Coming into the 2011 season, and with the addition of Russell Wilson at quarterback, Wisconsin was expected to romp and roll to one of the two spots in the first-ever Big Ten title game. Back-to-back last-second/minute losses, plus the unexpected unbeaten start to conference play of a team currently embroiled in scandal, left the Badgers looking at a deep hole, however.
With two games left? Hello UW being a co-pilot in the divisional race.
A combination of three developments today — their romp over Minnesota, Penn State’s loss to Nebraska and Ohio State’s overtime loss to Purdue — means the 4-2 Badgers are just one game behind the 5-1 Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Leaders division. It also means UW is now in control of their own divisional destiny: win the last two games, and they will represent their division in the inaugural conference title game the first Saturday in December. Of course, the same can be said for Penn State: win out and they are division champ.
The reason for the co-riders in the driver’s seat is, obviously, the fact that the two teams will square off in the season finale in Madison. If both teams win this coming weekend — PSU plays at Ohio State, UW at Illinois — or even if Penn State stumbles against Ohio State, it will be a winner-take-all affair Nov. 26. The Badgers will be officially eliminated if they suffer another loss.
The Buckeyes are mathematically alive but just barely; OSU would need to win their last two games — Penn State, Michigan — and hope Penn State loses out and Wisconsin loses next week. If such a scenario were to play out, it would result in a three-way tie at 5-3. Ohio State, because they would have beaten both those teams head-to-head, would win the first Big Ten tiebreaker: “The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other“.
On the other side of the Big Ten ledger, Michigan State has all but wrapped up the Legends division spot in the title game. With their win over Iowa, all the Spartans, 5-1 in conference play, have to do is beat 0-6 Indiana at home and 2-4 Northwestern on the road to clinch regardless of what any other school does.
If Sparty loses out? All hell breaks loose. Either Michigan or Nebraska — they play next weekend — could take the division by winning out. There’s also…
(Warning: head explosion zone ahead!)
…the possibility of a three-way tie in the Legends: Michigan State loses out; Michigan/Nebraska winner loses their last game; and Iowa wins out. With an Iowa/Michigan/Michigan State three-way tie, and like with the Ohio State scenario noted above, the Spartans would claim the first tiebreaker as they are currently 2-0 against the Hawkeyes and Wolverines.
And then there’s the whopper: if our math/understanding of the tiebreaker process is correct, a three-way tie involving Iowa/Michigan State/Nebraska would get down to the third tiebreaker — The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, and 6). The fourth-place team would likely be Michigan; all three teams have or will have beaten the Wolverines. The fifth-place team? Northwestern; Iowa would be the only one of the three that would’ve beaten Northwestern — remember, this is assuming Sparty loses out — meaning the Hawkeyes would be playing for the Big Ten title come December.