UPDATE-- Nov. 28, 2015. Ohio State's clobbering of Michigan makes things a little more simple now. The Big Ten East champion will be decided by the winner of Penn State-Michigan State
- If Michigan State beats Penn State, they're Big Ten East division champions.
- If Penn State beats Michigan State, then Ohio State is Big Ten East division champions.
UPDATE -- Nov. 21, 2015: Ohio State's loss to Michigan State adds some new dimensions, but they're relatively straight forward:
- If Michigan State beats Penn State, they're Big Ten East division champions.
- If Ohio State beats Michigan AND Penn State beats Michigan State, Ohio State are Big Ten East division champions.
- If Michigan beats Ohio State AND Penn State beats Michigan State, Michigan are the Big Ten East division champions.
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UPDATE -- Nov. 8, 2015: Michigan State's loss to Nebraska simplifies the math, for the time being. Here's how the Big Ten East title race plays out:
- If Michigan State beats Ohio State, they control their own destiny. Win out, and they're the Big Ten East division champions.
- If Ohio State beats Michigan State and both they and Michigan win out otherwise, the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor the Saturday after Thanksgiving are the Big Ten East champs.
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Original article from Oct 20, 2015, 11:01a:
Humor me for a second. I think if Ohio State and Michigan had played two weeks ago, the Wolverines would've won going away. This past weekend? Well, I'm more inclined to think if everything's in a vacuum, the Buckeyes would've had a much better chance of coming away victorious. As the season progresses, particularly if the Buckeyes are able to find consistency at quarterback and a stable identity offensively, the more talented team should take it.
But what if they don't?
As is known to happen in the storied rivalry, first-year head coaches tend to punch above their weight. Basically, in the modern era, if you aren't named John Cooper (sorry, not-interim-but-seriously-interim Luke Fickell) or Rich Rodriguez, you've got a pretty darn good shot at winning your first.
To say nothing of the advanced stats, which put OSU's odds of winning at just 29%.
Clearly no Ohio State fan wants to fathom the detriment to their well-being an offseason of condensed Michigan smugness would surely inflict, but let's say for argument's sake that Michigan does beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And also for the purposes of this hypothetical, the Buckeyes handle their business a week prior at home on Senior Day against Sparty (which, FWIW, the same advanced metrics peg OSU's probability of victory at 75%). If all three teams win out, which team lays claim to the Big Ten East divisional championship, and who heads to Indianapolis to play who will almost certainly be Iowa?
Let's start with making sense of the Big Ten's divisional tiebreakers:
The following procedure will determine the representative from each division in the event of a tie:
(a) If two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.
(b) 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.
3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6, and 7).
4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
5. The highest ranked team in the first College Football Playoff poll following the completion of Big Ten regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other in the College Football Playoff poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game.
6. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.
7. The representative will be chosen by random draw.
So, again, assuming Ohio State and Michigan State are 11-1 (7-1) and the Wolverines are 10-2 (7-1), how do these play out?
Tiebreaker 1. The records of the 3 tied teams compared against each other.
There was some debate among our staff as to what exactly this constituted. Historically, "the record" refers to conference play standings, as overall record shouldn't factor in until late in the process (particularly given the Big Ten recent emphasis on encouraging stronger out-of-conference scheduling). Another staff member argued it meant all games played.
We reached out to the Big Ten's league office, which clarified it referred, very literally, to the three team's records against one another. That would mean:
Ohio State 1-1
Michigan State 1-1
On to the next one.
Tiebreaker 2. The records of the 3 tied teams compared within their division.
This is, for all intents and purposes, their divisional records. Since again in our hypothetical scenario, none of the three teams lose again otherwise, we're looking at another draw.
Ohio State 5-1
Michigan State 5-1
To No. 3:
Tiebreaker 3. The records of the 3 teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6, and 7).
This one proves to be a bit redundant. Since for our example's purposes, all three of the Big Ten East's "Big 3" win out, they're not going to have a team that holds a win over any of them that can be used to break this tie. We're also less inclined to have a tie in the first place unless all three lose another, and that seems like the most unlikely of scenarios.
Tiebreaker 4. The records of the 3 teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.
This one proves to be pretty short. The only common intradivisional opponents any of the three schools share is Minnesota, whom both Ohio State and Michigan face. Assuming a win for both, we're on to Tiebreaker 5.
Tiebreaker 5. The highest ranked team in the first College Football Playoff poll following the completion of Big Ten regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other in the College Football Playoff poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This is where we should finally start to see some separation between our three.
While the Wolverines are having a renaissance season for the ages, their two aggregate losses puts them behind the eight ball here. While the committee could reward a one-loss Alabama over an undefeated team playing uneven football against a weaker schedule (see, Florida State last year) for seeding purposes, it's unlikely to favor a two-loss team over a one-loss one, especially when you factor in one of those two losses would have come head-to-head against Michigan State.
Even if Michigan reverts to the same form it displayed against Northwestern, Maryland, and BYU as though the State game ending never happened, and somehow Ohio State and Michigan State win out (sans those two games) and look underwhelming doing so, the committee outright dismissing the MSU-UM game's outcome still seems like a stretch.
So what about Ohio State vs. Michigan State? Again, in our hypothetical, the Buckeyes would win that one outright. How we get there aside, and given Michigan's two overall loses, the Buckeyes would be the team I'd wager most likely to benefit from the committee determining the Big Ten East's Big Ten Championship Game representative.
But the playoff committee's deliberation picking a winner raises all kinds of logistical questions.
As things currently stand, the committee won't release its penultimate rankings until Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. ET. That's a full 72 hours plus after the Ohio State-Michigan game. Would as many as two (if not three) teams have to prepare as though they were heading to Indianapolis without knowing for sure until Tuesday night? And what about fans looking to secure tickets and shore up travel logistics? With the committee usually not even flying to Dallas to deliberate until that Monday, expedited rankings might not be feasible or realistic.
But what if somehow the two highest ranked of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan are within one of one another in that week's College Football Playoff rankings? What then?
Well, we'd go back to the head-to-head between those two teams and the representative would be determined. Sadly, we're spared from Tiebreaker 6 (overall winning percentage), which would smile favorably on hypothetical Ohio State and Michigan State but not Michigan, and to the late Bo Schembechler's delight, Tiebreaker 7 (random draw).
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So if any one of the three remaining teams loses a game it isn't expected to, all this goes out the window. But if college football plays out how we expect it might, we're looking at a tiny bit of college football in 2008 redux. Whether it's Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan in Indianapolis, if everyone's 7-1 in conference play, somebody's going to have a beef about being left out.