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How the Big Ten West could be won

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Inside Wisconsin’s path to the division title.

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Exclusive photos from Badgers', Buckeyes' OT Classic Patrick Barron

Here we sit in the third full week of October with the Wisconsin Badgers in an interesting situation.

The Badgers (4-2, 1-2) are the No. 10 team in the nation following their 31-24 overtime loss to No. 2 Ohio State. The loss was their second of the season and they are the only top-10 team with two losses.

Despite the top-10 ranking, Wisconsin is in a four-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten West, two games behind the division leader, No. 8 Nebraska.

You may be asking how Wisconsin is still in the top 10 following back-to-back losses. The reason is the quality of their losses. Wisconsin’s only two came against top-five teams in Michigan and Ohio State.

The Big Ten East will likely be decided on the final weekend of the season, as the Buckeyes and Wolverines face one another on Nov. 26 in Columbus.

Wisconsin currently trails Nebraska, who is 6-0 (3-0 in conference); Iowa, who is 5-2 (3-1 in conference) and Northwestern, who is 3-3 (2-1 in conference).

Fortunately for the Badgers, they play each of the teams they are chasing over the next three games, so they do partially hold their destiny in their own hands.

They also have some history on their side, as since 2010, Wisconsin is 4-1 against Nebraska, 2-1 against Iowa and 2-2 against Northwestern.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), Wisconsin is favored to win each of its remaining games. The FPI believes the toughest of the Badgers remaining slate are their next three games, giving Wisconsin a 60.7 percent chance to defeat Iowa, a 65.7% percent chance to defeat Nebraska and a 70.1 percent chance to defeat Northwestern.

In order for Wisconsin to win the West, it needs to do what the FPI thinks it will: win out.

Doing so will hand each of the teams they are chasing a loss, which will help tip the scales in the Badgers’ favor as the first tie-breaker in the Big Ten is the head-to-head matchup. If Wisconsin and Nebraska finish the season with identical records, whomever wins their Oct. 29 matchup will head to Indianapolis.

The second tiebreaker is more convoluted and involves multiple steps. If three or more teams are tied, steps one through six below will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain, the head-to-head matchup will serve as the tiebreaker.

  1. The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.
  2. The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.
  3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next-highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6 and 7).
  4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
  5. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.
  6. The representative will be chosen by random draw.

While Wisconsin’s odds of winning out are favorable, the teams they are chasing face different fates.

Northwestern is projected to win half of its remaining six games, against Indiana, Purdue and Illinois. The Wildcats face Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weekends. They also draw Minnesota, who is in the mix, tied with Wisconsin at 4-2 (1-2 in conference).

Iowa has a difficult remaining schedule, as it plays three top-10 teams, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes are predicted to come up on the losing end in four of their remaining five games. They are projected to lose against their top-10 counterparts and Penn State. Iowa is only favored to defeat Illinois.

Nebraska is favored to win four of its remaining six games, including its tilt Iowa. The two teams play the final weekend of the season, Nov. 25 at Iowa.

The Cornhuskers are not favored by the FPI against Wisconsin and Ohio State, whom they play on back-to-back weekends. If both Wisconsin and Nebraska are able to stay within the top 10 following their games this weekend, it will be Wisconsin’s fifth game of the season against a top-10 opponent when the two teams square off under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 29. In the previous four such games, Wisconsin is 2-2.

The final weekend proves to a big one with several important games, including the aforementioned Ohio State/Michigan and Nebraska/Iowa games, as well as Wisconsin hosting Minnesota as it renews their long-standing rivalry for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

If Wisconsin can win out and its West Division counterparts sputter through their remaining games, the Badgers could ease their way into the Big Ten Championship Game.