Hoge: Handicapping A Crazy Big Ten Race
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By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) Both Michigan State and Wisconsin had a chance to take full control of their respective Big Ten divisions Saturday. Instead, both teams lost and the entire conference is up for grabs.
By now, all 12 Big Ten teams have played at least half of their conference schedules and seven teams are still realistically in the hunt for a trip to the first ever Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Four weeks remain in the race to Indy. Let’s take a look at each team’s chances to get there:
Michigan State Spartans
(3-1 Big Ten, 6-2 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana, at Northwestern
Outlook: The Spartans have the easiest schedule remaining in the Legends Division. They will be favored in all four of their remaining games and theoretically should win out. But Michigan State appears to be a different team on the road and I see them losing one of their two remaining road games.
Tiebreakers: Hold tiebreaker over Michigan. Lose tiebreaker with Nebraska. Iowa tiebreaker TBD.
Hoge’s Odds: 9/5. Michigan State is a slight favorite over Nebraska because its schedule is easier. The game at Iowa is huge not only in terms of wins and losses but also because of tiebreakers. In fact, Iowa could play a huge part in all of this because after head-to-head and divisional records, the next tiebreaker is the tied teams’ record over the next best divisional opponent. That’s likely to be Iowa. A loss in Iowa City would be devastating for Sparty.
(3-1 Big Ten, 7-1 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan, Iowa
Outlook: The Cornhuskers have the hardest remaining schedule in the Legends Division. They should be fine in both home games, but their trip to Wisconsin earlier this season was a disaster so it’s entirely possible they lose both remaining road games. The Michigan game will be a huge one in terms of tiebreakers.
Tiebreakers: Win tiebreaker with Michigan State. Tiebreakers with Michigan and Iowa TBD.
Hoge’s Odds: 2/1. The schedule is the hardest, but getting Iowa at home is huge if that ends up being the tiebreaker. If Nebraska is going to lose a game, it would be much better to lose at Penn State than at Michigan, because it would give them the divisional record tiebreaker. I see it going the other way though.
(3-1 Big Ten, 7-1 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: at Iowa, at Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State
Outlook: The Wolverines are probably the least talented of the three remaining Legends favorites, but their schedule is manageable. A 3-1 finish is attainable and a 4-0 finish can’t be ruled out. However, a 2-2 finish or worse also can’t be ruled out.
Tiebreakers: Lose tiebreaker with Michigan State. Tiebreakers with Nebraska and Iowa TBD.
Hoge’s Odds: 4/1. Again, losing the Iowa game would be bad, even if they win their final three games. If Michigan wants to have a chance, it needs to beat Nebraska at home.
(2-2 Big Ten, 5-3 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Michigan, Michigan State, at Purdue, at Nebraska
Outlook: Despite an inexcusable loss at Minnesota, the Hawkeyes aren’t completely out of this thing. If Iowa can beat Michigan and Michigan State at home the next two weeks, it will set up a huge rivalry game in Lincoln, Neb. on Black Friday that could decide the division. That scenario can’t be ruled out, but sure seems like a long shot.
Hoge’s Odds: 10/1. Iowa’s odds aren’t great, but they probably aren’t as bad as you might expect. Beating Michigan and Michigan State at home isn’t unrealistic and if they can go to Nebraska with a chance to go to Indy then you can throw everything that happened in the past right out the window. Of course, considering the Hawkeyes lost at Minnesota, you can’t rule out a loss at Purdue either.
Penn State Nittany Lions
(5-0 Big Ten, 8-1 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Bye, Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin
Tiebreakers: Win tiebreaker with Purdue. Tiebreakers with Ohio State and Wisconsin TBD.
Outlook: The Lions deserve all the credit in the world for their 5-0 start in Big Ten play, but they have yet to play a conference team with less than three losses this season. They control their own destiny to Indy, but it won’t be easy. It would be a good idea to go ahead and beat Nebraska and Ohio State, which would clinch the division before their trip to Madison.
Hoge’s Odds: 2/1. You would think a 2.5 game lead in the division would make the Lions the clear-cut favorite, but not when you factor in the schedules.
(2-2 Big Ten, 6-2 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Purdue, at Minnesota, at Illinois, Penn State
Tiebreakers: Lose tiebreaker with Ohio State. Tiebreakers with Penn State and Purdue TBD.
Outlook: Despite back-to-back losses, the Badgers are still probably the most talented team in the conference. Winning the Leaders Division is no longer within their full control, but Wisconsin has the easiest schedule remaining in the entire conference. Bottom line: Wisconsin has to win its final four games and have Penn State and Ohio State both lose one other game.
Hoge’s Odds: 2/1. The last two weeks weren’t pretty for the Badgers, but keep in mind they lost both games on the road in the final minute. Winning out appears likely and when you consider Penn State’s and Ohio State’s schedules one could argue that Wisconsin is still the favorite.
Ohio State Buckeyes
(2-2 Big Ten, 5-3 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: Indiana, at Purdue, Penn State, at Michigan
Tiebreakers: Win tiebreaker with Wisconsin. Tiebreakers with Purdue and Penn State TBD.
Outlook: After a big confidence building win over Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have a few weeks to get ready for Penn State. Still, you can’t rule out a loss at Purdue and it will be hard to score against Penn State’s defense. The Buckeyes probably have to win out to have a chance at Indy and that doesn’t appear likely.
Hoge’s Odds: 5/2. After an 0-2 start in conference play, the Buckeyes are still very much in this thing. It could all come down to their annual rivalry game at Michigan, a test that won’t be easy this year.
(2-2 Big Ten, 4-4 Overall)
Remaining Schedule: at Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, at Indiana
Tiebreakers: Lose tiebreaker with Penn State. Tiebreakers with Wisconsin and Ohio State TBD.
Outlook: At 2-2, the Boilermakers aren’t technically out of it, but it would take a very unlikely win at Wisconsin this Saturday for them to have a chance. Theoretically, Purdue could lose this weekend, win their final three games and get some help to have a four-way tie at 5-3, but even in that scenario, they would lose a four-team tiebreaker with losses to Penn State and Wisconsin.
Hoge’s Odds: 50/1. Winning at Wisconsin is really Purdue’s only hope and that’s just not going to happen.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.