With a commanding 38-14 win over then-No. 20 Iowa on Saturday, the Badgers made history by going 10-0 for the first time ever. However, and perhaps more importantly, they clinched the Big Ten’s West division, meaning they’ll be heading to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis come December to face off against one of potentially many potent East division teams.
Things are extremely clear in the West – the Badgers hold a two-game lead over second place Northwestern, and even if they were to lose to Michigan and Minnesota, they’d still have the tiebreaker over the Wildcats. The East, however, is a completely different story.
Currently, Ohio State stands atop the East with a 6-1 conference record. Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan all line up behind them at 5-2. Should Ohio State win out, this becomes a no-brainer, and the J.T. Barrett-led Buckeyes will face the Badgers in Indy. However, should they lose to either Illinois (incredibly unlikely) or at Michigan (seemingly very possible), we’ll get some interesting playoff implications.
Here’s how each of the teams mentioned before – Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan – could win the Big Ten East.
No. 13 Ohio State (8-2, 6-1 B1G East): 11/18 vs. Illinois, 11/25 at Michigan
The Buckeyes control their own destiny, and despite getting trounced in Iowa City, look like they’ll probably be the team the Badgers face. A win in Columbus against a 2-8 – and winless in the Big Ten – Illinois team seems like a foregone conclusion, but beating Michigan in Ann Arbor is a tall task, even for a team as dynamic as Ohio State. For everything that’s being said about this team – and if you’re a Badger fan, you’ll know there’s almost too much being said – they really only have two great wins this year. The Buckeyes stole a 39-38 shootout against then-No. 2 Penn State and this past week clobbered then-No. 12 Michigan State 48-3. However, they’ve only played in four true road games this year and beat Indiana, Rutgers and Nebraska before taking a beating from Iowa.
Should Ohio State lose to Michigan, they fall to (let’s say) 7-2 in the conference. If we assume that at least Michigan State and Penn State take care of business from here on out, all three teams will have a 7-2 conference record. According to the Big Ten Conference’s website, if three or more teams are tied in record, the first thing to look at is the records of those three teams against each other. Well, in that case, they’d still make it:
Ohio State: 2-0 (W 39-38 vs. Penn State, W 48-3 vs. Michigan State)
Michigan State: 1-1 (W 27-24 vs. Penn State, L 3-48 @ Ohio State)
Penn State: 0-2 (L 24-27 @ Michigan State, L 38-39 @ Ohio State)
There is one more scenario, however. It wouldn’t be kind to the Badgers, of course – it would require Michigan to beat Wisconsin this upcoming Saturday. If that was the case, however, Michigan would also hold a 7-2 conference record. In that case, we’d need some further consideration:
Ohio State: 2-1 (Wins vs. PSU and MSU, Loss vs. Michigan)
Michigan State: 2-1 (Wins vs. PSU and Michigan, Loss vs. OSU)
Michigan: 1-2 (Win vs. OSU, Losses vs. PSU and MSU)
Penn State: 1-2 (Win vs. Michigan, Losses vs. OSU and MSU)
With the tie between Ohio State and Michigan State, we’re posited with another step in the ever-strange Big Ten tiebreaker rules. These rules say that if at any point in going through these steps that only two teams remain, the criteria is record against each other. Well, in that case, Ohio State still would be in, because they beat Michigan State.
Therefore, only two straight losses from the Buckeyes would knock them out of contention. Barring a miracle, they’re who the Badgers should be preparing for come December.
No. 12 Michigan State (7-3, 5-2 B1G East): 11/18 vs. Maryland, 11/25 @ Rutgers
From here on out, we’re playing to the low-chance scenario that Ohio State loses out. Should that happen, the Spartans would control their own destiny. In the case that Wisconsin beats Michigan this upcoming week, the Spartans would hold the tiebreaker over Penn State as the only two-loss teams in the East, as they won head-to-head. Even if Michigan beat both Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Spartans would still be the de facto champion, as they have wins over both Penn State and Michigan and would thus win the tiebreaker. So, pending Ohio State choking mightily or having half their offense injured, the Spartans would have the next best chance of making it to Indy.
No. 14 Penn State (8-2, 5-2 B1G East): 11/18 vs. Nebraska, 11/25 @ Maryland
If Ohio State were to somehow lose both games and the Spartans choked against either lowly Maryland or Rutgers, and the Nittany Lions won out, Penn State would stand alone atop the B1G East. Even if Michigan won out against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Penn State has them beat head-to-head. Nittany Lions fans should be praying for Buckeye and Spartan losses, as their destiny is far out of their hands at this point.
Michigan (8-2, 5-2 B1G East): 11/18 @ Wisconsin, 11/25 vs. Ohio State
The only possible chance the Wolverines have of making the B1G Championship is to have Ohio State lose out and both Penn State and Michigan State lose at least one game. Then, Michigan would have to win both in Madison and at home against Ohio State – arguably the two best Big Ten teams. The chances of this scenario playing out are absolutely minuscule. But hey, we’ve seen crazier things happen in College Football. The Wolverines should leave it all on the line, but a Championship berth at this point is inconceivable.
The gist of things at this point is basically that the Badgers should begin to watch film and prepare for Ohio State – but only after they secure wins against the final two opponents on their schedule in Michigan and Minnesota. By Sunday, things will be a lot clearer. Until then, Badger fans have College GameDay and a really fun matchup to look forward to as Michigan rolls into town.