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In a B1G Country: Week 10 Recap, Week 11 Preview

All eyes in the East are on the main event in East Lansing; in the West, the four-way round robin that will decide the title begins.

Leon Halip

Last Week's Games

Wisconsin 37, Rutgers 0

The descriptions of Wisconsin's games are starting to sound like a broken record: complete ineptitude through the air, dominance on the ground, a bit of a slow start, and a very good defense. Chilly, wet, and windy conditions played a role across the conference in holding passing stats down, but even by those standards, this was an aerial abomination: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy combined for an ugly 8/20, 87 yards, 1 INT line - and had a much better day than the Rutgers duo of Gary Nova and Chris Laviano (7/27, 63 yards, 1 INT).

Maryland 20, Penn State 19

Looking at the box score, it's frankly amazing the game was even this high-scoring. Penn State outgained Maryland 219-194, but turned the ball over four times while forcing only two and had to settle for long field goals repeatedly (four on the day for Sam Ficken, three from at least 46 yards out). Neither team could get anything going on the ground at all (combining for an average of 1.0 yards per carry), and the passing game wasn't a huge improvement (4.2 yards per attempt each, both on under 50% completions). Those numbers aren't sack-adjusted, but they're abysmal either way.

Of relevance to us: Stefon Diggs picked up a one-game suspension for making contact with a referee during a pregame scuffle. Since Maryland has a bye this week, he will be out for the MSU game.

Iowa 48, Northwestern 7

This was pure annihilation from the opening kick, as Iowa raced out to a 24-point lead inside of 12 minutes and outgained Northwestern 483-180. Northwestern's only points came after a fumbled punt snap set them up deep in Iowa territory, shortly after Iowa had scored on special teams themselves with a blocked punt. This loss officially eliminates Northwestern from the Big Ten title race (although they can finish tied for the division lead, they cannot win the tiebreaker as they are 1-3 against the four teams ahead of them).

Michigan 34, Indiana 10

Indiana minus Nate Sudfeld (and having benched Tevin Coleman for a couple drives early in the game for a couple of uncharacteristic fumbles) is a fantastic cure for whatever ails your football team. With no passing threat whatsoever from Zander Diamont (5/8, 24 yards), Michigan could and did tee off on the run game all day. That, combined with the temporary benching, nearly kept Coleman from extending his 100-yard game streak.

Nebraska 35, Purdue 14

I can't make any sense of this boxscore. Purdue outgained Nebraska by nearly 50 yards and forced an extra turnover, but two Purdue punts were blocked in the first half, another long return set up the Huskers inside the Purdue 20, and Nebraska had a turnover on downs at the 1 and a missed field goal as squandered opportunities as well. The big news was Ameer Abdullah's knee injury, which does not appear to have been serious; most reports at this point are that he will be able to play at near full strength next weekend when Nebraska returns to action.

Ohio State 55, Illinois 14

Either Ohio State didn't get caught looking ahead or Illinois wasn't bad enough to punish them for it. Likely both. The halftime score was 31-0 and it kept getting worse; Illinois didn't score until late in the third quarter, at which point they had already given up 48. Prior to that drive, Illinois had just 91 yards of total offense; they finished with 243 thanks to three garbage time drives. Meanwhile, Ohio State either started in or entered Illinois territory on every drive but one (and even that got to their own 47).

East Division Race

For the East, the scenarios are now tractable enough that I'm skipping the simulations and calculating straight from game-by-game odds with tiebreakers factored in. Odds are based on my margin-aware ratings (available here); W-L only ratings are available here. Last year's ratings no longer factor in at all.

The Big Ten's division tiebreakers are listed here, but the writing is notoriously unclear. I've tried to interpret them using the basketball tiebreakers as a guide, for which we have somewhat more confirmation (since they have to be applied all the way down, not just for the top spot). The tiebreakers, as I understand them, are:

  • Head-to-head (additionally, if any step reduces the tie to two teams, it immediately returns to head-to-head between those two; it's not clear whether this happens if a larger tie is reduced but at least three teams remain, but the scenarios where that matters cannot happen this year)
  • Division record
  • Record against individual teams within the division outside the tie, from top to bottom (a team that beats #4 and loses to #5 will be ranked ahead of one who does the opposite)
  • Record against all common conference opponents (which, since we play only two teams from the opposite division, is always going to be the same as division record, so this will not apply)
  • Highest ranked team in the playoff committee rankings, except that if the next team is only one spot back and beat them head-to-head, that team wins the tiebreaker instead

Here is the table summarizing the possible outcomes for each team:

Team Avg wins 0-8 1-7 2-6 3-5 4-4 5-3 6-2 7-1 8-0 Bowl Div Title
Michigan State 7.21 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.05% 1.78% 15.13% 43.67% 39.37% Yes 61.64%
Ohio State 7.05 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 11,300 0.83% 18.47% 55.27% 25.42% Yes 38.28%
Maryland 4.66 N/A N/A N/A 5.23% 35.48% 47.24% 12.04% N/A N/A Yes 0.07%
Michigan 2.85 N/A N/A 33.62% 47.96% 17.85% 0.57% N/A N/A N/A 18.42% 1 in 2,370,000
Penn State 2.34 N/A 13.92% 43.47% 37.32% 5.30% N/A N/A N/A N/A 70.06% No
Rutgers 1.99 N/A 16.51% 68.09% 14.97% 0.44% N/A N/A N/A N/A 83.49% No
Indiana 1.18 20.68% 45.98% 28.39% 4.88% 0.07% N/A N/A N/A N/A 4.95% No

Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 in conference)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: Ohio State (64% chance to win, projected margin +3.5)
November 15: at Maryland (75%, +7)
November 22: Rutgers (96.6%, +21.5)
November 29: at Penn State (85%, +11)


Win out: Obviously 8-0 would win the division. This is almost certainly necessary to keep playoff hopes alive. Odds: 39.37%

Beat Ohio State and win two of the other three: Not good enough for the playoff, but in terms of going to Indianapolis, this would still be enough without any help. Odds: 21.48%

Beat Ohio State and Maryland, Ohio State loses again: With two losses, we would need Ohio State to pick up a second, which will happen about 29% of the time. Odds: 0.07%

Beat Ohio State and either Rutgers or Penn State, Ohio State and Maryland each lose at least one other game: A three-way tie here doesn't work because Maryland (and possibly Ohio State, if their loss is to Minnesota) would have a better record within the division, so Maryland has to lose one to drop out. Odds: 0.43%

Beat only Ohio State, Ohio State and Maryland each lose two more: Again, a three-way tie is no good. Odds: 1 in 1,340,000

Beat only Ohio State, Michigan wins out, Maryland beats Rutgers, Ohio State loses exactly one of Indiana and Minnesota games: This would result in a four-way tie at the top at 5-3. Michigan and Michigan State would be tied with 2-1 records among the tied teams, so Michigan State would be the division champion. Note that Michigan and Ohio State both have to be part of the tie for this to work; if either loses a fourth game, head-to-head fails to break the tie and division record eliminates MSU. (The scenarios where Maryland loses to Rutgers are already counted above.) Odds: 1 in 968,000

Lose to Ohio State, win the rest, Ohio State loses two others: With the tiebreaker disadvantage, two OSU losses are necessary. Odds: 0.29%

Beat Maryland and either Rutgers or Penn State, Ohio State loses the other three: Even two Ohio State losses wouldn't be enough since they would own the tiebreaker. Odds: 1 in 154,000

Beat Rutgers and Penn State, Ohio State loses the other three, Maryland loses one: Add Maryland owning the tiebreaker and now things go quite a bit further outside the realm of plausibility. Odds: 1 in 187,000

Total: 61.64% (95.9% with a win over Ohio State, 0.8% with a loss)

Ohio State (7-1, 4-0)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: at Michigan State (36%, -3.5)
November 15: at Minnesota (74% +7)
November 22: Indiana (98.4%, +26.5)
November 29: Michigan (96.6%, +21.5)


Win out: As with MSU, 8-0 would win the division and keep playoff hopes (somewhat fainter than MSU's, given the loss to Virginia Tech being the cursed gift that keeps on giving) alive. Odds: 25.42%

Beat Michigan State, win two of the other three: Good enough to not need any help, given the tiebreaker advantage. Odds: 10.14%

Beat Michigan State, win one of the other three, Michigan State loses another game: With the head-to-head sweep over Michigan State and Maryland, the only concern would be making sure that MSU does not finish 7-1. Odds: 0.18%

Beat Michigan State only, Michigan State beats Maryland and loses the rest, Michigan loses a game: The Michigan loss is necessary because in a three-way tie, MSU would be eliminated on division record, leaving Michigan to take the head-to-head over Ohio State. Odds: 1 in 6,360,000

Beat Michigan State only, Maryland beats Michigan and Michigan State but loses to Rutgers, Michigan State loses at least one more: Ohio State still can't win a tie that includes Michigan; Maryland-Michigan-OSU is a Michigan sweep, while a four-way tie would have them and Michigan at 2-1. Maryland knocking them out is one way to pull that off. Odds: 1 in 4,760,000

Beat Michigan State only, Maryland beats Michigan State but loses to Michigan, Michigan loses to Northwestern, Michigan State loses at least one more: Slightly different route to the same result. Odds: 1 in 1,730,000

Lose to Michigan State, win the rest, Michigan State loses twice: Flipping the tiebreaker means that MSU has to lose twice for OSU to win the division. Odds: 2.19%

Win two of Minnesota/Indiana/Michigan, Michigan State loses the other three: Holding the tiebreaker over Maryland, this is enough. Odds: 0.02%

Beat Indiana and Michigan, Maryland wins out, Michigan State splits Rutgers/Penn State: This leads to a three-way tie which eliminates only MSU on division record, leaving OSU's head-to-head win over Maryland to decide it. (If one of OSU's wins is over Minnesota, this does not work because Maryland would win the tie outright on division record.) Odds: 0.33%

Beat Michigan, Michigan State loses other three, Maryland splits Michigan/Rutgers: This results in the same three-way tie, but at 5-3 instead of 6-2. Odds: 1 in 699,000

Beat Indiana, Michigan State loses other three, Maryland beats Michigan but loses to Rutgers: Same thing, different approach to get there. Odds: 1 in 1,510,000

Beat Indiana, Michigan State loses other three, Maryland beats Rutgers but loses to Michigan, Michigan loses to Northwestern: One other way to get to that three-way tie at 5-3. Odds: 1 in 657,000

Total: 38.28% (99.2% with a win over MSU, 4.0% with a loss)

Maryland (6-3, 3-2)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: bye
November 15: Michigan State (25%, -7)
November 22: at Michigan (57%, +2)
November 29: Rutgers (84%, +10.5)


Win out, Ohio State beats Michigan State and loses the rest: This results in a tie with Michigan State at 6-2. Odds: 1 in 167,000

Win out, Michigan State beats Ohio State, Michigan State loses one more, Ohio State loses two more: Same thing, different path. Odds: 0.02%

Win out, Michigan State beats Ohio State, Michigan State splits Rutgers/Penn State, Ohio State beats Minnesota and splits Indiana/Michigan: This leads to a 3-way tie. MSU must be part of the tie to avoid losing to OSU on head-to-head, and OSU must lose one of their division games rather than to Minnesota to make sure that Maryland wins on division record outright. Odds: 0.05%

Beat Michigan State and Michigan, Michigan State beats Ohio State but loses the rest, Ohio State loses to Michigan and Indiana: Depending on whether Ohio State beats Minnesota or not, this results in either a 3-way tie at 5-3 where Maryland wins outright on division record or a two-way tie with Michigan State. Odds: 1 in 24,400,000

Beat Michigan State and Rutgers, Michigan State beats Ohio State but loses the rest, Ohio State loses to Michigan and Indiana, Michigan loses to Northwestern: Michigan's presence in the tie would screw things up since 1) with Ohio State as well, Maryland would be 1-2 in the head-to-head; 2) without Ohio State, Michigan would have the same division record as Maryland and then win on head-to-head. Maryland still needs Ohio State's sole win (if they have one) to be over Minnesota. Odds: 1 in 10,600,000

Total: 0.07% (1 in 60,000 if Ohio State beats Michigan State; 0.1% if MSU wins)

Michigan (4-5, 2-3)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: at Northwestern (39%, -2.5)
November 15: bye
November 22: Maryland (43%, -2)
November 29: at Ohio State (3.4%, -21.5)


Believe it or not, it is still theoretically possible for Michigan to claim the title, despite the fact that they still need two wins for bowl eligibility.

Win out, Michigan State beats Ohio State but loses the rest, Maryland beats Rutgers, Ohio State loses out: This creates a three-way tie at 5-3 with Michigan State and Maryland, which Michigan wins after MSU is eliminated from the head-to-head split by division record. A four-way tie doesn't work as Michigan and MSU would be the two teams at 2-1, and not having Maryland in the tie doesn't work because MSU would have head-to-head over everyone else. Odds: 1 in 63,500,000

Win out, Ohio State beats Michigan State but loses the rest, Michigan State loses at least two more: Now any tie is fine because Ohio State's win over Michigan State prevents MSU from claiming it outright on head-to-head, and they're the first team to go when it comes to division record. (If MSU's one other win is over Maryland, Maryland can't be part of the tie, so that doesn't matter.) Odds: 1 in 2,460,000

Total: 1 in 2,370,000 (1 in 16,000,000 with a win and MSU win; 1 in 349,000 with a win and OSU win)

Bowl odds: 18.42%

Penn State (4-4, 1-4)

The teams from here down are eliminated from the title race, but for completeness their schedules and bowl odds are listed.

Remaining Schedule

November 8: at Indiana (61%, +3)
November 15: Temple (non-conference, 63%, +3.5)
November 22: at Illinois (58%, +2)
November 29: Michigan State (15%, -11)

Bowl odds: 70.06%

Rutgers (5-4, 1-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: bye
November 15: Indiana (80%, +8.5)
November 22: at Michigan State (3.4%, -21.5)
November 29: at Maryland (16%, -10.5)

Bowl odds: 83.49%

Indiana (3-5, 0-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: Penn State (39%, -3)
November 15: at Rutgers (20%, -8.5)
November 22: at Ohio State (1.6%, -26.5)
November 29: Purdue (57%, +1.5)

Bowl odds: 4.95%

West Division Race

This one is still too chaotic to do a full scenario breakdown; I might look at it in a little more detail later this week and update this section, but it's just too messy, so I don't think I'll get to the level of detail above in the East race. For this one, I've simulated the remainder of the season to get the outright and shared division title chances.

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 6.30 N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.61% 11.32% 45.95% 42.12% N/A Yes 47.46% 72.84%
Wisconsin 5.76 N/A N/A N/A 0.45% 6.46% 29.18% 44.34% 19.57% N/A Yes 21.68% 44.58%
Iowa 4.64 N/A N/A N/A 8.98% 36.33% 38.08% 14.76% 1.84% N/A Yes 2.48% 11.98%
Minnesota 4.15 N/A N/A N/A 19.25% 50.60% 25.75% 4.20% 0.19% N/A Yes 0.41% 3.21%
Northwestern 3.76 N/A N/A 5.88% 30.63% 45.15% 18.34% N/A N/A N/A 19.72% No 0.06%
Purdue 2.16 N/A 19.85% 47.53% 29.18% 3.43% N/A N/A N/A N/A 3.43% No No
Illinois 1.94 N/A 31.64% 45.33% 20.17% 2.86% N/A N/A N/A N/A 23.03% No No

General Scenarios

None of the top four have played each other yet, so those games will provide six additional wins and six additional losses for the group. All but Nebraska have a game outside the group as well (Wisconsin at Purdue this week, Iowa at Illinois and Minnesota hosting Ohio State next week). Northwestern has played all four of them, beating only Wisconsin (this means that although they can be part of a tie at 5-3, they cannot win the tiebreaker). Wisconsin and Minnesota have losses within the division already; Nebraska and Iowa lost to cross-division opponents. However, Minnesota's remaining game outside the group is a cross-division game, so if they lose that, they'll be in the same position as Nebraska and Iowa with regard to division record.

If one team sweeps the other three, they win the title even if they lose the fourth game thanks to having the head-to-head tiebreaker over everyone. The chances of each team doing this: Nebraska 42.12%, Wisconsin 22.57%, Iowa 2.53%, Minnesota 0.75%. That leaves about a 32% chance that everyone picks up a loss in the round-robin, and that's where things get fun.

If three teams sweep the fourth and split against each other, it comes down to:

  1. If two of those three lose their other game, the third wins the division.
  2. If one of them loses the other game, the team that lost to them (and beat the other one) wins the division.
  3. If none of them lose the other game, Nebraska and Iowa have the advantage on division record. (If both are involved, the winner of their game takes it.)
  4. If all three lose the other game (not possible if one is Nebraska) and Northwestern loses a game, the winner of Iowa-Minnesota would win the tie as Wisconsin would be eliminated on division record. Same thing happens if Northwestern wins out, as they and Wisconsin would both be 1-2 in the tie.

If two go 2-1 and two go 1-2:

  1. If one 2-1 team loses its other game, the other wins the division.
  2. If neither does, the winner of their game wins the division.
  3. If both do, but neither 1-2 team does and Northwestern loses a game, it's a four-way tie and the winner of the game between the 2-1 teams takes it on the second round of head-to-head tiebreakers.
  4. If both lose, but neither 1-2 team loses and neither does Northwestern, it's a five-way tie. If Wisconsin is one of the 2-1 teams, the other one wins the tie as they will be the only 3-1 team in the five-way tie. If not, it reverts to scenario #3.
  5. If Nebraska is one of the 1-2 teams and everyone else loses their game outside the round-robin ... no, this is too crazy to go into detail because it depends on too many specifics of who beat who.

Nebraska (8-1, 4-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: bye
November 15: at Wisconsin (57%, +1.5)
November 22: Minnesota (92.9%, +16.5)
November 28: at Iowa (80%, +9)

Thanks to having the highest rating of the bunch and having already played all five other games, Nebraska's chances are pretty good. Even the road trip to Camp Randall grades out as slightly better than a coin toss; get past that and the Huskers are very likely to go to Indianapolis.

Division title chances (simulated): 47.46% outright, 72.84% at least share

Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: at Purdue (87%, +12)
November 15: Nebraska (43%, -1.5)
November 22: at Iowa (62%, +3)
November 29: Minnesota (84%, +10.5)

Wisconsin is also in pretty good shape since the toughest of the three has to come to them, and their extra game is relatively easy.

Division title chances (simulated): 21.68% outright, 44.58% at least share

Iowa (6-2, 3-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: at Minnesota (33%, -4.5)
November 15: at Illinois (73%, +6.5)
November 22: Wisconsin (38%, -3)
November 28: Nebraska (20%, -9)

Good news: Iowa gets the two teams ahead of them in this projection at home. Bad news: they aren't favored in any of the games in the round-robin.

Division title chances (simulated): 2.48% outright, 11.98% at least share

Minnesota (6-2, 3-1)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: Iowa (67%, +4.5)
November 15: Ohio State (26%, -7)
November 22: at Nebraska (7.1%, -16.5)
November 29: at Wisconsin (16%, -10.5)

Even if Minnesota didn't have two very tough road trips in the round-robin ahead, the game lurking against Ohio State would likely hurt their chances quite a bit.

Division title chances (simulated): 0.41% outright, 3.21% at least share

Northwestern (3-5, 2-3)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: Michigan (61%, +2.5)
November 15: at Notre Dame (3.1%, -22)
November 22: at Purdue (40%, -2.5)
November 29: Illinois (75%, +7)

Northwestern can end up in a four- or five-way tie for the division at 5-3; however, they cannot win the tiebreaker no matter which set of teams is involved.

Bowl chances: 19.72%

Purdue (3-6, 1-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: Wisconsin (13%, -12)
November 15: bye
November 22: Northwestern (60%, +2.5)
November 29: at Indiana (43%, -1.5)

Purdue has improved to the point where they're favored to pick up a second conference win and have a decent shot at three. However, they need four to make a bowl and the Wisconsin game is not so likely.

Bowl chances: 3.43%

Illinois (4-5, 1-4)

Remaining Schedule

November 8: bye
November 15: Iowa (27%, -6.5)
November 22: Penn State (42%, -2)
November 29: at Northwestern (25%, -7)

There's a decent chance Illinois will pull off one of these, maybe even two (and bowl eligibility) with a few breaks, but they aren't favored in any.

Bowl chances: 23.03%