Big Ten Football: Setting Up the Legends, Leaders Division Title Possibilities
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Right now, it looks like there isn't a whole lot of drama in the Big Ten as far as postseason jockeying goes. As it stands, the conventional wisdom is that Nebraska will win the Legends Division, Ohio State will win the Leaders Division and Wisconsin will represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship, thanks to the NCAA's dim view of the Buckeye shenanigans of 2010 and 2011.
Those all look to be safe projections, but aside from Wisconsin's date in Indianapolis—that's clinched and nothing's taking that away—the division races are predicated on one rather large Week 13 assumption: Michigan won't win at Ohio State.
Now, Michigan's not going to be favored in that game, and it's much more plausible that Ohio State comes away with that win. If that happens, then barring a Nebraska loss to Minnesota this week (and let's not kid ourselves), everything listed in the first paragraph is a lock.
But if, somehow, Michigan can win in Columbus to finish off the regular season, we just might have a mess on our hands—and we'd have six teams competing for at least a share of their division title (if not a Big Ten title berth). So let's go that route and look at how the divisional races would shape up if Michigan comes away from The 'Shoe with a win.
How likely is a Michigan win at Ohio State next week?
The big game this week is Ohio State traveling to Wisconsin, and if the Buckeyes win that game, it's their division, no questions asked. Wisconsin's slightly favored, though, and if Wisconsin wins, Ohio State might yet be sharing the Leaders Division title.
Wisconsin is 4-2 in the division and eager to make it 6-2, hoping Ohio State falls to that mark as well. But guess what: Penn State's also 4-2 in the division, and its season finale just so happens to be a home date with Wisconsin.
If Wisconsin wins that game (plus Ohio State loses to Michigan, because that's the only way this all isn't moot), it will have earned its Leaders Division title and Big Ten Championship bid regardless of Ohio State's postseason ineligibility, thanks to owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
After such a slow, tumultuous start to the season, locking up the honor of the best team in the Leaders Division would be an enormous victory for the Badgers, even though they've already sewn up the trip to Indianapolis with their win last week over Indiana.
If Penn State wins that season finale against Wisconsin and jumps into a tie with Ohio State at 6-2 (again, assuming the worst for the Buckeyes), technically it's a shared division title. Ohio State beat Penn State, yes, and the Buckeyes have the better record by two games thanks to vastly divergent Septembers. But those division tiebreakers that are in place are for determining Big Ten Championship bids, not who gets to hold the trophy at the end of the year, so that'd be a welcome piece of hardware for Penn State.
One win for the Buckeyes over the last two weeks makes all this irrelevant, though, and we're not the type to bet against Urban Meyer twice in a row.
In terms of representing the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship, this is a two-team race between Michigan and Nebraska at 5-1 in the conference with two games to play. That's not news. In terms of earning a share of the division title, however, there's a third team in play: Northwestern.
Now, that being said, Northwestern's exit from the division title scene is basically a formality at this point. It depends on Nebraska losing to Minnesota and Iowa, then Michigan dropping its games with Iowa and Ohio State while the Wildcats dispatch Michigan State and Illinois. Northwestern may hold up its end of the bargain, but there's basically no way Nebraska and Michigan lose out as well.
Moreover, Northwestern lost to both Michigan and Nebraska, so even if both of those teams stage a monumental collapse, there's no avenue for the 'Cats to get to the Big Ten Championship.
Moving on to the viable candidates, Michigan's in a significant amount of trouble. Even if Michigan can win at Ohio State, it still needs help to make it to the Big Ten Championship. With Nebraska holding the head-to-head tiebreaker and only one loss on the season, it would take another Nebraska loss for Michigan to jump into sole possession of the Leaders Division title.
Nebraska's schedule the rest of the way? At home against Minnesota and then at Iowa on Black Friday. Good luck trusting either of those teams to help you out, Wolverines.
At the very least, Michigan can take solace in the fact that, barring any weird uprisings from the division cellar, a win against Ohio State can help sew up a co-championship in the conference. And really, going 7-1 in this Legends Division, with the only loss being affected largely by a major injury to Denard Robinson, is a feat worth celebrating, even if it doesn't end in a trip to the Big Ten Championship.
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