I went through Big Ten West championship game scenarios last week, and although I didn’t elaborate on it, the seven-way tie favoring Nebraska meant that Purdue was already eliminated heading into Week 11. With five conference losses already, they could only have won a 4-5 tiebreaker that would never have favored them in any permutation.
However, despite a victory by frontrunner Iowa, the old adage still holds true with two weeks of Big Ten West play left in all of history:
Anyone Could Win The Big Ten West Except (Former) Illinois (defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and his Purdue Boilermakers)
And the cool thing is that only a few of these require outlandish things to happen! Eight more games involving Big Ten West teams will happen this year. Purdue’s game against Indiana does not affect title game scenarios at all, so there are seven games that will decide the West. That means there are 128 permutations of how these games can go.
Iowa football is an incredible thing. They are perennially ranked from Also Receiving Votes to the top 20 and currently have a commanding lead and yet nobody is having any fun. Kirk Ferentz hates fun. He’s achieved something once thought impossible in college football: a complete separation of success and fun. Remember, dear reader: where there’s fun, Iowa is trying to hunt it down and murder it.
With that in mind, Iowa can murder the fun we’re all having with these paths to Indy a whole week early by defeating Illinois on Saturday. Of the 128 permutations, Iowa wins 102 of them. 64 of those permutations are a branch from Iowa beating Illinois. It’s a home game for the Hawks, but Bret Bielema’s Illini do their best work on the road. Still, with two games left to play the Hawkeyes have already locked up a share of the West title as they lead the division race by two games.
Even if they lose this week, they still win the West outright with a win over Nebraska. 32 additional permutations come from losing to Illinois but beating Nebraska. Their 5-2 Big Ten record makes them the only Big Ten West team currently above .500 in conference play.
The only thing Iowa has to do to guarantee a trip to Indy from where they are now?
They must not finish the regular season with exactly eight wins.
I’ve only accounted for 96 permutations that Iowa wins. Iowa has six paths to back into the title game on a two-game losing streak. If Wisconsin beats Nebraska and Northwestern beats Illinois, a Badger victory in the Axe game gives Iowa the title. Even a Gopher victory there probably hands the Hawks the title unless Minnesota has defeated Ohio State the week prior.
None Of The Rest Of This Matters If Illinois Falls To Iowa
I’m about to talk about some highly whimsical college football scenarios, absolutely none of which will see the light of day if Illinois can’t get the job done. A whole wondrous world of ridiculous possibilities awaits the rest of the West (Purdue notwithstanding). They just need Illinois to take care of business and not do something ill-advised, like give the starting QB job back to Luke Altmeyer when John Paddock is red hot.
Due to the Big Ten tiebreakers you can find in last week’s roundup, Nebraska is in the best shape of any non-Iowa team thanks to their three wins over Big Ten West foes.
It’s this simple:
- Nebraska wins out
- Illinois beats Iowa
- If Minnesota wins out, Illinois must beat Northwestern.
Nebraska can’t tie Wisconsin because each currently has 3 B1G wins and they play each other in Week 12. The Huskers win every possible tiebreaker involving both Illinois and Iowa, but they wouldn’t win the tiebreaker with just Iowa and Minnesota. Nevertheless, Nebraska wins 14 of the 128 scenarios that could play out.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
I wanted to do this in order of descending plausibility, but let’s get this out of the way right now: since they lost to Purdue, Minnesota needs to beat Ohio State to be a part of this conversation. The winner of the West will have at least five wins.
That makes this scenario purely academic, but Minnesota wins if:
- Minnesota wins out
- Iowa loses to Illinois and Nebraska
- Northwestern beats Illinois
- If Wisconsin beats Nebraska, Purdue needs to beat Northwestern
That gives Minnesota three scenarios, all of which require the Gophers to beat Ohio State. They can win a two-way tie with Iowa or a three-way tie with Nebraska and Iowa, but they can’t have Illinois involved in that situation.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois stuck three big fat bullets in their foot by losing their first three Big Ten West games. Fortunately, they have an opportunity to knock off Iowa, but they would be in prime position had they not blown the Wisconsin game.
NEVERTHELESS! If Illinois has the following:
- Illinois wins out
- Nebraska loses to Wisconsin but beats Iowa
- Minnesota beats Wisconsin
then that produces four permutations of MN/OSU and jNW/PU that all result in the Illini going to Indy. Minnesota winning is easily the most implausible game, but the way Wisconsin’s looking it might be too big an ask for them to get them up off the mat. Like Purdue before them, they gave everything they had to beat Illinois.
But if they do, there are still four scenarios where they win!
Their scenarios are the same as Illinois except Wisconsin beats Minnesota.
- Wisconsin wins out
- Iowa loses out
- Illinois beats Northwestern
That last one is important because if the Illini falter at home against the Cats, Iowa backs into the division title by virtue of their head-to-head win over Wisconsin. In a three-way tie with Illinois, however, the four division wins Wisconsin would have would break the stalemate.
There is one scenario in which Northwestern goes to Indianapolis.
- Illinois beats Iowa
- Minnesota beats Ohio State
- Northwestern wins out over Purdue and Illinois
- Wisconsin beats Nebraska
- Minnesota beats Wisconsin
- Nebraska beats Iowa
Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin doesn’t do them any good in a three way tie with Iowa because Iowa also beat Wisconsin. However, the above scenario is a three-way tie between Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern. Each team is 1-1 against the other two, but Northwestern would have the most division wins with four.
There are 128 scenarios and they would be won by the following schools:
- Iowa: 102 times
- Nebraska: 14 times
- Illinois: 4 times
- Wisconsin: 4 times
- Minnesota: 3 times
- Northwestern: 1 time
There is, however, one huge problem with many of these scenarios: they require Minnesota to knock off Ohio State in what would be a legendary upset and easily the biggest head-scratcher in Big Ten play this season. The only reason that’s not off the table is that Michigan fans are getting everything they’ve ever wanted out of college football and more right now, so if Michigan fans decide they want that game to go that way, it certainly could. On paper, it’s a pretty sure thing for the Buckeyes though.
In the Minnesota Loses To Ohio State Zone, there are 64 permutations among four schools:
- Iowa: 52
- Nebraska: 8
- Illinois: 2
- Wisconsin: 2
This Weekend’s Elimination Scenarios
Iowa vs Illinois: If Illinois loses, everyone but Iowa is eliminated and our fun is over. Once again, for the purpose of this exercise let’s imagine a world where Illinois gets their first win in Iowa City of this millennium.
Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: A Nebraska win will eliminate everyone but Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s victory keeps everyone alive except the Huskers.
Ohio State vs Minnesota: It is very funny that this game could have title implications. Minnesota and Northwestern are eliminated with a Gopher loss.
Northwestern vs Purdue: Northwestern is eliminated with a loss.
Two more weeks left! I went all out on this one because I’m sure the most boring possible outcome is what we’ll get.