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In a B1G Country: 2015 Week 8 Recap and Week 9 Preview

No major shake-ups this week, but three teams reached bowl eligibility.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 Results

Michigan State 52, Indiana 26

Nice to have a finish that's a little less nerve-wracking for a change, even if it was relatively close until far later than it should be. Apparently no one in the Big Ten is any good at kicking; Indiana missed two extra points, which seems impossible on this level, and it wasn't even the first time that's happened in the Big Ten this year (Penn State did it a few weeks ago, against Indiana ironically enough; here's hoping it's not contagious).

Ohio State 49, Rutgers 7

Now that J.T. Barrett has been handed the reins full time, the Buckeye Death Star appears to be fully operational again. Barrett threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores, and Rutgers's only points came on a pity touchdown with 13 seconds left.

This week's Dumb Punt Award clearly belongs to the Scarlet Knights. Down just 7-0 nearing the midway point of the second quarter, Rutgers faced 4th and 2 on the Ohio State 40 yard line. If you're going to pull off an upset, you have to take chances, and as far as risk/reward balances go, you won't find many better than that. Instead: punt, touchback, four-play OSU touchdown drive (the first of six in a row for the Buckeyes, not counting a kneel-down to end the first half).

Northwestern 30, Nebraska 28

In a dramatic departure from tradition for the Huskers, the winning points for the opposing team came with a whopping 7:27 left (a field goal that pushed Northwestern's lead to 30-22). That doesn't sound that weird, but that's nearly 32 times as much time as the time on the clock for the game-losing scores in their other four losses combined. Nebraska did answer with a Tommy Armstrong touchdown run with 4:23 to go, but the two-point try failed and the Wildcats were able to run out the clock.

Northwestern gets the nod for Dumb Field Goal of the Week, kicking an 18-yard field goal (!) in the third quarter to take a 20-19 lead. I can understand the impulse to get in the lead, given that one of Northwestern's touchdowns was a long interception return and five of their previous seven drives had combined for two yards total (four three-and-outs and a 4-yard loss on first down for a safety), but there's still plenty of time left and if you fail, the improved field position (forcing the opponent to start from the 1 instead of around the 25) is worth nearly as much as a made field goal would be. It worked out this time, but that does not change the fact that an 18-yard field goal is one of the worst expected value decisions you can make in football.

Wisconsin 24, Illinois 13

There's still something that feels unnatural about seeing a Wisconsin team with more passing plays (counting sacks) than runs and only two runs all day for double-digit yardage. Joel Stave was injured early, but backup Bart Houston went 22 of 33 for 232 yards and two touchdowns (with two interceptions as well) to lead the Badgers to bowl eligibility. The Badgers weren't nearly as dependent on the pass as Illinois, though; the Illini threw 43 passes to only 13 runs.

Illinois took the lead twice, at 3-0 in the first quarter and 13-10 in the third, but Wisconsin answered with touchdowns on the following drive both times. Two Wisconsin drives ended with end-zone interceptions; otherwise, the final score could have been considerably worse.

Penn State 31, Maryland 30

This was not a particularly well-played game; Maryland outgained Penn State by about 100 yards but turned the ball over five times (the Nittany Lions added three of their own). Christian Hackenberg was boom-or-bust; counting sacks, only 13 of 34 dropbacks ended in a completed pass, but those 13 resulted in a whopping 315 yards (over 24 per catch!). Perry Hills threw for 225 yards and ran for 124 more for Maryland, but he was picked off three times and lost two fumbles as well. Maryland's inability to finish drives proved costly; their first seven drives all had a first down inside the Penn State 40, but the Terrapins could only get one touchdown out of them (the other six: three field goal attempts, one missed; two turnovers, and a punt after multiple negative plays pushed them back to 4th and 24 near midfield). All told, in eleven scoring opportunities, Maryland failed to score at all on five of them (plus another drive late starting at the PSU 45 going 4-and-out) and settled for field goals on three more. That's a recipe for losing.

Week 9 Games

Odds are based on my margin-aware rating system (available here). This is the last week with any carryover from last year, and the amount is very small (for teams having played seven games, last season's results have the weight of 1/3 of a single game). If you want to see the ratings without carryover or ignoring margin, you can find them here.

All times ET.

Kaiju: Illinois at Penn State (Noon, ESPN2)

The good news: Carl Nassib (national sack leader by a wide margin, with 12.5) has been rampaging through opposing pass protection like Godzilla through Tokyo. The bad news: Penn State's offensive line has made pretty much every opposing defensive line also look like Toho movie monsters; only Louisville and SMU have allowed more sacks.

Odds: Penn State 88% (12.5-point favorite)

The Great Pumpkin: Nebraska at Purdue (Noon, ESPNU)

Even Rutgers got a Big Ten win, but poor Purdue got a rock. Meanwhile, Nebraska is trying to convince everyone that firing Bo Pelini and replacing him with Mike Riley was a good idea; at this point, that seems about as believable as Linus asking the rest of the kids to wait with him for the Great Pumpkin.

Odds: Nebraska 83% (10.5-point favorite)

Grinch Night: Rutgers at Wisconsin (Noon, BTN)

Okay, I'll admit this one's a bit of a stretch, but the forecast calls for rain and a bit of wind to stir up Lake Mendota, and I couldn't resist trying to sneak in this set of pictures of a certain basketball coach:

Odds: Wisconsin 93.5% (17.5-point favorites)

It's Alive!: Maryland at Iowa (3:30, ABC/ESPN2)

Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God strike down your star tailback (Jordan Canzeri is still out with an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago)? No problem for Dr. Kirk Ferenstein, who can cobble together a monstrous running game out of whatever spare parts happen to be lying around. Backup Akrum Wadley ran amok on Northwestern for four touchdowns and over 200 yards prior to the bye week.

Odds: Iowa 97.5% (23.5-point favorites)

A Nightmare on University Avenue: Michigan at Minnesota (7:00, ESPN)

Any realistic playoff dreams for Michigan were brought to a gruesome end by Michigan State two weeks ago, and the Wolverines have had nothing to do but stew over it for two weeks. With a mediocre rushing attack and worse passing game, Minnesota doesn't seem likely to be able to move the ball well at all against Michigan. This could get gory.

Odds: Michigan 84% (11-point favorites)


Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, and Northwestern are off 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) 7.32 1 in 13,500 0.61% 10.03% 46.19% 43.16% Yes 53.66% 86.02%
Michigan State (#13) 6.64 0.11% 4.82% 34.71% 52.14% 8.22% Yes 11.13% 38.00%
Michigan (#11) 5.73 0.01% 0.62% 7.10% 29.70% 43.43% 19.13% 99.99% 0.78% 18.26%
Penn State (#39) 4.71 4.45% 37.44% 41.91% 14.78% 1.42% Yes 0.08% 1.16%
Rutgers (#84) 2.17 16.16% 52.76% 28.54% 2.48% 0.05% 19.58%
Indiana (#82) 1.21 20.08% 45.37% 28.53% 5.66% 0.35% 34.54%
Maryland (#87) 1.15 20.88% 48.50% 25.97% 4.47% 0.18% 1 in 45,000 0.18%

Indiana is now officially eliminated from the title race, as the Ohio State-Michigan State winner must do no worse than 5-3. Rutgers and Maryland might as well be eliminated as well; both can do no better than tie for the division crown, and that would require an extraordinary set of results. No major changes among the top four; Ohio State's favored by a slightly wider margin but a large chunk of that is attributable to a jump in the value of home-field advantage according to the model (making OSU a bigger favorite over MSU than before). This is the calm before the storm of the final two weeks, which feature four top-4 matchups in this division (MSU-OSU and Michigan-Penn State on November 21, PSU-MSU and OSU-Michigan on the 28th).

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 (#12) 7.45 1 in 1,910,000 1 in 12,200 0.40% 7.07% 40.07% 52.46% Yes 77.60% 96.85%
Wisconsin (#27) 6.20 0.09% 2.23% 15.51% 42.25% 39.91% Yes 3.10% 21.89%
Northwestern (#38) 4.71 0.16% 5.60% 30.99% 49.49% 13.77% Yes 0.02% 1.08%
Nebraska (#45) 3.18 2.46% 19.58% 41.66% 29.59% 6.70% 36.29% <0.01% 0.01%
Illinois (#75) 2.38 15.35% 42.73% 31.80% 9.05% 1.03% 0.04% 41.92% <0.01% <0.01%
Minnesota (#78) 2.16 18.92% 50.24% 26.44% 4.21% 0.18% 1 in 52,100 30.83% <0.01% <0.01%
Purdue (#109) 0.99 29.61% 45.36% 21.62% 3.29% 0.12% 1 in 107,000 0.00094% <0.01% <0.01%

Iowa has already beaten their two closest competitors for the division and has Indiana and Maryland as their cross-division games, making their chances of winning the division extremely high for having five games left. Iowa can afford to lose one game and still have control of their destiny for reaching Indianapolis; if Wisconsin drops one, the Hawkeyes can even clinch with only three wins in their last five as long as one is against Minnesota (or the Gophers lose another). One of Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota will likely join the Hawkeyes, Badgers, and Wildcats in a bowl game; Nebraska appears to be by far the best team but has blown so many chances already that they cannot afford to lose another winnable game.

Combined with the East odds, there appears to be about a 1 in 4 chance that the Big Ten title game features two 12-0 teams.