Ohio State-Penn State may be the meeting of the two titans of the Big Ten so far this year, but Michigan-Nebraska is by far the most consequential game of the week—especially for postseason implications. We've predicted a 37-28 Michigan win, but we're also prepared to consider wacky alternate universes where we might actually be incorrect about something (bizarre concept, we know).
Thus, let's consider the postseason implications of this critical Big Ten matchup.
If Nebraska wins
Supposing the Huskers defend their home turf on Saturday and come away victors, the Legends Division situation changes less than you'd think. Nebraska moves into a tie with Michigan at 3-1 in the conference, and obviously Nebraska holds the head-to-head tiebreaker in that situation.
But there'll also be the winner of the Iowa-Northwestern game sitting at three wins too. Granted, Iowa has played neither Michigan nor Nebraska—those two games end the season for the Hawkeyes—and Northwestern just blew a 12-point lead to the Cornhuskers just last weekend, which is the only reason Nebraska's in place to take the division lead.
Michigan State and Minnesota each have three Big Ten losses already and are effectively out of the divisional race.
Who wins on Saturday?
So if Nebraska wins, it could still very well need to win out to keep outpacing Michigan, as the Wolverines only have one other tough game on the schedule: the season-ending trip to Columbus to face Ohio State. If Michigan loses that game Nebraska's in much better shape, obviously, but the Huskers still have to go to the defensively proficient Michigan State this season—and they shouldn't sleep on Penn State coming to town on November 10 either.
Michigan gets no favors from having a third team (the winner of Iowa-Northwestern, in all likelihood) enter the tiebreaker in this scenario either. The Wolverines already have a loss to Nebraska in this scenario, so if (let's say) Northwestern climbs into the discussion due to beating Michigan, the Wolverines are 0-2 in head-to-head and they're out of the picture.
Northwestern already has two conference losses, so it likely couldn't survive a loss to Michigan...but Iowa's still at 2-1, so let's say Michigan beats Iowa but the Hawkeyes still worm their way into a tiebreaker at 6-2 with Michigan and Nebraska, and an Iowa win over Nebraska negates the head-to-head advantage the Huskers hold over the Wolverines.
Here, poor non-conference records doom both Michigan and Iowa as each team went 2-2 to start the year, and Nebraska prevails again. This is why you don't schedule tough in the non-conference, folks.
*Looks at Iowa's non-conference schedule.*
Essentially, there's no way Michigan wins this division after a loss this weekend without beating Nebraska outright in the standings. There's no way around it in a tiebreaker.
If Michigan wins
If you thought Michigan was behind the 8-ball with a loss this weekend, you don't even want to think about the trouble Nebraska would be in with a loss.
In this scenario, Michigan sits at 4-0 in the conference and only an Iowa win over Northwestern would keep the rest of the division from being at least two games behind—and after what Penn State did to Iowa, we're not exactly optimistic about the Hawkeyes being serious Legends Division contenders down the stretch.
It's mathematically possible that a 3-2 team eventually ties or overtakes a 4-0 team on an eight-game schedule, but it's not terribly plausible. That's especially if that 4-0 team (Michigan) holds a tiebreaker over the 3-2 team (Nebraska). At that point, Nebraska needs not only to win out but for Michigan to drop at least three of its last four games.
By the way, Michigan's schedule after Nebraska is a trip to Minnesota, home games against Northwestern and Iowa...then the aforementioned road game at Ohio State to finish the year. Find three losses in there. We dare you.
Here, the winner of Iowa-Northwestern has a better shot at challenging for the division title simply because Michigan hasn't beaten either team yet, but that would take a significant uptick in the quality of either team's play over what we've seen thus far.
Essentially, if Michigan wins this game it's time for Wolverine fans to start booking hotels in Indianapolis.
If the robot apocalypse happens before the game ends
YOU FOOLS! I TOLD YOU SKYNET WAS REAL!