Updated Chances for Every Big Ten Title Contender

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

Updated Chances for Every Big Ten Title Contender

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    With the first round of BCS Rankings under our belt, the talk will inevitably turn to which teams stand the best chance of reaching a coveted BCS bowl or title game. But before there's any talk of booking a trip to Pasadena (or Miami, New Orleans or Glendale, for that matter), the teams in the Big Ten should still be focused on a trip to Indianapolis with laser-like intensity. The road to the BCS travels through the Big Ten Championship Game in Indy, and it's probably time for an updated round of conference title odds for each of the contenders.

    There's still a long way to go in the Big Ten season, but with the first few weeks of conference play under our belts, we're getting a better idea of where each program stands in 2013. Ohio State, still unbeaten and a continued presence in the B/R Top 25 Poll, obviously remains the favorite. But with less-than-dominating performances, are the Buckeyes still the lock many thought they were? What about the preseason Legends Division favorite, Michigan? Can the Wolverines overcome an early upset loss at Penn State?

    All that and more will be broken down in our updated odds for every Big Ten title contender on the heels of Week 8.

The Field

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    Let's start off with all the Big Ten programs that aren't currently at or near the top of their respective divisional standings. Essentially, that places every team with two losses (or more) in this category.

    Even at this early stage of the conference season, it would be nearly impossible for any team in the Leaders Division to overcome Ohio State's 3-0 mark. Purdue is already 0-3 and all but out of contention. Illinois is 0-2, with one of those losses coming to the second-place team in the division, Wisconsin. Indiana at 1-2 has one of the conference's best offensive attacks but lacks any sort of defense capable of stopping most opponents—especially teams like Ohio State or Wisconsin.

    On the Legends side of the conference, Northwestern has fallen from grace with an 0-3 start to its Big Ten campaign. Although the once-ranked Wildcats have games remaining against the top three teams in the division, Northwestern faces an insurmountable task: win out and get a lot of help along the way. Minnesota and Iowa, likewise, have plenty of opportunities left to impact the final standings, but with two undefeated (in conference play) teams ahead of the Hawkeyes and Gophers in the standings, the impact these programs make will likely be in the role of spoiler.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 50/1


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    Record: 5-2 (3-1 Big Ten)

    B/R Ranking: No. 20

    BCS Ranking: NR

    After winning at least a share of the last three Big Ten titles, it was somewhat surprising to not see Wisconsin atop many preseason Big Ten prediction boards. But with Ohio State returning to postseason eligibility and a perceived uptick in the rest of the conference as a whole (combined with the fact that Wisconsin did in fact lose six games last season), the Badgers and their new coaching staff were all but ignored.

    But despite a loss to Ohio State and a "loss" to Arizona State, Wisconsin has quietly been climbing the standings, putting together a 5-2 mark and three conference wins.

    In order for Wisconsin to have a shot at yet another Rose Bowl trip, however, Ohio State would need to lose twice before season's end. Given the Buckeyes' remaining schedule, that's highly unlikely, which unfortunately means the Badgers receive the lowest odds of a Big Ten title among the remaining contenders.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 20/1


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    Record: 6-1 (2-1 Big Ten)

    B/R Ranking: No. 24

    BCS Ranking: No. 22

    When the season began, Michigan looked to be the odds-on favorite to win the Legends Division and was expected to do so in dominating fashion.

    After shoddy performances against what should have been vastly inferior opposition (Akron and Connecticut, in particular), Michigan's stock dropped like a stone. Then came the upset loss in overtime to Penn State.

    All of the sudden, it has become fashionable to doubt the Wolverines.

    As if sensing that doubt, Michigan rewrote its offensive record books this past weekend against Indiana, putting up 63 points, 503 passing yards and 751 total offensive yards in a 63-47 victory over the Hoosiers.

    Were it not for that loss to Penn State...

    Michigan has put its own back against the wall. While still in control of their destiny, the Wolverines will need to win out to guarantee a first-ever trip to Indianapolis this December. While knocking off Legends Division foes like Nebraska and Michigan State are certainly within reach, Michigan also faces off against Ohio State in the traditional season finale for both teams.

    Beating Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State all in the same month? Yikes.

    And even if the Wolverines manage to pull off that feat, they'd still likely face Ohio State a week after beating the Buckeyes. Beating a great team once is hard enough. Beating that great team twice in two weeks is akin to sprinting up Mount Everest.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 9/2


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    Record: 5-1 (2-0 Big Ten)

    B/R Ranking: No. 23

    BCS Ranking: No. 24

    There has been enough distraction this season in Lincoln to cloud any talk of a Big Ten title run from most people, but the Cornhuskers are right in the thick of things as we move into the second half of the season.

    Like Michigan State, Nebraska is unbeaten in the Big Ten but has played just two conference contests thus far. Also like the Spartans, the Huskers avoid Ohio State and Wisconsin in the regular season, likely setting the stage for a Michigan State-Nebraska game on November 16 in Lincoln that could be winner-take-all for the Legends Division.

    That all assumes, of course, Nebraska isn't tripped up along the way. The Cornhuskers have long been revered for their stout defense. Not so in 2013. Nebraska ranks just ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, giving up 407.2 yards per game. While we have seen steady improvement from the Huskers since the opening weeks, Nebraska is still a long way off from fielding a true "black shirt" defense deserving of the moniker.

    Even if the Huskers manage a second consecutive trip to Indianapolis at season's end, we all remember what happened last time—and Ohio State might be even more determined to win than Wisconsin was last year.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 4/1

Michigan State

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    Record: 6-1 (3-0 Big Ten)

    B/R Ranking: NR (RV)

    BCS Ranking: NR

    Michigan State is going to be an interesting case study this season on how successful a team can be while lacking any strength on one side of the ball. The Spartans are terrific on defense, limiting the opposition to just 228.0 yards per game (best in the nation) and 13.6 points per game (fourth nationally).

    Defensive wins championships, right?

    That old adage might be true, but offense wins games, and you can't win championships without winning games.

    Michigan State averages just 363.1 yards per game (95th in the FBS) and 28.1 points per game (77th). If you take away all of the defensive touchdowns MSU has scored this season, the scoring average for the Spartans gets even worse.

    Maybe that's the reason why MSU is getting so little love from the pollsters (Michigan State is the only one-loss team from the "power five" conferences to not appear in either the BCS rankings or the latest AP Poll).

    Funny enough, Michigan State is currently leading the Legends Division with a perfect 3-0 mark. If you look at Michigan State's schedule down the stretch, Michigan and Nebraska are the biggest names to stand out. Michigan already has one loss, and the Wolverines still have Ohio State to deal with at season's end. Nebraska, on the other hand, is 2-0 in conference play and won't deal with Ohio State or Wisconsin this season.

    Michigan State does, however, match up pretty well with both Michigan and Nebraska—teams that can struggle on offense against stout defenses. If the Spartans can find a way to move the ball, or as in games past, rely on the defense to put up a few touchdowns, MSU could still be seen as a smart pick to win the Legends Division.

    If the Spartans can take care of business, they would most likely be the worst offensive team ever to play in a conference championship game. Winning that game would be a tall order for the Spartans, especially if it's Ohio State on the other sideline—dominating Spartan defense or no.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 5/2

Ohio State

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    Record: 7-0 (3-0 Big Ten)

    B/R Ranking: No. 4

    BCS Ranking: No. 4

    Finally we come to the one team everyone had at the top of their Big Ten lists back in August. Unsurprisingly, Ohio State with its 7-0 record, maintains its status as conference front-runner, and with quality wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern (both ranked teams at the time), the Buckeyes are asserting their dominance once again.

    But as dominant as the Buckeyes have been in terms of wins and losses under Urban Meyer (now 19-0), Ohio State is somewhat less flashy when it comes to statistics. While the Buckeyes are certainly strong on both offense and defense (third and fourth in the conference, respectively), Ohio State just seems to be missing a certain je ne sais quoi that can electrify a fan base and excite pollsters and pundits.

    Quarterback Braxton Miller, in spite of all of his amazing efforts, isn't among the conference's top 15 passers in yards per game, nor is he among the top 50 rushers in the Big Ten this season. Miller was supposed to not only be explosive this season, but he was considered by many a legit Heisman favorite. Those predictions seem like long-distant dreams now.

    A continued lack of excitement from the national media concerning Ohio State could also be due to the Buckeyes penchant for winning games by closer-than-expected margins. Those close wins aren't doing anything for Ohio State's BCS title chances, either.

    Still, when it comes to the Big Ten title and the resulting Rose Bowl Game invite that comes with it, there's no safer bet in 2013 than Ohio State.

    Ohio State has already beaten Wisconsin, the only eligible team in the Leaders Division within reach of the Buckeyes, thus owning the tie-breaker should Ohio State drop a game between now and season's end. With the possible exception of the season finale at Michigan, Ohio State should be double-digit favorites in every remaining game.

    Depending on who wins the Legends Division, we will likely see a similar spread in the Big Ten Championship Game, leading us to give Ohio State very favorable odds to win the 2013 Big Ten title.

    Big Ten Title Odds: 9/7

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