Big Ten Bradley-Terry Projections: The Final Countdown

Previous projections: pre-conference, post-Week 5, post-Week 6, post-Week 7, post-Week 8, post-Week 9, three weeks left, two weeks left

Full national rankings: here

And then there were three. Late comebacks by Ohio State and Michigan State keep the three-way tie at the top, and Iowa's fall means that only those three are alive for even a share of the Big Ten crown. Elsewhere, Illinois won the half-court football game to become bowl eligible, and Indiana and Purdue were both eliminated, thus assuring the Big Ten of exactly eight eligible teams.

All predictions of bowls other than the Rose are of moderate certainty at best. There are a lot of factors that would go into decisions between tied or close-to-tied teams, not all of which I am privy to. Bowl selection order is Rose, BCS at-large, Capital One, Outback, Gator, Insight, Texas, Dallas Football Classic, Little Caesar's. As always, game projections do not consider home field.

The Contenders

Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1): v. Northwestern

Chance of winning: 91.9% (Basic) / 97.1% / -21.5 (Margin-Aware)

Rose Bowl scenarios: Assuming that they maintain their lead in the BCS standings, they need a win and either an MSU loss OR an OSU win (78.4% / 93.6%).They lose a two-way tie with MSU (13.5% / 3.5%) but win a two-way tie with OSU (12.3% / 14.1%); three-way (63.5% / 78.9%) goes to the BCS standings, which they currently lead. If all three teams lose (0.23% / 0.019%), it would again come down to the BCS standings; I have no idea whatsoever how this would play out.

BCS at-large scenarios: I will make the assumption that the Big Ten will certainly get a second bid if two teams finish at 11-1. An SEC team probably gets one of the four at-large bids; another is slated to the higher-ranked of TCU and Boise; at worst, the Big Ten team would be competing with a two-loss team from the Big XII, 11-1 Stanford, and the other unbeaten non-AQ for one of the remaining two slots. Stanford and the Big XII team are probably the odd teams out if that happens. However, if two of the top three get upset this weekend, the Big Ten's at-large hopes likely hinge on a Stanford/TCU/Boise loss (and even then, depending on how things play out in the Big XII we may not get it).
Wisconsin's chances of getting a BCS bid (Rose or at-large) are very good if they win; a three-way tie probably leaves them first and in the Rose Bowl, but if Ohio State jumps them Wisconsin may still be picked over Michigan State for the at-large. (Then again, they might not, due to head-to-head and the novelty factor.) If tied with only Michigan State at 11-1, they're a virtual lock for an at-large.

Worst-case scenario: If one of the other two wins the Big Ten outright, there's a possibility of only one BCS bid, and Wisconsin could fall as far as the Outback Bowl in this case, depending on whether they're a more attractive pick than the other team to falter this weekend. MSU might go ahead if the Capital One prefers novelty or head-to-head; OSU could if they value tradition more and ignore head-to-head (which is often the case).

Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): v. Michigan

Chance of winning: 82.5% / 95.8% / -19.5

Rose Bowl scenarios: The only way Ohio State can be certain of a trip to Pasadena is if they win and both Wisconsin and Michigan State fall (1.1% / 0.42%). If Wisconsin loses but Michigan State wins (5.6% / 2.4%), however, it's very likely that Ohio State would win the BCS standings tiebreaker and go to the Rose Bowl. If all three teams win, Ohio State may pass Wisconsin but it's not likely. If Michigan State loses but Wisconsin wins (12.3% / 14.1%), Ohio State cannot go to the Rose Bowl.

BCS at-large scenarios: As with Wisconsin, a win is likely enough to guarantee at least a BCS bid. In a three-way tie, OSU would probably not pass Wisconsin for the Rose Bowl bid but would very likely be chosen ahead of MSU for an at-large. If tied with only Wisconsin at 11-1, an at-large is all but certain.

Worst-case scenario: MSU wins, Wisconsin and OSU both lose. Nobody gets an at-large, and the Capital One picks Wisconsin, sending Ohio State to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. (Should the choice be between MSU and OSU, OSU probably gets the Capital One. They might over Wisconsin too, but that's much less clear.)

Michigan State (10-1, 6-1): @ Penn State

Chance of winning: 83.8% / 84.8% / -10.5

Rose Bowl scenarios: A win and a Michigan upset of Ohio State (14.7% / 3.6%) would send MSU to Pasadena regardless of the Wisconsin-Northwestern outcome. If Ohio State wins, MSU must win and finish ahead of OSU (and Wisconsin, if they also win) in the BCS standings. This is not likely.

BCS at-large scenarios: A win and a Northwestern upset (5.6% / 2.4%) would likely leave MSU in line for the Big Ten's second BCS bid. However, if all three contenders win, MSU is likely to be the odd team out.

Royal screw-job scenario: All three contenders win, and MSU gets stuck with the Capital One Bowl as a consolation prize at 11-1. Not that MSU's fan base is in a position to turn up our noses at a New Year's game in Florida, but as far as "ways to celebrate an 11-1 season" go, that's a bit underwhelming. This is theoretically possible for any of the three contenders but is far more likely to happen to MSU.

Worst-case scenario: Wisconsin wins, MSU and OSU lose, and OSU gets the Capital One Bowl, sending MSU to Tampa for the Outback.

Jockeying for Bowl Position

Iowa (7-4, 4-3): @ Minnesota

Chance of winning: 94.5% / 99.0% / -28.5

Where do they go with a win? A win plus all three of the contenders holding serve leaves Iowa alone in fourth place (both by conference and overall record). With two teams in the BCS, that's good for a trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. Iowa's enough of a draw that they're unlikely to be jumped by anyone with a worse record. At equal records, Michigan or Penn State might move ahead (the former on the basis of a bowl-starved fan base, the latter on the possibility of a JoePa Farewell Tour), but Northwestern definitely won't and Illinois wouldn't be able to equal them. Absolute worst case with a win is that Michigan and Penn State win, only one team reaches the BCS, and the bowl committees decide the late-season improvement of Michigan and Penn State merits a bump; Iowa then gets a trip to Houston for the Texas Bowl.

What if they lose? It ain't pretty. Three losses in a row to end the season, including to hapless Minnesota, means they almost certainly fall behind Michigan and Penn State. Northwestern still might not get picked ahead even if they beat Wisconsin, due to their relatively small traveling contingent. My guess is that they would go ahead of Northwestern if Wisconsin wins, but Northwestern would get the nod if they get to 8-4. It's possible that even Illinois jumps Iowa if they get to 7-5, just by virtue of not finishing quite so terribly, but not if they fall to Fresno. Best case: the other middle-of-the-pack teams all lose, two BCS selections, but Iowa drops behind Michigan and Penn State to the Insight Bowl. Worst case, NW upsets Wisconsin, one of the other top teams goes down (leaving only one BCS bid), Illinois beats Fresno, and Iowa falls to the bottom of the pecking order and a trip to scenic Detroit.

Penn State (7-4, 4-3): v. Michigan State

Chance of winning: 16.2% / 15.2% / +10.5

Where do they go with a win? If Minnesota manages to upset Iowa and the red two-thirds of the contenders hold serve, Penn State would sit alone in fourth, likely going to the Outback Bowl. Either Iowa or Michigan could jump them if they also win (Michigan more likely, IMO, despite head-to-head results); that could (combined with a single BCS bid) drop Penn State all the way to Houston, but I would be surprised if they fell below Iowa despite a win.

What if they lose? They've still shown some late-season improvement, always a plus with the bowl committees. That and the JoePa factor would likely keep them ahead of Illinois and Northwestern no matter what. They likely wouldn't go ahead of an Iowa team that beat Minnesota, though, nor a Michigan team that upset Ohio State. If neither of those happen, Penn State could still see the Outback Bowl with a loss. A drop to Houston becomes much more likely with a loss, though it probably still requires a Michigan upset.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4): @ Ohio State

Chance of winning: 17.5% / 4.2% / +19.5

Where do they go with a win? They likely jump to fourth in the pecking order regardless of anything else, ensuring a New Year's game in either Tampa or Jacksonville. Penn State might go ahead if they also win, opening up the possibility of getting sent to the Insight Bowl, but that's unlikely.

What if they lose? Iowa probably gets picked ahead (unless they somehow lose to Minnesota). Penn State probably does too, win or lose (though it's a very close decision with a loss). Illinois and Northwestern do not. Depending on whether there are one or two BCS bids, this means Insight or Texas.

Northwestern (7-4, 3-4): @ Wisconsin

Chance of winning: 8.1% / 2.9% / +21.5

Where do they go with a win? Due to being a relatively weak draw on TV and in person, probably not as high as their record says they should. Behind Iowa (barring a massive upset), quite possibly behind Michigan and Penn State even without upsets there (and almost certainly behind with them), but probably ahead of Illinois. The Outback is a theoretical possibility but I wouldn't count on it; Insight seems like the more realistic best-case scenario.

What if they lose? Depends on whether Illinois beats Fresno or not. If they do, NW goes dead last (Dallas or Detroit, depending on whether Michigan and Penn State both pull upsets or not). If not, NW goes ahead of Illinois but that's it, headed to either Houston or Dallas.

Illinois (6-5, 4-4): @ Fresno State (Dec. 3)

Chance of winning: 64.7% / 76.2% / -7

Where do they go with a win? Even a win only gets them to 7-5, and they're only a bigger draw than Northwestern. If Northwestern upsets Wisconsin and Iowa doesn't choke against Minnesota, Illinois is probably last in the pecking order even with a win, heading to either Dallas or Detroit. Should Iowa manage to duplicate Illinois's dubious feat of losing to Minnesota, Wisconsin holds off Northwestern, and the Big Ten gets two BCS bids, Illinois probably ends up in the Insight as a best case.

What if they lose? 6-6 will get you the last spot: Dallas or Detroit, depending on the number of BCS bids.

Nothing At Stake But A Trophy

Indiana (4-7, 0-7) @ Purdue (4-7, 2-5): Purdue 62.9% / 52.2% / -0.5

Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): v. Iowa 5.5% / 1.0% / +28.5

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