Iowa just pulled off one of the stunning upsets of this college football season, upending No. 3 Michigan, 14-13, on Saturday night.
The College Football Playoff picture, obviously, is weird now. No. 2 Clemson lost to Pitt, and No. 4 Washington lost to USC. Michigan’s misery further complicates a Playoff race that now looks chaotic.
But the Big Ten East picture is straightforward enough. Iowa’s win doesn’t mean much for the West division, but it changes the dynamic in the East. There’s a three-team race between Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. It just got ultra-interesting.
Michigan still wins the East if it wins out.
The Wolverines are now 6-1 in league play, which puts them in a three-way tie with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions. Everyone has got two games left.
The Michigan-Ohio State game in Columbus on Nov. 26 has been looked to all year as a Big Ten East title game of sorts. That’s no longer guaranteed to be true.
But if the Wolverines don’t lose again, they’ll beat Ohio State outright and beat Penn State on a head-to-head tiebreaker, at the least. They’ll win the division.
Penn State now has a clear opening, though.
Penn State can’t beat Michigan in a two-team, head-to-head tiebreaker. But it will certainly beat Ohio State in one, and that’s where the Lions have hope.
You can see where this is going. Let’s assume – just for discussion’s sake – that next week, Penn State beats Rutgers, Ohio State beats Michigan State, and Michigan beats Indiana, and everyone goes into the last weekend of the year 7-1 in conference.
If Penn State then beats MSU and Ohio State beats Michigan, that leaves the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes tied in first place at 8-1. In this case, Penn State plays in the title game because of the OSU tiebreaker it won last month in Happy Valley.
Ohio State’s path is now extremely narrow.
The Buckeyes could still win the division. If Penn State loses one of its last two games and Ohio State beats both MSU and Michigan, the Buckeyes will finish 8-1 and advance to Indianapolis.
But that’s not likely, obviously. If Ohio State wins its last two games and Penn State does, too, the Nittany Lions get the nod. The Buckeyes need to win and have Penn State lose, or they can’t win the division. And Penn State’s playing two cupcakes.
In a serious way, Michigan losing actually hurts the Wolverines’ arch-rivals.
The rooting guide is almost definitely going to be simple.
Things could get more complicated than this if next week brings a weird combination of upsets. But the best way to think about the race right now is this:
Michigan needs to win out, or have all three teams finish 1-1. (If that happens, Michigan will win the conference on a round-robin or divisional record tiebreaker, because Iowa plays in the West. It’s a nice fallback, but it probably won’t even be relevant.)
Penn State needs to win out and have Ohio State beat Michigan.
Ohio State needs to win out and have Penn State lose a game.
The Wolverines are in good shape despite their loss. The Nittany Lions have reason for optimism, and the Buckeyes really don’t.