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Michigan's Path to a Big Ten East Division Title

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With Michigan State's last-minute collapse in Lincoln on Saturday, the race for the Big Ten East has shifted. What does it mean for Michigan and its chances? We break it down.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to some poor officiating and a head-scratching decision to call a tight-end end around on third down with a chance to run for a first down and run out the clock, Michigan State collapsed in the final minutes, blowing a late 12-point lead to lose to Nebraska, 39-38, in Lincoln. Not only did this give the Spartans their first loss of the season, it completely shook up the race for the Big Ten East division.

After Saturday's games, here's how the Big Ten East division standings look:

Big Ten East Standings (as of Nov. 7th)
School Big Ten Record Big Ten East Record Overall Record
Ohio State 5-0 4-0 9-0
Michigan State 4-1 3-0 8-1
Michigan 4-1 2-1 7-2
Penn State 4-2 3-1 7-3
Rutgers 1-5 1-4 3-6
Maryland 0-5 0-3 2-7
Indiana 0-5 0-4 4-5

Mathematically, Penn State still has a shot to win the division, but, essentially, there are three teams vying for the top spot: Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Here is what needs to happen for Michigan to make its way to the Big Ten championship game:

Michigan Must Win Out

Yes, there are scenarios where Michigan could lose again and win the Big Ten East, but, realistically, Michigan must win out. That means beating Indiana in Bloomington, Penn State in Happy Valley, and -- yes -- Ohio State in Ann Arbor. Michigan will be at least a double-digit favorite in the first two games and should be no worse than a slight underdog to the Buckeyes at home. There's never a guarantee that Michigan will win both of its next two road games -- just look at Michigan State-Nebraska -- but the odds are in Michigan's favor. And, if Michigan pulls it off, the chances are that The Game between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes will be an unofficial Big Ten East title game.

Ohio State Must Beat Michigan State on November 21st

Though the Spartans lost tonight, they still control their own destiny in their pursuit of a Big Ten championship. If Michigan State wins out, the Spartans would represent the Big Ten East in the Big Ten championship game, even if Michigan wins out and beats Ohio State. Why? Because both Michigan and Michigan State would be 7-1, while Ohio State would be 6-2, and the Spartans would win the tiebreaker due to their 27-23 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Given that it's unlikely that the Spartans will fall to Maryland or Penn State at home -- MSU should be double-digit favorites in both games -- the only other opportunity for Michigan State to lose is to Ohio State in Columbus in two weeks.

If Ohio State beats Michigan State, the Buckeyes will be either 7-0 or 6-1 in the Big Ten heading into the final weekend against Michigan. If Michigan is 6-1 when the Wolverines and Buckeyes face off, it would guarantee that the winner of The Game would have no more than one loss, while the Spartans would have two. Therefore, if a tiebreaker were to come into play, it would be the head-to-head result between Michigan and Ohio State.

The College Football Poll No Longer Matters

Before this weekend, there was a crazy scenario where Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State each could be 7-1 in the Big Ten with 1-1 records against each other. If that had happened, the tiebreaker that would have decided the team that'd represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship game was the fifth one, which was that the team that was ranked the highest in the College Football Playoff poll the Tuesday after the final week of the regular season. However, with Michigan State's loss to Nebraska, any ties that need to be broken will be broken before it comes down to that fifth tiebreaker because divisional record will be compared first. It is impossible for Michigan and Michigan State to have both the same conference and divisional record because the Wolverines are 2-0 against the Big Ten West (Northwestern and Minnesota) and the Spartans are 1-1 against the Big Ten West (Purdue and Nebraska). Therefore, if the two teams were to have the same conference record, it'd mean MSU would have the better divisional record. So this isn't a scenario about which Michigan fans must worry.

Quick Summary

There are still three weeks to play -- so crazy things can happen -- but here's what Michigan wants:

-Michigan takes care of business against Indiana and Penn State
-Ohio State beats Michigan State
-Michigan beats Ohio State

If all three of those things happen, you'll want to book your trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.