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In a B1G Country: Thanksgiving Weekend

Ohio State waits to see who their opponent in Indianapolis will be, as nine teams jockey for bowl positioning and three more have one last shot at eligibility.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week's Games

Michigan State 45, Rutgers 3

That's how you send out the seniors. After turning the ball over on the opening possession, the offense scored five touchdowns in a row to go into halftime up 35-0, and for the whole game MSU outgained Rutgers by nearly 300 yards.

Illinois 16, Penn State 14

Penn State continues to follow the MSU 2012 script: a bad offensive line undermining any chance of doing much on offense, and an excellent defense that gets asked to make one too many stops and finally gets broken through at the end. Akeel Lynch put PSU up 14-10 early in the fourth quarter with a 47-yard touchdown run, but Illinois cut the lead to 1 with just under nine minutes left and won it with a 36-yard David Reisner field goal with 8 seconds to go.

Northwestern 38, Purdue 14

Purdue managed to score in the final minute of each half. The other 58 minutes were all Northwestern, however, as the Wildcats raced out to a 24-0 lead en route to the win. Four first-half turnovers and a 64-yard punt return touchdown doomed the Boilers. With Illinois's win, this sets up the Land of Lincoln trophy game to award bowl eligibility to the winner as well.

Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24

A blocked field goal return by Nebraska put the Huskers up 21-7 late in the first half, but Minnesota controlled the second half and rallied to take the lead with 3:25 to go. Nebraska drove into position to retake the lead, but Briean Boddy-Calhoun forced a fumble at the Minnesota 2 yard line to preserve the win. The Gophers are now one win from a division title and a chance at their first major bowl since the 1961 season (1962 Rose Bowl) and first Big Ten title since a three-way tie in 1967.

Ohio State 42, Indiana 27

Early on, it looked like the beatdown we all expected, as the Buckeyes led 14-0 just 6 1/2 minutes into the game. Then Indiana ran off 20 straight, with a Tevin Coleman 90-yard touchdown run putting the Hoosiers ahead 20-14 midway through the third quarter. That was enough to wake up Ohio State, as Jalin Marshall scored four touchdowns (a punt return and three catches) in the final 18 minutes to help OSU pull away and stay in the playoff hunt.

Maryland 23, Michigan 16

The teams spent the first half trading field goals and went into halftime tied at 9; Michigan struck for the first touchdown of the game on the opening drive of the second half but couldn't cash in on any of their remaining drives despite getting at least 24 yards on all three (two turnovers on downs and a missed field goal). Maryland's first drive of the second half went nowhere, but the next two went for touchdowns and the fourth might have as well if it hadn't run out the clock inside the Michigan 20 yard line. The loss leaves Michigan needing an upset at Ohio State to become bowl-eligible.

Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24

Another week, another 200-yard game from Melvin Gordon. A slow scoring start left the score tied at 3 after one quarter. Wisconsin scored the next 16 points (two touchdowns, one with a missed PAT, and a field goal) to lead 19-3 late in the third quarter, but Iowa answered with two touchdowns of their own, succeeding on the first two-point try but failing the second to cut the lead to just two with 11 minutes to go. The teams traded touchdown drives after that, but after kicking away with five minutes left, Iowa was unable to get Wisconsin's offense back off the field and the Badgers ran out the clock. The win sets up a winner-take-all showdown in Madison against Minnesota this week.

Big Ten Bowl Order

Tier 1: The champion is guaranteed a bid to one of the Big Six bowls. A second team may be selected by the Orange Bowl (guaranteed ACC vs. the highest non-champion Big Ten/SEC/Notre Dame); others ranked high enough are eligible for at-large selections (the cutoff will likely be #10 or #11).

Tier 2: Citrus, Outback, Holiday

Tier 3: Pinstripe, Gator, Foster Farms (San Francisco)

Tier 4: Quick Lane (Detroit), Heart of Dallas

I've seen in some places that the Armed Forces Bowl is a backup option with Army failing to reach eligibility, but that won't be necessary unless Michigan upsets Ohio State or the Big Ten gets only one Big Six bid.

This Week's Games

Odds are based on my margin-aware ratings (available here); W-L only ratings are available here. All times ET on Saturday unless otherwise specified.

Turkey Hangover Time: Nebraska at Iowa (Noon Friday, ABC)

What's at stake: Third place in the West and a trophy that's not nearly as cool as the Broken Chair. Assuming two Big Ten teams in the Tier 1 games (which is the most likely scenario at this point), the winner here likely earns a Tier 2 bid while the loser likely goes to a Tier 3 game.

Odds: Nebraska 65% (favored by 4)

Welcome to Thunderdome: Minnesota at Wisconsin (3:30, BTN)

What's at stake: Two teams enter, one team leaves with a giant axe and a date with Ohio State one week later. If the winner can beat Ohio State, they get a Big Six bid; otherwise, both teams are likely headed for Tier 2 bowls. (Minnesota could get squeezed out with a loss and a Maryland win, but I can't imagine the conference would push for Maryland over Minnesota for a Tier 2 spot, given how Minnesota's played lately.)

Odds: Wisconsin 85% (favored by 11)

Welcome to Blunderdome: Purdue at Indiana (Noon, BTN)

(Yes, I know the Minnesota-Wisconsin game is out of order chronologically. But I couldn't very well put this heading first, could I?)

What's at stake: For Indiana, a chance to get off the schneid in conference play. For Purdue, a chance to maybe not finish last in the West (they would unofficially hold the tiebreaker over Illinois if the Illini lose). Otherwise, nothing but pride and a bucket.

Odds: Indiana 64% (favored by 3.5)

Loser Doesn't Leave Town: Illinois at Northwestern (Noon, ESPNU)

What's at stake: The winner gets an oversized Monopoly playing piece called the Land of Lincoln Trophy and, more importantly, a trip to somewhere else for a Tier 4 bowl game. The loser stays home for the holidays.

Odds: Northwestern 84% (favored by 11)

Spoiler Alert: Michigan at Ohio State (Noon, ABC)

What's at stake: For Michigan, the chance to ruin Ohio State's season and steal a Tier 4 bowl bid - maybe even Tier 3 if Penn State and Rutgers both lose and the conference and bowls decide to take Michigan as the top of the four 6-6 teams. For Ohio State, a win would all but guarantee a Tier 1 game and keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss would end the Buckeyes' playoff chances and would risk dropping them to a Tier 2 game if they lose the Big Ten title game as well.

Odds: Ohio State 97.8% (favored by 24.5)

New Kids On the B1G: Rutgers at Maryland (3:30, ESPNU)

What's at stake: Maryland probably gets a Tier 3 bid regardless; a win puts them at 8-4 but likely still behind Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Nebraska-Iowa winner, and a loss leaves them at 7-5 and in some danger of falling behind Penn State (if they upset MSU) and Rutgers into Tier 4. For Rutgers, this game likely decides between a Tier 3 and Tier 4 bid.

Odds: Maryland 78% (favored by 8)

The World's Ugliest Trophy: Michigan State at Penn State (3:30, ABC/ESPN2)

What's at stake: Besides this?

For MSU, a win keeps the chances for a Big Six at-large bid alive, although it may depend somewhat on results elsewhere. For Penn State, a win would likely assure them of a Tier 3 bowl. Even with a loss, if Rutgers also loses Penn State might be considered the top of the 6-6 teams and thus get a Tier 3 bid, but if Rutgers wins the Nittany Lions would be looking at a Tier 4 game.

Odds: MSU 79% (favored by 8.5)

Outside Rooting Interests

What do various Big Ten teams want to happen elsewhere for playoff and/or Big Six positioning?

For OSU's Playoff Chances

The Buckeyes don't need much help, but they might need a little bit. Besides winning out, what should they be rooting for?

  • Florida State to lose a game. If the committee thinks poorly enough of the Seminoles to leave them at #3 without a loss, there's no way they stay in front of OSU with one.
  • TCU, and to a lesser extent Baylor, to lose a game. Although Baylor has the head-to-head edge over TCU, TCU's resume is probably the tougher one to contend with for an outsider since they have a non-conference win over Minnesota (Baylor's schedule is nearly identical but substitutes Buffalo). If everyone wins out, I think OSU has the edge over Baylor already, but it's a close decision with TCU, and how Baylor having the slightly worse overall resume but head-to-head advantage over TCU will play out is not clear.
  • Auburn over Alabama and/or Ole Miss over Mississippi State. Either one or both would eliminate any chance of a one-loss at-large SEC contender, although I think Ohio State probably jumps Mississippi State even if neither happens due to having a conference championship.
  • Oregon to lose a game, but preferably not to UCLA. I don't think that win would be enough to jump UCLA over OSU, but they're close enough in the rankings that it's not certain. On the other hand, Ohio State would almost certainly jump Oregon, so at worst it does no harm.

I don't think Ohio State needs more than one or two of those to happen (they may not even need any of them), but they certainly wouldn't hurt.

For MSU's Big Six Chances

Sitting at #10 right now in the playoff committee's rankings, MSU would be the last team in. Here's what we want to happen to keep us in, apart from beating Penn State. (The list looks quite similar for Ohio State should they lose the Big Ten title game.)

  • Ohio State to win the Big Ten title game (although this matters less if they lose to Michigan). If they lose, Wisconsin or Minnesota would lock up one spot and Ohio State would likely remain in front of us for another. (They would have the division title, head-to-head advantage, and another win better than anything we can match in the game at Minnesota.)
  • Minnesota over Wisconsin. I don't think Wisconsin splitting would be enough for them to move past us, but I know Minnesota splitting wouldn't.
  • Nebraska over Iowa. The better we can make our best win look, the better our situation.
  • Florida State to lose to Florida but then beat Georgia Tech. If Florida State is in the playoff, the ACC gets an automatic second bid to fill their Orange Bowl tie-in. If Florida State beats Florida but loses the ACC title game, they would still likely manage an at-large berth. Best case scenario is for FSU to take the automatic ACC berth but not reach the playoff. (If they lose twice, they might fall out entirely, which is perfectly acceptable as well.)
  • Alabama to beat Auburn. There's a risk that Auburn catches us from behind if they win, while Alabama would stay ahead of us even with a loss.
  • Ole Miss over Mississippi State. This is the higher-variance option (the opposite would guarantee that Mississippi State stays ahead and Ole Miss stays behind), but it's more likely that the loss would drop Mississippi State behind us than that it would vault Ole Miss over us, given how far they dropped after getting clobbered by Arkansas. This one is somewhat debatable, though.
  • Georgia Tech over Georgia. This could bump the Yellow Jackets ahead, but it would definitely drop Georgia behind us and FSU would have a chance to swat GT out of the way again.
  • Baylor over Kansas State. This probably doesn't matter, as I think it likely that K-State would jump us with the win and Baylor would drop behind us with the loss. But the risk of both ending up in front is far more serious. Ideally the winner drops their other remaining game, but with those games being Texas Tech (in Baylor's case) and Kansas (in K-State's), that seems unlikely.
  • Texas over TCU. This is more unambiguously good, as Texas is no threat whatsoever.
  • Oregon over the Pac-12 South champion. There's the strength of schedule rationale, of course, but also the Ducks would likely get an at-large anyway and it's possible that no other Pac-12 team would. This is especially true if UCLA loses to Stanford.
  • SEC West champion over SEC East champion. Ideally we'd like Missouri to lose, letting Georgia into the title game, where they also lose and fall out of the top 10. (Missouri can't realistically steal an at-large bid; Georgia likely would if they beat Georgia Tech but don't reach the title game.)
  • If Georgia Tech gets a bid to the Orange Bowl (whether FSU is in the playoff or not), Mississippi State remaining in the playoff is good for us because if Georgia is the top-ranked non-playoff, non-champion SEC/B1G team, they would likely get skipped to avoid a rematch. This is a plausible route for us to get in as an automatic selection, even if we get passed by enough non-SEC teams to drop us out of at-large selection range. However, Mississippi State would probably drop out of the playoff in favor of a conference champion, in which case this route no longer works.