What’s the point in trying to predict anything?
This was my primary thought as I watched Purdue polish off its 49-20 win over No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday. Nobody predicts Boilermakers to beat Buckeyes in the offseason, when we’re all trying to tally up rough win totals and records, unless he or she is crazy or simply crazy for attention. There’s no basis for that pick in the summer.
But it happened in season and the win moved Purdue into a three-way tie for second in the Big Ten West Division with Iowa and Wisconsin, another thing few would’ve been bold enough to project just a few months ago. It makes for a delightfully crazy division title race.
Who’s going to earn a trip to Indianapolis? Let’s look at the current standings.
1. Northwestern (4-1)
Remaining Conference Games: Wisconsin, at Iowa, at Minnesota, Illinois
Cumulative Remaining Win Probabilities: (via FPI): 1.96
Yes, 4-3 Northwestern currently leads the division as all four of its wins were conference wins, but the heavy lifting starts this week. Over the next three weeks Northwestern faces Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Iowa. The game with the Irish doesn’t factor into the discussion, of course, but it’s still part of a brutal three-game stretch.
2. Wisconsin (3-1)
Remaining Conference Games: at Northwestern, Rutgers, at Penn State, at Purdue, Minnesota
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 3.25
The Badgers’ big edge is that they have already beaten Iowa, but November is tricky with back-to-back road trips (Penn State, Purdue). FPI doesn’t have Wisconsin as the favorite in either of those games, and both teams can put up some points. That’s a potential problem for a Badger defense that, through attrition and injury, lacks a little of its characteristic bite.
3. Purdue (3-1)
Remaining Conference Games: at Michigan St, Iowa, at Minnesota, Wisconsin, at Indiana
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 2.88
An angry Michigan State team (with a scarred midfield logo) won’t be an easy task, but Purdue controls its own fate here (provided it doesn’t finish in a tie with Northwestern). Not bad for a team that started 0-3, including a loss to Eastern Michigan. The Boilermakers get to host Iowa and Wisconsin in games that will be key for the division race one way or another. Purdue is playing important games in November! It's a new era!
4. Iowa (3-1)
Remaining Conference Games: at Penn State, at Purdue, Northwestern, at Illinois, Nebraska
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 3.41
Iowa is playing as well as any team in the Big Ten not named Michigan. The Hawkeyes have the best cumulative win probabilities of all the teams in the division, but don’t have the head-to-head tie-breaker over Wisconsin. But the Badgers and Hawkeyes’ remaining schedules are essentially the same. Both teams have to go to Penn State and Purdue. Both have a game against one of the bottom teams in the conference (Rutgers, Illinois). Both have a season-ending game that’s tougher than the records suggest. If these are the two favorites in the West, it's going to be a fascinating pennant race.
5. Illinois (1-3)
Remaining Conference Games: at Maryland, Minnesota, at Nebraska, Iowa, at Northwestern
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 0.84
Technically the Illini could finish 6-3 in the conference. It won’t, but it’s possible. And I’m still not sure it would be enough to win the division given that it has already lost to Wisconsin and Purdue.
6. Nebraska (1-4)
Remaining Conference Games: at Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan St, at Iowa
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 1.66
Believe it or not, Nebraska can still win the West. All the Huskers have to do is win out, and then hope for the following to happen . . .
- Northwestern loses out in-conference to finish 4-5
- Wisconsin beats Northwestern but no other team to finish 4-5
- Purdue beats Wisconsin but no other team to finish 4-5
- Illinois must beat Northwestern and Iowa, but with a loss to Nebraska the rest doesn’t matter
- Minnesota must beat Wisconsin, Purdue and Northwestern, the rest doesn’t matter
- Iowa must beat Northwestern and Purdue, but lose to Illinois and Penn State. That leaves the Hawkeyes at 5-3 going into the season finale . . .
. . . and Nebraska, having already beaten Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State, would be 4-4. Winner take all. On Black Friday. After an 0-6 start.
If you need a “How the Huskers Win the West” bingo card let me know and I’ll make you one.
7. Minnesota (0-4)
Remaining Conference Games: Indiana, at Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Cumulative Remaining Wins: 2.09
Win out, Minnesota. It’s your only hope.
So which team is the actual favorite here? I don’t know. Iowa might be. It has the best win-out percentage per FPI, but consider me the most intrigued by Purdue. Its remaining strength of schedule is the 12th-toughest, but since I’m assuming Northwestern won’t win out the Boilermakers control their own fate.
And it’s a short drive from West Lafayette to Indiana.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska basketball lost the first half of its closed scrimmage at Iowa State, but bounced back to win the second.
- Nebraska soccer fell to Illinois on Senior Day. (Photos)
- Slew of recruiting updates yesterday via Greg Smith: LB Ben Kreul, OT Turner Corcoran, LB Blaise Gunnerson and your Sunday notebook.
- More from Nebraska's win over Minnesota: Adrian Martinez, key plays breakdown, a rise in the rankings, three final takeaways from the game and how staying the course resulted in a win.
Today's Song of Today