Forget the ESPN simulations and enjoy the drama as the cruelly competitive B1G East plays out
This would just have to be the year, huh?
The year that the Big Ten is as strong as it’s ever been. The year that it became the only conference ever to place 5 teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press rankings.
Dear Big Ten: We love you, but we’re also pretty angry.
There are 5 teams capable and worthy of winning the league championship. Iowa, No. 2 in the nation, looks to have the clearest path to the title bout at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes are running away with the West Division and nobody looks remotely good enough to reel them in.
That leaves 4 teams in the East Division that would love a shot at Iowa in December, including No. 7 Penn State, which just lost 23-20 in Iowa City this past weekend. At No. 6, Ohio State looks like it’s regrouped after suffering an early-opening loss to Oregon. Michigan at No. 8, and Michigan State at No. 9, are both off to monster starts.
Maybe it’s time to re-think these divisions. Again. We’ve had Legends and Leaders. We have East and West. North-South? And have we mentioned recently that this whole 9-league-games thing might be silly?
Whatever. We’re here now. Let the Hawkeyes fans set their snooze alarms for Nov. 4, and pass the antacids and the mood stabilizers for the rest of the contenders’ faithful.
The East is set to play out in dramatic, heart-breaking fashion.
The Wolverines are 6-0 for the first time since 2016. The Spartans are 6-0 for the first time since 2015 and ranked in the top 10 for the first time since Week 4 of the 2016 season.
Oh, Big Ten, you’ve given us so much quality this season — particularly from your eastern side.
Running backs galore. There isn’t a conference in America that features more talented ball-carriers, at least through the first 6 weeks: Michigan’s Blake Corum, Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III, Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson.
Quarterbacks have been great thus far, too: Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Michigan State’s Payton Thorne, Penn State’s Sean Clifford, Iowa’s Spencer Petras and even Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa (he’s not on a great team, but he’s had some impressive games).
Receivers? Ohio State has 3 on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. Penn State might have the top NFL prospect at the position. MSU has a game-breaking all-purpose star in Jayden Reed and another guy who lives up to the nickname “Speedy.”
There are elite-level, Sundays-in-waiting types on defense, within special teams — the Big Ten is simply insane these days. The top 4 in the East have a combined 22-2 record.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t include many intra-divisional games yet … those are on the horizon and will surely wreck the seasons of at least 3 of the 4 league-champ hopefuls.
Some folks are going to get their hearts broken.
Will it be the Nittany Lions? Wolverines? Spartans? Even the Buckeyes?
They can’t all win-out. Several are going to lose. It’s even possible they all will.
Later this month, we’ll see the power condense. On Oct. 30, Michigan State hosts Michigan in Mel Tucker’s “Woodshed” in East Lansing.
The same day, Ohio State and Penn State collide at The Shoe in Columbus.
That day could go down as the greatest day in Big Ten history — one with so much on the line for 4 of the top teams in the nation.
According to recent ESPN FPI calculations, Ohio State has the best chance of going undefeated the rest of the way; its closest game is a 57.6 percent chance of beating Michigan on the final Saturday of the regular season.
Per the FPI, Penn State could have 3 more losses on its schedule: at Ohio State, vs. Michigan and at Michigan State.
The Spartans have a 47 percent chance of beating Michigan, per the calculations, but only a 17.6 percent chance of downing the Buckeyes. Otherwise, MSU seems to be on track for a 10-win season, per ESPN.
That leaves Michigan, which will finish 11-1 with a loss to You Know Who at the end of the year. The FPI gives the Wolverines a 47 percent shot at upending the Buckeyes.
If ESPN’s calculations are true, the top of the East will finish in this order: Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.
Michigan fans will be beside themselves, seeing a perfect season ruined — yet again — by the Buckeyes, who did the same during a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle in 2006. Spartans fans will always have the “what if?” on their side — so close, yet so far from the end goal. Penn State fans will wonder what went wrong, probably citing the loss at Iowa as the reason that bigger things didn’t materialize.
Ohio State fans, according to ESPN, will have cause to rejoice. Their Buckeyes will have lost their home opener, had a short-lived pseudo QB controversy, and then run the table on their way to the Big Ten title and a likely College Football Playoff berth.
College football throws all kinds of curves, and computer models aren’t always correct.
The Spartans, Wolverines, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are all in position to have epic seasons. But only 1, at most, will. It just so happens that they’re all racing toward the same finish line during unprecedented times in a league that has never amassed so much collective power in a single year. The fun, and the misery, is just beginning.
B1G Elite East round-robin
Oct. 30 (Week 9)
Michigan at Michigan State
Penn State at Ohio State
Nov. 13 (Week 11)
Michigan at Penn State
Nov. 20 (Week 12)
Michigan State at Ohio State
Nov. 27 (Week 13)
Ohio State at Michigan
Penn State at Michigan State