Purdue’s Path to Big Ten Championship
Current Big Ten West Standings
1. Northwestern (5-4, 5-1)
T2. Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2)
T2. Purdue (5-4, 4-2)
4. Iowa (6-3, 3-3)
5. Illinois (4-5, 2-4)
T6. Nebraska (2-7, 1-5)
T6. Minnesota (4-5, 1-5)
If Purdue wins out, it’ll be 7-2 in conference play. The Boilermakers travel to Minnesota, followed by a home game against Wisconsin and round out their season at Indiana.
If Northwestern wins out it will be 8-1 in conference play. The Wildcats have yet to travel to Iowa, then to Minnesota and finally end their season at home against Illinois.
However, if Northwestern and Purdue finish tied at 7-2, Northwestern would advance to the title game due to its opening day victory over Purdue on 30 Aug.
Therefore, Northwestern must lose two games for Purdue to have any shot at playing for a Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. Needless to say, if either school made the title game it would be historic.
In fact, here’s the full list of teams to make a Big Ten Championship game since it’s creation in 2011: Wisconsin (five times), Ohio State (three), Michigan State (three), Nebraska (one), Iowa (one), and Penn State (one).
Purdue hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since the 2000-01 season; for Northwestern it goes back to 1995-96. Interestingly, the Wildcats were co-champions with Purdue in that 2000-01 season, but lost the tiebreaker.
Will karma strike, this time in favor of Northwestern?
Purdue will have to hope that Northwestern loses on the road to both Iowa and Minnesota. Outside of the obvious factor of rooting interest that Boilermaker fans will have for Northwestern’s opponents, there’s reason to believe the Wildcats could be knocked off in both contests.
The Hawkeyes are coming off two one-score road losses to Penn State (24-30) and Purdue (36-38). Before those losses, Iowa was 6-1 and on the peripheral of the CFB playoff picture. However, it is still a very good team, having received the No. 21 spot in the committee’s rankings this week.
One would have to think the Hawkeyes are anxious to make a statement at home and maintain a slight chance at the Big Ten Championship game themselves. Las Vegas believes that the Hawkeyes will defeat the Wildcats, making Iowa an 11-point favorite. That seems a little high, but I agree on who’ll be the victor.
Prediction: Northwestern 27 @ Iowa 31
Just like Iowa, Minnesota follows up a defeat to Purdue (in this scenario) with a home matchup vs Northwestern. Minnesota would be playing this game with bowl-eligibility on the line. Its new defensive coordinator – as of this week – will likely be more effective vs Northwestern than his debut at the job vs Purdue.
It’s also senior day so there should be a lot of energy. Hopefully there’ll be enough Boilermaker magic in the air and Purdue fans will go from yelling at Minnesota players on Nov. 10 to praising them on the 17th.
Prediction: Northwestern 30 @ Minnesota 34
If Northwestern wins one of these two games it’ll host the Illinois Fighting Illini with the Big Ten West on the line. Even if Purdue runs the table, in this scenario, it would lose the tiebreaker.
Northwestern could lose this game, as it’s likely Illinois would be positioned to make a bowl with a victory. That said, the opportunity to secure the Wildcats a spot in the Big Ten Championship, which could lead to the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1995, means the fans will likely be a huge deciding factor.
Did I mention it’s a rivalry game, and they’d get the Land of Lincoln Trophy if they finish it victorious? Yeah, they’ll be ready.
Prediction: Illinois 21 @ Northwestern 37
Most readers already knew of the scenario above, but many are probably not aware that it is possible for Purdue to lose a game and still make the Big Ten Championship – even without Northwestern ending the 2018 campaign on a four-game losing streak.
Intrigued? This scenario would include a three-way tie for the Big Ten West lead at 6-3.
How does this happen? Purdue wins two of its three games left, losing to Indiana for the lone loss. Northwestern loses two of three remaining games.
Iowa wins out at home against Northwestern, at Illinois and finally at home over Nebraska. The Hawkeyes will be favored in all three.
Here are the initial tiebreakers according to the Big Ten Conference
1. The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other.
Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa are all 1-1 against each other. Since this tiebreaker does not have a clear winner, we’ll move on to the second tiebreaker with all three teams still in play.
Keep in mind that, if Wisconsin were also 6-3, Northwestern and Purdue would be 2-1 in the tiebreaker while Iowa and Wisconsin sit at 1-2. The tiebreaker would then go to head-to-head between Northwestern and Purdue
2. The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.
Purdue leads the group at 6-1 in this scenario. Northwestern and Iowa trail at 5-2 apiece.
If Purdue’s lone loss were to Minnesota then Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa would all sit at 5-2. This would call for yet another tiebreaker
3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6, and 7).
The fourth team in this group would almost certainly be Wisconsin and that’s a problem because Iowa would be the only one to have lost to Wisconsin.
It would, once again, be a tiebreaker between the Boilermakers and the Wildcats, who are both 1-0 over Wisconsin. In this scenario, Purdue would lose to Northwestern via the head-to-head.
Imagine if Minnesota won out, defeating Purdue and Northwestern at home and ending the season in Wisconsin. Then Wisconsin lost out, to Penn State in State College, at Purdue and at home against Minnesota. If that happens, three teams’ – Purdue, Iowa, and Wisconsin – records against the two would be compared.
Purdue, Northwestern and Iowa would all be 1-1 on the season against the Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Note – this assumes that all three will finish season undefeated against the group of Nebraska (which face Iowa at home) and Illinois (at Northwestern, and at home against Iowa).
4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
Purdue’s East Division opponents: Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State
Iowa’s East Division opponents: Indiana, Penn State and Maryland
Northwestern’s East Division opponents: Michigan State, Michigan and Rutgers
Since there isn’t an opponent outside of the division that all three played, I believe we move on to a fifth tiebreaker.
5. The best cumulative conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.
As it currently stands as of games through Nov. 3, Purdue’s opponents are 10-8 on the season and are projected to go 16-11, giving the Boilermakers the lead. Northwestern is next, also at 10-8 but is projected to end with an opponent record of 14-13. Iowa trails behind in third with a 7-11 score, expected to end 11-16. Records with projections can be seen below.
Indiana – vs. Maryland (W), at Michigan (L), vs. Purdue (L)
Michigan State – vs. OSU (L), at Nebraska (W), vs. Rutgers (W)
Ohio State – at Michigan State (W), at Maryland (W), vs. Michigan (W)
Michigan State – vs. Ohio State (L), at Nebraska (W), vs. Rutgers (W)
Michigan – at Rutgers (W), vs. Indiana (W), vs. Ohio State (L)
Rutgers – vs. Michigan (L) , vs. Penn State (L) , at Michigan State (L)
Indiana – vs. Maryland (W), at Michigan (L), vs. Purdue (L)
Maryland – at Indiana (L), vs. Ohio State (L), at Penn State (L)
Penn State – vs. Wisconsin (W), at Rutgers (W) , vs. Maryland (W)
All-in-all, Purdue’s title chance could ride on the game between Ohio State and Michigan. These scenarios are mind-boggling. Let this be a lesson to keep it simple Boilers, and win out.
All Northwestern has to do is not win two of its final three games, and Purdue to win-out to avoid all this chaos. If not, there’s always next year.
If Purdue were to lose to Wisconsin, the Boilers would still not advance to the title game even in the scenario in which Wisconsin finishes 5-4, and out of the tiebreak.
This is because a lost to Wisconsin would all but assure the Badgers at least the fourth spot. Illinois would be the only other team capable of finishing 5-4 in the conference. In order for this to happen, Illinois would have to beat both Northwestern and Iowa.
This doesn’t work because if Iowa were to lose any of their final three games they’d have a 5-4 conference record as well, being left out of the tiebreak. This would mean, yet again, Purdue would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to Northwestern. Plus, it would lose another tiebreaker if the three-way tie was between 6-3 Northwestern and 6-3 Wisconsin – Purdue lost to both.
Let’s not discuss any scenarios where Northwestern loses out and Purdue loses twice – I can assure you this won’t happen.
Most likely, a lot of what I covered won’t happen either, but at least we have a reference for if, or when, it does.
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