A few weeks ago the thought of Ohio State getting invited to play in a post-season game of any kind was a fairly remote thought. With 3 losses on the season, 2 of them in the Big Ten, a bowl game was thought to be unlikely, and a conference championship wasn't even being considered.
It's amazing how much things can change in such a short time.
The big win that Ohio State had this past weekend gives Ohio State a 1-0 record in the Big Ten Leaders Division. The only other undefeated team in the Leaders Division is Penn State. Since Ohio State has yet to play Penn State, all the Buckeyes have to do to get into the Big Ten Championship game is win each of their remaining games. In fact, they don't even have to win their game against Michigan since the Wolverines are in the Legends Division. But what fun would their be in a season where they didn't beat Michigan? So the Buckeyes want to win out.
How likely is it that the Buckeyes will be the sole winner of the Leaders Division?
Looking at the Leaders Division it's clear that Illinois and Indiana, each with three losses, are completely out of the picture. Wisconsin and Purdue both sit with one loss in the division, and Ohio State and Penn State sit at the top with no losses. All of the teams still have three or four division games remaining. While there could easily be a clear winner of the Division, there could also be a two-way or even a three-way tie for the top spot.
The remaining games for Penn State put the Nittany Lions in the most vulnerable position of all of the teams in the Leaders Division. In order to make it to the conference championship game, Penn State still has to go through Ohio State and Wisconsin after getting beat up by Nebraska. If the Nittany Lions can defeat both the Buckeyes and the Badgers, then they certainly deserve to go to the championship. But that's a pretty tough rode to go down, and most likely won't happen.
The Buckeyes have to get through Purdue, Indiana and Penn State in order to win the division. While Indiana and Purdue shouldn't pose much of a threat to them this year, strange things can and do happen. If the Buckeyes come into either of those games thinking that they've already won the game, then they are likely to be upset. Still, the toughest of these three games is undoubtedly going to be Penn State. The guys from Happy Valley are on a roll right now. Penn State is a very tough team, but Ohio State has them at home this year. If the Buckeyes can be disciplined and play as well as they did against Wisconsin it should be a win for Ohio State.
Purdue is another team that still has a shot at the championship game. Of their remaining games Iowa should not be too much of a problem for them, but their arch-rival Indiana could give them a difficult game. These two games aside, the Boilermakers still have to go through both Ohio State and Wisconsin to have a shot at the title. It's very unlikely that they'll be able to beat the Buckeyes even though the game is at home, but overpowering the Badgers in Madison would be the upset of the year.
That leaves the Wisconsin Badgers as the only other team that still has a shot at the title game. Lets face it. In spite of the fact that they lost both of their last games in the final seconds this is a very good football team. The Boilermakers are not going to defeat the Badgers. Illinois has a chance to beat them if they get back to playing the type of football that they were playing at the beginning of the season. Most likely Wisconsin will win that one. That leaves Penn State. The game between Wisconsin and Penn State is going to be a good one. A lot is on the line between those two teams, and it will most likely be a game similar to the Wisconsin-Ohio State game where the last team to score wins.
So looking at the overall field, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana are out of the mix, with the remaining three teams being Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. If Ohio State wins out, then they go to the championship. If Ohio State loses to Penn State and Wisconsin defeats Penn State, there will be a three way tie for first place, and the division winner will be determined by tie-breaker. In most of the likely scenarios, Ohio State goes to the championship game. Assuming the games in the Legends Division work out to their most likely result, the winner of the Legends Division will be between Michigan and Nebraska. The result of their game on November 19 in Ann Arbor will most likely determine who gets to play for the Big Ten Championship.
Given all of the factors involved, there is a high likelihood that the first Big Ten Championship game could be between Ohio State and Michigan. Wouldn't that be an appropriate beginning to this new Big Ten tradition? After beating each other up in the regular season game that doesn't count toward the divisional record (since they are in different divisions), having those two perennial powerhouses go at each other for the Big Ten Championship would be, well, just like old times.
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