The biggest race in America comes to an end this week. But there are still three weeks remaining in the two biggest races in the Big Ten.
The quest for division championships have in no way been settled, though we did get some clarity in Week 9.
Out East, it’s surprisingly still a three-horse race between Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions are looking as good as any team in the country right now after putting a whooping on Iowa this past weekend, but can they really edge dominant Michigan and Ohio State teams and reach Indy?
Here’s the situation.
If Michigan wins out, it will finish the season undefeated and head to Indy as the East Division champion. That’s easy to understand, and it’s looking like a very likely scenario given how the Wolverines seem to be steamrolling every opponent of late. That includes Saturday’s 59-3 beatdown of Maryland.
If Ohio State wins out, it will be the East Division champion and play for a conference title for the second time in three seasons. The Buckeyes will be big favorites in their next two games against Maryland and Michigan State — though it’s important to note those games come on the road — before playing host to the aforementioned Wolverines in The Game. If Ohio State beats its hated rival, it’s in.
Why? Won't it be a three-way tie? Top-of-division ties are first sorted out by head-to-head records. If Ohio State wins out and Penn State wins out, all three East contenders will have one conference loss, with Michigan beating Penn State, Penn State beating Ohio State and Ohio State beating Michigan. Because those three teams will have identical conference records, division records and unbeaten marks against the other four teams in the East, we head to three-way tiebreaker No. 5: the team with the best overall winning percentage. What that does is eliminate Penn State because of the Nittany Lions’ out-of-conference loss to Pitt back in September. With a two-way tie then between Ohio State and Michigan, the Buckeyes would advance with a win in The Game.
So that’s all a fancy way of saying: If Ohio State wins out, it heads to Indy.
And, that’s why Penn State doesn’t quite “control its own destiny.” Now, if Ohio State or Michigan trip up before the regular-season finale, then the Lions are back in business. If the Wolverines lose one of the next two and then lose to the Buckeyes, Penn State owns the tiebreaker with Ohio State. If the Buckeyes lose and then beat the Wolverines, the Lions would be the only team in the East with one division loss and alone in first place.
So there’s definitely a path to Indy for Penn State, but certainly Michigan and Ohio State have greater chances of reaching the conference title game.
Out West, things are a little less complicated, despite the fact that there’s currently a three-way tie atop the standings. Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin all have 4-2 conference records, but it’s far easier to figure out what happens because there are still two games remaining between these three opponents: Minnesota plays Nebraska this weekend, then Minnesota and Wisconsin meet in the final game of the regular season.
The Gophers would have to pull off two upsets over teams currently ranked in the top 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings to win the West, a mighty tough task.
The Badgers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Huskers, who have lost two games in a row after this past weekend’s pasting at the hands of Ohio State. So if both teams win out, it’s Wisconsin heading to Indy. Nebraska can reach the conference championship game by winning out and having Wisconsin lose once in the final three weeks. The Badgers face Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota in the final three games. The Huskers face Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa.
While the odds seem to favor Wisconsin and the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game at the moment, you couldn’t ask for better than three-team races in both divisions with three weeks left.