Looking at the routes to Indianapolis

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
3:00
PM ET
As I found out Sunday afternoon on Twitter, everyone wants to know how their favorite Big Ten team can get to Indianapolis for the Dec. 3 league championship game. I've included what I believe to be the top six title contenders along with Iowa, which amazingly controls its own fate in the Legends Division.

Here's a quick breakdown of the contenders:

LEADERS DIVISION

Penn State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten)

Ideal scenario: PSU wins two of its final three games (Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin). If this happens, it doesn't mater what other teams do.

Other options: If PSU beats Nebraska but loses at Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Lions would need both Ohio State and Wisconsin to lose one other game. If PSU loses to Nebraska and Ohio State and beats Wisconsin, the Lions would need Ohio State to lose one other game. If PSU loses to Nebraska and Wisconsin but beats Ohio State, it would need Wisconsin to lose one other game.

Tiebreaker scenario: If Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all finish 6-2 in league play, their records against one another would be compared. This underscores the need for Penn State to beat either Ohio State or Wisconsin to avoid having an 0-2 mark within the group. If Ohio State beats Penn State and wins out, the Buckeyes would be 2-0 against the other two squads and go to Indy.

Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2)

Ideal scenario: Wisconsin wins out, Penn State loses one other game besides the Wisconsin contest and Ohio State loses one of its final four games.

Other options: It's hard to see Wisconsin going to Indianapolis without winning out. If the Badgers lose a game, it can't come against Penn State because they would be 0-2 against the other two top contenders. A cross-division loss to Minnesota wouldn't hurt Wisconsin as much, but the Badgers would need Penn State to lose all three of its remaining games and have Ohio State beat Penn State but lose twice more, creating a two-team tiebreaker between Penn State and Wisconsin that Wisconsin would win. Bucky shouldn't hold his breath.

Tiebreaker scenario: See above.

Ohio State (5-3, 2-2)

Ideal scenario: Ohio State wins out and Penn State loses one other game. The Buckeyes would win a three-team tiebreaker with Penn State and Wisconsin because of their 2-0 mark within the group.

Other options: Realistically, there aren't any. It's very difficult to see Ohio State heading to Indianapolis with three Big Ten losses. If the Buckeyes lose once, it had better not be to Penn State. Ideally, the loss would come at Michigan in a cross-division game. Ohio State then would need Wisconsin to beat Penn State but lose another game within the division (the Badgers also face Purdue and Illinois). Ohio State also would need Penn State to lose one other game. If the three teams are tied at 5-3, Ohio State would win the tiebreaker because of its better record within the group.

Tiebreaker scenario: See above.

LEGENDS DIVISION

Nebraska (7-1, 3-1)

Ideal scenario: Nebraska wins out. Even if Michigan State does, too, Nebraska would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with Michigan State at 7-1.

Other options: If Nebraska has to lose a game, it should be at Penn State because the Lions are in the other division. In this case, the Huskers would need Michigan State to lose another game. Then, even if Nebraska, MSU and Michigan finish tied at 6-2, the Huskers would head to Indianapolis because they would be 2-0 within the group (MSU would be 1-1 and Michigan 0-2). The key for Big Red is it would have no losses within the division.

Tiebreaker scenario: The tricky one is if Nebraska loses to Michigan and both Michigan and Michigan State drop one game, creating a three-way tie at 6-2. A lot would depend on which game both Michigan and Michigan State lose. Nebraska would want both teams to drop a division game, which would leave the Huskers with a superior division record (5-1) and send them to Indianapolis.

Michigan State (6-2, 3-1)

Ideal scenario: MSU wins its final four games and Nebraska loses once. The Spartans would win a head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan even if the Wolverines win out.

Other options: If the Spartans lose another game, the best possible loss would be to Indiana because the Hoosiers are in the other division. In this case, Michigan State also would need archrival Michigan to beat Nebraska and then lose to Ohio State in a cross-division matchup because ...

Tiebreaker scenario: The Spartans want to avoid a three-team tie with Nebraska and Michigan in which Nebraska has the superior division record. They also want to avoid a two-team tie with Nebraska because of the head-to-head loss. It's why the Spartans, if they don't win out, need Michigan to hand Nebraska a division loss.

Michigan (7-1, 3-1)

Ideal scenario: Michigan wins out and Michigan State loses one game.

Other options: If Michigan has to drop a game, the best option, as hard as it would be for Wolverines fans to swallow, is Ohio State. The Wolverines also would want Michigan State to lose a division game (the Spartans still play Minnesota, Iowa and Northwestern). This would create a three-way tie at 6-2, but Michigan and Nebraska would have superior division records (5-1) than Michigan State (4-2). The two-team tiebreaker would go into effect, and Michigan would go to Indianapolis based on its win against Nebraska.

Tiebreaker scenario: See above.

Iowa (5-3, 2-2)

Ideal scenario: Win out. Even after Saturday's disastrous loss to Minnesota, Iowa still controls its own fate in the Legends Division. If the Hawkeyes win out, handing second Big Ten losses to Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska, they would go to Indianapolis based on head-to-head tiebreakers or a superior record within any group of tied teams.

Other options: Realistically, there aren't many. But if Iowa only lost to Purdue and beat Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska, it would have a chance to win a potential tiebreaker with those teams. The Hawkeyes would need the Wolverines, Spartans and Huskers to lose another game.

Tiebreaker scenario: See above.

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