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So You're Telling Me There's a Chance: Northwestern's Path to the Rose Bowl

Before Saturday, Northwestern controlled its own fate. Now, it needs some help. Here are the scenarios where Northwestern makes the title game.

First, Northwestern must win out. There are scenarios where the division winner has a 5-3 record, but I don't think Northwestern wins the tiebreakers in any of them.

Scenario 1

Nebraska loses twice.

Michigan loses to Northwestern and one other opponent.

This isn't that far-fetched. In fact, I think it would only involve one upset total (Northwestern over Michigan). Nebraska plays Michigan and Penn State, while Michigan plays Ohio State.

Scenario 2

Nebraska loses to Michigan.

Michigan loses to Northwestern and one other opponent.

In this case, all three teams are 6-2, with a circular mutual results (Northwestern beat Michigan beat Nebraska beat Northwestern). This scenario gets a little complicated. Here are the Big Ten tiebreakers for three teams:

1. The records of the three tied teams will be compared against each other

Each of the three went 1-1 against the other two.

2. The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division

Each team went 4-1 in the division.

3. The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, and 6)

Each team went 3-0 against the rest of the division.

4. The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents.

They have no other common opponents. (Given that each team plays only 3 opponents in the other division, the odds that one team plays all three tied teams is very low)

5. The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of Big Ten regular season conference play shall be the representative in the Big Ten Championship Game, unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of each other in the BCS poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the Big Ten Championship

Here's where it gets interesting. Now, I generally doubt that Northwestern would ever win a polling contest against Michigan and Nebraska, but there's a chance. Michigan would be 8-4 having lost two of its last three games. Similarly, Nebraska would have lost two games between now and then. Meanwhile, Northwestern would be 10-2 and riding a 4 game win streak. I'm not saying it's likely, but I'm saying there's a chance.

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

Presumably this only takes effect if none of Northwestern, Nebraska, or Michigan finish ranked. In this case, Northwestern advances based on the 4-0 nonconference record (HT to laxpuck for pointing this out. I had forgotten Nebraska's loss to UCLA)

Scenario 3

Nebraska beats Michigan and loses 2 other games.

Michigan loses to Northwestern, Nebraska, and one other game.

Scenario 4

Nebraska loses to Michigan and one other game.

Michigan loses to Northwestern and one other game.

There are scenarios where Iowa plays a role, but since they will be underdogs to Northwestern, Nebraska, and Michigan and need to win two of those games, their chances are worse than Northwestern. However that does mean that I will be a big Hawkeye fan after Saturday.

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