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Northwestern Rooting Interests This Week; Tie-Breaking Scenarios

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Northwestern has a bye this week, but there are still plenty of games that matter to the Wildcats this weekend. Pat Fitzgerald, for one, will have his eyes on East Lansing this Saturday. Granted, this is all assuming NU can win out, which is a must for the Cats to make the Rose Bowl. Check out who NU fans need to root for this week.

Rooting Interests

Michigan State over Nebraska

This is by far the most important game of the week for Northwestern fans to follow. Since Nebraska beat Northwestern head-to-head and has only one conference loss to NU’s two, the Wildcats need the Huskers to lose two of their last four games to win the division outright. That’s actually not too far-fetched, as Nebraska has been awful on the road and must travel to East Lansing and Iowa City. Both are winnable, but since both are on the road, the Huskers could easily lose them, as well. Upstart Penn State will visit Lincoln in November, as will Minnesota, which has found life in recent weeks.

So, as you can see, there are plenty of legitimate opportunities for Nebraska to lose, but this week is especially important, as it’s likely the Huskers’ toughest remaining game. If they win this one, it’s tough to see them losing two more. But if they lose, one more loss is certainly a possibility. Fitzgerald said after practice on Thursday that he will be a big Michigan State fan on Saturday. Wildcats fans everywhere should follow suit in order to keep their Big Ten Championship Game hopes alive.

Minnesota over Michigan

This game isn’t as important, because NU still plays Michigan and can own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win. In a three-way tie, Nebraska would own the edge, and it's very unlikely that Michigan and NU finish tied at 5-3 (with NU winning the head-to-head matchup) and Nebraska finishing 4-4. However, a Minnesota win can't hurt, especially for bowl jockeying order in the Big Ten's top non-BCS bowls.

Tiebreakers

Here is the tiebreaking system from the Big Ten.

  1. If two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.
  2. If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 7 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.

1)   The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other

2)   The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division (this means the record of the three teams against each other)

3)   The records of the three tied teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6)

4)   The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents

5)   The highest ranked team in the first BCS Poll following the completion of the regular season shall be the representative, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other. In that case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the championship game

6)   The team with the best overall winning percentage (excluding exempted games)

7)   The representative will be chosen by random draw

Personally, I’m hoping for “random draw” at some point in my lifetime just for the hilarity of it. However, that’s unlikely to happen in this race. So let’s make sense of this system and put it into the context of this year.

Scenarios

If Nebraska wins out, or if it finishes tied with either Michigan or Nebraska (not both):

Nebraska controls its own destiny, so if it wins out or finishes in a tie with just Northwestern or just Michigan, the Huskers go to the championship game by virtues of wins over both those teams.

If Northwestern beats Michigan, NU wins out and Nebraska loses two more:

This was outlined above, but in this scenario, NU would go to the championship game.

If Northwestern, Michigan and Nebraska all finish with the same record in the conference:

This would go to the first tiebreaker: head-to-head. Sine Nebraska has already beaten both Northwestern and Michigan, the Huskers would go to the championship game.

Analysis

Basically, Northwestern has to win out. There is almost no chance that the Wildcats can lose to Michigan — putting them at 5-3 — and count on both Nebraska and Michigan to lose three of their last four. Even if Northwestern finishes 5-3 with that loss coming against Michigan State or Illinois (and a win over Michigan), the Wildcats would have to count on Nebraska losing three of four to Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa, which is also very unlikely.

NU’s best hope to reach the Big Ten Championship Game is to win out, finishing at 6-2, and count on Nebraska to go 2-2 in its last four games, finishing 5-3. That’s certainly a possibility, but a Nebraska win this week — in arguably their toughest remaining game — makes a trip to Indianapolis much more unlikely for NU.