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In a B1G Country: Week 8 Recap, Week 9 Preview

The favorites in the East are exactly who you'd expect. The West picture is still muddled, but despite being 3-0, Minnesota is not the favorite.

Michael Hickey

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 56, Indiana 17

MSU's defensive performance here might be characterized as "break but don't bend": Indiana had three plays of 30 or more yards (two of which went for 65+) and managed a combined 84 yards (1.8 per play) on the other 46. In terms of Bill Connelly's "success rate" stat, Indiana had just nine successful plays all day, and that's counting two pass interference penalties drawn.

Minnesota 39, Purdue 38

It's official: Purdue is clearly a much better team than last year, in that they're losing competitively instead of getting destroyed. The Boilers actually led 31-20 at halftime and 38-29 late in the third quarter, but a 37-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Maye just before the end of the third and a 52-yard FG from Ryan Santoso with five minutes left in the game made the Gophers the first bowl-eligible Big Ten team of 2014 (by virtue of a noon ET kickoff).

Maryland 38, Iowa 31

Iowa scored the first 14 points and the last 10. Unfortunately for them, the middle 45 minutes of the game also count, and those didn't go so well.

An interesting strategic point in the final few minutes: down 10 with 1:19 to go, Iowa opted for a field goal on 4th and 5 from the 6 yard line. I think this was a mistake; you need a touchdown at some point, and you're probably more likely to score the touchdown from there and get in field goal range again later than to get to the end zone on your next drive. While it's true that failing ends the game, postponing the end isn't necessarily the same as giving yourself the best chance to win. It would be interesting to see the numbers behind this; the NFL 4th Down Calculator says you win 5% of the time if you convert (which is about a 30% chance) but only 1% if you make the field goal. College numbers might be different, but my gut feeling is that if you need a touchdown and a field goal, once you get that close you're better off trying to get the touchdown first, even at the risk of coming away with nothing.

Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17

Not much drama in this one. Ohio State put up 585 yards, with J.T. Barrett throwing for 261 and three touchdowns and adding 107 and two more scores on the ground. Rutgers put up 345 yards but was hampered by 3 turnovers and a 3-for-13 conversion rate on third downs.

Nebraska 38, Northwestern 17

Northwestern actually led this one at halftime as the teams traded scores for much of the first half. After the break, though, it was all Nebraska: the Wildcats went three-and-out four times in six possessions, and Nebraska (after stalling out on their first possession) went TD, TD, TD, FG, kill the clock. Ameer Abdullah was his usual terrifying self: 23 carries, four touchdowns, 146 yards.

This Week's Games

All times ET. Odds are based on my margin-aware ratings including preseason bias (available here); all four sets of rankings (margin-aware or W-L only, with or without preseason bias) are available here.

Cross-Division Eliminator: Maryland at Wisconsin (Noon, BTN)

Big test for the Terrapins' rushing defense, which is middling by most measures. The good news is that the Badgers aren't good at passing the ball and yet they seem to forget from time to time that they have Melvin Gordon. Neither team can afford a loss if they are going to keep their division title hopes alive.

Odds: Wisconsin 67% (favored by 5)

Pre-Bye Trap Game: Minnesota at Illinois (Noon, ESPNU)

Illinois is not good at defending the run (see: 350 yards allowed to Purdue). Minnesota really likes to run the ball. That does not bode well. (Of course, I said that two weeks ago when Illinois played Wisconsin and that game was closer than it had any right to be.) For Minnesota, this game is the last one before a bye and then the difficult part of their schedule (Iowa, OSU, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin).

Odds: Minnesota 83% (favored by 10.5)

New Guy Versus Slightly Less New Guy: Rutgers at Nebraska (Noon, ESPN2)

If you had told me ten years ago that this would be a conference game anywhere, much less in the Big Ten, I would have thought you were crazy. But here we are. Rutgers hasn't given up all that many rushing yards, but that's partly an artifact of playing Washington State (who doesn't run the ball) and Penn State (whose offensive line is a tire fire); in terms of yards per attempt they're at a rather poor 4.74 (95th nationally). That is not a good sign when you're facing Ameer Abdullah.

Odds: Nebraska 93.1% (favored by 17.5)

Rivalry Game of the Week: Michigan at Michigan State (3:30, ABC)

A fun stat that's been making the rounds this week: What does this sequence of numbers represent?

45, 34, 31, 28, 21, 20, 17, 14, 12, 6

That is Michigan's points scored against MSU over the past 10 games. Each number is lower than the one before it. I do think there's a decent chance that the trend gets broken this year - all it takes is one busted play, and those have happened with significant frequency - but that's still remarkable.

Odds: MSU 95.2% (favored by 20)

Game That Sounds Much Better Than It Is: Ohio State at Penn State (8:00, ABC)

On one side of the ball, you have Ohio State's excellent offense against Penn State's excellent defense. On the other, you have Penn State's crapulent offense against a defense that is probably at least decent, despite their propensity to get burned every so often (as happened against Cincinnati repeatedly).

Odds: Ohio State 79% (favored by 8.5)

Bye Week: Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana

Conference Race

Projected records are based on game-by-game odds. Division title chances (outright or share) are estimated by 100,000 season simulations.

East Division

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 State 6.84 N/A N/A N/A 0.01% 0.55% 6.34% 26.03% 42.75% 24.31% Yes 39.98% 65.75%
Ohio State 6.75 N/A N/A 1 in 1,260,000 0.01% 0.42% 6.49% 29.62% 44.88% 18.59% >99.99% 32.47% 58.39%
Maryland 4.64 N/A N/A 1.54% 11.93% 31.06% 34.89% 17.41% 3.17% N/A 98.46% 0.52% 4.62%
Penn State 3.26 N/A 3.60% 19.45% 36.61% 29.46% 9.77% 1.11% N/A N/A 91.65% 0.02% 0.55%
Rutgers 2.64 N/A 6.67% 38.36% 41.07% 12.57% 1.30% 0.04% N/A N/A 93.33% <0.01% 0.01%
Michigan 2.49 N/A 11.07% 41.28% 36.27% 10.62% 0.75% 0.02% N/A N/A 11.39% <0.01% 0.01%
Indiana 1.59 10.63% 37.14% 36.82% 13.59% 1.77% 0.04% N/A N/A N/A 15.40% <0.01% <0.01%

MSU overtakes Ohio State in expected wins as the road game against Indiana was slightly tougher than hosting Rutgers (due to home-field advantage). Maryland is still lurking at just one loss, but even if they win out (which is unlikely, with a trip to Wisconsin and a home game against Michigan State still to come), there's a decent chance Ohio State runs the table. It's too early to go into full tiebreaker details, but Maryland really needs MSU to beat OSU to have any chance at winning the division; if that happens and they win out, it comes down to needing another OSU loss or having MSU also win out to create a 3-way tie at 7-1 (which would be resolved by the playoff committee rankings). Everyone else is basically in pray-for-chaos mode.

West Division

Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Nebraska 6.14 N/A N/A 1 in 39,300 0.15% 2.62% 17.01% 43.58% 36.64% N/A Yes 44.22% 74.06%
Minnesota 5.47 N/A N/A N/A 1.31% 12.74% 37.66% 34.99% 12.08% 1.22% Yes 13.57% 36.79%
Iowa 4.50 N/A N/A 1.65% 13.25% 35.00% 35.26% 13.21% 1.63% N/A 98.35% 3.38% 12.85%
Wisconsin 4.45 N/A 0.44% 4.21% 15.88% 30.25% 30.59% 15.54% 3.09% N/A 95.35% 4.40% 15.87%
Northwestern 4.19 N/A N/A 2.27% 18.56% 42.38% 31.10% 5.69% N/A N/A 38.85% 0.24% 3.85%
Purdue 2.12 N/A 23.67% 45.76% 25.76% 4.70% 0.11% N/A N/A N/A 4.81% <0.01% 0.03%
Illinois 0.92 34.73% 42.40% 18.90% 3.68% 0.28% 1 in 26,400 N/A N/A N/A 3.97% <0.01% <0.01%

Nebraska leapfrogs Minnesota this week as their blowout of Northwestern was more impressive than Minnesota's narrow home escape against Purdue, which in fact damaged their rating enough to drop their expected win total (and raise Purdue's). Despite already having a conference loss, Nebraska is the favorite (thanks in no small part to Minnesota's upcoming game against Ohio State being likely to drag them back; having home field advantage for the game against the Gophers also helps). Nothing's likely to get sorted out in this race until the top four start playing each other in two weeks; the West schedule is ridiculously back-loaded.