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #97 #94
This week: @Pur 53% 72% (+6)
Next week: NW
53% 40% (-3)
Win both 28.2% 28.5%
Split 49.8% 54.4%
Lose both 22.0% 17.1%

Illinois cannot reach a bowl game, but their two late rivalry games give them about an 80% chance (give or take) to avoid carrying a 22-game conference losing streak into 2014.

Purdue (1-9, 0-6)

Basic Method Margin-Aware
Rank #107 #115
This week: Ill 47% 28% (-6)
Next week: @Ind
19% 1.8% (-26.5)
Win both 8.8% 0.52%
Split 48.2% 29.2%
Lose both 43.0% 70.3%

The good news? Purdue gets two games against opponents whose defenses are poor to nonexistent. The bad news? Those opponents' offenses are pretty good, which is much more than can be said for Purdue's own.

Outside Rooting Interests

For Ohio State's National Title Chances

The Buckeyes need at least one of Alabama and Florida State to lose to have a shot, and they may need Baylor (currently .001 behind OSU in the BCS standings) to drop one as well (unless Alabama and Florida State both do). Unfortunately, it won't be this week, which is Fake Bye Week across the Southeast. Alabama faces 1-AA Chattanooga (91-to-1 favorite basic / 5100-to-1 favorite margin-aware / +56) and Florida State takes on Idaho (68-to-1 / 9200-to-1 / +60).

Baylor has an actual game this week, at Oklahoma State; Baylor is a narrow favorite (50.7% / 58% / +2). To try to hold off Baylor, Ohio State will want MSU and Wisconsin to win to make those wins worth as much as possible.

For BCS At-Large Chances

This section assumes:

  • For Ohio State: If they go to the B1G title game at 12-0, they're in win or lose. Assume they lose one before that (most likely Michigan).
  • For Michigan State: Assume two wins in the regular season and a loss to Ohio State in the title game.
  • For Wisconsin: Assume two wins but not reaching the title game.

There are four at-large bids available; one will almost certainly go to an SEC team, and a second may be taken by Fresno State or Northern Illinois by the non-AQ rule. That leaves two for the B1G, Big XII, Pac-12, and ACC (the AAC is very unlikely to get one).

Within the Big Ten: If Ohio State loses one in the regular season as well as the B1G title game, a Wisconsin loss to take them out of BCS contention would probably be helpful. Michigan State would like a Minnesota win over Wisconsin to raise the value of their own win over Minnesota and knock Wisconsin definitively out of at-large contention; Wisconsin would prefer the opposite (Minnesota over MSU next week) for the same reason.

Michigan State (but probably not Wisconsin) also benefits from Ohio State getting into national title contention; if that happens, the Buckeyes' national title game appearance would open an at-large spot in the Rose Bowl. While conference title game losers are often given the short end of the stick in BCS selection, the Rose Bowl would certainly want a Big Ten replacement and, given the choice, would probably prefer a first-time-in-25-years MSU team to a fourth-year-in-a-row Wisconsin selection. That advantage might not apply in any other at-large discussion.

American: Ideal situation would be for #18 (all rankings here are BCS) UCF to climb the polls a bit and get ahead of #15 Fresno State and #16 Northern Illinois to open up a fourth at-large spot. UCF beat Rutgers Thursday night. #21 Louisville has a better position in the human polls but is completely ignored by the computers and would need UCF to lose twice to win the AAC's auto-bid; better for UCF to win out.

ACC: Like Florida State, Clemson has the week effectively off (hosting 1-AA Citadel, 51-to-1 / 1000-to-1 / +46). Nobody else is relevant in the BCS picture. It would be nice if Clemson fell out of contention entirely but that may not be possible without a monster upset this week; however, there's a possibility they would not get selected (despite being eligible) if they lose to South Carolina next week.

Big XII: While a Baylor loss would possibly open up a chance for Ohio State to get to the title game, for at-large purposes Baylor knocking off #10 Oklahoma State would be better, as the Big XII might not have any at-large candidates then. Oklahoma sits one spot behind Wisconsin in the BCS standings at the moment at #20; they travel to Kansas State as 60% favorites by the basic method but only 37% (-3.5) to win by margin-aware. While both MSU and Wisconsin might stay ahead of Oklahoma regardless, a loss couldn't hurt.

Pac-12: #9 Stanford's loss to USC may be a huge win for the Big Ten; they have a poor travel reputation and with the Orange getting first pick after the title-game replacements (after which the Sugar and Fiesta will likely be stuck with the AAC champ and non-AQ), geography makes that an even bigger disadvantage. It would be much easier to beat out Stanford for an at-large selection than #5 Oregon. Therefore, we want Oregon (at Arizona: 70% / 89% / +13.5) to win out and win the Pac-12 auto-bid. A Stanford loss (vs. Cal: 97% / 720-to-1 / +43.5) would be nice but is not likely. #14 UCLA hosts #17 Arizona State; Wisconsin probably wants Arizona State for strength-of-schedule purposes, while MSU would prefer the same since UCLA is right on their heels in the standings. Unfortunately, it's UCLA that is favored at 61% / 65% / +4.

SEC: #11 South Carolina hosts 1-AA Coastal Carolina (40-to-1 / 530-to-1 / +41.5). A loss would be nice, but it's not going to happen. #6 Auburn has an actual bye week instead of a virtual bye week like Alabama and South Carolina. There are two actual games with possible BCS consequences: #8 Missouri at #24 Ole Miss (Missouri 53% / 74% / +7) and #12 Texas A&M at #22 LSU (LSU 55% / 70% / +5.5). MSU wants the home team to win both to give them a better chance of staying top 14 after a loss to Ohio State; Wisconsin probably wants the same to have a chance of moving up (although there's a risk that the winners would catch them from behind). The SEC is almost sure to get a second bid regardless, but getting in front of some of those teams may be important for eligibility.

Non-AQ: An extra spot would open up if #15 Fresno State (hosting New Mexico, 96.3% / 86-to-1 / +29.5) and #16 Northern Illinois (beat Toledo on Wednesday) drop out of the top 16 or get passed by UCF.