Big Ten race: Wolverines, Wildcats have inside track but much can change

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan has the inside track as the only team unbeaten in Big Ten play, but they have at least two stern tests ahead of them.

With roughly a month to go in the regular season, the prognosticating for the College Football Playoff will be hitting a fever pitch over the next several weeks.

But before anyone in the Big Ten can start making travel plans, the matter of deciding the division champions to see who plays for the conference title in Indianapolis will need to be settled. And after Saturday’s game, almost nothing is certain.

Big games still await the leaders in the East while over in the West, Northwestern has the leg up but has hardly clinched anything other than crippling Wisconsin’s chances with a two-touchdown win over the Badgers on Saturday.

There wasn’t much movement to be made this weekend in the East as Michigan and Ohio State were off. The Wolverines are on top at 5-0 while the Buckeyes are 4-1 after the loss last week at Purdue. But with the teams facing off in the regular-season finale, the one-game lead clinches nothing for the Wolverines.

There’s also the minor detail of the four remaining games. Technically, five teams are still alive in the East as Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland all have two losses, though each would need lots of help to end up in Indy. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a say in how things play out.

The biggest game comes next weekend when Penn State visits Michigan. It’s the last stiff test for the Wolverines before they head to Columbus on Nov. 24. And Michigan State still gets Ohio State in two weeks — imagine Wolverines pulling for Spartans that day.

Northwestern now controls the West after the other leaders all lost. But with a matchup left with Iowa, things could get sticky. Purdue also still plays Iowa and Wisconsin, so things are far from over.



Record: 7-1, 5-0 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Penn State, at Rutgers, vs. Indiana, at Ohio State

It’s simple for the Wolverines — win out and you’re the East champs. There is some wiggle room. Even one more loss over the next three weeks wouldn’t hurt as long as they beat Ohio State. That scenario would also send Michigan to Indy.

Ohio State

Record: 7-1, 4-1 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State, at Maryland, vs. Michigan

There’s no margin for error now for the Buckeyes. Outside of a complete meltdown from Michigan, Ohio State needs to win out.

Michigan State

Record: 5-3, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: at Maryland, vs. Ohio State, at Nebraska, vs. Rutgers

The Spartans might have found something with Rocky Lombardi at quarterback, but they’ll need to be perfect and hope the Wolverines collapse.

Penn State

Record: 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: at Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, at Rutgers, vs. Maryland

The Nittany Lions’ season was shot after the two straight losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. They can win out but they’d need two losses from Ohio State and one more from Michigan State.


Record: 5-3, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Michigan State, at Indiana, vs. Ohio State, at Penn State

The toughest remaining schedule makes the long shot even more improbable for the Terps. But hey, you never know. Right?

More: Lombardi delivers for MSU in win over Purdue

More: Saturday's Big Ten: Penn State holds off Iowa



Record: 5-3, 5-1 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Notre Dame, at Iowa, at Minnesota, vs. Illinois

The Wildcats have never been to the Big Ten championship game but they’re in good shape now. The big game comes in two weeks at Iowa. Win that and they should make it if they don’t get upset in the final two weeks.


Record: 5-3, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Rutgers, at Penn State, at Purdue, vs. Minnesota

The Badgers are in trouble but not out of it. They hold the tiebreaker over Iowa and still get a shot at Purdue. If Northwestern wins out, though, the Badgers are out of luck.


Record: 6-2, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: at Purdue, vs. Northwestern, at Illinois, vs. Nebraska

The Hawkeyes had a shot to win at Penn State on Saturday but threw an interception on first-and-goal from the Penn State 3 in the final minutes. It was a crushing loss that leaves the Hawkeyes needing to win the next two weeks against Purdue and Northwestern.


Record: 4-4, 3-2 Big Ten

Remaining games: vs. Iowa, at Minnesota, vs. Wisconsin, at Indiana

The Boilermakers are likely kicking themselves now for the season-opening loss to Northwestern. They still get Iowa and Wisconsin, but like the other contenders, they’ll still be hoping for the Wildcats to slip up over the final few weeks.

Twitter @mattcharboneau