Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Big Ten race update: Week 11
By Adam Rittenberg
Another week of Big Ten games is in the books, and one spot in the league title game can be wrapped up this Saturday as Wisconsin and Indiana meet in Bloomington.
Let's take a quick look at the division races with three weeks to go in the regular season.
Front-runner: Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten). The Huskers took a big step toward Indianapolis after rallying to beat Michigan State last Saturday at Spartan Stadium. Nebraska remains tied with Michigan atop the division standings, but Bo Pelini's team holds the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker. The Huskers have their toughest remaining game Saturday against Penn State at Memorial Stadium before concluding with Minnesota (home) and Iowa (road). A Nebraska win combined with a Michigan loss to Northwestern would essentially give Nebraska a 1.5-game lead in the standings because it beat both the Wolverines and the Wildcats.
Other contenders: Michigan (6-3, 4-1) and Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) are the only serious threats to Nebraska, the Wolverines more so than the Wildcats because they're tied with Nebraska in the loss column. If Michigan beats Northwestern on Saturday and Nebraska falls to Penn State, Michigan will have sole possession of the division lead with two games to play (vs. Iowa, at Ohio State). Looking at Nebraska's closing schedule, Michigan almost certainly will need to win out, including against archrival Ohio State on Nov. 24, to win the division. Northwestern, meanwhile, must hope to win out and have Nebraska lose two of its final three games to claim the division title. Iowa (4-5, 2-3) isn't completely out of the race, as it still has games with both Michigan and Nebraska. But the Hawkeyes need to win out, have both Michigan and Nebraska lose one other game, and have Northwestern also lose once to claim the division title.
Fuhgettaboutit: Both Michigan State (5-5, 2-4) and Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) are out of the race with four league losses and, more damaging, three division losses apiece. Both teams could have made things interesting had they won home games last Saturday against Nebraska and Michigan, respectively, but those losses closed the door.
(Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) can clinch the outright division title with a win next week against Wisconsin and one more Penn State loss. If Penn State loses Saturday at Nebraska, the Buckeyes will be assured of no worse than a co-division title. Penn State (6-3, 4-1) can only win the division title outright by winning out and having Ohio State drop both of its final two games. Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) can clinch only a share of the division title by winning out).
Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game by beating Indiana on Saturday in Bloomington. Indiana (4-5, 2-3) can put itself in the driver's seat to represent the Leaders Division at the championship game if it beats Wisconsin. The Hoosiers and Badgers would be tied atop the division, and Indiana would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with two games to play. Both teams still must visit Penn State, but Indiana finishes the season against slumping rival Purdue, while Wisconsin hosts unbeaten Ohio State next week.
Fuhgettaboutit: Both Purdue (3-6, 0-5) and Illinois (2-7, 0-5) are out of the race with five league losses.