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Big Ten week 11 in review

This was an absolutely brutal week to be a Boilermaker fan. As mentioned in my wrap-up of the Michigan State game, everything that could go wrong for us did go wrong. If it happens two weeks in a row it would mean that Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan State would all win in week 12 meaning 10 teams from the conference would be fully bowl eligible at seven wins or more. I have no idea how things would be sorted out there, especially if the Big Ten doesn’t get two teams into the BCS. My guess is that the teams would fall like this in that scenario; assuming Ohio State beats Michigan putting just one into the BCS:

1. Ohio State 11-1, 7-1 (Rose)
2. Michigan 8-4, 6-2 (Capitol One)
3. Illinois 8-4, 5-3 (Outback) (Three good wins over Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State would outweigh losses to Iowa and NW in this scenario. Missouri loss is far from bad)
4. Wisconsin 9-3, 5-3 (Alamo)
5. Penn State 8-4, 4-4 (Champs Sports)


Here is where the real mess begins:

6. Iowa 7-5, 4-4 (Insight) (Where do I put them? They beat Michigan State, NW, and Illinois, but lost to Purdue and Indiana. 4-4 conference mark would be an advantage)
7. Michigan State 7-5, 3-5 (Motor City) (Placed here assuming win over Penn State, also beat Indiana and Purdue plus close proximity to Detroit means if they are available here, they go)
8. Indiana 7-5, 3-5 (First non Big Ten bowl choice due to Hep factor, Strong wins over Iowa and Purdue give them an edge)
9. Purdue 7-5, 3-5 (Second non Big Ten bowl choice via wins over Northwestern and Iowa. Not a strong profile after that if we lose to IU)
10. Northwestern 7-5, 4-4 (Where do I put them? They beat Michigan State, Indiana, and Illinois, but lost to Purdue and Iowa. Again, 4-4 conference mark could be an advantage)
11. Minnesota 1-11, 0-8 (It’s Tubby Smith time!)


As you can see we would have a real mess on our hands if that occurs. There should be enough open slots to get eight teams in, but nine or ten seems unlikely. It’s a crazy scenario because it assumes that Northwestern would be able to beat a team (Illinois) that has just beaten Ohio State, the same Ohio State team that annihilated Northwestern 58-7. It’s unlikely, but then again Stanford beating USC and Appalachian State beating Michigan were also highly unlikely.

Everyone outside the state of Ohio has to be rooting hard for Michigan this week, as a Wolverine win delivers the chance for a 2-team BCS bid. It’s not a guarantee though as for the four at-large bids will be hotly contested. The Big 12 will likely get one as Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma will fight for two assuming they don’t have a big gaffe down the stretch. The SEC will get a second team as well because, well, they are the SEC and everything thinks they are the best conference because they beat each other up (funny, so does the Big Ten). Arizona State and USC will play an elimination game this weekend with the winner having a great shot out of the Pac-10 for a second BCS bid. Then there is Hawaii and Boise State. Assuming they each get to their game on November 24th unscathed the winner has a chance of sneaking into the top 12 of the final BCS standings and stealing a bid. Would a 10-2 Ohio State riding two straight losses be enough to overpower some of these teams? That I do not know.

BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS

1. (1) Ohio State (10-1, 6-1)

The loss to Illinois was shocking considering how dominant the Buckeyes have been at home of late. I will humbly admit, as pointed out by an Anonymous Illinois fan earlier here, that I was wrong about Juice Williams’ passing ability against the Buckeyes, as he had an incredibly efficient game not only passing, but running as well. I don’t think the four passing TD’s were as telling as his ability to convert on third down on the game-clinching drive. The Buckeye defense showed a shocking inability to stop the run, and now could go from being in the national title game to not even going to the BCS in just two weeks. It’s not quite a Kansas State 1998 fall from grace, but close.

There’s still some hope to get to the title game, but the losses in front of the Buckeyes must start piling up quickly. Obviously they must beat Michigan, and then hope five of the six teams in front of them lose. That’s asking a lot for LSU, Oregon, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to lose. A dominant win over the Wolverines will help, but the Buckeyes had better hope some more upsets happen above them. The fact that the Kansas-Missouri winner still must likely play Oklahoma is a benefit, meaning two of the five necessary losses are guaranteed.

2. (6) Illinois (8-3, 5-2)

Based solely on "good wins" Illinois should be the top team in the conference. They now own wins over three ranked teams (Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin), and they may have played the toughest schedule in the conference because of acceptable losses to Michigan and Missouri. Both the Iowa and Michigan losses were because of a young team learning how to win, but it’s amazing to see how close this team is to being undefeated. I was easily the most wrong about this team as I have been downplaying their passing game all year.

The scary thing is how young Illinois is, and how much a possible New Year’s Day bowl could do for them. Obviously their best-case scenario is to win the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk back and wait to see what happens elsewhere. Right now I believe they have an edge on Wisconsin and Penn State for the Outback bowl because of their head-to-head wins.

3. (4) Wisconsin (8-3, 4-3)

I know that Wisconsin lost at Penn State, but the win over a surging Michigan team this past weekend was quite impressive. It will be difficult to see who will be picked for the two New Year’s Day slots if Ohio State is the lone BCS representative. Do you go with a pair of hot teams in Illinois and Wisconsin, or traditionally strong programs in Michigan and Penn State? A dominant win over a weak Minnesota is what Wisconsin needs as a final statement.

Because of this new logjam it is hard to say what else Wisconsin needs to assure they play on New Year’s Day. On the one hand a Michigan win could move everyone up a slot, on the other a Michigan loss could move the Wolverines behind the Badgers. Right now they probably want a Wolverine win and a loss by Penn State at Michigan State. If that happens the Badgers will go to Florida with Illinois.

4. (2) Michigan (8-3, 6-1)

The Wolverines now have a chance to be the weakest Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl since Purdue in 2000. On paper it looks like Ohio State has all the advantages this week, but they had all the advantages last week as well. There will be a ton of emotion in Michigan Stadium Saturday as Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, and the rest of the Wolverine seniors will look to end the Ohio State hex. The fact they can permanently ruin their rivals’ faint national title dreams helps as well.

It’s easy to see the best scenario for Michigan. A win puts them into the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years. Considering as much flack as Henne has gotten as the starter that’s not a bad career for the guy. He also still has a good chance to break Drew Brees’ Big Ten career touchdown passing mark. A loss however may label him as the Peyton Manning of the Big Ten, and could send Michigan to Texas for the Alamo Bowl.

5. (3) Penn State (8-3, 4-3)

Penn State did exactly what it needed to this past week against Temple, but the losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Illinois kind of leaves them as the odd team out for the New Year’s Day shuffle. The game the Nittany Lions probably want back most is the Michigan game, as any kind of an offense against a weakened (at the time) Wolverine team would have provided a win.

To play on New Year’s Day Penn State needs a win over Michigan State, which may be a tall order now that the Spartans have a ton to play for at home. A miracle Wisconsin loss to Minnesota would also be helpful, but unlikely. Like most everyone else, the Nittany Lions would be helped by Michigan beating Ohio State assuming the Buckeyes also go to the BCS.

6. (10) Michigan State (6-5, 2-5)

The Spartans make the biggest jump this week with a dominant win over the Boilermakers. It was a simple equation this past Saturday for Michigan State: They did not screw up, and Purdue did a lot. The Boilers handed 20 points to the Spartans and they were more than happy to accept them. Now a win in the home finale against Penn State will assure at least one of the seven Big Ten bowl slots.

Michigan State would be helped most by an Indiana win over Purdue, as Purdue winning would still assure them of an 8-4 finish and 4-4 conference record. Michigan State did not help itself in close losses to Iowa and Northwestern, but they are helped by the fact Detroit is so close it’s a no-brainer who bowl officials there will pick if a 7-win Spartan team is available. Even at 6-6 Michigan State likely goes to Detroit in the two BCS scenario assuming Northwestern and Indiana also lose. It sucks for Northwestern, but that’s the truth of the Motor City bowl.

7. (5) Purdue (7-4, 3-4)

Goodbye New Year’s Day bowl as the Boilers waiting until game 11 to lose a game many were giving them. Usually they get this tradition out of the way early. Personally, I could feel little emotion from them on Saturday, as the loss to Penn State may have taken too much out of the team. They didn’t pounce on the Spartans early on when their offense was struggling and that could have been the biggest mistake of the game. Purdue has been at its best when it starts fast this year, and Saturday too many dropped passes early only set the tone for more mistakes.

So what is our best hope for a best possible bowl now? Well, obviously we must beat Indiana, otherwise we may not go to any bowl at 7-5. The Big Ten has indeed come a long way when its 10th place team can have seven wins and stay home. Iowa seems confident they will get selected ahead of us for Phoenix, but if we’re 8-4 I doubt it. 8-4 may be good enough for a return trip to Orlando if the conference gets two in the BCS, but we’ll have to see. A loss to Indiana would be devastating paired with a Michigan State win. I am praying we avoid the Motor City bowl, as a game there against Central Michigan would mean the second of three meetings with the Chips considering we play them next year.

8. (8) Iowa (6-5, 4-4)

The Hawkeyes survived a surprising challenge from Minnesota to avoid what would have otherwise been a disaster. Now they get a home game against a fairly easy opponent in Western Michigan and likely seventh win. Of the four teams sitting with just six wins Iowa has the best shot at getting number seven, and a 4-4 conference mark among many teams that could be 3-5 is a big plus to have.

Since Iowa is relying the most on what its conference brethren do what helps them most? Purdue beating Indiana would be nice, as a win over Western Michigan would put Iowa ahead of the Hoosiers even though Indiana beat Iowa. Penn State beating Michigan State and Illinois over Northwestern would be good as well, but not necessary given Iowa’s previous work against the two. If the Big Ten goes eight deep Iowa may have the best shot at #8 depending on the result of the bucket game.

9. (9) Northwestern (6-5, 3-4)

Northwestern survived a late charge by the Hoosiers to stay alive, but do they have enough to shock Illinois and keep the bowl hopes alive? My colleague at Lake the Posts had a good point in that getting Illinois after playing Indiana may help because of the similar style of quarterback both teams employ. Northwestern will be both loved and hated against the Illini, as they will be loved by the top half of the league, but hated by the bottom half no matter what they do.

Along with Indiana, Northwestern needs a win this week desperately, but they face the tougher opponent. This is where the Duke loss really hurts, as their wins over Indiana and Michigan State would be that much stronger if the Wildcats had not lost to Duke. In conjunction with a win over the Illini the Wildcats could use Purdue over Indiana (because of the Hep factor), and Penn State over Michigan State.

10. (7) Indiana (6-5, 2-5)

This is not a knock to the Hoosiers ranking-wise, but it is unfortunate that the year they finally squeeze themselves to six wins they are in a dogfight to where seven wins may not be enough to go bowling. Indiana couldn’t contain Tyrell Sutton, could get to the quarterback, and made too many critical mistakes in a game it absolutely had to have. Now they must win what amounts to the most important Bucket game in decades, as only once have both teams gone bowling after the Bucket Game. That came in 1979 when this writer was barely a month old. Purdue did win the Bucket that year, by the way.

Like everyone else Indiana is hoping for a Michigan win over Ohio State. A Hoosier win over Purdue is like a double bonus because it puts them in a tie with a tiebreaker over a team they are fighting for a bowl against. If they only finish 6-6 you can’t discount the sentimental Hep factor IF there are enough spots to go around nationally. Unfortunately, they only hold a tiebreak over Iowa.

11. (11) Minnesota (1-10, 0-7)

Minnesota has been a great sport this year, languishing at the bottom here as everyone else talks about December and January destinations. When you consider everyone else is in the conference is bowl eligible at the moment, plus former opponents Florida Atlantic, Miami (OH), and Bowling Green are alive for their respective conference titles means every single opponent this year for Minnesota could be bowl eligible save for 1-AA North Dakota State (who would be in the 1-AA playoffs if not for their moratorium on moving up). Maybe it’s not all bad for Goldy.