Here We Go Yo, Here We Go Yo: A Big Ten Tiebreaker Scenario

By John Morgan on October 5, 2018 at 9:15 am
Sep 1, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; A detailed view of the Big Ten logo on the field prior to the game between the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go yo, here we go yo... So what, so what, so what's the Big Ten East Tiebreaker scenario?

A bye week after a heartbreaking loss can be a good thing for Penn State as they regroup and prepare for a big game against Michigan State next weekend. For the fans, it's a little longer as they now start to look at the entire picture and what needs to be done to get to the promised land. For Penn State to have any chance at a division title or the College Football playoff, there is zero margin for error and on top of that, the Nittany Lions will need some help. To kill some time, I decided to take a look at a scenario in which Penn State could win the Big Ten East and possibly more.

Here is a link to the Big Ten tiebreaker site. Any scenario where Penn State is tied with Ohio State without a third team will go to the Buckeyes. If there is a three-way tie, then things can get interesting. This entire scenario is based on Penn State winning out since they have no wiggle room. In this best case scenario, Michigan only loses to Penn State, but beats Ohio State in Columbus to close out the season. (Please note Michigan State would work as well, but I chose the higher ranked team in this instance). Skipping through steps 1 through 4 of the tiebreaker in this scenario which wouldn't apply here, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan would all still be tied and have all beaten each other. Rule 5 in the tiebreaker is would determine the tiebreaker. 

  • 5.    The best cumulative conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.
  • (a) Example: East 1 non-divisional opponents are 20-7, East 2 non-divisional opponents are 19-8, East 3 non-divisional opponents are 14-13 - East 1 would be the representative.

Since the three teams don't play the same cross conference games, here is a chart of the cross-conference games for Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.​

Cross-Conference Games
Penn State Ohio State Michigan
Illinois Minnesota Nebraska
Iowa Purdue Northwestern
Wisconsin Nebraska Wisconsin

Since Ohio State and Michigan both play Nebraska, Penn State fans should be rooting against the Huskers in any Big Ten matchup. Wisconsin is a common opponent for Penn State and Michigan, but those are wins that Ohio State wouldn't get so fans should want the Badgers to win every other game other than those two.

Here is a look at all the cross-division opponents and what would be needed to get the 5th tiebreaker in the scenario mentioned above. If it comes to the 6th tiebreaker, well, that's for another day, but Penn State will need Iowa to be better than Northwestern in the standings.

Penn State Cross-Division Opponents

Illinois Remaining Schedule
Date School opponent Comments
10/6 Illinois @Rutgers Penn State fans need Illinois to win this game. They may not get another B1G win so whatever they can get is gravy.
10/13 Illinois Purdue This game is a swing game since Ohio State faces Purdue so a loss here by Illinois, would be a win for the Buckeyes.
10/20 Illinois @Wisconsin A wash game for Penn State since they get a win either way, but it would be better if Illinois won, but that's highly unlikely.
10/27 Illinois @Maryland Hopefully the Maryland team that faced Temple shows up for this one.
11/3 Illinois Minnesota Like the Purdue game above, only Ohio State faces Minnesota so an Illinois win here would be big for Penn State.
11/10 Illinois @Nebraska Ohio State and Michigan both have Nebraska so a win for Illinois in this game would go a long way in a three-way tie.
11/17 Illinois Iowa This is another wash game for Penn State since they face both these teams, but if it comes to the 6th tiebreaker, Penn State fans want Iowa here.
11/24 Illinois @Northwesten Michigan has already beaten Northwestern so they would probably get a win here unless Illinois can beat their in-state rival.
Iowa Remaining Schedule
date school opponent Comments
10/6 Iowa @Minnesota Since Penn State is the only team of the three to have Iowa, they will need all the wins they can get and this one especially since Ohio State has Minnesota.
10/13 Iowa @Indiana Indiana is due for an upset this year and let's hope it's against Ohio State and not Iowa.
10/20 Iowa Maryland After playing their first 4 games at home, Iowa returns home for a game they'll surely be favored in.
10/27 Iowa @Penn State Let's Go State!
11/3 Iowa @Purdue A big one here with Ohio State facing Purdue so this is also a swing game.
11/10 Iowa Northwestern Another swing game for Penn State now that Michigan has already beaten Northwestern.
11/17 Iowa @Illinois I mentioned this one above and it would be a win for Penn State regardless that Ohio State and Michigan won't get.
11/23 Iowa Nebraska Iowa would like to continue their winning ways vs. Nebraska and who am I to argue?
Wisconsin Remaining Schedule
Date SChOOL Opponent comments
10/6 Wisconsin Nebraska If Wisconsin wants to win the Big Ten West, they'll need to beat bad teams and that's what they face this weekend.
10/13 Wisconsin @Michigan Penn State would need Michigan in a three-way tie so Penn State fans want the Wolverines in this one because a two-loss Michigan team will not help.
10/20 Wisconsin Illinois I mentioned this one above and Wisconsin will win this one, but it's a wash since Ohio State faces neither. 
10/27 Wisconsin @Northwestern This one is a wash for Michigan, but Penn State would need Wisconsin since they don't face Northwestern.
11/3 Wisconsin Rutgers LOL
11/10 Wisconsin @Penn State Going to pull for Penn State in this one.
11/17 Wisconsin @Purdue Another PSU/Michigan vs. Ohio State swing game. Go Badgers!
11/24 Wisconsin Minnesota Just like the Purdue game the week prior, Ohio State faces Purdue so this would be a win for Penn State and Michigan.

Ohio State Cross-Division Opponents

Minnesota Remaining Schedule
Date School Opponent Comments
10/6 Minnesota Iowa Since Ohio State is the only team of the three that plays Minnesota, the more losses the better and especially against a team only Penn State plays.
10/13 Minnesota @Ohio State Penn State will take any Ohio State loss as long as they get a second one, but this probably isn't going to happen.
10/20 Minnesota @Nebraska It's a wash for OSU, but a Gopher win would tack another loss on Michigan's West docket.
10/26 Minnesota Indiana Go Hoosiers!
11/3 Minnesota @Illinois A Penn State/Ohio State swing game and it's at Illinois so maybe Lovie Smith can pull one out.
11/10 Minnesota Purdue Ohio State gets a win here since they play both these teams and PSU and Michigan do not.
11/17 Minnesota Northwestern Another Ohio State/Michigan swing game. The Wolverines would really need Northwestern here.
11/24 Minnesota @Wisconsin PSU and Michigan will likely get a win in this game.
Purdue Remaining Schedule
Date school opponent comments
10/13 Purdue @Illinois Next weekend is that swing game between Ohio State and Penn State mentioned above.
10/20 Purdue Ohio State Like the Minnesota game above, any loss for the Buckeyes is good as long as they lose a second one.
10/27 Purdue @Michigan State Michigan State is the forgotten team in this scenario, but Penn State and Michigan need them to win this under this scenario.
11/3 Purdue Iowa Another swing game mentioned above and PSU should pull for the Hawkeyes.
11/10 Purdue @Minnesota Ohio State gets a win here regardless of who it is.
11/17 Purdue Wisconsin Have I mentioned how much we like the Badgers?
11/24 Purdue @Indiana This is one Penn State and Michigan would really need Indiana to win since they stand to lose a game with a Purdue win.

Ohio State's other cross divisional opponent is Nebraska and that's detailed below with Michigan.

Michigan Cross-Division Opponents

Nebraska Remaining Schedule
date school opponent comments
10/6 Nebraska @Wisconsin A big game for Penn State as a Badger win puts another loss in the column for OSU.
10/13 Nebraska @Northwestern This is a win game for Michigan as the only team that faces both in the three-way scenario.
10/20 Nebraska Minnesota Like with the Minnesota scenario previously, this is a swing game for Michigan and Ohio State.
10/27 Nebraska Bethune-Cookman A non-conference game that doesn't mean anything other than Nebraska better win it for their fans sanity.
11/3 Nebraska @Ohio State An Ohio State loss would be fun, but it's not happening here.
11/10 Nebraska Illinois Nebraska is struggling, but a month from now they could be improved to win a game they easily might.
11/17 Nebraska Michigan State Michigan State could factor into the tiebreaker in place of Michigan, but regardless, they would need to win this game to help Penn State.
11/23 Nebraska @Iowa This was also mentioned above, but Penn State would need Iowa here in a swing game with Michigan.
Northwestern Remaining Schedule
Date school opponent comments
10/6 Northwestern @Michigan State Hopefully Michigan State has to play a hard-fought tiring game and gets a win the week before they head to Penn State.
10/13 Northwestern Nebraska A win game for Michigan that does Penn State and Ohio State no good.
10/20 Northwestern @Rutgers Maybe Rutgers can pull this one out. Then again, maybe not.
10/27 Northwestern Wisconsin Michigan gets a win here no matter what happens, but Penn State can only get one if Wisconsin takes care of business.
11/3 Northwestern Notre Dame A non-conference game that doesn't factor into the tiebreaker, but a Northwestern win would be big in the big picture College Football Playoff scenario.
11/10 Northwestern @Iowa Hawkeyes will need to win this if they have any hope at the Big Ten West division and PSU would get the win for the tiebreaker.
11/17 Northwestern @Minnesota Michigan/Ohio State swing game that is a necessary evil for Penn State.
11/24 Northwestern Illinois Can Illinois Dominate the State? Probably not, but here's to hoping.

Since I already went through the Wisconsin schedule above, there is no need to do that again, but those wins that the Badgers get will help Penn State and Michigan since Ohio State wouldn't get those in the tiebreaker.

What does it all mean?

Since these scenarios never work out as planned, this could be a moot point by the end of the month, but I must carry on now. Wisconsin is key for Penn State because if things go according to the best case scenario, they will finish 7-2 in the Big Ten. Though Michigan will get those wins too, Iowa is likely the second best team of the cross-divisional teams and only Penn State faces them. Here is what I projected as the win total for the featured cross-divisional teams.

Penn State Projected Cross-Divisional Opponents Conference Records
Team Wins LOsses Total WIns
Illinois 1 8 1
Iowa 6 3 6
Wisconsin 7 2 7
Total - - 14

I built in an upset loss to Iowa in this projection and have Illinois beating Rutgers as their only conference win. In these predictions, Iowa must beat Northwestern because that could be a big swing for Michigan.

Ohio State Projected Cross-Divisional Opponents Conference Records
Team WIns Losses Total wins
Minnesota 3 6 3
Purdue 4 5 4
Nebraska 1 8 1
Total - - 8

With some common games, I picked Minnesota to beat Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois and since Purdue already defeated Nebraska, I have them getting wins against Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana. Nebraska is the wild card because they have looked so bad and only have them winning against Illinois. If they can find a way to beat Minnesota or Northwestern, that would still be equal for Penn State. The only Nebraska win that would really hurt would be if they could win at Iowa on Thanksgiving weekend.

Michigan Projected Cross-Divisional Opponents Conference Records
Team Wins Losses Total WIns
Northwestern 5 4 5
Nebraska 1 8 1
Wisconsin 7 2 7
Total - - 13

Even after their slow start, I picked Northwestern to win four more conference games having already beat Purdue. The Wildcats other projected wins come against Nebraska, Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. Even if Northwestern can beat Iowa, it would be negated if somehow Illinois could pull off a win vs. them. 


The one definitive conclusion is there is simply too much time on a bye week after a loss for someone like me. Based on what I projected above, Penn State would win the tiebreaker as Ohio State would be dropped and the Lions would have a theoretical win over the Wolverines and win the Big Ten East. If it comes down to the 6th tiebreaker scenario, I will revise everything and try to figure out that Rubix Cube. I cannot determine if Penn State winning out or Michigan winning in Columbus is a bigger ask at this point, but if I have a wish, I will take the former. With Michigan and Ohio State playing in the final weekend, the swing games will be fun if each team can hold serve because that's just one more thing to keep an eye on. Go Badgers*, Hawkeyes* and please live up to your name Fighting Illini. 

*Except against Penn State of course.

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