Some of us have believed in Big Ten West chaos all along.

A year ago, Iowa won the division cleanly with a 7-2 conference record. But lurking right behind the Hawkeyes were 3 teams that finished 6-3. Had Nebraska not squandered a second-half lead to the Hawkeyes in the season finale, we would have had a 4-way tie between Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue.

Feeling the spirit of what could have been, my official preseason prediction called for those 4 teams to fulfill the destiny of a 4-way tie for the Big Ten West title.

This week, someone on Twitter elevated my original thesis into an artform:

This would be truly majestic. It’s also quite unlikely given Northwestern’s current state.

But there is still a chance for major chaos in the West. And it all hinges on what the Nebraska Cornhuskers do against Illinois this Saturday.

The B1G West swing game

A week ago, we appeared to be on a clear collision course for the winner of the Purdue-Illinois game on Nov. 15 to determine the West title. And that is still the most likely outcome. The Boilermakers are now a game behind the Illini in the standings, but would claim the tiebreaker with a win in Champaign.

However, Purdue’s loss at Wisconsin did change the divisional calculus. Now nobody is out of this thing just yet.

And if Nebraska can upset Illinois, suddenly a bunch of strange possibilities enter the picture. It starts with the Huskers, who are poised to create a 3-way tie for first with a win over the Illini.

Not only would Nebraska be riding shotgun with Illinois and Purdue, but the Huskers would be sitting pretty.

Take this suddenly plausible scenario.

Nebraska beats Illinois and then wins every remaining game on its schedule with the exception of Michigan. The Huskers finish 6-3 in the B1G.

After losing to Nebraska, Illinois beats Purdue and wins every game on its schedule with the exception of Michigan. The Illini finish 6-3 in the B1G.

Purdue sandwiches its loss to Illinois with wins over Iowa, Northwestern and Indiana. The Boilers finish 6-3 in the B1G.

And there you have it — a 3-way tie atop the West standings.

In this case, the champion would be determined by the team with the best record in divisional games. And if things play out exactly as described, that’s Illinois with a 5-1 record within the West.

But that’s only one possible permutation.

Minnesota could win out to finish 6-3 and tie Illinois and Purdue, though the outcome isn’t all that dramatic since the Gophers have already lost to both of those teams.

Or Wisconsin could become the team with an interim coach that finishes tied atop the Big Ten West.

If the Badgers finish 4-0 to get to 6-3, they could be even with Illinois and Purdue. In that case, both Wisconsin and Illinois would be 5-1 in the division. But since the Illini beat the Badgers head-to-head, Illinois would have the tiebreaker.

There’s even a path for Iowa, too.

The Hawkeyes need to win out, which would include wins over Purdue and Nebraska. If Purdue were to beat Illinois, Iowa would be the lone team in the West at 6-3. Which would be as improbable a back-to-back division champ as you’d ever find.

And then there’s what I call the Cincinnati Chili scenario: a 5-way tie.

Here’s how that would look.

  • Illinois: Nebraska (L), Michigan State (L), Purdue (W), Michigan (L), Northwestern (W): 5-4
  • Minnesota: Rutgers (W), Nebraska (W), Northwestern (W), Iowa (W), Wisconsin (L): 5-4
  • Nebraska: Illinois (W), Minnesota (L), Michigan (L), Wisconsin (W), Iowa (W): 5-4
  • Wisconsin: Maryland (W), Iowa (W), Nebraska (L), Minnesota (W): 5-4
  • Purdue: Iowa (L), Illinois (L), Northwestern (W), Indiana (W): 5-4

Amid all that chaos, there’s still a constant. Illinois owns the tiebreaker, because the Illini would be 3-1 against the other 4 teams in the tie. Nebraska, Wisconsin and Purdue would all be 2-2, while Minnesota would be 1-3.

In order for any chaos to be unleashed, Nebraska must beat Illinois. Barring a complete collapse, the Illini become virtually impossible for any team but Purdue to catch if they improve to 4-1 in the B1G. But if Illinois is 3-2, the rest of the field somehow stays alive.

Will Nebraska unleash the chaos?

This matchup certainly does not play to Nebraska’s strengths.

No team in the Big Ten runs the ball more than Illinois, and Nebraska has the league’s worst run defense.

Casey Thompson is fourth in the B1G in passing yards per game and yards per attempt, so perhaps Nebraska can make it a high-scoring game.

But Thompson is turnover-prone. He’s thrown 8 interceptions, and the Illini are second in the country with 12 INTs. They’ve also allowed the fewest touchdown passes (2) and second-fewest passing yards (143.3 ypg).

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple needs to draw up a game plan that somehow maximizes Thompson’s rewards while eliminating his risks. And considering we have yet to see that performance 7 games into the season, one wonders if it’s possible.

But if it is, Nebraska could win. And with that, a wild number of possibilities would be unleashed in what figures to be the penultimate Big Ten West race.