Point/counterpoint: Which teams will play for the Big Ten championship?

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Legends Division: Michigan State

There is a three-way tie atop the Big Ten Legends Division among Nebraska, Michigan, and Michigan State. One team will advance to the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
The way the tiebreaker sits at the moment is rather confusing. Nebraska throttled the Spartans this weekend, but Michigan State put a beatdown on its in-state rivals, and Michigan and the Huskers don't play each other until the second-to-last week of the regular season.

So who's going to play for the Big Ten title?

Simple. It'll be Michigan State.

Just by looking at who each team has left to play will show how easily the Spartans will clinch the Legends Division. More specifically, look at the records of their remaining opponents.

Nebraska will play Northwestern, at Penn State, at Michigan, and Iowa to round out the season.

That's a combined record of 23-10 down the stretch. Look closer, and you'll find that's a combined 11-7 conference record.

Michigan will play on the road at Iowa and Illinois and finish with Nebraska and Ohio State at home. That's an overall record of 23-10, and a conference record of 9-8.

In other words, both teams have to face schools with a combined above .571 conference records down the stretch.

Michigan State's opponents have a combined conference record of 4-14. That's a .222 winning percentage.

It'll be a free and easy road to the Big Ten title game for the Spartans, who will play Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana, and at Northwestern to finish the season.

Making some easy predictions, Michigan will lose to Nebraska and Iowa, dropping it from the race. But Nebraska and Michigan State will remain tied at the top of the Legends Division on the final day. Each team will only drop one more conference game (Huskers to Penn State, Michigan State to Iowa), with Nebraska holding the head-to-head advantage.

And how will this help the Spartans move forward?

Iowa's going to help them out by beating Nebraska, of course. Go Spartans, go.

— by Cody Goodwin

Leaders Division: Penn State

The addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten means the conference can now play a title game — and the Leaders Division will be represented by the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State started the season with a terrible offense and even toyed with different starting quarterbacks for a while, but one aspect of the game stayed strong: the defense.

The scoring defense is ranked fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision, at 12.4 points per game. Defense wins championships, as they say, and this is no exception.

Penn State's only loss came during the second week of the season, against No. 2 Alabama. The Nittany Lions have quietly accumulated a Big Ten-best 8-1 record — and, more importantly, they lead Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Leaders Division with a 3-0 record.

Doubters may think Penn State won't hang on, but Joe Paterno's team really doesn't have much competition right now. Wisconsin is reeling. Up until two weeks ago, the Badgers were in the national-title conversation and were almost a shoo-in for a spot in the Big Ten title game. But their national championship goals were squashed after losing to Michigan State on the road, and the Badgers faltered against a weak Ohio State team last week to open the door for Penn State to slip in and take the division lead.

That isn't to say it'll be an easy road for JoePa and Company. They're idle this weekend, then will play host to Nebraska and close the season with back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin.

If Penn State's vaunted defense can keep Nebraska's high-octane rushing game in check, the Lions will hit the road with a 9-1 record. But even if Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead break out against Penn State, the Nittany Lions will go on the road trip with an unblemished Leaders Division record; the Huskers are in the Legends Division.

Ohio State won't win the division because it won't be able to handle preparing for Penn State and Michigan back-to-back. Wisconsin will be a legitimate test, but it already has a division loss.
Penn State controls its destiny. The defense will be up to the challenge.

— by Patrick Mason

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