Big Ten Spotlight: Is Ohio State, Wisconsin title game a given now?
Based on rankings, perceptions and the all-important eye test, we’ve had two divisional showdowns in the past two weeks, and it’s Wisconsin and Ohio State who have come out with massive victories on the road.
We now have leaders in the clubhouse on both sides of the league as we venture into October. They are who they thought we’d be, Wisconsin and Ohio State, but they’ve gotten to this point in a way we didn’t quite expect.
Ohio State is 5-0 and has the huge head-to-head win over Penn State now in its back pocket. The 27-26 win Saturday night in an extremely hostile environment was impressive, especially considering the way Penn State dominated the game early. It counts for double, of course, because Penn State would need two Ohio State losses now to win the Big Ten East because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Same with Wisconsin. The Badgers won at Iowa two weeks ago, which gives them that same edge in the Big Ten West over its most-likely challenger. Same thing for the Hawkeyes. They would need to win out in the Big Ten and hope Wisconsin loses twice. That’s unlikely.
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But not impossible.
Here’s what we’ve learned about Wisconsin: The shocking home loss to BYU — a team that was unranked and had lost nine games a year ago and two more this season — showed that the Badgers are vulnerable. Iowa had them on the ropes too until Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook led a fourth-quarter drive to make the comeback complete.
The Big Ten West hasn’t been very good this year, but what Wisconsin has to worry about are a pair of crossover games. In two weeks, there’s a tough trip to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team that’s won four in a row and there’s a trip to Penn State on Nov. 10 that’s not going to be easy, either.
Is Iowa capable of running the table in the Big Ten? Frankly, I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone else in the Big Ten West can either, though I’m still thinking that Purdue might be a bit of a surprise along the way who could mess up some of these scenarios. Wisconsin is probably in good shape, even if a couple losses come down the road.
It’s different for Ohio State in the Big Ten East. Saturday night’s win was huge. The Buckeyes’ other conference road games are at Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland. Despite what I just said about Purdue, this should still be three wins for the Buckeyes. As it has many times before, this all probably won’t get settled until Ohio State and Michigan play on Nov. 24.
Michigan can still disrupt things, of course. I’m on the hook for picking Michigan to win the Big Ten in August, and if I had a mulligan, I’d probably use it. But it’s still going to be interesting to see what plays out with these two.
If I had to guess, I’d think that Ohio State will still be unbeaten in the Big Ten when it plays Michigan in Columbus. Michigan might be unbeaten too, or have just one loss, so the head-to-head showdown would still decide the division.
There’s still plenty of football to go, of course, but it’s pretty likely we’ll see Ohio State and Wisconsin again in the title game in Indianapolis on Dec. 1.