The Big Ten Leaders Division is quite possibly the biggest mess in college football today, with one-third of its members ineligible for the postseason and another one firing its offensive line coach after his first two games in the position. In fact, there's only one team in the division with an unblemished record and postseason eligibility...and that's Indiana.
Now, originally we had thought about writing a scenario in which Indiana runs the table and goes to Pasadena (or the BCS National Championship) at 13-0, but let's be honest: That's not happening. There's no way that happens. It's Indiana.
But that's not to say that Indiana can't make the Rose Bowl. That's not off the table in that division. What's infinitely more plausible, however, is that Indiana makes the Rose Bowl in the worst possible fashion. Come join us on this road to a dystopian nightmare, and pray it doesn't come true.
So just to be clear: These are not predictions. These are the things we don't want to see happen. But they could. This is, to blatantly rip off Community, the Leaders Division's darkest timeline.
Indiana struggles mightily to cope with the loss of star QB Tre Roberson, who was lost for the season in Week 2 with a gruesome broken leg. Don't go find it. Seriously, don't. Ball State wins in a walk, and Indiana falls from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Elsewhere in the Leaders Division, Penn State gets off the schneid with a 28-21 win over Navy, Ohio State rolls in a 42-3 rout of California, Utah State shocks Wisconsin 20-17 as the Aggies continue a remarkable September, and Illinois and Purdue defeat their respective lightweight opponents with ease.
Indiana has the week off. Kevin Wilson uses the week to buy the team cupcakes. Morale improves slightly.
In Leaders Division action, UTEP rolls over a disinterested Wisconsin team 31-6. Penn State sticks it to bitter in-state rival Temple as fan interest begins to reappear in Happy Valley, Ohio State crushes UAB 49-0 and Louisiana Tech beats Illinois under the lights in a thrilling 41-40 shootout. Purdue also has a bye week.
Off the field, Urban Meyer praises his team for going 4-0 through the non-conference as expected, while Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada is fired by Bret Bielema and moves to Canada. Week 3's newly appointed offensive line coach Bart Miller is promoted to offensive coordinator. AD Barry Alvarez refuses to answer questions about Bielema's job stability.
Cupcake Week only gives Indiana a brief sugar high, and the explosive Northwestern offense overwhelms a Hoosier defense that's still putting things together. It's 52-28 in Evanston, and the game's not that close.
Penn State opens up conference play with a thrilling 21-17 win over Illinois, while Ohio State prevails in the early favorite for Game of the Year with a 38-35 slugfest victory at Michigan State. Things aren't so pleasant for Wisconsin, as the Badgers are shelled by Nebraska, 51-7.
Outraged at what his program has become, Alvarez fires Bielema in the middle of the post-game press conference, and Alvarez—a longtime former football coach of the Badgers—assumes his old role in an interim basis while remaining AD.
Indiana's woes continue with a 44-9 loss to Michigan State. The Spartans only cede points on a punt snap going out of the end zone with 30 seconds left, courtesy of a fifth-string long snapper, then a touchdown on the ensuing return when Mark Dantonio simply doesn't bother to put 10 other guys on the field to cover the play. Kevin Wilson is irate.
Penn State smacks Northwestern around with a 31-10 victory in front of an electric Beaver Stadium crowd. Illinois' vaunted defensive front dominates a demoralized Wisconsin offensive line in a 27-3 win at Camp Randall. Michigan spanks Purdue 38-16, and Ohio State thrills the Columbus faithful by dispatching Nebraska 21-13.
After the Illinois-Wisconsin game, Montee Ball declares that he's going pro immediately. He signs with an agent at a Sunday press conference and is immediately declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA. He does not care.
Indiana is thoroughly overmatched at home against the Buckeyes, and Ohio State has its starters out by halftime in a 54-17 romp. The Hoosiers' losing streak hits four games, and basketball news dominates local sports coverage.
Purdue hosts the discombobulated Badgers and makes short work of them, 35-16. Elsewhere, Illinois travels to Michigan and falls late on a 70-yard Denard Robinson touchdown run, 30-27. Penn State is idle.
Wisconsin president Kevin P. Reilly has seen enough and relieves Alvarez of all his duties as the Badgers fall to 1-6 on the year. He installs long-lost relative (NOTE: may not actually be related) and popular ESPN scribe Rick Reilly to the athletic director's chair, and Reilly knows only one man who can lead the Badgers back from the brink as the new head coach.
The Hoosiers' woes continue unabated as Navy uses its triple-option wizardry to confound Indiana, 38-17. Wilson is quietly sending out resumes to schools with old friends at head coach, and he thinks being offensive coordinator again wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Indiana is now 2-5.
Elsewhere, Penn State is on a tear, beating Iowa 21-20 for its first win at Kinnick Stadium since 1999. Ohio State keeps pitching a no-no by romping 31-13 over Purdue. Wisconsin loses the first game of the Tebow era 41-19 over hated rival Minnesota; later, Tebow explains to the media that he didn't know Minnesota-Wisconsin "was such a big thing." Illinois has the week off.
Indiana shocks the Big Ten by taking advantage of a rusty Illinois team that's starting to check back out for the year like in 2011 under Ron Zook. Wilson gets his first career Big Ten road win, 23-21.
Meanwhile in the Leaders Division, the big game of the day is Ohio State knocking Penn State off from the ranks of the unbeaten in conference play in a 27-26 thriller. Penn State would have had the victory, but two missed Sam Ficken extra points do the Nittany Lions in. Purdue drops a road game to suddenly feisty Minnesota, 28-20, and Michigan State throttles hapless Wisconsin, 45-0.
After the MSU-Wisconsin game, a grumpy Tebow tells reporters, "You will never see any players in the entire country play as poorly as they will play the rest of the season, and you will never see someone push the rest of the team as little as I will push everybody the rest of the season, and you will never see a team play worse than we will the rest of the season."
Iowa visits Indiana and stops the win streak at one with a 19-7 win. Indiana can't solve the Hawkeye defense, while Iowa registers its highest point total of the season. At 3-6, virtually everyone has mentally checked out for the year in Bloomington.
Penn State rings in November with a huge road win at Purdue, while Ohio State cruises into its bye week at 10-0 after spanking hapless Illinois, 45-13. Tebow-led Wisconsin is idle, while reports swirl in Madison of unrest among the Badgers.
At his weekly press conference afterwards, Tim Beckman calls Big Ten football "stupid" and openly expresses desire to go back to the MAC.
In one of the most shocking developments of the year, Wisconsin stages a mutiny at halftime of its game at Indiana. With the Badgers down 27-0, Tebow is forcibly ejected from the locker room and stripped of his authority, and Ball is installed as a rebel head coach. The newly energized Badgers rattle off 28 straight points in the second half and get their first win of the Big Ten season. Wilson informs his team that he intends to resign after the season.
Penn State goes to Lincoln and stuns the Husker faithful with a 20-13 victory as Matt McGloin draws more and more comparisons to Tom Brady. Purdue loses a squeaker at Iowa, 17-16, and Minnesota gets an easy win in Champaign, 26-7. As mentioned before, Ohio State is off this week.
The Indiana season hits rock bottom after its 2-0 start as the Hoosiers travel to Penn State and come away with a 35-3 loss. Indiana is now 3-8. Afterwards, an assistant tells Wilson that Indiana could still play for a Big Ten Championship Game berth and Wilson laughs heartily, assuming his fellow coach has just told quite the sarcastic joke.
Wisconsin hosts Ohio State, but the insurgent Badgers still aren't very good at offensive line and lose 31-6. Purdue travels to Illinois and ousts the listless Illini, 30-0.
Zook is reportedly seen wandering the streets of Champaign with a knowing smirk on his face.
In a brilliant season finale, Indiana decides to "win one for Coach Wilson" and shocks host Purdue, 23-20. Wilson is carried off the field on his team's shoulders, and he starts dreaming of taking a month of well-needed vacation before starting a new job search.
Ohio State finishes the season as the nation's lone undefeated team after pounding Michigan, 37-13. Braxton Miller is a surefire Heisman finalist, and although the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason, AP voters have them ranked No. 1. Penn State coasts to an easy 40-12 win over Wisconsin to end a triumphant first season for Bill O'Brien. Lastly, Northwestern finishes off Illinois for the year with a 24-16 win.
Conference officials are horrified and dismayed after reviewing the Leaders Division standings, which are as follows:
Ohio State: 12-0, 8-0
Penn State: 9-3, 7-1
Purdue: 5-7, 2-6
Indiana: 4-8, 2-6
Illinois: 3-9, 1-7
Wisconsin 2-10, 1-7
But ho! Indiana defeated Purdue in the regular-season finale, so after a last-minute appeal for Ohio State's postseason eligibility by the school and a panicking Big Ten is denied by the NCAA, Jim Delany begrudgingly welcomes Indiana to the title game against 11-1 Michigan State.
What ensues will be hotly debated for years by college football fans and scribes, as Le'Veon Bell fumbles five times, once for a crippling safety late in the game, in a shocking 12-10 Spartan loss. A bewildered Wilson and Indiana team hoist the Big Ten Championship Trophy while Delany refuses to smile during the ceremony. Bell is never linked to any gambling figures, but MSU fans rue the performance all the same.
In the Hoosiers' second-ever trip to Pasadena, Indiana faces Oregon in the Grandaddy of Them All. Oregon sets a new Rose Bowl record by being favored by 47.5 points leading up to the contest, while Wilson (who has long since denied telling his players he wanted to quit) insists his Hoosiers, "have a little bit of magic left in 'em."
Oregon disagrees with that assessment and hangs 10 touchdowns on the vastly overmatched Hoosiers in a 76-13 beating for the ages. In a modern-era first, Rose Bowl officials decide to use a running clock in the last quarter so as not to prolong the agony. Indiana fans do not notice the loss, as they're still reveling in the basketball team's win at Iowa the day before.
Delany moves swiftly and decisively to prevent such an embarrassment from befalling the league, offering to let postseason-ineligible teams play in the Big Ten Championship Game and letting the eligible team go to the Rose Bowl no matter what. When asked by reporters if that removes an incentive for the eligible team to actually try hard in the title game, Delany responds, "We just sent an eight-loss team to Pasadena."
Alas, larger issues are afoot. In a shocking move, after the debacle that was the Wisconsin football season, university president Reilly disbands the football program and says, "If it's good enough for the University of Chicago, it's good enough for us." Notre Dame rebuffs offers to take Wisconsin's place in the conference, as AD Jack Swarbrick just laughs for 10 minutes straight at a subsequent press conference.
Illinois fires Beckman and re-hires Zook, saying in a statement that, "It doesn't even matter anyway." Purdue head coach Danny Hope retires, and the conference is thrown into chaos when Purdue just plain can't find anyone else who wants to be head coach.
Penn State's great 2012 season can't stop the bleeding of transfers in the offseason, as dozens of freshmen and sophomores say in a mass statement that they, "wanted to go out on a high note" before playing for actual bowl-eligible programs in college, which is what anyone would really want. Penn State suspends its football program until 2017.
Ohio State is obviously happy with how its season went on the field, but the embarrassment of being goaded into a fruitless appeal by Delany doesn't sit well with OSU brass or fans, who have long felt like they had outgrown a conference that had abandoned its standards of football excellence. SEC commissioner Mike Slive swoops in and adds Ohio State and Louisville to the mix, making SEC membership an even 16 and devastating the Big Ten.
And finally, in the worst of ignominies, the NCAA catches wind of Wilson's Week 4 cupcake purchases for his team, and the committee on infractions declares the sugary snacks impermissible benefits. The entire team is declared retroactively ineligible, Indiana is stripped of its five wins and the Big Ten Championship Trophy is surrendered by the school, at which point it is broken down and sold for scrap.
Jim Delany resigns in disgrace as his conference crumbles under declining membership and ceaseless mockery from the rest of the NCAA. Other power conferences pick among the remaining Big Ten members, the academic consortium that underlay the athletic conference is disbanded as university presidents argue and bicker, and vital medical and biochemical research now goes undone and unfunded.
With research slumping, the United States falls farther behind other industrialized countries, and university professionals suddenly find themselves being laid off en masse. The strain of importing technology and better-trained, white-collar professionals as university revenues tumble causes major financial distress, and unemployment spikes in an already weakened part of the nation. Riots ensue, and the governments of several states collapse.
This is the darkest timeline.