After last week's emotional win over Iowa, I found myself asking a lot of questions. After I considered whether Kirk Ferentz had been suddenly possessed by Les Miles during the 4th quarter, one big question presented itself: "What the heck am I going to do next Saturday when the Badgers have a bye?"
Being a lazy college student, the easy answer for me was: "Watch a lot of college football." Just as in life though, answering one question brought up another: "Who should I root for to put the Badgers in the best position to win the Big Ten?" It's definitely a tough one to answer. A lot of factors that are not in Wisconsin's control will have to happen, but it's still not an impossibility.
Of course all of this assumes that the Badgers can win out, something that is not guaranteed with a road trip to Michigan looming as well as a face off with pesky Northwestern. For a quick refresher on Big Ten tie breaking, take a look at the article Adam had posted earlier this week. Got it? Good. Let's dive right in, then.
Reminder: This list assumes that Wisconsin wins the rest of their games. Another loss would almost definitely eliminate them from the Big Ten Title race.
Here are the Big Ten games on the slate for this Saturday, in descending order of importance for Wisconsin's title chances.
Michigan State (8-0) @ Iowa (5-2), 2:30 PM CST, ABC/ESPN
This is the big one. If Michigan State wins this game, it's all but over for the Big Ten title race. For Wisconsin to overtake Michigan State for the lead in the Big Ten, Michigan State needs to lose at least two games. This is the hardest game left on their schedule, and the only other possible loss I can see is their final game against Penn State in Happy Valley. Granted, Penn State is not really a force this year. However, balls bounce funny in so-called "Rivalry" games. (Can you call that a rivalry? It reminds me more of astro-turf.)
Anyway, for Wisconsin to win the Big Ten outright, Iowa must win this game. I cannot emphasize that enough. Yes, I know it's Iowa. Yes, I know we Badger fans usually dislike Iowa with a vengeance. We're just going to have to suck it up and pull for the Hawkeyes this weekend. We just cannot count on Minnesota or Purdue to upset the Spartans on the road. Not gonna happen.
Iowa is currently the favorite by a touchdown. It should be an excellent game to watch on top of the title race overtones it carries with it.
Ohio State (7-1) @ Minnesota (1-7), 7:00 PM CST, ABC/ESPN3
Yes, I can hear you laughing right now. You have to trust me though, every game Ohio State plays from here on out is important to the Badgers' chances of winning the Big Ten outright. You see, even though Wisconsin convincingly whooped the Buckeyes at Camp Randall, they're only one spot behind us in the BCS rankings at #11. Ohio State very well could jump Wisconsin if they win out with convincing margins and the Badgers just scrape by. These BCS rankings become crucial if there is a 3 way tie between MSU-Wisconsin-OSU. Because OSU and MSU do not play this year, the leauge's auto-berth is given to the team with the highest BCS rank, which very well could be OSU seeing as the Spartans will have lost near the end of the season.
Plus, to win the title outright, Ohio State needs to lose one more game. IF Michigan State drops two or more games, and both the Badgers and the Buckeyes win out, OSU and Wisconsin would tie. Now, Wisconsin would get the league's Rose Bowl berth because of their head to head record, but an outright title would be so much more satisfying, wouldn't it?
So, it appears as though for this week we Badger fans will have to side with our rodent-loving neighbors to the west. Granted, this seems impossible. The Buckeyes are currently 26(!) point favorites on the road, meaning that it would take something on the level of an act of God or some kind of meteor striking the Buckeye's team bus for Minnesota to win.
Michigan (5-2) @ Penn State (4-3), 7:00 PM CST, ESPN/ESPN3
Ah, now here's where we get into a little bit of speculation and guess work. We have here two teams that are not in contention for the Big Ten title, yet Badger fans should still care about who wins this game? Yes. Yes indeed.
Stick with me here: Wisconsin does not play Penn State this year, but both Michigan State and Ohio State do. A victory by Penn State does not do Wisconsin any good- it does not directly affect the title race, and it makes Michigan look weaker by the time the Badgers must travel to Ann Arbor. Plus, a win by Penn State will inflate their record by the time they play MSU and OSU. Wisconsin potentially beating a 7-3 Michigan team on the road will definitely look better than beating a 6-4 team. Granted, Ohio State still plays Michigan this year, but since The Game is in Columbus I believe Wisconsin's potential road win will look better than OSU's potential home win.
Trust me, I love hating on the Wolverines as much as any other Big Ten fan. We're going to have to set aside our prejudices though: Michigan is a 3 point favorite on the road, and any "style points" we can get by beating teams with better records is a good thing in my book.
Northwestern (5-2) @ Indiana (4-3), 11:00 AM CST, Big Ten Network
This is the last of the games that could help Wisconsin's chances depending on the outcome. The Badgers are the only team of the top three to still have Northwestern on their schedule. I'm going to pull for the Wildcats come Saturday, seeing as potentially beating a team with a better record would look nicer to the poll voters and those blasted computers during the final week of the season.
The Badgers are also the only team of the top 3 to have Indiana left, but I think the Wildcats still trump the Hoosiers because Northwestern has the better chance at a bowl game/positive record by the end of the season (and can, you know, actually play defense). Northwestern is currently favored on the road by 4.
Purdue (4-3) @ Illinois (4-3), 11:00 AM CST, ESPN2/ESPN3
As we move down the scale, we run into the Boilermakers v. the Fighting Zooks. Honestly, I think this one is pretty much a toss-up. Both teams have factors that would make me want them to win. If Illinois wins, it would help Wisconsin more immediately as they play the Boilermakers next. If Purdue wins, Wisconsin could potentially beat a team with a better record.
However, I'm going to take a flier and root for Illinois here. A loss would hopefully hurt the Boilermakers going into next week's game with Wisconsin, and the fact that MSU still plays Purdue would not help the Spartan's credibility with the voters. It would also help negate OSU's 49-0 whooping of the Boilers last week. Illinois is currently a 17 point favorite at home.
So there you have it. In lieu of Wisconsin football this weekend, I (and my fellow Badgers) should root for Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, and Illinois.
Disagree with my picks? Discuss in the comments!
I leave you with some bye-week music: (Really, I couldn't resist.)