If you're wondering why you haven't seen a post like this sooner, 1) I just thought of it yesterday, and 2) it couldn't have really been done early in the season without seeming at least somewhat trite. It would have been more based on speculation and prediction. At this point in the season, however, each team has played enough conference games to where we can objectively determine (to a certain degree) which outcomes of conference games affect Michigan's standing positively or negatively.
The first part of each of these breakdowns (there aren't that many, since the Big Ten teams are playing each other) is my attempt to provide reasoning of why you could root for either team, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference. The second part is a semi-objective look at which outcome is better for Michigan.
Remember to also check out Zach's preview of the MSU game, and Peter Putzel's preview of the Big Ten weekend.
Illinois at Penn State
12:00 PM EST (ESPN/WatchESPN)
Who Should You Root For? Readers' pick. You can either detest Penn State and wish that they lose more games as retribution for their fluky overtime win against Michigan, or you can hope that they do better and hope that it makes Michigan look better. If you like Tim Beckman (you are probably alone), you can cheer for the Illini for their chance at a first Big Ten win.
Better for Michigan if This Team Wins: Objectively, Illinois. As much as I delight in seeing Tim Beckman flail about after bringing a Rich Rod level of off-the-field embarrassment to Champaign, it's probably better if Illinois wins. However, you could make the argument that if Penn State goes on to have a decent to good season, it actually makes Michigan's loss to them not look so bad. But after the Nittany Lions lost big to Ohio State, Penn State is officially dead to me.
No. 24 Wisconsin at Iowa
12:00 PM EST (ABC/ESPN2)
Who Should You Root For? Personally, I want to see Kirk Ferentz stay at Iowa, and I'm not exactly thrilled with Gary Andersen for blowing my prediction that Wisconsin would slide back a bit this year. Just goes to show what a team can do with a fully stacked cupboard. Wisconsin is, in my opinion, one of the most infuriating teams in the Big Ten. They win at a high level and yet there's no logical reason why they should be doing so. It's not like they're pulling in No. 1 recruiting classes or are soaking up waterfalls of revenue like their divisional neighbors in Columbus are.
Better for Michigan if This Team Wins: Wisconsin. The Badgers do not play Michigan in the regular season, and they are in a separate division. If they win the Leaders Division, which seems unlikely, it will mean Ohio State will not play in the Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin only has one conference loss (begrudgingly to the Buckeyes, a crucial tie-breaker), so while the Badgers still have a chance of representing the Leaders Division, it would have to come from them winning out and at least two teams knocking off Ohio State. If you don't want to see Michigan play (and possibly lose to) Ohio State twice, you have to pull for the Badgers.
No. 4 Ohio State at Purdue
12:00 PM EST (BTN)
Who Should You Root For? Purdue, obviously. Not only do I want Darrell Hazell to succeed at Purdue because it might be kind of cool to have a coach in the conference who runs both a pro-style offense and is African American, but the Boilermakers are also winless in the Big Ten and are in desperate need of some progress. Beating Ohio State would be an upset for the ages, causing a ridiculous amount of rival schadenfreude, and would just be the best thing ever. To root for anyone other than Purdue in this case would be a cardinal sin.
Better for Michigan if This Team Wins: PURDUE PURDUE PURDUE PURDUE. Seriously. There is no way that's happening, but we can still dream, can't we? The Buckeyes will still be plenty high in the rankings come the time when they face against Michigan anyway, and while it would be supremely satisfying for Hoke to be the one to end Urban Meyer's winning streak, I'd rather not hinge everything on that possibility. He had that opportunity in 2012 and it didn't happen. I'm not saying it can't happen in 2013, but I'd feel a lot better if Ohio State just lost to somebody.
Minnesota at Indiana
3:00 PM EST (BTN)
Who Should You Root For? As much as I enjoy seeing the Golden Gophers improve under Jerry Kill, I'm going to root for Kevin Wilson in this one. Wilson has improved his team enough to where they flat-out deserve to get to bowl eligibility, and Minnesota has already reached that benchmark for the season. The Hoosiers have been so close in some games (vs. Michigan notwithstanding) that they really should catch a break. I know everyone in Minneapolis (and a few Gopher fans on here) will punch walls if Minnesota loses, but come on, guys. Give Kevin Wilson this one.
Better for Michigan if This Team Wins: Indiana. Minnesota's position in the Legends Division, unfortunately, can only hurt the Wolverines in this case. While the Golden Gophers are essentially out of the championship hunt, which they weren't really in to begin with anyway, there is a chance that Minnesota could do well enough in its remaining games to be higher than Michigan in terms of conference record, having knocked off two teams that were picked to beat them. That of course could mean that Minnesota goes to a higher-up bowl than Michigan does, and frankly the Gophers aren't ready for that. Indiana, meanwhile, is just looking to get to a bowl, and being in the division that Michigan is not, the better they do really has more (if any) positive bearing on where Michigan finishes.
Northwestern at Nebraska
3:00 PM EST (BTN)
Who Should You Root For? Uh... neither? I really hate talking about teams that Michigan has yet to play, because let's be honest, there's a very real possibility that Michigan could lose to both of these teams. I'm a fan of both coaches (yes, I like Pelini even though he played for OSU), and I'm relieved that both teams are moving to the West division next year so that I can feel better about watching them win without thinking that they could keep Michigan out of the conference title game. In this case, however, there's really no good answer. Fitzgerald needs a win to get to bowl eligibility and keep both the streak and perception of improvement alive. Pelini needs a win to prevent farther backslide and civil unrest. Both teams are coming off frustrating losses and are looking for bounce back wins.
Better for Michigan if This Team Wins: Right now, Northwestern. The Wildcats are definitely out of the championship run after losing four straight conference games. There is still a chance, however, that Nebraska could get there if they win out, should they secure tie-breakers against both Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan obviously needs to beat both of these to get to the championship themselves, which is why I can't stand passing judgment on teams that we haven't beat yet. I'd rather have Northwestern beat Nebraska, MSU, and Illinois and have their fifth loss come from Michigan. It's more likely, though, that Nebraska will win and we'll have a grudge match with both teams.