Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Big Ten Bowl Hopefuls After Week 12

There was almost major upheaval in the Big Ten this weekend.  First, #2 Ohio State barely beat Michigan State, 17-16, after the Spartans went for the win by going for two instead of kicking the game-tying extra point.  I respected the decision, given that Michigan State is out of bowl eligibility.  And then IU gave #3 Michigan a solid scare in Ann Arbor.  The Hoosiers led 7-3 at halftime, but then ceded some points in the second half and couldn't get their offense going in the snow, losing 20-10.  Regardless, it's just nice to know that IU will likely have the outright best record of any D-1 football team in the State of Indiana for the first time since 1967.

With that, "The Game" this weekend in Columbus is, for all intents and purposes, a College Football Playoff elimination game.  Meanwhile, three other Big Ten teams -- Indiana, Maryland, and Northwestern -- are sitting at 5-6 and looking to clinch bowl eligiblity this weekend against rivals.

Here are this past Saturday's results, as well as this coming week's slate of games (rankings are CFP):

Week 12 results:
#2 Ohio State 17 Michigan State 16
Iowa 28 Illinois 0
#18 Nebraska 28 Maryland 7
#7 Wisconsin 49 Purdue 20
#3 Michigan 20 Indiana 10
Minnesota 29 Northwestern 12
#8 Penn State 39 Rutgers 0

Week 13 schedule (times listed are Eastern)
Friday 11/25
#16 Nebraska at Iowa (3:30 p.m.; ABC)
Saturday 11/26
Rutgers at Maryland (12 p.m.; ESPNews)
#3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State (12 p.m.; ABC)
Indiana at Purdue (12 p.m.; ESPNU)
Illinois at Northwestern (12 p.m.; BTN)
Michigan State at #7 Penn State (3:30 p.m.; ESPN)
Minnesota at #6 Wisconsin (3:30 p.m.; BTN)

With only one game left, there are still five teams left that have a shot at going to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on December 5.  In the East, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State still have a shot.  In the West, Wisconsin and Nebraska are the only two teams that are mathematically still in the hunt.  Taking into account the Big Ten's divisional tiebreaking rules, here is each team's path to Indianapolis:

East Division
Michigan (7-1) will win the East if they beat Ohio State.
Penn State (7-1) will win the East if they beat Michigan State and Ohio State beats Michigan.
Ohio State (7-1) will win the East if they beat Michigan and Penn State loses to Michigan State.

West Division
Wisconsin (6-2) will win the West if:  (1) they beat Minnesota; or (2) they lose to Minnesota and Iowa beats Nebraska.
Nebraska (6-2) will win the West if they beat Iowa and Wisconsin loses to Minnesota.

Let's take a look at the bowl chances of each Big Ten team.  I'll list each team's current record (overall and conference), and then I'll break down each team's (1) remaining game and whether it is a likely win, loss, or toss-up, (2) probable regular season win total (this will not include the Big Ten Championship game or any postseason games), (3) analysis of the team, (4) how many more games they need to win to become bowl-eligible, where applicable, and (5) for those teams that have clinched a bowl, the realistic best and worst case bowl scenarios.  The schools that have lost at least 7 games and, therefore, are not eligible to go to a bowl, are separated and listed after those schools that still have hope.  For sake of ease, I'm just going to go in alphabetical order.

1.  Indiana
Record:  5-6 (3-5)
Remaining game:  Purdue (11/26) (likely win)
Probable win total:  6
Analysis:  The Hoosiers had another close loss to a Top 10 team, losing 20-10 at #3 Michigan after leading at halftime.  With the Old Oaken Bucket game this Saturday against Purdue, IU should beat its fetid, slack-jawed rivals to clinch bowl eligiblity for the second year in a row.  That may not seem like a big deal to you, but bear in mind that, if that happens, this will be the first time in 25 years that the Hoosiers have gone to bowl games in consecutive years.
Number of wins still needed to become bowl-eligible:  1

2.  Iowa
Record:  7-4 (5-3)
Remaining game:  Nebraska (11/25) (toss up)
Probable win total:  7-8
Analysis:  The Hawkeyes beat up on Illinois, 28-0, last Saturday.  Now, they face #16 Nebraska this Friday in Iowa City for the Heroes Trophy.  Iowa is a one-point favorite at the moment, and it should be a good game.
Best case bowl scenario:  Holiday Bowl
Worst case bowl scenario:  Heart of Dallas Bowl

3.  Maryland
2016 record:  5-6 (2-6)
Remaining game:  Rutgers (11/26) (likely win)
Probable win total:  6
Analysis:  So the Terrapins have finally finished their murderers' row of games.  After starting 4-0, they went 1-6 over their last seven games.  However, they play Rutgers this Saturday, and that's just what the doctor ordered.
Number of wins still needed to become bowl-eligible:  1

4.  Michigan
2016 record:  10-1 (7-1)
Remaining game:  at Ohio State (11/26) (toss up)
Probable win total:  10-11
Analysis:  The Wolverines didn't look all that convincing this past weekend in their 20-10 win over IU, with backup QB John O'Korn at the helm.  That said, they still control their own destiny in the Big Ten East, and a win over Ohio State this weekend would be triply satisfying for Michigan fans, as it would not only be a win over their arch-rival, but also it would clinch the Big Ten East for Michigan and effectively eliminate Ohio State from the College Football Playoffs.
Best case bowl scenario:  College Football Playoff
Worst case bowl scenario:  Outback Bowl

5.  Minnesota
2016 record:  8-3 (5-3)
Remaining game:  at Wisconsin (11/26) (likely loss)
Probable win total:  8
Analysis:  The Gophers beat Northwestern 29-12 last Saturday, and now face #6 Wisconsin in Camp Randall.  Even if they lose, it's their third 8-win season in the last four years, which hasn't happened since they reeled off six 9+-win seasons in a row from 1900 to 1905.  Furthermore, they're going to a bowl for the fifth consecutive year, which is the second time in school history that has happened (2002-2006).
Best case bowl scenario:  Holiday Bowl
Worst case bowl scenario:  Foster Farms Bowl

6.  Nebraska
2016 record:  9-2 (6-2)
Remaining game:  at Iowa (11/25) (toss up)
Probable win total:  9-10
Analysis:  Nebraska beat Maryland 28-7, and now travels to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes, needing a win if the Huskers have any hope of winning the Big Ten West.
Best case bowl scenario: Outback Bowl
Worst case bowl scenario:  Music City Bowl

7.  Northwestern
2016 record:  5-6 (3-4)
Remaining game:  Illinois (11/26) (likely win)
Probable win total:  6
Analysis:  While the Wildcats lost to Minnesota this past weekend, they face a hapless Illinois team this Saturday in Evanston.  That should mean that they clinch their seventh bowl of the Pat Fitzgerald era.  With a win, Fitzgerald will have taken the Wildcats to more bowls than all other coaches in Northwestern history combined.
Number of wins still needed to become bowl-eligible:  1

8.  Ohio State
2016 record:  10-1 (10-1)
Remaining game:  Michigan (11/26) (toss up)
Probable win total:  10-11
Analysis:  The Buckeyes were one two-point conversion away from having their College Football Playoff hopes dashed.  Unfortunately, Michigan State's two-point attempt failed, and Ohio State escaped East Lansing with a 17-16 win.  Now, they face a wounded Michigan team in Columbus, but I think it's safe to say that Michigan's defense is better than any defense the Buckeyes have faced thus far.  It should be a good one.  
Best case bowl scenario:  College Football Playoff
Worst case bowl scenario:  Citrus Bowl

9.  Penn State
2016 record:  9-2 (7-1)
Remaining game:  Michigan State (11/26) (likely win)
Probable win total:  10
Analysis:  The Nittany Lions murdered Rutgers, and now have a very winnable home game against Penn State for the Land Grant Trophy.  A win puts Penn State in the Big Ten championship game, if Ohio State beats Michigan.  
Best case bowl scenario:  College Football Playoff
Worst case bowl scenario:  Holiday Bowl

10.  Wisconsin
2016 record:  9-2 (6-2)
Remaining game:  Minnesota (11/26) (likely win)
Probable win total:  10
Analysis:  The Badgers did what they needed to do against Purdue, winning 49-20, and they now face Minnesota for Paul Bunyan's Axe and a chance to clinch the Big Ten West.  As I said last week, with a win in the Big Ten Title game, Wisconsin could go get into the College Football Playoffs, depending on how other things shake out.
Best case bowl scenario:  College Football Playoff
Worst case bowl scenario:  Citrus Bowl

Teams who are ineligible for bowls:  Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, Rutgers

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