With Iowa’s win at Minnesota, the Big Ten West picture is coming into focus. Against all odds, the Hawkeyes control their destiny and punch their ticket to Indy with a win. Purdue would get in with a win and an Iowa loss, while Illinois needs the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers to catch an L.
The odds below are from DraftKings.
Tier 1: The National Title Contenders
Michigan (+300) & Ohio State (-300)
It’s been 16 years since both programs entered the final week of the regular season with perfect marks. At 11-0, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines control their destiny to the College Football Playoffs. It’s a road that runs through Columbus and Indianapolis (B1G Championship Game).
It’s felt like a given for most of the season that the winner would get in, but after Tennessee fell stunningly at South Carolina, there could be a path to the CFP for the loser of The Game, especially if it’s a close one, like 2006 (42-39).
Ohio State has the B1G’s highest-scoring offense (46.5 PPG), and Michigan has the best-scoring defense (11.7 PPG). The Wolverines have the top total defense (241.3 YPG), and the Buckeyes average the most yards per game (492.7) in the conference.
No one throws the ball more effectively than the Bucks (289.2 YPG/9.7 YPA), and no one runs it better than the Maize & Blue (243.8 YPG/5.5 YPC).
Making up half of the undefeated Power 5 teams left standing, the hated rivals are second and third in the polls, on the College Football Playoff Rankings, and the futures odds for college football national champion. They are the clear-cut hands-down dominant teams in the Big Ten.
Tier 2: If There Was a 12-Team Playoff
Penn State (OTB)
The way the Penn State Nittany Lions have played down the stretch, they would be considered a dangerous team that no one would want to play. All the pieces aren’t there to get over the top the way I believe they are at OSU and Michigan, but PSU would give the B1G a third team in an expanded CFP.
Their 45-point win over Rutgers last week was their fourth in five games, all by at least 28 points, with their lone defeat in the second half of the season coming to the Buckeyes when they were the only team to hold a fourth-quarter lead over Ohio State in 2022.
Six other Big Ten teams have locked up bowl bids. They are all good programs that are borderline Top 25 teams but not playoff-caliber worthy, even with an expanded format. Let’s start with the three who still have a chance to win the B1G title by advancing to Indianapolis next weekend.
In their nine games against teams not named Ohio State or Michigan, Iowa has held every other opponent to 13 points or fewer, including fellow Tier 3 teams Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and Wisconsin, who combined for 32 points! The defense is good enough to compete at the highest of levels.
Tied with Iowa atop the B1G West at 5-3 in conference play (7-4 overall), Purdue needs the Hawkeyes to lose on Friday to have a chance to win the West. This is the closest they’ve come to making the Big Ten Championship Game, as their highest finish under the divisional format is tied for second.
In defeat, I gained respect for Minnesota against Iowa. While they managed just ten points (which I expected), the Gophers rushed for 312 yards on 50 carries (6.2 YPC) on a Hawkeyes defense (which I didn’t expect) that was playing the run. If you do that to Iowa, you can probably do it to anybody.
Another moral victory from Week 12 was Illinois taking Michigan down to the wire in Ann Arbor. After terrible home losses to MSU and Purdue, it was impressive to see the Illini rise to the occasion in their toughest game. They won’t win the West, but Bret Bielema is the coach of the year.
Trailing Nebraska 14-3 going into the fourth quarter, Wisconsin avoided disaster against the Huskers to secure their sixth win and bowl eligibility. The defense was elite, and the running game was excellent; however (stop me if you’ve heard this before), the passing game nearly cost them the W.
It’s been a month, October 22, since Maryland locked up a bowl bid, and it’s a good thing they did, as they haven’t won since (0-3). They had a stretch of four games where the Terps did not look inspired, but they reminded us of how talented they are when they trailed OSU by a field goal late in the fourth.
Tier 4: You’re Not Making a Bowl?
Michigan State & Nebraska
Since beating Tier 5 teams, Indiana and Rutgers, the Huskers haven’t won a game and are headed to a sixth-straight defeat on Black Friday at Iowa. It would be their ninth loss of 2022 to match their nine from 2021. The offense has scored 14 points or less in six of the past eight games.
When Michigan State was amidst their four-game losing streak, it appeared the Spartans would miss out on a bowl, but then they upset Wisconsin and Illinois. Holding a 17-point second-half lead against Indiana at home, MSU was on their way before they blew it in a terrible loss.
Tier 5: Never Had a Chance
Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers
Their 39-31 win in East Lansing snapped Indiana’s seven-game losing streak, the longest in the Big Ten East. After passing on 65.9 percent of their plays through ten weeks, the Hoosiers attempted a season-low seven passes (two completions) as they overcame a 252-yardage deficit.
Rutgers is completely outmatched playing against the B1G East’s Big 3. Their 55-10 loss to Penn State adds up to an aggregate of 156 to 37. With two touchdowns on three turnovers, PSU’s defense outscored the Rutgers offense to officially knock the Scarlet Knights out of bowl contention.
The longest losing streak in the B1G belongs to Northwestern, at ten straight. With their third starting quarterback of the season, the Wildcats could not throw for 100 yards for the third consecutive game. Hard to believe they started with 749 passing yards through two weeks.
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