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In a B1G Country: Championship Week 2015

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The Big Ten title game winner is headed to the playoff, but other bowl spots depend on games around the nation.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Week 13 Results

Michigan State 55, Penn State 16

The Spartans emphatically punched their ticket for Indy in a Senior Day blowout. As Joe pointed out in the Five Factors recap, the total yardage was close but multiple defensive touchdowns and another short-field touchdown had a lot to do with that.

Iowa 28, Nebraska 20

This is another weird boxscore: Nebraska put up nearly 200 more yards (433-250) but was -3 in turnover margin (including a short pick-six) and twice settled for field goals after drives of 50+ yards. After Nebraska cut the lead to just 21-17 (wasting a good opportunity to go for two to cut the lead down to 3; in the endgame this might have been helpful as they would know whether a field goal is any use or not) midway through the third quarter, Jordan Canzeri took the first play from scrimmage 68 yards for a touchdown to pad the lead back out. Three of Nebraska's next four drives ended with turnovers of a sort (two interceptions and a turnover on downs, throwing incomplete on 4th and 1), and by the time they finally managed a scoring drive (a field goal with just over a minute left) it was too late.

Ohio State 42, Michigan 13

In the East Division undercard, Urban Meyer responded to Ezekiel Elliott's "give me the @#$% ball" (paraphrased) comments by giving him the @#$% ball - 30 carries for 214 yards and two scores. The score was just 14-10 Buckeyes at the half, but Ohio State opened the second half with four consecutive touchdown drives to put an end to any drama.

Northwestern 24, Illinois 14

Illinois's bowl hopes (at 6-6, anyway; I'm not sure anybody has any idea how the few 5-7 teams that will fill in due to lack of eligible teams will be chosen) are gone, and Northwestern has a 10-win season. The Illini struck first, but Northwestern answered with three consecutive scores to take a 21-7 lead into the half. A 58-yard pick-six by Mason Monheim cut the lead down to 7 late in the third quarter, but the Wildcats added a field goal on their next drive to pad the lead back out to two scores. Illinois's next two drives both went 50+ yards but came up empty (interception and missed FG), and that was that.

Indiana 54, Purdue 36

Indiana became the eighth bowl-eligible team in the Big Ten by claiming the Old Oaken Bucket in a wild shootout. The Hoosiers put up 659 yards and forced four turnovers to Purdue's 486 and one, but the Boilermakers never let the margin get truly out of hand. Heading into the fourth quarter, it was just 38-28, and after Indiana missed a PAT on their next score, Purdue quickly scored another touchdown and added a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 8; however, Indiana answered immediately with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld to Andre Booker, and Purdue's final three drives all ended in turnovers.

Maryland 46, Rutgers 41

Another wild game, this time with nothing at stake other than East Coast bragging rights and Maryland escaping the ignominy of a winless conference season. After a quiet first quarter, Rutgers raced out to a 24-3 lead midway through the second and led 31-13 at the half. Maryland gradually chipped away at it and eventually took the lead at 39-38 (after two failed two-point conversions, both of which I agreed with - the first could have cut the deficit to 3, and the second could have extended the lead to 3) with just under 10 minutes to go. Rutgers would regain the lead with a field goal at the 5-minute mark, but on the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Ross took the ball 80 yards to the house to provide the final margin. The Scarlet Knights' final drive got as far as the Maryland 38, but the Terps stuffed Robert Martin on both third and fourth down to get the ball back and run out the clock.

Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 21

This makes twelve straight Axe wins for the Badgers, who took advantage of five Minnesota turnovers. The teams traded touchdowns early in the first quarter and again in the second, but the Badgers added two more scores in the final five minutes of the half and a field goal midway through the third quarter to extend the lead to 17. The Gophers' final scoring drive came too late to be of any real help; Minnesota failed to recover the onside kick and only made it as far as midfield before stalling out on their desperation drive.

Championship Week

I've included any games that are relevant to the major bowls. All times ET, Saturday unless otherwise stated. Odds are based on my margin-aware rating system (available here). If you want to see the ratings ignoring margin, you can find them here.

Big Ten Title Game: Michigan State vs. Iowa (8:00, FOX)

The stakes here are pretty clear: Winner is in the playoff. The loser might be on the edge for New Year's Bowl consideration, depending on how far they fall. Assuming no major surprises in the final week, the cutoff line will be #9 if Baylor does not get that high or #10 if they do (for reasons explained at the SBN Baylor blog, Our Daily Bears, if Baylor beats Texas they will be the Big XII's Sugar Bowl representative); if Stanford manages to reach the playoff, the cut line shifts up another spot as some other Pac-12 team (most likely Oregon) would take the automatic Rose Bowl spot. (I am operating on the assumption that the automatic SEC Sugar Bowl and non-Power5 bids are going to be teams below the natural cut line).

Odds: Michigan State 55% (projected margin: +1.5)

Big XII: Texas at Baylor (Noon, ESPN)

If Baylor wins this, thanks to the Big XII's tiebreaker rules (and they stipulate that the tiebreaker is used to determine the Sugar Bowl representative, even if the champion is in the playoff), they will be guaranteed a Sugar Bowl spot. If they lose, the spot falls to Oklahoma State, who beat TCU head-to-head. In either case, the Big XII seems unlikely to get a third representative. (Oklahoma will be in the playoff.)

Odds: Baylor 96.8% (+21)

SEC Title Game: Alabama vs. Florida (4:00, CBS)

If Alabama wins, they're in the playoff, and Ole Miss likely takes the SEC's automatic Sugar Bowl spot as the highest-ranked team remaining. If Florida wins, they get the Sugar Bowl spot and Alabama drops out of the playoff (but likely stays ranked high enough to reach the Peach Bowl). In any case, the SEC likely gets exactly two bids.

Odds: Alabama 90.6% (+14)

ACC Title Game: Clemson vs. North Carolina (8:00, ABC)

Much like the SEC title game, one scenario is clean and one is messy. If Clemson wins, they're in the playoff and North Carolina drops out of consideration (although Florida State, at present, is in position to make a New Year's Six bowl). If UNC wins, could they climb high enough to reach the playoff? I doubt it (they're taking a major hit for strength of schedule due to having two FCS teams and missing the strong teams in the ACC to this point - according to my rankings, the toughest team they've played all year is #38 Pitt), but it's possible. A UNC win is the only chance the ACC has of getting three teams, but they'll most likely get two regardless.

Odds: Clemson 67% (+4.5)

Pac-12 Title Game: Stanford vs. USC (7:45, ESPN)

Right now, Stanford is on the outside looking in as far as the playoff goes, but they do have a chance if one of the two chaos scenarios above plays out and they win. If that happens, a second Pac-12 team (likely Oregon) goes to the Rose. Otherwise, it's probably winner to the Rose, loser to a second-tier bowl.

Odds: Stanford 71% (+5.5)

Conference USA Title Game: Temple at Houston (Noon, ABC)

This game will decide the non-Power5 bid, as these are the two highest-ranked teams outside the Power 5.

Odds: Houston 71% (+5.5)

The Major Bowls

Semifinals (Orange and Cotton Bowls)

Oklahoma is pretty much a lock at this point, as is the Iowa-MSU winner. If Alabama and Clemson win their title games, they both make it easily. If one slips up, though, the teams that would be under consideration for the fourth spot are, in no particular order:

  • Stanford (if they beat USC)
  • Ohio State
  • Loser of Iowa-MSU
  • North Carolina (if they beat Clemson)

I've heard some arguments that Clemson might be able to survive a loss; I don't think so. I think the committee would find it hard to justify them ahead of North Carolina when both are 12-1 and UNC has the head-to-head and conference title, and UNC is already a bit of a fringe candidate.

Ohio State is in an odd position; you'd think they would rather be competing with MSU for that spot since they would have the better record, but thanks to head-to-head and the division title, I think it would be harder to justify Ohio State ahead of MSU than ahead of Iowa (who would have a loss to the same team and a weaker stack of wins). There's not much precedent to go on here, but it would be irritating to have the committee penalize a team for winning a division title and having to play an extra tough opponent.

My gut feeling is that if one spot opens up, Stanford takes it as long as they beat USC. If Alabama and Stanford lose, a second Big Ten team probably makes it. If Clemson and Stanford lose, it's a close decision between UNC and that second Big Ten team, though an upset of then-#1 might be enough to push UNC over the top. If all three falter, UNC and a second Big Ten team likely make it, though it could be UNC and Clemson.

Contract Bowls (Rose and Sugar)

The Sugar Bowl is easy: If Florida wins, they go; if not, Ole Miss goes. If Baylor wins, they go; if not, Oklahoma State goes.

If USC upsets Stanford, they will be in the Rose Bowl for certain. If Stanford wins, they're likely to be there but could sneak into the playoff; if they do, it will probably be Oregon here.

The Big Ten spot is a little harder to predict. If MSU wins, does Iowa at 12-1 stay ahead of 11-1 Ohio State? Maybe not with the softer schedule. If Iowa wins, does MSU stay ahead thanks to the division title, or does the second loss give Ohio State the advantage?

At-Large Bowls (Fiesta and Peach)

One of these spots will go to the CUSA champion. The other three go to the highest ranked teams available. As of right now, and assuming no major surprises, those teams are:

  • Ohio State (idle) or MSU-Iowa loser (whichever isn't in the Rose Bowl)
  • Notre Dame (idle)
  • Florida State (idle)

Following those three in the rankings are North Carolina (ACC title game), TCU (idle), Baylor (vs. Texas), and Ole Miss (idle). North Carolina would drop off with a loss to Clemson, Baylor is moot (if they win they'll be in the Sugar and if they lose they'll drop), Ole Miss is probably moot (they're an auto-bid for the Sugar if Alabama wins), and I don't think the MSU-Iowa loser can fall as far as TCU.

If Stanford loses, there's a good chance they drop out entirely, with USC holding the Pac-12's contract spot in the Rose Bowl. If they manage to reach the playoff because of a loss by Alabama or Clemson, that losing team will be in the mix here as well, probably pushing out Florida State unless the Big Ten title game is a total blowout. If there's enough chaos that a second Big Ten team makes the playoff, the third one will be guaranteed the Rose Bowl slot, so there's nothing to worry about in the extreme chaos scenarios.

To summarize for MSU:

  • Win and it's off the playoffs.
  • Lose but stay ahead of Ohio State, and the Rose Bowl is our destination (unless extreme chaos puts us in the playoff too).
  • Lose and drop behind Ohio State and, unless chaos promotes Ohio State to the playoff, the Rose Bowl is out but the Fiesta or Peach is very likely unless we get blown out.