November 01, 2010
The Big Ten race is usually the simplest to decipher: Since 2005, Ohio State has won or shared five straight conference titles, and the question has always boiled down to a single game. In 2005, it was Ohio State-Penn State. In 2006, Ohio State-Michigan. In 2008, Ohio State-Penn State again. In 2009, Ohio State-Iowa. The die is practically always cast by the start of November.
With Iowa's 36-7 trouncing of Michigan State on Saturday, the die rolled off the board and burst into flame. The Spartans' exit from the realm of the unbeatens all but ensures the Big Ten won't have a team playing for the BCS championship in Glendale, Ariz., in January, and left four teams sitting at the top of the conference standings with one loss. All four are still alive for the Rose Bowl. Three of them – Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin – have already gone head-to-head. Only two, Ohio State and Iowa, will play over the last four weeks of the regular season. And not one of them control its own destiny.
So, as a public service – and assuming at least one of the quartet will rise about the fray with a 7-1 conference mark in the end – here's your guide to the Big Ten championship race in November, with a little help from the official conference tiebreaker procedures:
• Iowa goes to the Rose Bowl if…
a) It wins out, including a win over Ohio State, and
b) Wisconsin loses one of its last four.
The Hawkeyes' only hope is a head-to-head tiebreaker with Michigan State, where they hold the edge on the heels of Saturday's blowout. Otherwise, they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Wisconsin due to the Badgers' win in Iowa City on Oct. 23. And in a head-exploding three-way tie between the Hawkeyes, Spartans and Badgers – where A > B > C > A because all three are already 1-1 in the head-to-head round-robin – the nod would apparently go to Michigan State, according to the Detroit News.
• Michigan State goes to the Rose Bowl if…
a) It wins out, and
b) Wisconsin wins out, and
c) Iowa beats Ohio State.
The Spartans hold the edge over Wisconsin in a head-to-head tiebreaker, and with both Wisconsin and Iowa in a three-way tie. They'd lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Iowa, though, and a three-way tie between MSU, Ohio State and Wisconsin would defer to the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings, where both the Badgers (No. 9) and Buckeyes (No. 11) are currently well in front of the Spartans (No. 14).
• Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl if…
a) It wins out, including a win over Iowa, and
b) Wisconsin loses, and
The Badgers own the head-to-head. And if it comes down to a three-way tie with Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, they also have the pole position in the BCS, which figures to hold up as long as the '1' in the loss column does.
The touchiest scenario is what happens if Wisconsin loses and Michigan State and Ohio State run the table, leaving the Buckeyes and Spartans tied at 7-1 with no head-to-head solution. The result would come down to the BCS standings, where the Buckeyes currently have a clear advantage.
• Wisconsin goes to the Rose Bowl if…
a) It wins out, and
b) Michigan State loses, or c) Ohio State beats Iowa.
Again, the Badgers are golden in a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ohio State/Iowa winner: They've already beaten both. They should also be in line for Pasadena in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Michigan State by virtue of their top billing in the BCS. With an Iowa win over the Buckeyes, though, Wisconsin could be out in the cold in the Spartans run the table.
To recap: Michigan State is rooting for Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State are rooting against Wisconsin, Wisconsin is rooting against Michigan State, and Michigan State and Ohio State are rooting for algorithms. And that's assuming Penn State, Illinois and/or Northwestern don't run the table to create a five-way pileup at 6-2. Any questions?
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.