In the last month, Big Ten football has resembled a relay race. Ohio State, the defending champion, gave up control of the league to Penn State. Then Penn State gave it up to Michigan.
And now Michigan might just give it up to … Wisconsin?
With only 11 games left in the season, five teams have a mathematical shot at the title. And there’s the chance that a conference tiebreaker would declare Michigan the Rose Bowl team, but that Ohio State would go to Pasadena with the help of a poll.
“There are still a lot of possibilities out there,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.
The possibilities are almost as endless as the 19-paragraph explanation of the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl tiebreaking procedure.
Start with the simplest. If No. 1 Michigan beats 23rd-ranked Wisconsin and fourth-rated Ohio State, the Wolverines are going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1992. End of discussion.
But try this one: Say Michigan beats Wisconsin, Ohio State beats Michigan and Penn State sweeps its remaining games, setting up a three-way tie for first place.
Under the standard tiebreaker, the Buckeyes would be eliminated because they made the most recent Rose Bowl appearance. The title would go to Michigan by virtue of its victory over Penn State.
There’s a never-before-used loophole that was inserted into the agreement among the Rose Bowl, ABC-TV, Pac-10 and Big Ten aimed at giving the Rose Bowl a chance to play host to a national title game.
“It’s an exception to the tiebreaker,” Delany said. “If someone is in a tie and they are (No.) 1 or 2, they would go to the Rose Bowl. Otherwise, what we’d be doing is setting up a national title game for the bowl alliance.”
The clause could be two upsets away from being invoked. If the fourth-ranked Buckeyes beat No. 1 Michigan on Nov. 22 and second-ranked Florida State falls to No. 12 Florida, the Buckeyes would stand 11-1 and presumably would move up to No. 2, behind Nebraska.
At that point, it wouldn’t matter that the tiebreaker clearly gives the nod to the Wolverines.
Besides Michigan, the Badgers, who are 5-1 in conference play, almost control their own destiny, although it won’t be easy. If they beat Michigan Saturday and No. 6 Penn State, they would need only a single Purdue loss (to Penn State or Indiana) to win the title.
Wisconsin and Ohio State would be tied at 7-1 in the Big Ten, and 10-1 overall; the Big Ten doesn’t count preseason games, which negates Wisconsin’s loss to Syracuse in the Pigskin Classic and Ohio State’s win over Wyoming in the Eddie Robinson Classic. Since the two teams didn’t play each other, and since Ohio State went to the Rose Bowl last, the Badgers go.