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The path to the Big Ten title

February 11th, 2013 by Justin Potts

Michigan took a major hit to its Big Ten title hopes with a heartbreaking overtime loss at Wisconsin on Saturday. With a 8-3 conference record and seven games remaining, do the Wolverines still have a chance to win at least a share of the title for the second straight season? The short answer is yes. But let’s examine the remaining schedule of each of the contenders.

Remaining Schedule
Nebraska Michigan Northwestern @ Minnesota @ Michigan State
Purdue @ Nebraska @ Wisconsin Ohio State Penn State
@ Michigan State Indiana Minnesota @ Northwestern Illinois
@ Minnesota @ Ohio State Michigan State Nebraska @ Penn State
Iowa @ Michigan @ Northwestern Purdue Michigan State
Ohio State Wisconsin @ Indiana @ Michigan State @ Purdue
@ Michigan Northwestern Illinois @ Penn State Indiana

Indiana (9-2) is widely considered the main challenger and pulled off a big road win in Columbus on Sunday afternoon. The Hoosiers still have trips to Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan remaining, with home tilts with Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa, and Ohio State. It’s probably a safe bet to assume IU will lose at least one of those games leading into the final game of the season in Ann Arbor.

Michigan State (9-2) has perhaps the toughest remaining schedule of the top contenders, beginning with tomorrow’s matchup with Michigan. The Spartans get a breather with Nebraska before hosting Indiana, traveling to Ohio State and Michigan, then hosting Wisconsin before finishing with Northwestern.

Ohio State (7-4) has the most ground to make up following its loss to Indiana. After failing to hold court at home, the Buckeyes will probably need to win out to secure at least a share of the title. But it’s not an easy road. Trips to Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana loom and home bouts with Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois won’t be easy.

Michigan needs to steal a win in the Breslin Center

The surprise team of the conference has been Wisconsin (8-3), the team that beat Michigan on Saturday and also has a road win over Indiana. The Badgers have perhaps the easiest road of all of Michigan’s challengers the rest of the way as long as they can get through the next two games, a road trip to Minnesota on Thursday and a home battle with Ohio State. From there, they visit Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State, and host Nebraska and Purdue.

Michigan (8-3) still has to survive a home and home with Michigan State and the season ender against Indiana, but the Wolverines also still get two games against Penn State, a home game against Illinois and a trip to Purdue.

If both Michigan and Indiana both win their next six games, it will all come down to the March 10 showdown in Ann Arbor with Michigan needing to win to share the title and Indiana needing to win to take the title outright. Winning seven straight would be a tall task for the Wolverines, but if they can come out of East Lansing with a win tomorrow night, the chances will improve drastically.

A loss on Tuesday would mean Michigan has to rely on help. Both Michigan State and Indiana would need to lose twice. Michigan could help out with one of those for each team, but would then need each to lose again. That’s certainly not out of the question – remember last season when Michigan lost its last home game to Purdue, but ended up sharing the Big Ten title – but it’s a lot to ask for.

That being said, tomorrow’s battle in East Lansing is extremely important. It’s pretty safe to assume that Michigan will win its next three games after that one, so by that time, the Feb. 19 Indiana-Michigan State game will have either all but knocked the Spartans out of the race or dropped the Hoosiers into a tie with both MSU and Michigan with three games remaining.

Michigan has won three of the last four over the Spartans and would love to continue that trend. So far this season, Indiana (at Ohio State), Michigan State (at Wisconsin), and Wisconsin (at Indiana) each have road wins over title contenders. Michigan will need to follow suit and steal one on the road. Regardless, it’s safe to say the conference title race is going to come down to the very last weekend and will set up an epic Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.