By DOUG GRIFFITHS
The nightmare scenario that many feared this summer could become reality in the Big Ten.
Once Ohio State and Penn State were both declared ineligible for the post-season, people who follow the Big Ten began to ponder the possibility of which remaining four teams from the Leaders Division had a shot at advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Well, they probably didn’t think a Leaders Division team could have a losing record and be in the title game next month in Indy. To take it one step further, that same team could even have a losing record heading to the Rose Bowl.
Don’t think it can happen? It can.
If Indiana beats Wisconsin Saturday in Bloomington, but loses its last two games (at Penn State and at Purdue, the latter very unlikely to happen considering how Danny Hope’s Boilermakers are stinking things up mightily this season), it will finish 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten.
If the aforementioned happens and the Badgers lose their remaining three (at IU, home against Ohio State and at Penn State), Wisconsin will finish 6-6, 3-5. That would mean IU and Wisconsin would tie in the Leaders Division, but the Hoosiers would win the tiebreaker by virtue of defeating the Badgers in their head-to-head meeting.
It sounds crazy, I know, and in all likelihood won’t happen, but it’s food for thought nonetheless.
Just think if IU somehow gets to Indianapolis and is one win away from a possible Rose Bowl meeting with say, Oregon if the Ducks aren’t in the national championship game.
I don’t think the Big Ten, which has already been humiliated this season and rightfully so by critics due to the conference’s poor nonconference performance, would like a possible Hoosier-Duck clash in Pasadena. Do you?
With all that said, Wisconsin can put an end to all the silliness by simply beating IU. If the Badgers beat the Hoosiers, they’ll punch their ticket to Indy for the second year in a row.
The Legends Division race, however, is far from that simple.
Nebraska and Michigan remain tied at 4-1 a top that division with Northwestern having an outside chance at 3-2.
The picture in the Legends will be much clearer after tomorrow as the Wildcats travel to Ann Arbor and Nebraska entertains Penn State.
A win over the Nittany Lions, and the Cornhuskers will really be in the driver’s seat for Indy considering their final two games are a home contest against Minnesota and a road trip to Iowa. Remember if Nebraska and Michigan tie, the Cornhuskers go to Nap Town since they beat the Wolverines in Lincoln.
Although Ohio State is off Saturday, the Buckeyes will be cheering hard for Nebraska as a Penn State loss would deliver the Scarlet and Gray at least a share of the Leaders Division title.
Michigan State also has a bye this weekend.
Now that you know how things are shaping up as far as the Big Ten race goes, IndySportsLegends.com gives you the following guide to what conference games are worth watching tomorrow and the ones that aren’t DVR worthy.
(I bounced back in a big way last week as I ran the table and posted a 5-0 mark after enduring my worst week of the season. My season record now stands at 63-16, a wining percentage of 79.7 percent.)
¢ Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) @ Indiana (4-5, 2-3)
Bloomington, Ind. (Memorial Stadium 52,929)
No, this game doesn’t feature one ranked team, but there’s plenty at stake in Bloomington.
A win for Bret Bielema’s team can get the Badgers a return trip to Indy where they won last year’s inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
If IU pulls off the upset, it knows it will control its destiny to get to Indy.
Word is the Badgers will start Curt Phillips for injured quarterback Joel Stave. It will be Phillips’ first collegiate start. The good news for him is Wisconsin won’t need him to win the game. Rather, they’ll just expect Phillips to manage the game and rely on running backs Montee Ball and James White to do their thing.
What really has to concern you if you’re a Hoosier fan is IU is last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing more than 200 yards per game. If they want to have any chance in this one, they’ll have to do a much better job against the run “ like they did against Michigan State (2.9 yards a carry) and Iowa (3.2) or Ball and White could lead the visitors to a double-digit victory.
IU has the best passing attack in the conference so the Hoosiers will be able to move the football, but if the Badgers control the clock with their running game, it may not matter.
Wisconsin has dominated IU as of late, winning seven straight. The Badgers are 6-0 vs. the Hoosiers in Bielema’s tenure and have scored over 50 points four times, including 83 in 2010. Plus, Wisconsin is 17-3 in the month of November under Bielema.
The Badgers are used to big games, the Hoosiers aren’t.
Keep in mind, IU hasn’t won three straight Big Ten games since 1993.
Ball and White prove to be too much to handle. On Wisconsin, 33-20.
¢ Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) @ Michigan (6-3, 4-1)
Ann Arbor, Mich. (Michigan Stadium 109,901)
This is an elimination game for Northwestern in the Legends Division. If the ˜Cats lose to the Wolverines, their dream of going to Indy will be over.
The game is just as important to Michigan as it needs to win to keep pace with Nebraska or if the Huskers stumble against Penn State, it could mean taking the lead in the division.
Will Denard Robinson return after dealing with the nerve issue in his arm? If not, Devin Gardner proved last week that he’s more than capable of leading the Big Blue to victory (as they cruised at Minnesota).
Northwestern hasn’t had much success against Michigan as the Wolverines lead the all-time series 53-15-2. In fact, the ˜Cats have won in Ann Arbor just six times in 41 tries although they were victorious the last time they visited Michigan Stadium.
It will be interesting to see how Michigan’s defense performs against NU’s attack. The Wolverines don’t give up a whole lot of points, as they’re second in the league in scoring defense (16.8 points per game allowed).
Both these teams are productive running the ball. Northwestern averages 237.6 yards on the ground per game, while Michigan cranks out 200.9.
So it almost goes without saying which team has the better day running the football will win.
Expect the Maize and Blue to come out on top and don’t be surprised if it’s by a lot. M Go Blue, 34-17.
¢ Penn State (6-3, 4-1) @ #18 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1)
Lincoln, Neb. (Memorial Stadium 81,091)
This one has all the makings of being the Big Ten Game-of-the-Week. If Penn State were not on probation, this game would really have clout.
Nebraska appears to be on a mission, having won its last three games, including dramatic road wins against Northwestern and last week against Michigan State.
This one has all the makings of being a crowd pleaser. Nebraska averages 38 points a game. Penn State has the best passer in Matt McGloin.
It’ll be strength vs. strength. Penn State’s passing attack vs. Nebraska’s strong pass defense.
Buckle your seatbelt; this could be a high-scoring affair. I like the Huskers to protect their home field and since they have a more balanced attack that features more playmakers. Go Big Red, 40-38.
No One Cares
¢ Purdue (3-6, 0-5) @ Iowa (4-5, 2-3)
Iowa City, Iowa (Kinnick Stadium 70,585)
Barring something unforeseen, neither one of these teams will be involved in post-season play this year.
Hope’s Boilermakers have to win their final three games to be bowl eligible, but the chances of that happening are about as good as Hope being retained as Purdue’s coach after the season.
This is a Boilermaker team that has shown little fight since Big Ten play began.
Iowa, on the other hand, suffered a tough loss at IU last week, which all but ended its bowl hopes. The Hawkeyes need to win two out of three to get to six wins. After Purdue, they face Michigan and Nebraska. Good luck in those two.
As they have throughout Hope’s tenure at Purdue, the Boilermakers will find a way to lose another one. Iowa has the better defense so Lets Go Hawks, 28-21.
¢ Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) @ Illinois (2-7, 0-5)
Champaign, Ill. (Memorial Stadium 60,670)
The Gophers would become bowl eligible with a win over hapless Illinois. It would be a good idea for Minnesota to take care of business and punch its ticket to the post-season since its final two games are against Nebraska and Michigan State.
Not that the Gophers are an offensive juggernaut because they’re not, but Illinois really has a tough time scoring (last in the Big Ten, averaging 18.4 points per game).
The Illini defense is just as bad, as they allow 33 points per game to rank in the league basement.
Nothing leads me to believe Illinois can win this game. The Illini don’t even seem to have a pulse these days.
On the other hand, Minnesota has only won once in the Big Ten (over Purdue), but I think the Gophers believe a lot more in Jerry Kill than Illinois does in its coach Tim Beckman. G-O-P-H-E-R-S, 35-17.
(All times ET)
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