Week 12 Results
Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16
Even when MSU is having a down season, they seem to have a tendency to play spoiler to the Buckeyes, and it nearly happened again. A quick strike less than a minute into the game gave the Spartans an early lead; the Buckeyes answered in the middle of the first quarter, and the teams traded field goals in the second to go into the half tied at 10. Ohio State didn’t get their first lead of the game until a bit past the midpoint of the third quarter. When MSU finally answered with a bit under five minutes left, the Spartans went for two but failed; they got one more possession and were promptly intercepted.
The two-point conversion is an interesting bit strategically here; conventional wisdom seems to hold that teams don’t do that unless there’s substantially less time left. I think it actually makes more sense with five minutes left than with 1-2 minutes; the latter case is enough time for an opponent who needs a score to get one, but little enough that, if tied, they might opt to play safe for overtime instead. But if (as Dantonio has said) it was decided well in advance that MSU would go for two late, I think there’s a strong argument for doing it on the first touchdown instead. If it fails, you have a chance to even things on the second try (only coming out behind if you miss both), while if it succeeds, you force OSU to chase instead (worst case, they make theirs and you wind up even again; best case, they miss and leave you a shot at going up three by going for 2 again). Sacrificing a little bit of expected value (2-point tries are generally a bit under 50%) for a decent amount of variance is usually a good idea if you’re the underdog, so long as you quit once you’re ahead of pace.
Iowa 28, Illinois 0
A cold, blustery day shut down both teams’ passing games (Wes Lunt went 19/41 for just 3.3 yards per attempt for Illinois, and C.J. Beathard didn’t do much better for Iowa in limited attempts, 9/17 for 4.7 per attempt). That was just fine with the Hawkeyes, who ran amok on the ground (49 carries for 262 yards) and stopped Illinois easily (24 for 61). Still, it took a while for Iowa’s advantage to show up on the scoreboard; a 55-yard punt return by Riley McCarron late in the second quarter, just after a fumble killed an Iowa drive at the 1 yard line, finally broke the ice. The offense didn’t actually get on the board until midway through the third quarter; the last two touchdowns came on short fields after a turnover on downs and a fumble on the kickoff after the first one.
Nebraska 28, Maryland 7
This result eliminated Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa from the division title hunt; it’s down to just the Huskers and Badgers now. It didn’t take Nebraska long to bury the Terps; their four first-half drives ended in three touchdowns and a blocked field goal, and they tacked on another touchdown on their second drive of the second half. Maryland managed only one big play (a 92-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter while already down 28); the rest of their plays combined to account for only 115 yards.
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 20
The Boilers held a 3-0 lead as late as six minutes into the second quarter. Then the wheels came flying off in spectacular fashion: 87-yard touchdown drive for Wisconsin, a pick-six on the first play after the kickoff, a three-and-out before another Badger touchdown, another interception setting up a one-play touchdown drive, and yet another touchdown after Purdue put up a quick-strike score of their own. The game went from 3-0 to 28-3 in under six minutes and 35-10 in under eight. The Boilers never got closer than 22 the rest of the way.
Michigan 20, Indiana 10
#CHAOSTEAM was up to some of their usual antics (for this year, anyway; defense was decidedly not a feature of their usual antics in previous years), answering Michigan’s first two scoring drives immediately and leading 7-3 at the half and 10-6 past the midpoint of the third quarter. But Michigan answered with a touchdown of their own to go in front 13-10 with four minutes to go in the quarter, and from there the defense held up. As has been the case for the Hoosiers the past few years, they’re able to compete and keep it close against some of the best teams in the conference but can’t quite pull off the upset.
Minnesota 29, Northwestern 12
The goofy score is partly due to PAT failures; Minnesota opened the scoring with a touchdown on the opening drive but missed the PAT. Three field goals would, by the six-minute mark of the third quarter, pad the lead out to 15-0. Northwestern scored a touchdown and tried to get the two-point conversion to get within 7, but they came up short. The Wildcats went for two again on their next score, hoping to cut the deficit to 22-14, but again they failed. Still, it was sound strategy in both cases; you need the two-point conversion eventually in the first case, and failing earlier lets you plan for the necessary number of scores better. It ended up moot since the Gophers scored again and won by multiple scores.
Penn State 39, Rutgers 0
The Nittany Lions spent the first half letting Rutgers hang around, only leading 9-0 at the break. The Scarlet Knights hadn’t achieved much of anything in terms of offense, taking over deep in PSU territory to start the game after a fumbled kickoff but missing a field goal and never even threatening to attempt one again. Once the second half rolled around, PSU took over and crushed Rutgers without mercy; the second half score was 30-0. This is the fourth time this year Rutgers has been shut out in Big Ten play, and in two other games they managed only a single touchdown.
Week 13 Games
All games are Saturday except Nebraska-Iowa (Friday), but rather than the usual sort by time I’ve sorted them by what’s at stake. All times ET. Odds are based on my margin-aware ratings.
East Division Title (and Playoff) Implications
Michigan at Ohio State (Noon, ABC)
For Michigan, the stakes are clear: win and they’re in Indianapolis; win there and they’re in the playoff. A loss still leaves them in excellent shape for a major bowl, though which one will depend on how the Big Ten title shakes out. If Ohio State is the champion, Michigan would likely end up in the Rose Bowl; same if both the champion (Wisconsin or Penn State) and OSU end up in the playoff. Otherwise, the Orange Bowl (as the highest ranked B1G/SEC team available) would probably take them.
For Ohio State, the situation is a little less certain; a win doesn’t guarantee them the division title (they need Michigan State’s help for that) but, given their impressive list of wins (Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Nebraska) and having only one loss, it might be difficult to justify leaving them out of the playoff anyway. There are only five Power Five teams with 1 loss or fewer now, and this game will eliminate one of them. Would the committee take a two-loss-but-conference-champion Penn State (or Wisconsin) over Ohio State? Or an Oklahoma team that Ohio State beat? Or would the eventual Big Ten champion get a spot and the Buckeyes knock out one of the other one-loss teams? In the two short years of the playoff’s existence, there isn’t any precedent to say.
Odds: Ohio State 64% (projected margin: +4)
Division title odds: Michigan 36%, Ohio State 2.1%
Michigan State at Penn State (3:30, ESPN)
If Michigan wins the earlier game, the only thing at stake (besides the Land Grant Trophy) will be Penn State’s chance at a New Year’s Six bowl - possibly the Rose if Michigan goes on to win the title game and reach the playoff, but more likely the Orange or Cotton (which, in Year 3 of the rotation, is the only bowl to feature at-large spots). But if Ohio State wins, all eyes turn to Happy Valley. In that case, the Nittany Lions can claim the division title with a win thanks to their upset of the Buckeyes, while a loss would send Ohio State to Indianapolis. Could Penn State reach the playoff? It’s certainly possible if Clemson or Washington (the two one-loss teams outside the Big Ten) drops a game; if neither does, the committee’s deliberations about them and Ohio State will be very interesting.
For MSU, there’s not much at stake but pride. The Spartans have played much better the last few weeks than in the early part of the season, but struggles with finishing games (and a tougher schedule toward the end) have kept it from really showing up in the record.
Odds: Penn State 96.7% (+22)
Division title odds: Penn State 62%
West Division Title (and Maybe Playoff?) Implications
Nebraska at Iowa (3:30 Friday, ABC)
Nebraska, thanks to getting steamrolled by Ohio State, doesn’t appear to have a realistic playoff chance (they’re way down at #16, while Wisconsin and Penn State both sit near the top of the 2-loss pecking order). Does that change if they win here, Wisconsin loses, and they beat one of the East’s big three in the title game? Probably not; there are just too many teams for them to leap. But a win and a Wisconsin loss would get them to Indianapolis, with a Rose Bowl bid on the line there. Hard to see them making any other New Year’s Six game, given how few at-large spots there are this year, though it’s just barely possible if they win but Wisconsin does too (keeping them out of Indianapolis) and everything elsewhere goes crazy.
Iowa is merely jockeying for a better bowl bid. Which bowl, specifically, depends on how many Big Ten teams end up in the New Year’s Six; some predictions have as many as four (either Playoff/Rose/Orange/Cotton or two Playoff bids plus Rose and Orange), which means a win could see them in the Outback or Holiday Bowl (more likely Holiday, as Nebraska has been there recently and Iowa has been to the Outback). With a loss, it’s harder to say; Iowa could still end up sixth in the pecking order (which might mean the Holiday anyway), but Minnesota (with a better record even with a loss) could knock them down a peg, and things drop off quickly if the Big Ten doesn’t send four teams to the major bowls (although three looks like a near certainty at this point).
Odds: Nebraska 60% (+2.5)
Division title odds: Nebraska 10%
Minnesota at Wisconsin (3:30, BTN)
A win for Wisconsin sends them to Indianapolis, either with a chance to avenge one of their two losses or to face Penn State. Win both and a playoff spot is entirely possible (they currently sit at the top of the two-loss pecking order, and at least one one-loss team must drop), though they could get snubbed for Ohio State or (less likely) Oklahoma if Penn State is the one that reaches the title game. A win here but loss in the title game might not keep the Badgers out of the New Year’s Six, though they would likely be the fourth team from the Big Ten chosen if that happens (thus putting them in the Orange if two Big Ten teams make the playoff - most likely Penn State and Ohio State in this scenario - or Cotton if only one does). The picture is much less clear with a loss, though the Badgers shouldn’t fall too far below the New Year’s Six.
For Minnesota, the New Year’s Six is out of reach, but a chance to claim the Axe is always welcome. A win would almost surely land them in the top tier of the Big Ten’s non-NY6 bowls; with a loss, much would depend on how many NY6 bids the Big Ten gets and whether they get picked ahead of Iowa, but a Music City or Gator Bowl trip (whichever is taking a Big Ten team this year) seems fairly likely.
Odds: Wisconsin 83% (+10.5)
Division title odds: Wisconsin 90%
One Team Playing for Bowl Eligibility, the Other for Pride
Illinois at Northwestern (Noon, BTN)
Purdue at Indiana (Noon, ESPNU)
Rutgers at Maryland (Noon, ESPN News)
Three teams needing one win each to get to six and become bowl eligible are each hosting an opponent who can’t reach that threshold on Rivalry Weekend. All of them have good chances of getting there. If they all do, which bowl slots they will fill depends on how many Big Ten teams make the NY6; if four do, these teams will go to the Pinstripe, Foster Farms, and Quick Lane (aka Motor City) Bowls, but if only three do, the Pinstripe will likely already be filled and the Heart of Dallas Bowl will join the list.
Northwestern 93.8% (+17.5)
Indiana 92.9% (+16.5)
Maryland 89.5% (+14)
Next week we’ll take a look at the major bowl picture around the country and try to figure out where the Big Ten fits into that, and whether any 5-7 teams from the Big Ten (if any of the teams at 5-6 fail to win) have a shot at bowls.