In-depth look at postseason possibilities for Big Ten
By Kenny Thompson
With most of the Big Ten Conference’s football teams reaching the two-thirds mark of the season, let’s take a look at each school’s chances of reaching postseason play.
No. 5 Michigan State (8-0) – The surprise of the Big Ten, with Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker II running himself into Heisman Trophy contention with 197 yards and five touchdowns against Michigan. Walker, the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week, leads all FBS rushers with 149.2 yards per game.
Remaining schedule: at Purdue (Saturday), vs. Maryland (Nov. 13), at Ohio State (Nov. 20), vs. Penn State (Nov. 27). If the Spartans can avoid a letdown at Purdue, the Ohio State game will likely decide the East Division race.
No. 6 Ohio State (7-1) – The Buckeyes’ defense hasn’t always been playoff caliber this season, but the nation’s best scoring offense (47.2 points a game) can reach the end zone in so many ways. Ohio State remains the Big Ten’s best hope of earning a College Football Playoff berth.
Remaining schedule: at Nebraska (Saturday), vs. Purdue (Nov. 13), vs. Michigan State (Nov. 20), at Michigan (Nov. 27). Buckeyes are likely to head to the Big Ten Championship Game at 11-1.
No. 9 Michigan (7-1) – Does the loss to Michigan State foretell what’s to come later this month against Ohio State? The second half defensive collapse against the Spartans was surprising.
Remaining schedule: vs. Indiana (Saturday), at Penn State (Nov. 13), at Maryland (Nov. 20), vs. Ohio State (Nov. 27). What looked like a difficult game at Penn State now seems winnable even with Michigan’s defensive issues. But Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State. A 10-win season and a loss to the Buckeyes is considered a failure in Ann Arbor.
Minnesota (6-2) – The Gophers control their destiny in the Big Ten West, an unlikely thought after an embarrassing 14-10 loss at home to Bowling Green. Win at Iowa and beat Wisconsin in Minneapolis on the final day of the regular season, and no one will say the Gophers didn’t earn the title.
Remaining schedule: vs. Illinois (Saturday), at Iowa (Nov. 13), at Indiana (Nov. 20), vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 27). The hunch here is that the Gophers either lose at Iowa or to Wisconsin, denying them a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.
No. 19 Iowa (6-2) – When your offense relies on the defense to put points on the board, that’s not sustainable over a 12-game schedule. That said, the Hawkeyes have a favorable November schedule that could still put them on the path to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Remaining schedule: at Northwestern (Saturday), vs. Minnesota (Nov. 13), vs. Illinois (Nov. 20), at Nebraska (Nov. 26). Beat the Gophers and just about everybody will forget the upset losses to Purdue and Wisconsin.
ONE MORE WIN
Purdue (5-3) – Seldom in its more than 130-year football history has defense won games for the Boilermakers. Purdue has the 10th-best scoring defense in the nation (17.1 ppg) and the eighth-best pass defense. Linebacker Jalen Graham is the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week, and George Karlaftis continues to play like a future NFL first round draft pick. If the offense can find consistency, a previously unthinkable 8-win season is not out of reach.
Remaining games: vs. Michigan State (Saturday), at Ohio State (Nov. 13), vs. Northwestern at Wrigley Field (Nov. 20), vs. Indiana (Nov. 27). The prediction here is that Purdue will be bowl eligible before the Old Oaken Bucket Game.
Maryland (5-3) – The Terrapins have the most difficult path among the Big Ten’s five win teams to reach bowl eligibility. Those hopes likely will come down to the final game of the season.
Remaining games: vs. Penn State (Saturday), at Michigan State (Nov. 13), vs. Michigan (Nov. 20), vs. Rutgers (Nov. 27). Maryland will be underdogs in every game but Rutgers, which may also be playing for bowl eligibility.
No. 22 Penn State (5-3) – The Nittany Lions are playing like they want to make sure James Franklin doesn’t leave for LSU or USC after the season. An unfathomable nine overtime loss to Illinois was followed by a much better effort in the loss to Ohio State this past Saturday.
Remaining schedule: at Maryland (Saturday), vs. Michigan (Nov. 13), vs. Rutgers (Nov. 20), at Michigan State (Nov. 27). Bowl eligibility won’t be a problem for the Nittany Lions but seven victories may be their ceiling with Michigan and Michigan State still to come.
Wisconsin (5-3) – The Badgers are suddenly one of the Big Ten’s hottest teams and they have a very favorable November schedule. Wisconsin could very well be back in the Big Ten Championship Game for the seventh time in 11 years.
Remaining schedule: at Rutgers (Saturday), vs. Northwestern (Nov. 13), vs. Nebraska (Nov. 20), at Minnesota (Nov. 26). Get ready for yet another Ohio State-Wisconsin matchup in the title game. Only the Gophers have the kind of firepower that could outscore the Badgers and who knows if Minnesota will have any healthy running backs by then?
Rutgers (4-4) – Following his 75th win with the Scarlet Knights this past Saturday, Greg Schiano is four victories shy of becoming the school’s winningest football coach. Unfortunately, from what is ahead for Rutgers, that record will stand until 2022.
Remaining schedule: vs. Wisconsin (Saturday), at Indiana (Nov. 13), at Penn State (Nov. 20), vs. Maryland (Nov. 27). It’s likely next week’s game in Bloomington will determine Rutgers’ bowl fate.
ON LIFE SUPPORT
Northwestern (3-5) – It is difficult to believe that the Wildcats are two weeks removed from a 56-7 loss at Nebraska, the same Cornhuskers who looked offensively challenged in the second half against Purdue. But Northwestern has had ineffective quarterback play from transfer Ryan Hilinski and former Indiana Mr. Football Hunter Johnson.
Remaing schedule: vs. Iowa (Saturday), at Wisconsin (Nov. 13), vs. Purdue at Wrigley Field (Nov. 20), at Illinois (Nov. 27). Three consecutive games against teams ranked in the nation’s top 10 in scoring defense means home for the holidays for Northwestern.
Illinois (3-6) – How does a team that beats Penn State lose at home to Rutgers, giving up more points to the Scarlet Knights in regulation than the NIttany Lions scored in nine overtimes?
Remaining schedule: At Minnesota (Saturday), at Iowa (Nov. 20), vs. Northwestern (Nov. 27). Pride is all that will be on the line when the Wildcats come to Champaign.
Nebraska (3-6) – The only question in Lincoln is whether new athletic director Trev Alberts will fire another Cornhuskers legend in Scott Frost. My guess is no. That could change with three likely blowouts to end the season, but if Frost can’t turn Nebraska around, who can?
Remaining schedule: vs. Ohio State (Saturday), at Wisconsin (Nov. 20), vs. Iowa (Nov. 26). No Cornhuskers team has ever gone 3-9, and it’s been five seasons since this proud program has had a winning record.
Indiana (2-6) – The annual Michael Penix season-ending injury came early this year, but the Hoosiers had no chance to live up to expectations from the fans and media. According to USA Today, coach Tom Allen has a $30 million buyout. That’s three times what it cost Indiana to send basketball coach Archie Miller packing earlier this year.
Remaining schedule: at Michigan (Saturday), vs. Rutgers (Nov. 13), vs. Minnesota (Nov. 20), at Purdue (Nov. 27). Bowl hopes come to an end in Ann Arbor.
Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.