My lovely wife works in the financial industry, specifically with retirement plans. And whenever you discuss retirement plans and investment options you often come across a specific disclaimer: Past performance does not necessarily predict future results. In other words, just because that fund heavily steeped in dot com startups grew exponentially in the early years, you shouldn’t purchase that vacation home just yet.
The same thing hold true when attempting to predict how the teams in the Big Ten will finish the season. It’s easy to look at Wisconsin’s two big wins, or Iowa’s loss to a FCS school and make quick assumptions on who will win the West. But past performance does not necessarily predict future results. Iowa may improve, dramatically, from their loss and folks will realize that North Dakota State is, regardless of their “lower tier” status, a pretty damn good football team. Michigan State may have looked inept against Wisconsin, but you count out a Mark Dantonio team at your own risk. Past performance does not necessarily predict future results. Indiana football has stunk for most of this century, but past performance does not necessarily predict future results. The Hoosiers could challenge for the upper half of the East.
Really, there are only two exceptions to “past performance does not necessarily predict future results”: Purdue will continue to suck, and there will definitely be a “what the hell was I thinking?” prediction that will look foolish in two months.
So with the first full weekend of Big Ten conference games kicking off this weekend, what will the standings look like on December 1? What will each team need to have happen in order to make it to the conference championship game in Indianapolis? Let’s take a look:
1. Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best talent in the conference, a coaching staff that has proven they take talent and produce championships, and Michigan playing in the Horseshoe.
To make it to Indy, Ohio State will need to: Beat Michigan. Start preparing yourself now, because the hype for that game is going to be ridiculous.
2. Michigan State. The loss to Wisconsin was surprising, but it says here that the Spartans have the second best coaching in the conference, and an underrated pool of next-level talent. Like an 18 play drive to win the game, you don’t count the Spartans out until the bitter end.
To make it to Indy, Michigan State will need to: Win out. The rest of their schedule is very manageable. Both Michigan and Ohio State are at home. Their remaining West games are Northwestern and Illinois.
3. Michigan. I remain skeptical of Jim Harbaugh and his ability to restore Michigan as a legitimate power. He seems to be more distraction than savior. Let’s put it this way: if the Wolverines’ on-field success approaches the off-field media attention Harbaugh draws, it could be a special year in Ann Arbor.
To make it to Indy, Michigan will need to: Beat Ohio State in Columbus, and avoid last second meltdowns.
4. Indiana. It should be noted that there is a significant gap between 1-3 and the rest of the East. I think the Hoosiers are ready to make a step up – six conference wins is not out of the question. Of course, I’m pretty sure I said that last year…and probably the year before that.
To make it to Indy, Indiana will need to: Play out of their minds, and root for chaos to open the door.
5. Maryland. I’ll be honest, I have no idea if Maryland will be good, bad, or indifferent. In the Big Ten East, that gets you 5th place.
To make it to Indy, Maryland will need to: Hypnotize teams with their hideous “pride” uniforms and steal a couple of wins.
6. Penn State. I’ve seen where James Franklin is referring to this as “season one” with full scholarships, which sounds to me like he’s keeping expectations low. I think when November rolls around PSU will be wishing they could trade the 9th conference game for another non-con cupcake to get themselves bowl eligible.
To make it to Indy, Penn State will need to: Fly so far under the radar that nobody knows what is happening until they run out of the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium.
7. Rutgers. As you read this, Jim Delaney is furiously Googling “conference expansion return policies”.
To make it to Indy, Rutgers will need to: Go full Jersey mafia on teams 1-6.
1. Iowa. Do I think the Hawkeyes are the best team in the West? No. So why do I have them #1? It comes down to what they have (a proven quarterback, experience winning the division, Wisconsin and Nebraska at home) and what they don’t have (Wisconsin’s schedule).
To make it to Indy, Iowa will need to: Realize that North Dakota State would be picked no worse than 3rd in the West.
2. Nebraska. The Huskers are off to a best case scenario 4-0 start, with a very manageable road to 7-0. The challenge for the Big Red is getting past Wisconsin (one win in six tries since joining the league, zero in Madison), Ohio State (they’re kinda good), and Iowa (when the Heroes Trophy – sponsored by Hy-Vee – is on the line, you throw the records out the door!!!).
To make it to Indy, Nebraska will need to: Keep Tommy Armstrong healthy and win their road games – all three of the games mentioned above are on the road.
3. Wisconsin. With the Badgers, it’s more about why they won’t win as opposed to why they could win. Those reasons are: at Michigan State, at Michigan, (bye), Ohio State, at Iowa, and Nebraska. They aced the first exam, but that is as brutal of a stretch as anybody in the conference.
To make it to Indy, Wisconsin will need to: Win the head to head contests in division, and brush up on other tiebreaker rules.
4. Minnesota. If Wisconsin has the hardest schedule in the league, the Golden Gophers may have the easiest. When you draw Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers as cross-over games, you’ll have a fighting chance at the division title.
To make it to Indy, Minnesota will need to: Handle their business in the West, and let Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State help them out. Having Mitch Leidner live up to his hype as a first round NFL quarterback certainly wouldn’t hurt.
5. Illinois. Sheesh, the bottom of the West is a mess. Three teams combined for four wins in September. I’ve seen Northwestern play (and lose) twice, and I have no confidence in Purdue, so that leaves us with Illinois at #5. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the Illini’s chances.
To make it to Indy, Illinois will need to: Have Lovie Smith pretend he’s still the head coach of the Chicago Bears and get the Illinois players in the stadium when the Bears play the Colts on October 9.
6. Northwestern. The Wildcats are not a good team. I really like their running back Justin Jackson, who could start for most of the teams in the league. But after that, Northwestern doesn’t have much of anything. But since I can’t see a Pat Fitzgerald team going from 10 wins to the cellar, I’m sticking them here.
To make it to Indy, Northwestern will need to: Find a loophole to get Trevor Siemian another year of eligibility, and bring Von Miller with him.
7. Purdue. With two non-conference wins, and cross-over games against Maryland, Penn State, and Indiana. Purdue could get themselves bowl eligible this year. But as we said at the top: Purdue is an exception to the “past performance does not necessarily predict future results” rule. Until they prove me wrong, they live here.
To make it to Indy, Purdue will need to: take I-65 south towards Lucas Oil Stadium. They arguably will be able to purchase tickets at the stadium, but I’d recommend using the secondary market to get seats below face value. They’ll need the extra money to hire a new coach.
In the Big Ten Championship, I’ll predict Ohio State proves they are much, much better than North Dakota State: Buckeyes 56, Hawkeyes 13.
For a dark horse prediction, let’s go with Tommy Armstrong throwing for 300 and rushing for 100 as the Huskers beat Michigan 38 – 34.