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The Big Ten Title Race

With just three weeks to go in the NCAA football season before championship Saturday, the conference title race pictures are starting to become clear in many conferences. The Big Ten, however, is not one of those conferences. The Leaders Division would be rather clear if all of the teams were postseason eligible: Ohio State has a pair of games against Wisconsin and Michigan left, and the only way it could lose the title would be losing both of those games and having Penn State run the table over Nebraska, Indiana, and Wisconsin. As it is, however, neither Ohio State nor Penn State is bowl eligible, and as a result, neither is allowed to play in the Big Ten title game. This likely means that the Big Ten title game spot from the Leaders Division will fall to the third place team, either Wisconsin or Indiana. Wisconsin and Indiana will play this weekend, and Wisconsin could lock up a spot in the title game with a win. An Indiana win, however, would put the two teams equal in record with two games to play. Indiana would need to win against both Penn State and Purdue to be certain of the spot, but Wisconsin would have trouble gaining any ground as their last two games are against Ohio State and Penn State.

The Legends Division is even more complex, with Nebraska and Michigan currently tied for first. With Nebraska’s win against Michigan earlier in the season, 23-9, Nebraska would hold the tiebreaker if the two teams remain tied at the end of the season. Nebraska has Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa left on their schedule. Penn State has been playing the best of those three teams, but Nebraska still seems like a heavy favorite against the Nittany Lions due to the Cornhuskers’ strong rushing attack. Minnesota and Iowa are both having down seasons, and a title favorite like Nebraska should win easily. If Nebraska should happen to drop any of those games, Michigan can take advantage by winning out against Northwestern, Iowa, and Ohio State. Michigan clearly has the more difficult path to the title, as Ohio State is playing like one of the best teams in the country right now, and Northwestern is just one game behind the tied teams. A close loss, 29-28 to Nebraska, has probably eliminated the Wildcats, because even if Northwestern beats Michigan and Nebraska drops any of their last three, it still wouldn’t be enough. The three teams would be tied at two losses each, but Nebraska would reach the title game on the basis of beating both Michigan and Northwestern.

All things considered, the most likely championship game would be played between Nebraska and Wisconsin, a rematch of Nebraska’s 30-27 win back on September 29th. If the previous matchup is any sign of the future one, expect a duel of opposite strategies, as Wisconsin will try to throw deep passes, while Nebraska focuses on establishing their deadly running game. It’s still a little too early to crown Nebraska the Big Ten Champions, but it seems like the most likely result four weeks from now.

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