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In a B1G Country: 2015 Week 6 Recap and Week 7 Preview

The first major showdown in the East awaits, while a favorite emerges in the West.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Week 6 Results

Michigan State 31, Rutgers 24

This game did absolutely nothing to dispel the fears of MSU fans. At least we outgained an outclassed opponent handily this time, but trouble finishing drives (and Rutgers' ability to finish when their drives weren't dead on arrival) kept the score close.

Ohio State 49, Maryland 28

MSU wasn't the only high-profile Big Ten team to struggle with inferior competition for a while. A touchdown in the last minute of the first half and another on the opening drive of the second half brought Maryland even at 21-all, and they forced a punt to get the ball back still tied. The Terps then went three-and-out, and the Buckeyes hit the gas - four consecutive touchdown drives put the game well out of reach, with Maryland tacking on a pity touchdown in the final minute. Maryland's quarterback woes continued, as Perry Hills went a miserable 10/27, 133 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs through the air, though he added 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Michigan 38, Northwestern 0

The anticipated matchup of ranked teams and the top two scoring defenses in the country coming into the game didn't quite work out as expected. Jehu Chesson ran the opening kick back for a touchdown, Michigan raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and coasted from there, adding a Jourdan Lewis interception return in the second quarter, a field goal in the third, and a seven-minute TD drive in the fourth. Northwestern managed a paltry 168 yards and missed a field goal in their only close opportunity to break Michigan's shutout streak, which now stands at three games.

Iowa 29, Illinois 20

Besides Michigan State and Ohio State, there's a third already-bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten: the Hawkeyes. Iowa spent the latter half of the first quarter and first half of the second quarter down 7-6 due to a missed PAT on their opening score, but after regaining the lead on a Jordan Canzeri touchdown catch (part of a career day - 43 carries and 2 catches for a total of 271 yards and two TDs), they never trailed again, though Illinois twice cut the lead to 3.

Normally I like to call out extremely short field goals (like Iowa's 19-yard kick just before the half) as one of the dumbest strategic decisions you can make. However, if you're ever going to do it, right before the half is the time. Part of the reason going for it is usually the right call is that you give the opponent terrible field position if you fail and are often getting possession back in a decent spot; that no longer applies if there are only a handful of seconds left in the half. It's still probably better to go for it unless you're a strong favorite to win the game (in which case the reduction in variance might outweigh the slight loss of expected value), but it's no longer ridiculous to kick.

Penn State 29, Indiana 7

After Penn State opened the scoring, the Hoosiers answered with a touchdown drive of their own and recovered a surprise onside kick - a perfect example of taking risks because you're the underdog. Unfortunately, Indiana followed that decision with a much more cowardly one: on 4th and 4 from Penn State's side of midfield, they punted. The Nittany Lions got back out to midfield before a Mark Allen fumble gave it back to Indiana, where they again punted from positive territory (this time on 4th and 8, which is somewhat less ridiculous). Christian Hackenberg added two more touchdowns (one on the ground, one through the air) before half (both with the PAT missed) for Penn State to make it 19-7, and Indiana never seriously threatened in the second half, reaching the Penn State 34 once but turning the ball over on downs.

Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 21

In retrospect, it was obvious all along that Rafael Gaglianone's attempt at a go-ahead field goal with 1:26 left could never succeed. That's way too early for Nebraska to allow the winning points. In four losses, the total time showing on the clock when the winning points were scored against the Huskers - combined - is 14 seconds. One came in overtime, another with :00 showing; the Illinois game-winning touchdown was scored with 10 seconds left, and Gaglianone's redemption from 46 yards for Wisconsin with just four. On paper, it's not clear how the game was even this close - Wisconsin outgained Nebraska by nearly 150 yards and won the turnover battle by one as well - but difficulty finishing drives is probably the culprit: the Badgers settled for five field goal attempts, missing two of them.

Nebraska's attempt to run out the clock after the miss was laughable; with Wisconsin holding three timeouts, the run-run-run-punt strategy killed a mere 23 seconds. Sure, an incomplete pass risks stopping the clock (which is how Illinois had enough time for the comeback last week), but unlike last week, Wisconsin could and would stop the clock anyway. You need a first down more than you need to force them to use timeouts.

Minnesota 41, Purdue 13

A week after being throttled by Northwestern, Minnesota found Purdue's mediocre tackling ability more to their liking. After a slow start, the Gophers led just 10-6 at halftime, but Shannon Brooks ripped off a 71-yard touchdown to open the second half, breaking several tackles in the process, and by the end of the third quarter it was 38-7. Four turnovers (including a pick-six) destroyed any hope Purdue had of pulling this one off.

Week 7 Games

Odds are based on my margin-aware rating system (available here). The ratings still include some carryover from last season (one game's worth for teams that have played six games this year). If you want to see the ratings without carryover or ignoring margin, you can find them here.

All times ET.

How the West Will Be Won: Iowa at Northwestern (Noon, ABC/ESPN2)

An Iowa win here would put the West Division nearly out of reach long before Halloween; they'd be 3-0, hold tiebreaker over Wisconsin and Northwestern, Nebraska already has two losses, and Minnesota has one plus they have to play Ohio State and Michigan. A Northwestern win keeps the division race interesting, although Iowa would still be in the driver's seat thanks to an easier closing schedule.

Odds: Northwestern 67% (4.5-point favorite); this is entirely due to home-field advantage (which is running unusually high so far this year). At a neutral site Iowa would be a minuscule favorite (50.04%, or enough to come out two games ahead over a series of about 2300).

Mismatch of the Week: Purdue at Wisconsin (Noon, BTN)

Wisconsin hasn't been the usual ground-based steamroller this year, but Purdue is a good way to cure what ails your running game. Teams are averaging 215 yards per game on the ground against the Boilers on 5.1 per carry. This is the first of a fairly soft stretch of four games for Wisconsin (at Illinois, Rutgers, at Maryland) before finishing the season with Northwestern and Minnesota.

Odds: Wisconsin 95.7% (20-point favorite)

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

If MSU's offensive line gets healthy and is relatively cohesive, this should be a great game. If not ... I don't want to think about it.

Odds: Michigan 80% (9-point favorite)

Pillow Fight of the Week: Rutgers at Indiana (3:30, BTN)

Winner ... has the inside track on fifth place in the East, I guess. Rutgers desperately needs this to have a realistic shot at a bowl; Indiana has a few more opportunities available to them (and also only needs two more wins instead of Rutgers's four).

Odds: Indiana 73% (6.5-point favorite)

The West Undercard: Nebraska at Minnesota (3:30, ESPN2)

The second iteration of this game to be played for the Bits of Broken Chair Trophy has turned into a bit of an afterthought in the division race after Nebraska's last-second losses and Minnesota's beatdown at the hands of the Wildcats. After firing Bo Pelini for consistently going 9-4, the Huskers will have to win out just to match that in Mike Riley's first season.

Odds: Minnesota 64% (3.5-point favorite)

The Nightcap: Penn State at Ohio State (8:00, ABC)

The other pair of 2-0 teams in the East also face off this weekend; after this, none of the four teams sitting atop the East will play each other again until the final two weeks of the season. Penn State is a bit further off the pace from the other three, and while their offensive line has showed some signs of improvement, they've still allowed nine sacks in the last three (to San Diego State, Army, and Indiana) after allowing ten in the season opener to Temple. And if Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State have one thing in common it's that they're absolutely loaded in the front seven. My prediction?

Odds: Ohio State 89.8% (14-point favorite)

Doing Absolutely Nothing, and Hoping It Is Everything They Thought It Could Be

Illinois and Maryland are on a bye this week.

Conference Title Race

Projected records are based on game-by-game odds. Division title chances are estimated based on 100,000 season simulations; tiebreakers are not included.

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
Ohio State (#1) 6.89 1 in 197,000 0.03% 0.51% 4.87% 23.18% 48.10% 23.32% Yes 37.09% 65.01%
Michigan (#5) 6.58 1 in 27,500 0.17% 2.09% 11.35% 30.16% 38.05% 18.17% >99.99% 26.89% 52.89%
Michigan State (#16) 5.60 0.02% 0.81% 9.53% 34.48% 40.73% 13.17% 1.25% Yes 3.62% 14.74%
Penn State (#36) 4.68 0.77% 9.52% 33.74% 36.57% 16.20% 3.01% 0.18% 99.23% 0.87% 4.54%
Indiana (#72) 2.44 2.50% 15.73% 34.54% 32.37% 12.81% 1.96% 0.09% 81.77% <0.01% 0.01%
Rutgers (#77) 1.70 7.49% 35.47% 39.17% 15.36% 2.36% 0.14% 1 in 36,900 10.97% <0.01% <0.01%
Maryland (#100) 1.23 22.45% 41.92% 26.83% 7.73% 1.02% 0.05% 1 in 108,000 1.07% <0.01% <0.01%

The East is very clearly separated into the haves and have-nots. Michigan's surge and MSU's continued slide in the rankings puts the Wolverines up to a clear second place in the projections and closer to first than third (aided, in part, by getting both OSU and MSU at home). Penn State still projects two games off the pace in the race for Indianapolis but just as close to first as fifth. Of the bottom three, Indiana has a good shot at a bowl, Rutgers a slim one, and Maryland is rapidly approaching tire-fire status.

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
Iowa (#24) 6.32 1 in 46,900 0.13% 2.50% 15.93% 37.88% 34.16% 9.39% Yes 47.82% 77.35%
Wisconsin (#43) 5.26 1 in 10,300 0.36% 4.02% 17.71% 35.25% 31.96% 10.69% 99.63% 9.44% 29.60%
Northwestern (#26) 5.13 0.01% 0.60% 5.50% 20.51% 35.95% 28.93% 8.49% 99.99% 9.87% 28.72%
Minnesota (#58) 3.37 2.43% 16.44% 36.45% 32.32% 10.94% 1.38% 0.05% 81.13% 0.24% 2.11%
Nebraska (#54) 3.05 1.04% 8.04% 23.03% 32.56% 24.49% 9.40% 1.45% 35.34% 0.19% 1.93%
Illinois (#71) 2.70 10.42% 33.87% 35.40% 16.26% 3.65% 0.39% 0.02% 55.71% 0.05% 0.54%
Purdue (#108) 1.06 28.26% 43.50% 23.04% 4.83% 0.36% 0.01% 1 in 862,000 0.01% <0.01% <0.01%

Iowa, as the last unbeaten in conference play (or overall, for that matter) in the West, projects to maintain that one-game lead over Wisconsin and Northwestern, both of whom are nearly assured of a bowl berth as well. The Gophers lag well behind due to the blowout loss to the Wildcats, a horrific crossover schedule, and already having the Purdue game in the books, but they're still in good shape for making a bowl. The Huskers have plenty of work to do to make a bowl game; Illinois is closer but has a tough road ahead (crossover games of Ohio State and Penn State; Nebraska at least gets Rutgers as one of theirs). Purdue slides back into the overall basement with a lower projected win total than Maryland (whose total dropped less because they were already expected to lose and lose badly to the Buckeyes), but they're still 5-to-2 favorites to manage at least one win.