Four Weeks Left, Six Teams Standing
Well, how's that for clarity? Michigan State's magic ran out with a thud in Lincoln. But by late afternoon, what looked like a four team race in the Legends was down to three after Iowa inexplicably lost to rival Minnesota in maybe the biggest shocker of the day in college football. Penn State dug out another workman like win to firmly plant itself in the Leaders Division driver's seat. But that only after Ohio State made a statement and turned that division into a race.
Hang on tight! It's going to be a wild ride. Six teams - three per division - will vie for a trip to Indy. I realize more are technically still alive, but I see this as six teams with sights on two slots. More on who has what left and who I predict where later...
Ohio State. Wow. I didn't see anything but that last 5 minutes and that was enough. I felt like I was watching MSU - UW all over again. Hat's off to Braxton Miller - who has now officially arrived. And notice served to the rest of the league. Penn State. Ugly but who cares? JoePa climbs to the tip top of the Division 1 leaderboard and the Nits do it like they have all year long - with defense and resilience. Nebraska. Finally, a dominating performance from that black shirt defense. The Spartans never figured out how to beat it and the Cornhuskers made Cousins and MSU pay dearly. Michigan. Solid. Done the old fashioned way - on the ground, with authority. Minnesota. I thought for sure the Gophers were part of the Suck for Luck campaign! Seriously though, vote of confidence this week for Coach Kill and a nice win to retain Floyd. Northwestern. The points were flying in Bloomington as the 'cats hit their stride on offense. The defense still worries me but it was a win to stop the bleeding.
Wisconsin. For all the tremendous spirit the Badger offense showed again in a late, improbable comeback, the secondary was torched again. This time losing sight of a Buckeye receiver with 20 seconds left. Illinois. That makes three tough losses in a row with a schedule that still has some toughies. Really hard when one of the most reliable kickers in the country doinks one that would have sent the game to OT. Michigan State. Part I. The Spartans also belong in the ugly category. The defense was not to blame - except for some very untimely penalties. State flat out ran out of gas and it showed. And that play calling? Come on! Purdue. After looking like they were going to be a part of this race and jumping out early, the Boilers were steamrolled in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State. Part II. Uh, can we have an adjustment please? Nebraska dared MSU to run up the gut, and when the Spartans did, they gained yards in chunks. Yet State chose to try and beat double coverage all day and it never worked. Blueprint for the next four weeks? Iowa. That was fugly. Just when you think Iowa is going to rise up and be a part of the race, the Hawkeyes play uninspired football and lose a rivalry game to a very bad Minnesota team. The Hawkeyes are still a key player, with games against all three Legends leaders remaining. Indiana. Beating a dead horse is getting old but were the Hoosiers really this gutted and fundamentally unsound when Wilson came in? There is a glimmer of hope in 38 points on offense. But that was against one of the softest defenses in the conference.
Back to the very interesting Big Ten race. Nope, we won't get a participant in the national title game this year. Why? The depth in the conference is very good. There are six top 25 worthy teams and each of them will have a huge say in how this thing ends up. Here is a look at what is left for each team, the probability of a trip to Indy (my odds) and who goes where in the bowl scheme of things.
Penn State - Currently 5-0 in conference play and with a two game lead on the pack. Penn State has a bye this week, followed by a visit from Nebraska and trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Nitanny Lions have the toughest slate remaining. I like the way the defense is playing though, and while I don't see a 3-0 finish, 2-1 is highly possible, and thus I put the chances of Penn State making it to Indy at 50%.
Ohio State - Currently 2-2 in conference play with both losses to cross divisional foes. The win over UW was huge as is having Penn State trekking to Cbus. Indiana, at Purdue, Penn State and at Michigan remain. There is a better than average chance the trip to Michigan could be huge for the Buckeyes. I see a 3-1 finish but that won't be enough. Chances of making Indy - 25%.
Wisconsin - Currently 2-2 in conference play with the loss to Ohio State being critical. UW still has Penn State left to close the season and the easiest road of the three: Purdue, at Minnesota, at Illinois, Penn State. I see a 4-0 finish but that won't be enough to get the Badgers to Indy. Chances of making it to Lucas Oil Field? 25%
Nebraska - Currently 3-1 in conference play with a key win over Michigan State. Nebraska has the toughest remaining road in the division with Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan and Iowa. The defense has come alive and the offense is tough to defend but I see Nebraska taking it on the chin at Penn State, finishing 3-1 and falling out of the chase for Indy. I put the chances at going to Indy at 40%.
Michigan State - Currently 3-1 in the conference after a brutal month of October. The good news for MSU is that it has the easiest schedule between the division contenders - Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana and at Northwestern. I see a 4-0 finish and a trip to Indy to help put the unsightly performance in Lincoln to bed. I put MSU's chances of making Indy at 45%
Michigan - Currently 3-1 in the division with a key loss to Michigan State and critical battles remaining. Michigan has to go to Iowa and Illinois and then has Nebraska and Ohio State at home. Iowa is stinging and will be up for this game. Illinois is in a similar boat. Nebraska and nemesis OSU close out the toughest slate of the three contenders. I see a 2-2 finish and with the loss to Michigan State, a less than likely chance to make Indy. Chances? 15%.
Way early bowl projections...
I see Michigan State and Penn State making it to Indy and MSU getting it's first Rose Bowl berth in 24 years.
Penn State will get shut out of the at large pool, as title game runner-ups are apt to be, and Nebraska gets the at-large BCS nod at 10-2.
Wisconsin slides into the Capital One Bowl at 10-2 and with the win over Penn State, while Penn State goes back to the Outback Bowl.
The Insight picks ahead of the Gator this year and goes with a 9-3 Michigan team.
Ohio State, at 8-4 heads to the Gator Bowl.
Illinois goes back to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Iowa manages a sixth win and goes to the TicketCity Bowl.
No one else makes a bowl and the Little Caesars falls back to the at-large pool.
Think I'm off base? Tell me what you think? The ESPN bloggers seems to be on the same wavelength.
Michigan at Iowa
Minnesota at Michigan State
Indiana at Ohio State
Purdue at Wisconsin
Northwestern at Nebraska