We’ve crossed the half way point in the season, so it’s time to start looking ahead to the division races, and who can make it to a bowl game. As always, I make no apologies if you feel your team is too high (or too low), but feel free to let me know in the comments.
- Michigan. Ohio State’s loss means the Wolverines move up to the penthouse. More importantly, it means Michigan can afford a slip up in one of their remaining non-Buckeye games. Path to Indy: Win out, beat Ohio State, or hope for a second OSU loss.
- Ohio State. All is not lost for the Buckeyes, who still control their destiny to win the East and yes, make the Playoff. But they cannot afford to make any more mistakes. Path to Indy: Win out or beat Michigan and pray the Wolverines drop a game.
- Wisconsin. The Badgers stayed alive in the West race by knocking off Iowa. Next up is another do-or-die game against the Huskers. Very little that the Badgers do is pretty, but for the most part it is effective. Path to Indy: Beat Nebraska and hope the Huskers trip one more time.
- Nebraska. Don’t hate on me for having unbeaten NU fourth. The Huskers get two straight opportunities to prove themselves worthy of a promotion, starting with a trip to Madison. The Huskers can all but wrap up the West with a win. Path to Indy: Beat the Badgers.
- Penn State. Unfortunately, I never published last week’s rankings so you’ll have to trust me that I said “PSU is coming off a bye week, and gets to host Ohio State who played a physical overtime game against Wisconsin. I’m not going to call the upset, but it would be tough to script a better scenario”. Regardless, a big win for PSU. Path to Indy: Win out, and hope for Michigan to lose twice.
- Northwestern. The Wildcats are silently playing some good football, rattling off three straight conference wins. But their road gets much tougher, starting with a trip to Columbus to face an angry bunch of Bucks. Path to Indy: Just keep winning and pray Nebraska loses twice.
- Iowa. This is the point in the rankings where we have teams with chances of winning the division should be categorized as “mathematically possible, realistically improbable”. Iowa is a great example. With only two losses, they could technically still win the West, but considering the losses are to division foes ahead of them (Northwestern and Wisconsin) it means the Hawkeyes have to root for every upset. Meanwhile, the Hawks get the week off to get ready for a tough stretch run. Path to Indy: Win out, let chaos reign.
- Minnesota. The Gophers also have two losses (Penn State and Iowa), and have yet to play most of the teams in front of them (Wisconsin and both NU’s). But when you allow Rutgers to score 18 more points than they did in their previous four games combined, I wouldn’t go making any hotel reservations. Path to Indy: Win out, hope everybody else loses.
- Maryland. The Terps are also technically alive, with games to come against Michigan and Ohio State. But let’s be realistic, their focus should be on getting bowl eligible. Path to bowl game: beat Indiana or Rutgers.
- Indiana. Since their dramatic win over Sparty, the Hoosiers have dropped three straight and will need to kick-start the offense if they want to go bowling. Path to a bowl game: find three wins in their remaining five games.
- Purdue. In their first game post-Hazell, the Boilermakers showed some fight, but could not hang with the Huskers at home. I think the Boilers are good enough to sneak out at least one more win. Path to a bowl game: Like Indiana, they need three wins in five games, but Purdue has a much tougher schedule.
- Michigan State. I really, really, really want to have the Sputtering Spartans lower than 12, but Michigan State’s last win (at Notre Dame, five weeks ago) is better than either of Illinois’ two wins (Murray State and Rutgers). Path to a bowl game: Surprisingly still open, but as MSU needs to win four out of five (including at least one over Michigan or Ohio State) it is not likely.
- Illinois. It’s hard for me to justify a lot of words on a team whose best win is over FCS Murray State. Path to a bowl game: Hope four of their next five opponents don’t show up.
- Rutgers. The Knights broke 30 points for the first time since September 17 – a day when #12 Michigan State beat Notre Dame, Indiana and Maryland were undefeated, and Northwestern improved to 1-2. This week allows me to use one of my favorite Lee Barfknecht one-liners: “Rutgers is idle – and should remain that way.” Path to a bowl game: Not out of the question, but they would need to win out against Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, and Maryland.