Well. Well. Well.
Iowa’s 14-13 shocker over Michigan creates a three-way tie in the vaunted Big Ten East among the Wolverines, Ohio State and Penn State.
It’s not a big deal for Michigan. It’s a potentially great thing for Penn State. And it puts Ohio State in a very precarious position.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Here’s how it goes:
@ Michigan: It’s simple. Well, unchanged, anyway. If the Wolverines win out, vs. Indiana and at Ohio State, they earn the East Division slot in the Big Ten championship game.
And the losses to two other previously unbeatens, Clemson and Washington, mean that Michigan’s path to the College Football Playoff remains straight-forward.
@ Penn State: If they handle their bottom-feeders (Rutgers and Michigan State) and Ohio State beats Michigan, the Nittany Lions will be the East Division title-game representative. Their victory over the Buckeyes gives them the tie-breaker edge.
@ Ohio State: The Buckeyes not only need to beat Michigan State and Michigan. They need a Penn State loss, to either Rutgers or Michigan State. Either would be a major upset at this point. Then again, Sparty could undo some of the damage from its boggling seven-game losing streak. And when the Spartans were 2-0 after winning at Notre Dame, their prospects looked very different.
In other words, a Michigan State win is not likely. But far stranger things happen in college football.
ONE MORE BUCKEYE THING
The trickier question is, what happens to Ohio State’s College Football Playoff goal if it winds up 11-1 but doesn’t play in the Big Ten championship game?
The answer is, while a 12-1 record, with a title-game win—most likely in a rematch with Wisconsin—would clearly enhance the Buckeyes’ resume, the Buckeyes are in a good place either way.
With only one unbeaten (Alabama) remaining, and only four other one-loss teams (beyond Michigan), and with all five of those teams still facing hurdles, a one-loss Ohio State appears solid, with or without a conference-championship game cherry on top.
This isn’t the NCAA basketball tournament. Conference champions do not earn automatic berths.
How would the CFP selection committee rank an 11-1 Ohio State vs. an 11-2 Penn State that has beaten the Buckeyes? Or an 11-2 Wisconsin that lost to Ohio State in overtime? Advantage, Ohio State.
Does this weekend's chaos revive the Big Ten's hopes of landing two teams in the four-team playoff?
This apparent setback for the Buckeyes could be a win-win for the Big Ten. This might allow a Michigan to join Ohio State in the four-team playoff conversation. At this point, the ACC duo of Clemson and Louisville has the inside track to join Alabama and Ohio State in the rankings that will come out on Tuesday.
BADGER MARK OF EXCELLENCE
That Wisconsin schedule, which seemed likely to break the Badgers’ backs, now is more like a badge of honor. Their 3-2 mark vs. top 10 teams, including a pair of tense losses to Michigan and Ohio State, gives them a strong case to become the first two-loss team in the three-year history of the CFP.
Only one unbeaten is left. And only five one-loss teams remain, with two of them, Michigan and Ohio State, on a collision course.
It’s not as difficult to see a two-loss team cracking the Final Four now as it was to see that on Saturday morning.
If the Badgers complete their regular-season assignments successfully, they will play in the Big Ten championship game for the fourth time in the six-game history of the contest.
A Wisconsin appearance also would continue this: Either the Badgers or Michigan State (or both) have played in all the conference championship games.
Wisconsin is 2-1 in its previous appearances. It beat Michigan State in a 42-39 shootout in the 2011 inaugural. It routed Nebraska 70-31 the following year. And it was blasted 59-0 by Ohio State in 2014.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS,
THE JUGGERNAUTS. . .
1, Michigan (9-1, 6-1): Beaten, but still very much in hunt for College Football Playoff as Clemson and Washington also go down. (No. 1 last week)
2, Ohio State (9-1, 6-1): If 62-3 sounds familiar, it should. Buckeyes’ revived offense throttled Maryland by that number a week after giving Nebraska the same heave-ho. (No. 2)
THE BEST IN THE WEST. . .
3, Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2): Dismantled Illini, off to Purdue, then home for Minnesota. And then, fourth appearance in Big Ten title game likely—against. . . Michigan or Penn State. (No. 3)
BACK! BACK! BACK!
4, Penn State (6-2, 6-1): That 45-31 trip to Indiana was tougher than the score indicates. But life in Happy Valley got easier with Iowa’s upset of Michigan. Barring upsets, Nittany Lions are in Big Ten title game if Wolverines lose at Ohio State. (No. 4)
THE MUDDLE IN THE MIDDLE. . .
5, Iowa (6-4, 4-3): A week after getting embarrassed at Penn State, Hawkeyes pull off win for ages, 14-13 upset of No. 3 Michigan. If Iowa, which has Illinois and Nebraska left, can win out, a once-moribund season will look pretty lively. (No. 7)
6, Nebraska (8-2, 5-2): It’s obviously a really good year, but what’s the signature win? Saturday’s 24-17 sneak past Minnesota? A 24-13 win at Northwestern in September? Just asking. (No. 5)
6, Northwestern (5-5, 4-3): Took care of business at Purdue 45-17. Do that at Minnesota and vs. Illinois, and the Wildcats will be off to an inviting bowl. A very impressive bounceback from their discouraging 1-3 start. (No. 6)
8, Indiana (5-5, 3-4): With 24-14 and 31-28 second-half leads, was in position to handle Penn State before losing 45-31. No cushion now for IU, which faces tough trip to Michigan before finishing with Purdue, a must-win for a second straight bowl trip. (No. 8)
9, Minnesota (7-3, 4-3): Put up good battle in building 17-10 lead vs. Nebraska, but ended up with 24-17 loss. Last two opponents, Northwestern and Wisconsin, will be challenging. (No. 9)
10, Maryland (5-5, 2-5): Terps can compare notes at Nebraska on their identical 62-3 drubbings vs. Ohio State. If Maryland can’t pull off upset in Lincoln, it will have Rutgers finale to reach bowl-eligible status. (No. 10).
THERE’S NO THERE, HERE
11, Michigan State (3-7, 1-6): A 49-0 blowout of Rutgers won’t erase the pain of that mind-boggling seven-game losing streak. But it beats the alternative. (No. 14)
12, Illinois (3-7, 2-5): After dismal 48-3 wipeout at Wiscosin, Lovie Smith said he expects his team to play better vs. Iowa this week. He said that before the Hawkeyes’ big upset of Michigan. We’ll see. (No. 11)
13, Purdue (3-7, 1-6): Not much to cheer about in 45-17 loss to Northwestern. Not much to cheer about this fall. Plenty of good seats available for Badger fans at Ross-Ade Stadium for this week’s mismatch vs. Wisconsin. (No. 12)
14, Rutgers (2-8, 0-7): What can we say? When it came to taking a shot at winless Michigan State, progress vs. Minnesota and Indiana was an illusion. (No. 13)[/membership]