It is the penultimate week in conference play and the bowl picture is coming into shape. We have eight teams already eligible (Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa, and Ohio State). Three already know they will be home for the holidays (Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska). The remaining three face key weeks. Illinois cannot lose their final two games or they are out, but they are the cockroach of the Big Ten. It seems amazing they are 4-6, but there is a realistic chance they could be 7-3 at the moment. Maryland and Rutgers are both on five wins as big underdogs, so it looks like next week will be a winner-take-all for the ninth bowl slot.
Then you have the divisional races. The East is down to Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Spartans are eliminated with a loss this week, while a win puts them in full control. Michigan just needs to not screw up against Maryland, then next week’s game is either all-or-nothing (if Ohio State wins this week) or they need help (if Michigan State wins tomorrow). In the West, Wisconsin is in control, but it is more of a mess. Purdue, Minnesota, and Iowa also have a chance to win the division, and even a five-way tie with Illinois is possible (which would be won by Wisconsin.
Purdue basically has one path to the division crown. It cannot win any tie involving Minnesota or Wisconsin. Purdue must win its final two games. It also needs Minnesota to lose to Indiana (winless in league play), but beat Wisconsin. It also needs Wisconsin to lose to Nebraska this week. Finally, it needs Iowa to lose once to either Nebraska or Illinois. The Boilers would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with Iowa, so we only need one Hawkeye loss. Two Iowa losses makes us outright division champ.
So there is a chance.
#7 Michigan State (9-1, 6-1) at #4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0) Noon, ABC
This is a huge game not only in the Big Ten, but nationally. An Ohio State wins hands them the division because they never lose to Michigan anymore. Michigan State can continue its surprise season and be only one win over Penn State away from winning the East. They can also leapfrog undefeated Cincinnati back into the top 4 under the “there is no way in hell we’re putting in Cincinnati” rule. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Ohio State has fully rounded into form. They are a rolling death machine again, and Michigan State’s pass defense is worse than Purdue’s. Ohio State 52, Michigan State 31
Rutgers (5-5, 2-5) at Penn State (6-4, 3-4) Noon, BTN
Penn State has been up and down, but are they “lose to Rutgers at home on Senior Day” down? There has been a flu outbreak in the locker room for the Nittany Lions, which is a pretty big factor. Rutgers is coming off of a dominant win over Indiana. While it was just Indiana, the margin was pretty shocking. If there is an upset in the offing this week, it is this game. Rutgers 21, Penn State 17
Purdue (6-4, 4-3) at Northwestern (Wrigley Field) Noon, BTN
A lot is at stake for our Boilers. A winning record no matter what the rest of the way? A better bowl game? An outside chance at the Big Ten title? I admit that the conditions at Wrigley with brick walls and railings far too close to the field is concerning, but it will be a fun atmosphere. In fact, I expect it to be a Purdue-majority crowd. I think Purdue rolls in this one and has one of its most dominant conference wins in a while. Northwestern’s run defense is bad. The offense is worse. Purdue 45, Northwestern 17
Illinois (4-6, 3-4) at #17 Iowa (8-2, 5-2) 2pm, Fox Sports 1
Illinois has been low key Purdue this year, but without the wins in most games it should win. The Illini have beaten two straight ranked teams on the road, but have also lost to Rutgers and Maryland at home. Can they win in Kinnick? This is the right type of game for them. Both teams are offensively challenged, and Illinois has virtually no passing game. Iowa at least has something figured out there. Iowa 24, Illinois 13
#6 Michigan (9-1, 6-1) at Maryland (5-5, 2-5) 3:30pm, BTN
Is Michigan the least impressive 9-1 team in recent memory? They have one win over a team currently in the Playoff rankings. Somehow, that is good enough to place them ahead of the team that beat them. We all know how this ends. They will beat Maryland this week convincingly, then lose, yet again, to Ohio State next week. Michigan 34, Maryland 17
Nebraska (3-7, 1-6) at Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2) 3:30pm, ABC
We keep waiting for Nebraska to put it all together for one game, but is this really it? Wisconsin is WISCONSIN again, and the Huskers are well on their way to being the best 3-9 team of all time. It is too bad Ohio State kicked a late field goal a few weeks ago. The idea of Nebraska losing nine one score games is funny as hell. That happen, yet again. Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 23
Minnesota (6-4, 4-3) at Indiana (2-8, 0-7) 3:30pm, BTN
This season has been a complete and utter disaster for Indiana right from the throwing-two-first-half-pick-sixes in the season opener. I knew they were hilariously overrated to start, but I never expected them to be winless in the Big Ten. This is a team that has completely quit. They are injured. They are fighting on the sidelines. They have a pathetic offense. Minnesota will grind them into a fine paste and send them to West Lafayette. Minnesota 34, Indiana 10