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The Big Ten tiebreaker that could make Ohio State-Michigan the division title game anyway

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No. 2 Ohio State lost at unranked Penn State, falling in the AP rankings to No. 6, which feels like the kind of brief tumble Alabama often makes around this point in a season before clawing back to the top.

There's a pretty apparent path to that, actually.

Ohio State's next four games are Northwestern and Nebraska at home and Maryland and Michigan State on the road. The Huskers are good, but the Buckeyes should be comfortably favored in all four. After that: Michigan.

Right now, Michigan holds one-game Big Ten East leads over PSU and OSU, with a head-to-head over PSU as well. S&P+ projects Michigan to win 4.54 of its remaining games, Penn State 4.09, and Ohio State 3.89.

A few scenarios:

  • If Michigan wins out, Michigan wins. Easy.
  • If Ohio State wins out and Penn State loses along the way, Michigan would be out, due to head-to-head, and PSU would be out, due to having two conference losses. Ohio State wins.
  • If Penn State wins out and Michigan somehow loses twice, Penn State wins.
  • If all three win out heading into Ohio State-Michigan, we'd have a three-way tie, since Penn State's conference loss is to Michigan. PSU would be out, and OSU-UM would be for the division. See below.

Here are the Big Ten's three-way tiebreakers:

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.

These first four won't change anything, since all three teams would have beaten everybody but each other, in this scenario. Here's the key:

5.    The team with the best overall winning percentage shall be the representative.*

Penn State lost a non-conference game to Pitt, while the other two went unbeaten out of conference. What seemed at the time like just a rivalry game could end up becoming one of the season's most important games.

And it's a good thing for this divided nation's stress levels that PSU went and did such a thing, because look at the final step:

6.    The representative will be chosen by random draw.

The most Big Ten way to do this would probably be to have a prize cow named Bessie pick from among three book reports while standing in the middle of Times Square on a plaque that says Rutgers Campus, so I'm going to assume that's the procedure.

The B1G changed its final tiebreaker just a few weeks ago. It used to be each team's College Football Playoff ranking, but those rankings don't come out until four days before the conference title game.

"The CFP ranking was removed as one of the tiebreakers due to the timing of when the rankings are released and the potential competitive and logistical impact the timing could have on the Big Ten championship game," league spokesman Adam Augustine told ESPN in an email Sunday night.

The ACC had a similar quandary and turned to some sort of mathematical formula.

* This tiebreaker makes it pretty interesting that the league just declared lowly Fresno State meets its new quality-opponent rule. Non-conference schedules will be pretty balanced, which is good, but somebody gets to play Fresno or UConn and have that count as a win toward a potential tiebreaker.

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