With only two weeks left to play, the Big Ten 2016 championship is starting to take form. The Big Ten functions on a points system. The teams with the two highest point totals after six regular season games will play in the championship match. Remaining pairs will be pulled from the end of year standings to fill the 3rd and 5th place playoff matches. Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue are all in contention for the last 5th place playoff spot. Meanwhile, Michigan and Illinois will be able to effect each other in the middle of the table. Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin’s final two games will decide who will play for the championship and who will play for 3rd place against the better of Michigan and Illinois.
Iowa and Purdue have had tough 2016 seasons. They have both lost all four of their 2016 matches. Iowa will face Wisconsin and Minnesota while Purdue will play Minnesota first and follow up with Illinois. They will need to win both of their remaining matches to play for 5th place come November 12th. In this scenario, Michigan State, Minnesota and either Purdue or Iowa would round out the bottom three. Iowa or Purdue would most likely face Illinois or Michigan in the 5th place playoff match.
Michigan State has also had a difficult season despite a few close losses. The Spartans are now 1-4 through five matches and will end their season at home in East Lansing, MI against a tough Ohio State. With a win against the Buckeyes, and a Minnesota loss to either of their last two opponents, Michigan State would secure their place in the 5th place playoff.
Minnesota, now 1-3, could just as easily have been 2-2 after a closely fought match against Illinois this past weekend. The Gophers can still record a .500 2016 season with two away wins against Purdue and Iowa. Two more wins would reserve Minnesota a spot in the 5th place playoff most likely against either Illinois or Michigan.
Illinois with two wins and a Michigan loss could knock the Wolverines out of the top four and secure Illinois a 3rd place playoff spot. Illinois would have to beat Michigan in Ann Abor, MI, go on to beat Purdue and hope for a Michigan loss against Ohio State. This situation could leave Illinois and Michigan tied at 15 points apiece; it would then come down to points differential.
Two bonus point wins by Michigan would relegate the Fighting Illini to the 5th place playoff while potentially catapulting Michigan to the championship if not the 3rd place playoff. With 25 points and a Wisconsin loss, the Wolverines could move into the championship against an undefeated Indiana.
Ohio State will finish their season away against Michigan State followed by Michigan at home. If the Buckeyes manage two bonus point wins, they will end the season with 26 points and favorable goal differential. Ohio State’s recent loss to Wisconsin tarnished their unbeaten record, but they managed to score a late try to keep the score within seven and steal a bonus point that may prove essential come the end of the season.
#16 Wisconsin through four games is unbeaten. The Badgers’ win over rival Ohio State was a strong step towards the championship, but allowing the Buckeyes to steal a bonus point from the loss means that there is no margin of error in the coming games. Wisconsin must win out against Iowa and Indiana to secure enough points to guarantee the chance to win a championship. With a bonus point win over Iowa and a bonus loss to Indiana, Wisconsin would end with 25 points. Assuming Ohio State wins out, they would likely have a better point differential and win the tie breaker. However, two wins without any bonus points would give the Badgers 27 points and enough to clinch a championship spot.
#5 Indiana like Wisconsin is perfect through its first five games, but more impressively still has yet to concede a single point. The Hoosiers five bonus point wins give them 25 points. This week Indiana will play Notre Dame during their conference bye week before they face rival Wisconsin at home in Bloomington, IN. A win of any sort would guarantee Indiana 29 points and a spot in the championship. A loss, though, would prove costly. If the Badgers best Indiana by more than seven points and if Ohio State gathers their possible 26 points, Indiana would fall just short with 25 points.
All the what-ifs and possible bonus point wins and losses make for an exciting culmination of the season. One thing is for sure, the level of competition around the league is rising and we can only watch to find out who will come out on top in the Big Ten.