Friday, February 21, 2014
How will schedules affect East race?
By Brian Bennett
Earlier this week, Adam took a look at how the schedules would impact the West Division race in 2014. Schedules become a key factor because that division looks like a wide-open scrum, and a couple of teams (looking at you, Iowa and Wisconsin) appear to have curried favor with the scheduling gods.
After an epic meeting in the Big Ten title game, Michigan State and Ohio State will meet as division foes for the first time on Nov. 8.
Things are different in the East Division, primarily because that side of the new Big Ten alignment looks far more top-heavy than the West. Defending league champion Michigan State and runner-up Ohio State figure to be the overwhelming favorites to win the Big Ten next season and should both start the season in the top 10 of the major polls.
Do either the Spartans or Buckeyes have a scheduling advantage? Let's take a look at the two teams' crossover opponents in 2014:
Michigan State: Nebraska (home), Purdue (road)
Ohio State: Minnesota (road), Illinois (home)
Slight edge to Ohio State there, as Nebraska looks like the best team of that bunch, though Minnesota could conceivably be feisty at home. The Huskers do have to come to Spartan Stadium, but they won there two seasons ago, for whatever that is worth.
What about inside the division? Ohio State travels to East Lansing on Nov. 8 in what is the game of the year in the Big Ten, at least right now on paper. Having that game at home (and possibly under the lights?) is a major advantage for the Spartans, who could theoretically afford to lose a game elsewhere and still make it to Indianapolis via a head-to-head tiebreaker win over the Buckeyes.
A couple of other teams in the East will have at least a say in who wins the division. With apologies to Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers, however, Michigan and Penn State look like the only clubs who will truly be able to make a run at the title. Let's look at their crossovers and their matchups against the other top contenders:
Crossovers: Minnesota (home), Northwestern (road)
Vs. division contenders: Michigan State and Ohio State on the road, Penn State at home
Crossovers: Northwestern (home), Illinois (road)
Vs. division contenders: Michigan State and Ohio State at home, Michigan on the road
Of those two, Penn State has the far more advantageous schedule, with what looks like the best crossover schedule of the four contenders and with both the Spartans and Buckeyes coming to Beaver Stadium. Michigan State, in fact, will have to go to State College for the season finale Nov. 29, and we've seen what the Nittany Lions have done in their two season-ending games against Wisconsin while serving their bowl ban. Assuming that sanction remains in place, could an emotional Penn State team help decide the East race on senior day?
That's a possibility. While the schedule will likely not be nearly as big a factor in the East as it is the West this season, its impact can't be discounted, either.