While most of the country was focusing on Clemson getting worked by Georgia Tech and USC battling Stanford despite some terrible officiating, I noticed quite a few Penn State fans openly cheering for Ohio State to beat Wisconsin.
The reasoning seemed simple, if Ohio State beat Wisconsin, Penn State would have a two game lead in the Leaders division of the Big Ten. However, I’m going to explain why a two game lead makes Penn State’s path to the Big Ten Championship game harder.
I know, you are probably wondering how a one game lead can be better than a two game lead but I am going to do my best to explain how it is possible.
First, let’s look at the current standings after Ohio State did in fact beat Wisconsin:
Now, let’s look at Penn State’s remaining schedule:
Also, let’s look at the Big Ten tie-breaker situation if there is a three team tie:
So for this exercise we will make an assumption that Ohio State and Wisconsin win all of their remaining games except for their respective games against Penn State.
If you are not aware of which teams Ohio State and Wisconsin have left to play outside of Penn State, well here you go:
Looking at those schedules I think that it is a very reasonable guess that Wisconsin will win out till the Penn State game and the only other real test for Ohio State will be its game against Michigan.
Alright, now that we have the background knowledge out of the way, let’s get to the fun part:
If Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State:
This one is easy. Penn State would have had a one game lead on Wisconsin and a three game lead on Ohio State. This would have meant that all Penn State had to do was beat Wisconsin. They could have lost to both Nebraska and Ohio State, which would make them 5-2 in the Big Ten leading to the Wisconsin game, who would have been 6-1. By beating Wisconsin, the two teams would tie for the division and Penn State would win the tie-breaker and the division.
That’s it, simple as that, all that would have mattered was the game against Wisconsin.
Now, on to the actual situation at hand and the possible outcomes:
Penn State beats Nebraska, loses to Ohio State and Wisconsin:
In this situation, Penn State would finish third in the division, Wisconsin second and Ohio State would play in the title game. While all three teams would have the Big Ten record, Penn State is the first to be eliminated by tie-breaker b1 because they would have lost to both Ohio State and Wisconsin. Then it reverts to the head-to-head matchup between Ohio State and Wisconsin, which Ohio State won, giving the Buckeyes the division.
Penn State beats Ohio State, loses to Nebraska and Wisconsin:
Here Ohio State would be eliminated by having a third Big Ten loss. Unfortunately for Penn State they would finish tied with Wisconsin with two Big Ten losses and they would lose the tie-breaker do to losing head-to-head.
Penn State beats Wisconsin, loses to Nebraska and Ohio State:
Basically the same as the above situation just with Ohio State and Wisconsin reversed. Wisconsin is eliminated with what would be their third conference loss and Ohio State wins the tie-breaker over Penn State by winning head-to-head.
That’s right, by having a larger division lead, Penn State is now in a situation where the only way to win the division now is to win two of the three remaining games instead of just one game without that one win being against Ohio State and getting some help from Michigan.
Next time I hope fans take a moment to look at the whole standings and schedule situation before worrying about how big a division lead is half way through the conference race.