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Around the B1G: Football Week 8 Recap, Week 9 Preview

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A funny thing happened on the way to that Michigan-OSU showdown; in the West, the biggest game of the season is this week.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 Results

Maryland 28, Michigan State 17

Michigan State spent a lot of time in Maryland’s half of the field but couldn’t make it count. Amazingly, every single drive reached at least the MSU 45 yard line (only two failed to reach midfield), yet those 11 possessions resulted in just two touchdowns, one field goal, a very ill-advised fake field goal to end the half (it gained yardage but nowhere near enough with the clock running out), four punts, two turnovers, and a turnover on downs. That failure to finish drives proved costly when Maryland scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to retake the lead.

Minnesota 34, Rutgers 32

At the end of the first quarter, the Gophers led 21-3 and this looked like the sort of blowout we’ve come to expect when Rutgers is involved. Then the Scarlet Knights put together a pair of touchdown drives to cut the lead down to 4, and after a Minnesota field goal, a Damon Hayes interception return got them within 1. Any momentum from that was short-lived, as Rutgers missed the potential tying PAT and then gave up a kickoff return touchdown to fall back down 8, and a quick turnover gave Minnesota a chance to pad the lead out even further. However, Mitch Leidner was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 QB sneak, and the Scarlet Knights drove 90 yards to get back within two (the two-point conversion, necessary because of the missed PAT earlier, failed). A muffed punt with five minutes left set Rutgers up for a go-ahead field goal, but the Gophers answered with a 59-yard drive to set up a game-winning 28-yard field goal with 6 seconds left.

Wisconsin 17, Iowa 9

Iowa brought field goals to a touchdown fight and paid the price. The Badgers struck first with a 17-yard Troy Fumagalli touchdown catch, but two Iowa field goals cut the lead to 7-6 at the half. Corey Clement punched in another score in the third quarter, and after the Hawkeyes missed a chance to cut the lead down to five inside the 6-minute mark, a Wisconsin field goal with 1:24 to go pushed the lead out to 11. Game over? Maybe not, as Desmond King took the kickoff back 77 yards to set up Iowa in close range. The Hawkeyes got as close as the 7 yard line but stalled out there and kicked a field goal with 43 seconds to go; however, the onside kick went out of bounds and Wisconsin simply ran out the clock.

There’s an interesting game theory question on Iowa’s strategy down 11 at the end. With no timeouts left, they need at least one touchdown and an onside kick. Furthermore, if they kick a field goal on one possession they need a two-point conversion with the touchdown. I don’t know the actual win probabilities at that point, but I’m inclined to think once you’re inside the 10, touchdown or bust is the better strategy. For one, the chances are good that you’ll face a tougher situation than that going for the touchdown next time; second, because you need the two-point conversion in order to make a field goal meaningful, you get a chance to find out before your second possession whether a field goal is good enough. Down 10, it’s a tougher decision, but down 11 I think you have to go for the touchdown once it’s that close since you can’t be sure a field goal actually helps. Moot here since Iowa didn’t get the onside kick.

Northwestern 24, Indiana 14

This wasn’t really as close as the final score; Northwestern scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions and added a field goal as the first half ended to take a 24-3 lead into the break. The Hoosiers finally found the end zone late in the third quarter, but the two-point conversion attempt to cut the lead to 10 failed, leaving Indiana in need of two touchdowns. (Going for it early was the correct decision, though, as it meant they knew a field goal would still leave them two possessions down and could plan accordingly.) Down 24-12, the Hoosiers did manage to get one last-ditch drive down to the 6 yard line, but they failed on fourth down there and Northwestern took over. The Wildcats took an intentional safety on fourth down rather than risking a punt block in their own end zone to provide the final margin.

Michigan 41, Illinois 8

Another Michigan game against a bad opponent, another demolition. The score seems to understate the wreckage, as the Illini were outgained by nearly 400 yards (561-172) and lost the turnover battle 2-1. On the other hand, Illinois reached Michigan territory four times and came up empty before they finally scored the fifth time (on a short field set up by a Michigan fumble with the score already 34-0).

Nebraska 27, Purdue 14

This one had the look of a potential upset for a while; the teams traded touchdowns on the opening possessions, then Nebraska kicked a field goal to go up 10-7. An 88-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Yancey gave the Boilers a surprising 14-10 lead in the second quarter, and that lead held up into halftime and through the Huskers’ first possession of the second half as well. Back-to-back touchdowns and a field goal for Nebraska after that restored some sense of order, however, and Purdue never really threatened again.

Penn State 24, Ohio State 21

So, about that dream of 11-0 vs. 11-0 in Columbus to end the regular season ... not happening. After a quiet first quarter, the Buckeyes jumped out to a 12-0 lead (two field goals and a touchdown with a missed PAT) in the second, but Penn State got on the board with a Chris Godwin touchdown catch in the final seconds of the half. A long Curtis Samuel run and a snap over the Penn State punter’s head for a safety pushed the lead out to 21-7 in the third quarter. A quick 90-yard touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter got the Nittany Lions within 7, and from there special teams took over, blocking a punt to set up a field goal and then blocking a field goal and returning it 60 yards for the game-winning score with a little over 4 minutes to go. The Buckeyes’ last-ditch drive stalled out short of midfield, and Penn State picked up its first win over a ranked opponent under James Franklin.

Week 9 Games

All times ET. Odds are per my margin-aware ratings. This is the last week in which any carryover from last season remains (only for teams with seven or fewer games played; carryover is weighted at about 15% for teams having played six games and 5% for teams having played seven).

Michigan at Michigan State (Noon, ESPN)

Weird things happen in rivalry games (see, for instance, the last ten seconds of last year’s game). I wish I could say there was another reason to be optimistic about this weekend, but I just don’t see any.

Odds: Michigan 97.2% (projected margin: +23.5)

Minnesota at Illinois (Noon, BTN)

After a scare last week at home against Rutgers, can the Gophers avoid another trap against Illinois? A win would clinch a bowl berth for Minnesota and keep them at least vaguely in the hunt for the division crown, though with two losses already they have a steep hill to climb and need help.

Odds: Minnesota 69% (+5.5)

Penn State at Purdue (Noon, ABC/ESPN2)

This is a classic trap game situation for the Nittany Lions, flying high after an upset win over Ohio State and with a game against Iowa looming next week. With a loss to Michigan already and a non-conference loss (which, thanks to the updated tiebreakers, would eliminate them from a three-way tie if Ohio State wins out and Michigan loses only to Ohio State), there is no margin of error left for Penn State.

Odds: Penn State 87% (+12.5)

Maryland at Indiana (3:30, ESPNU)

Maryland is likely going bowling regardless, but they can clinch with a win here. For Indiana, this is a crucial game; ignoring the effect that this game will have on their rating, they are roughly 2-to-1 favorites to make a bowl if they beat Maryland but 5-to-1 underdogs if they lose.

Odds: Indiana 53% (+0.5)

Northwestern at Ohio State (3:30, ESPN)

Ohio State will be looking to get back on track and keep their playoff hopes alive after the surprising loss last week. The last time these two teams met, in 2013, it marked the start of an astounding collapse by Northwestern, from 4-0 to missing a bowl entirely (losing seven straight, albeit mostly close games).

Odds: Ohio State 94.6% (+19)

Nebraska at Wisconsin (7:00, ESPN)

This is the big one for the West title race. Wisconsin absolutely must win to stay alive; a loss would put them three games back with a tiebreaker disadvantage as well. A Badger win leaves Nebraska still in control of their own destiny but makes things much more interesting down the stretch, with the Huskers having to travel to Columbus next week.

Odds: Wisconsin 60% (+2.5)

Byes

Rutgers and Iowa have the week off. This is the final bye week for anyone in the Big Ten; everyone plays all four weekends in November.

Conference Projections

Projected records are based on game-by-game odds (bowl odds assume a 6-6 record is the cutoff). Division title chances (outright or shared) are based on 100,000 season simulations; tiebreakers are not considered yet but will be once we get to the point where specific scenarios can be evaluated instead of using simulation.

East Division

Team Avg wins 0-9 1-8 2-7 3-6 4-5 5-4 6-3 7-2 8-1 9-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Michigan 8.25 1 in 1.27M 0.01% 0.52% 9.61% 54.13% 35.73% Yes 50.50% 92.24%
Ohio State 7.16 1 in 41,400 0.13% 2.26% 15.98% 45.11% 36.52% Yes 3.86% 38.51%
Penn State 7.15 1 in 15,900 0.23% 2.96% 16.62% 42.14% 38.04% 99.99% 1.46% 26.28%
Maryland 3.66 3.72% 39.76% 44.23% 11.33% 0.94% 0.02% 96.28% <0.01% 0.01%
Indiana 3.31 1.77% 16.90% 39.17% 33.05% 8.97% 0.14% 42.16% <0.01% <0.01%
Michigan State 1.13 18.51% 53.03% 25.69% 2.67% 0.10% 1 in 79,000 0.10% <0.01%
Rutgers 0.99 30.17% 44.87% 21.13% 3.63% 0.20% 0.20%

Michigan moves out in front after Ohio State’s upset loss to Penn State; the Buckeyes do not control their own destiny but need either a Penn State loss or to have Michigan join them in a tie at 8-1 by winning out until Thanksgiving weekend. In that three-way tie, Penn State would be eliminated by their loss to Pitt and the Buckeyes’ head-to-head win would give them the division crown. Penn State needs two Michigan losses to have any shot at the title. Meanwhile, MSU’s bowl chances are now the worst in the division (and tied for worst in the conference).

West Division

Team Avg wins 0-9 1-8 2-7 3-6 4-5 5-4 6-3 7-2 8-1 9-0 Bowl Outright Shared
Nebraska 7.03 0.19% 3.71% 22.34% 44.15% 26.02% 3.59% Yes 55.54% 84.43%
Wisconsin 5.87 1 in 10,200 0.42% 5.33% 25.42% 44.02% 24.81% 99.99% 9.70% 31.83%
Northwestern 5.53 0.69% 10.14% 37.82% 38.45% 12.32% 0.58% 89.17% 3.62% 16.55%
Minnesota 4.56 0.52% 9.69% 35.89% 42.24% 10.88% 0.79% 99.48% 0.56% 4.24%
Iowa 4.27 16.89% 46.46% 29.81% 6.42% 0.42% 83.11% 0.12% 2.06%
Illinois 2.47 12.46% 41.10% 34.78% 10.61% 1.03% 0.03% 1.06% <0.01% 0.01%
Purdue 1.63 50.65% 37.37% 10.48% 1.40% 0.09% 1 in 45,900 0.10% <0.01% <0.01%

Nebraska, still unbeaten, has the edge of course, but Wisconsin (due to a better rating and easier finishing schedule) has the edge over Northwestern for second and has a decent shot at catching Nebraska if they get a little help. The bottom two in the West have slightly less hopeless-looking projections than the bottom two in the East, largely because they don’t have to play both Michigan and Ohio State.