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Michigan’s Path to Win the Big Ten East

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Notwithstanding Saturday’s carnage in the Big Ten East, Michigan still has a long road to winning the division.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State and Penn State were the two favorites to win the Big Ten East, and most pinpointed last weekend’s matchup between the two as the de facto Big Ten East Championship Game. However, as Ohio State unraveled in Iowa City and Penn State lost on the final play against Michigan State, fans on Twitter began to wonder what Michigan needs to do to steal the division and go to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Answer? It’s a lot, and you shouldn’t expect it to happen.

The following is the current standings in the Big Ten East:

ESPN

The following are what will be the only applicable Big Ten divisional tiebreakers:

Big Ten

To be clear, here is what those tiebreakers mean:

  1. Record vs. other tied teams
  2. Division record

There has been some confusion as to what the first tiebreaker means because it is poorly worded. Some have interpreted the first tiebreaker to mean overall record. However, that is not the case. Overall record is the seventh tiebreaker on this list:

7. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.

So Ohio State’s loss to Oklahoma and Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame means squat because, as you’ll see below, there will be no need to move past the second tiebreaker.

Scenario #1: Four-Way Tie with Michigan, OSU, PSU, and MSU at 7-2

Here, Michigan would win out and beat Ohio State along the way, Ohio State would beat Michigan State, and Michigan State and Penn State would win all other games.

The first tiebreaker looks at each team’s record vs. the other tied teams:

Ohio State: 2-1 (W: PSU and MSU; L: U-M)
Michigan State: 2-1 (W: U-M and PSU; L: OSU)
Penn State: 1-2 (W: U-M; L: OSU and MSU)
Michigan: 1-2 (W: OSU; L: MSU and PSU)

Michigan and Penn State would have a worse record vs. the other tied teams, so they would be eliminated. Ohio State and Michigan State would be the two teams remaining. To break a divisional tie between two teams, the head-to-head result is used. In this scenario, Ohio State beat Michigan State, so OSU wins the tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker Winner: Ohio State

Scenario #2: Three-Way Tie with Michigan, PSU, MSU at 7-2

Scenario #1 reveals why Michigan will lose any four-way tiebreaker with Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State. Thus, let’s see how Michigan fares in a three-way tie.

Here, Michigan and Penn State would win out, Ohio State would lose two more games (one presumably to Michigan State), and Michigan State would lose one more game.

The first tiebreaker looks at each team’s record vs. the other tied teams:

Michigan State: 2-0 (W: U-M and PSU; L: n/a)
Penn State: 1-1 (W: U-M; L: MSU)
Michigan: 0-2 (W: n/a; L: MSU and PSU)

That was easy.

Tiebreaker Winner: Michigan State

Scenario 3: Three-Way Tie with Michigan, OSU, PSU at 7-2

Here, Michigan would win out and beat Ohio State along the way, Ohio State would beat Michigan State and lose to Michigan, and Penn State would win out.

The first tiebreaker looks at each team’s record vs. the other tied teams:

Michigan: 1-1 (W: OSU; L: PSU)
Ohio State: 1-1 (W: PSU; L: U-M)
Penn State: 1-1 (W: U-M; L: OSU)

Aha! All three teams would have the same record against each other, so we must proceed to the second tiebreaker, which is comparing the teams’ division records:

Ohio State: 5-1 (L: U-M)
Penn State: 4-2 (L: OSU and MSU)
Michigan: 4-2 (L: MSU and PSU)

Ohio State would benefit from losing to Iowa, who is in the Big Ten West, while Michigan and Penn State each would have two Big Ten East losses.

Tiebreaker Winner: Ohio State

Scenario #4: Three-Way Tie with Michigan, OSU, MSU at 7-2

Here, Michigan would win out and beat Ohio State, Ohio State would beat Michigan State and lose to Michigan, and Michigan State would win all of its other games.

The first tiebreaker looks at each team’s record vs. the other tied teams:

Michigan: 1-1 (W: OSU; L: MSU)
Ohio State: 1-1 (W: MSU; L: U-M)
Michigan State: 1-1 (W: U-M; L: OSU)

Again, all three teams would have the same record against each other, so we must proceed to the second tiebreaker, which is comparing the teams’ division records:

Ohio State: 5-1 (L: U-M)
Michigan State: 5-1 (L: OSU)
Michigan: 4-2 (L: MSU and PSU)

And again, Ohio State and Michigan State benefit from having one of their two conference losses to a team in the Big Ten West. Michigan would be eliminated after this step, and then Ohio State would win the tiebreaker based on head-to-head result.

Tiebreaker Winner: Ohio State

Scenario #5: Two-Way Tie with Michigan and PSU or MSU

Here, Michigan would win out, and only one of Penn State or Michigan State would finish 7-2, while the other and Ohio State would finish with three conference losses.

This is simple. In a two-way tie, the tiebreaker is head-to-head result. Michigan lost to both Penn State and Michigan State, so Michigan would lose both of these tiebreakers.

Tiebreaker Winner: Not Michigan

Scenario #6: Two-Way Tie with Michigan and OSU

Here, Michigan would win out and beat Ohio State, Ohio State would beat Michigan State and lose to Michigan, and Michigan State and Penn State would each finish 6-3.

This is simple. In a two-way tie, the tiebreaker is head-to-head result. And here, Michigan would beat Ohio State, so Michigan would actually win the tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker Winner: Michigan

***

So, as you can see, there is really only one way for Michigan to win the Big Ten East, and that is to beat and be in a two-way tie with Ohio State at the end of the season. Michigan will essentially lose any three- or four-way tie with Ohio State, Michigan State, or Penn State because of its losses to the Spartans and Lions and because Ohio State and Michigan State lost a conference game to a team in the Big Ten West.

Therefore, the following is what Michigan essentially needs to win the Big Ten East:

  1. Michigan must win out and beat Maryland, Wisconsin, AND Ohio State;
  2. Ohio State must beat Michigan State;
  3. Michigan State must lose to Maryland OR Rutgers; and
  4. Penn State must lose to Rutgers, Nebraska, OR Maryland.

(Edit-DH: MSU doesn’t have to lose to OSU as Michigan needs MSU to lose two more games. Those losses could come vs. Maryland and Rutgers, but that is much less likely to happen.)

That is a lot, and it is very unlikely to happen. Michigan’s odds to win out are slim by itself with games against Wisconsin and Ohio State still left to be played, and it’s asking quite a bit for Michigan State and Penn State to drop a game it really shouldn’t.

But that’s why the games are played, and now you know what you want to happen for a Michigan miracle to occur and send the Wolverines to Indianapolis in December.