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In a B1G Country: Two Weeks to Go

The East is all but decided. Out West, Wisconsin is very much in the driver's seat, but three others all have a non-negligible chance.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 37, Maryland 15

Like the game against Ohio State, MSU had a narrow lead late in the first half. Also like that game, one team was dominating play but unable to take advantage on the scoreboard to that point, then turned on the jets and won easily. Unlike that game, that team was MSU (four field goal attempts, one a long try that came up just short, while Maryland's early touchdown came on a long kickoff return and a single big broken play).

Iowa 30, Illinois 14

The boxscore tells the story of a game that wasn't anywhere near this close - Iowa outgained Illinois by over 350 yards, didn't self-destruct with penalties (1 for 10 yards for the game to Illinois's 8 for 59) or turnovers (just one, although Illinois had none), and didn't have a hard time sustaining drives (10 for 15 on 3rd down). Yet thanks to three turnovers on downs (at the Illinois 1, 21, and 23) and a missed field goal, the lead was just 9-7 until late in the third quarter. Then the dam broke: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, run out the clock after a meaningless late score by Illinois. Illinois now has to win both of their last two to reach a bowl, while Iowa's division title hopes remain faint but existent.

Penn State 30, Temple 13

The first half was exactly what we've come to expect from Penn State football this year: a punt-fest that Penn State led 6-3. The Nittany Lions pulled away in the second half thanks to five forced turnovers, one of which went for a touchdown directly with two more setting up 10 points by giving the ball to Penn State inside the Temple 25. The win makes Penn State bowl eligible.

Ohio State 31, Minnesota 24

It looked early like Ohio State might run away with it, as they led 14-0 in the first quarter on two long touchdowns. Minnesota took advantage of an interception in OSU territory to cut that in half and (after forcing an OSU fumble at the goal line) put together an 80-yard drive to tie the game late in the second quarter. Then it was OSU's turn for another run: a field goal at the halftime whistle and two touchdowns after Minnesota missed a field goal and got picked off twice pushed the lead to 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went on a run again but ran out of time.

From a strategic standpoint, Minnesota made an odd decision late, kicking a 34-yard field goal on second down, trailing by 10 with a little over a minute left. The decision ended up being moot since the Gophers failed to recover the onside kick, but I don't agree with it - if you're that close to the end zone already, at least take a couple of shots before kicking the field goal. Running the ball is not a good idea because you're out of timeouts and need time for the second score, but that second score is so much easier if it only has to be a field goal that wasting two downs without even trying doesn't make sense. If you throw for the end zone twice, the worst case is you run at most 15 seconds or so off the clock before kicking; if successful, you cut the yardage you need after the onside kick in half.

As for consequences in the Big Ten race: Ohio State now just needs one win in their last two to clinch their division, and Minnesota has to win out to earn a rematch.

Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40 (OT)

Speaking of dumb strategic decisions, Notre Dame made a blunder far worse than Minnesota's, and it directly cost them the game. Leading by 5, the Irish scored a touchdown with 10:34 to go and decided to go for 2. I can't think of any good reason to do this other than "our kicker's leg just fell off"; a 13-point lead does very little for you that a 12-point lead wouldn't (two touchdowns beats you either way unless you manage a blocked PAT, and it's very unlikely that the opponent will score a TD and two FGs in the time remaining), while an 11-point lead could be erased by a TD+2 and FG. Naturally, the Irish failed, Northwestern scored a TD, went for two and got it, then hit the tying field goal to force OT. Neither team gained much ground on their drives in OT, but Notre Dame missed their long field goal and Northwestern did not. The win keeps Northwestern's bowl hopes alive, and with the remaining two games being against Purdue and Illinois, it's a real possibility.

Wisconsin 59, Nebraska 24

Nebraska entered the game ranked in the top 20 in rushing yards allowed per game. They are now 75th and in the record books for something no defense wants to be in the record books for. Melvin Gordon went absolutely berserk on the Blackshirts, breaking the NCAA single-game rushing yardage record with 408 yards without even touching the ball in the fourth quarter. As Jon Bois pointed out, Gordon's rushing total if stacked vertically would come up just short of the Empire State Building, and Wisconsin's as a whole nearly equaled the just-completed One World Trade Center.

With the win, Wisconsin is in the driver's seat in the West and Nebraska needs a lot of help.

Rutgers 45, Indiana 23

It's not often you can run for 307 yards and be an afterthought because 1) your team lost by three scores and 2) someone in your own conference managed to top that by more than 100 yards the same day. Such is Tevin Coleman's lot in life. Indiana actually led 16-10 shortly after halftime, but Rutgers scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and two more in the fourth.

Big Ten Bowl Order

One change this year is that the conference will help arrange selections with the bowls rather than the bowls selecting individually in a fixed order. This will help avoid sending teams to the same bowl repeatedly. The new structure is:

Tier 1:
The conference champion is guaranteed a bid to a Big Six game. With the Rose Bowl a semifinal this year, the champion (if not in the playoff) will go to the Fiesta, Cotton, or Peach Bowl. A second Big Ten team may be placed in the Orange Bowl (the Orange Bowl has a guaranteed ACC selection and the other slot goes to the highest available non-champion, non-playoff team from the SEC or Big Ten or Notre Dame but may skip one to avoid a rematch; the Orange must take a Big Ten team at least three times in the 8 non-semifinal years of the current contract). Anyone else ranked high enough to earn a spot (this year it appears the cutoff will be #10 or #11, depending on what happens in the ACC) will end up in the Fiesta, Cotton, or Peach Bowl.

Tier 2:
Citrus Bowl (now back to its traditional name)
Outback Bowl
Holiday Bowl (December 27, in San Diego, against a Pac-12 team)

Tier 3:
Pinstripe Bowl (December 27, in New York, against an ACC team)
Gator Bowl (no, I'm not calling it the TaxSlayer Bowl; January 2, in Jacksonville, against an SEC team)
Foster Farms Bowl (formerly the Fight Hunger Bowl; December 30, in Santa Clara, against a Pac-12 team)

Tier 4:
Quick Lane Bowl (December 26, in Detroit, against an ACC team; the MAC has backup rights if either conference can't fill the spot)
Heart of Dallas Bowl (December 26, in Dallas, against a CUSA team)

East Division Race

Odds are based on my margin-aware ratings (available here); W-L only ratings are available here.

Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Indy
Ohio State 7.97 0.01% 2.49% 97.50% Yes 99.992%
Michigan State 6.71 1.31% 26.24% 72.44% Yes 1 in 12,400
Maryland 4.18 15.33% 51.29% 33.38% Yes
Michigan 3.55 46.03% 52.94% 1.03% 53.97%
Penn State 2.96 20.69% 62.35% 16.96% Yes
Rutgers 2.35 67.09% 31.28% 1.63% Yes
Indiana 0.57 43.21% 56.46% 0.32% 0


Ohio State holds the tiebreaker edge over Michigan State if needed. Nobody else can even tie for the title.

Ohio State (9-1, 6-0 in conference)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Indiana (173-to-1 favorite to win, projected margin +31)
November 29: Michigan (98.1%, +23.5)


If Ohio State wins either of their two remaining games (which looks rather likely) or MSU loses either of theirs, the Buckeyes will be going to Indy. Two wins (97.50%) and a win in Indy might be enough to see them into the Playoff, but they probably need help to get there.

Division title odds: 99.992%

Michigan State (8-2, 5-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Rutgers (94.3%, +17)
November 29: at Penn State (77%, +7)


Michigan State has to win out (72.44% chance) and hope Ohio State loses twice (about a 0.01% chance). We're firmly in Lloyd Christmas territory here. However, with two wins MSU would very likely be in position for a Big Six bowl. (There is some danger that if Wisconsin wins out and beats Ohio State in the title game, both teams would be ahead of MSU, but even then there's a decent chance that someone else drops back and all three go.) Given how long it had been since MSU had managed that prior to last year, doing so in back-to-back years would be a fine achievement.

Division title odds: 1 in 12,400

Maryland (6-4, 3-3)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Michigan (47%, -0.5)
November 29: Rutgers (71%, +5.5)

Maryland was eliminated from division title competition before kickoff when Ohio State won at Minnesota. With two wins, Maryland might manage to sneak into the Tier 2 bowls, although that may depend on how many Big Ten teams make the Big Six bowls.

Michigan (5-5, 3-3)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Maryland (53%, +0.5)
November 29: at Ohio State (1.9%, -23.5)

Michigan was also eliminated when Ohio State won at Minnesota. They need one win to become bowl-eligible but probably can't get above the Tier 4 games, barring a miracle at Ohio State.

Bowl odds: 53.97%

Penn State (6-4, 2-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Illinois (73%, +6)
November 29: Michigan State (23%, -7)

The win over Temple makes Penn State bowl-eligible and likely headed for a Tier 3 game.

Rutgers (6-4, 2-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Michigan State (5.7%, -17)
November 29: at Maryland (29%, -5.5)

Rutgers also earned bowl eligibility on Saturday; however, unless they can pull an upset in their final two games on the road, the Scarlet Knights will likely go to a Tier 4 bowl.

Indiana (3-7, 0-6)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Ohio State (173-to-1 against, -31)
November 29: Purdue (57%, +1.5)

With bowl eligibility no longer possible, all that remains is to see if the Hoosiers can knock off Ohio State and end the hopes of a Big Ten team reaching the playoff once and for all and/or claim the Old Oaken Bucket to avoid a winless conference season. I still have no idea how this team beat current SEC East leader Missouri.

West Division Race

Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Indy
Wisconsin 6.70 1.99% 25.86% 72.16% Yes 92.59%
Nebraska 5.63 3.17% 31.15% 65.69% Yes 1.30%
Iowa 4.44 60.46% 34.66% 4.87% Yes 4.81%
Minnesota 4.23 78.39% 20.32% 1.29% Yes 1.29%
Northwestern 3.40 6.90% 46.51% 46.59% 46.59%
Purdue 1.88 31.11% 49.34% 19.55% 0
Illinois 1.42 61.84% 34.02% 4.13% 4.13%


With Minnesota's loss to Ohio State, the scenario of four teams still alive entering the final weekend is no longer possible. No three-way ties are possible anymore; Nebraska reaching 6-2 would eliminate both Iowa and Minnesota, and Iowa and Minnesota both getting there would eliminate Nebraska and Wisconsin. The most likely scenario this week is that Wisconsin clinches the title with a win and Minnesota loss, but if Iowa wins this week, three teams (Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Minnesota-Nebraska winner) would still be alive.

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Iowa (80%, +8.5)
November 29: Minnesota (90.0%, +13)


Win out: This would result in an outright division title. Odds: 72.16%

Beat Iowa, Minnesota loses to Nebraska: This could clinch the division for Wisconsin this week, as the Badgers would have one game plus the tiebreaker on Nebraska and two games on both Iowa and Minnesota. Odds: 7.01%

Beat Minnesota, Iowa loses to Nebraska: This also gives Minnesota and Iowa their third losses while Nebraska picks up a second and loses the tiebreaker. Odds: 13.43%

Total: 92.59%

Nebraska (8-2, 4-2)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Minnesota (87%, +11.5)
November 28: at Iowa (75%, +7)


Win out and Wisconsin loses twice: This would win the division outright as Nebraska would be 6-2 with everyone else 5-3. While Nebraska has the best chances of finishing 6-2 among the three teams trailing Wisconsin, they also need the most help to win the division.

Division title odds: 1.30%

Iowa (7-3, 4-2)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Wisconsin (20%, -8.5)
November 28: Nebraska (25%, -7)


Win out, Minnesota loses at least one: This would drop Minnesota and Nebraska to three losses and give Iowa the tiebreaker over Wisconsin.

Division title odds: 4.81%

Minnesota (7-3, 4-2)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Nebraska (13%, -11.5)
November 29: at Wisconsin (10.0%, -13)


Win out: Minnesota's status is the simplest of all four: Win out and they need no help; lose either game and nothing will help.

Division title odds: 1.29%

Northwestern (4-6, 2-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: at Purdue (55%, +1.5)
November 29: Illinois (85%, +10.5)

Northwestern needs to finish the season with three consecutive wins to reach a bowl; the first and hardest of those three has been achieved, increasing their chances almost thirty-fold over last week.

Bowl chances: 46.59%

Purdue (3-7, 1-5)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Northwestern (45%, -1.5)
November 29: at Indiana (43%, -1.5)

Purdue is joined by Indiana this week in being eliminated from bowl contention; they can knock out Northwestern this week before the Bucket Game.

Illinois (4-6, 1-5)

Remaining Schedule

November 22: Penn State (27%, -6)
November 29: at Northwestern (15%, -10.5)

The loss to Iowa removes Illinois's margin for error when it comes to bowl eligibility; however, if they can upset Penn State and Northwestern can hold off Purdue, the Land of Lincoln Trophy game will also have a possible bowl trip at stake.

Bowl chances: 4.13%