IOWA CITY — And then there were four. Or, really more accurately, it should be and now there are four.
The Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) won their way back into the Big Ten title race with their 37-6 victory over Michigan State (8-1, 4-1) on Saturday.
And so now with four weeks left in the season, the Big Ten is down to a final four. You have No. 15 Iowa, No. 16 Michigan State, No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State.
These four teams have one conference loss entering November. It’s not going to be a playoff, but there already have been a few playoff-type games. Michigan State holds the head-to-head over Wisconsin with a 34-24 victory. Wisconsin holds the head-to-head on Ohio State and Iowa with wins over those two in back-to-back weeks.
Wisconsin and Michigan State have schedules on their sides. The last playoff game will be Nov. 20 at Kinnick Stadium, when Ohio State travels to Iowa City.
Michigan State and Ohio State likely benefit from a three-team tiebreaker. MSU has the head-to-head victory over Wisconsin, thus nullifying the Badgers’ impressive run. Ohio State will likely be the highest rated BCS, which would win a three-way tie with MSU and Wisconsin.
Wisconsin wants this to come down to head-to-head. It would go to the Rose Bowl if it came down to a tie with Ohio State and Iowa. Iowa’s best chance is head-to-head with Michigan State and, potentially, Ohio State.
“It’s all zero-zero right now,” said Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde, who took the lateral from safety Tyler Sash and returned it 66 yards for the play of the day in Iowa’s victory over MSU. “Indiana is a scary team to us. They’re the next team. It’s all zero-zero.”
Here’s a look at the four teams in the “and now there are four.”
Schedule: Nov. 6 at Indiana; Nov. 13 at Northwestern; Nov. 20 vs. Ohio State and Nov. 27 at Minnesota
BCS ranking: 16th (current BCS ranking)
Fatal flaw: Iowa’s non-conference loss at Arizona kills the Hawkeyes in overall record, which is the No. 1 tiebreaker for teams that haven’t faced each other. This ultimately won’t matter for the Hawkeyes, because they will have played the other three contenders, so head-to-head is the factor for Iowa. Right now, that gives the Badgers the edge.
Comes down to this, Iowa needs to take care of business, rise up against Ohio State and hope for a Wisconsin defeat.
Trump card: Iowa earned head-to-head supremacy over Michigan State last Saturday. It controls its destiny against Ohio State.
Schedule: Nov. 6 bye; Nov. 13 vs. Penn State; Nov. 20 at Iowa; Nov. 27 vs. Michigan
BCS ranking: 11th
Fatal flaw: The Buckeyes lose head-to-head with Wisconsin. Also, the BCS rankings aren’t without risk for the Buckeyes. If the tiebreaker went down to the team with the best BCS ranking, which would happen in a three-way tie, the Buckeyes would need a lift from a win at Iowa and would have to hope the struggles of Miami, which lost to Virginia on Saturday, wouldn’t ruin their BCS chances.
Trump card: The Buckeyes would be in good position in a three-way tie because it would have won at Iowa. They’d still have to sweat the BCS rankings, but an Iowa victory would likely lift them over Wisconsin.
Schedule: Nov. 6 vs. Minnesota; Nov. 13 bye; Nov. 20 vs. Purdue; Nov. 27 at Penn State
BCS ranking: 14th
Fatal flaw: The Spartans are huge Ohio State fans on Nov. 20. An OSU victory in Iowa City takes out the Hawkeyes and erases the Spartans’ one head-to-head worry. MSU’s schedule is a blessing and a curse. The Spartans might be the best bet to win out, but weaker opponents are going to deflate their BCS, the three-way tiebreaker. It would also factor if it came down to MSU and OSU because they don’t play each other.
Trump card: As impressive as Wisconsin’s October was, it started Michigan State handling the Badgers at East Lansing. As far as destiny control goes, the Spartans’ remaining opponents are a collective 4-9 in the Big Ten.
Schedule: Nov. 6 at Purdue; Nov. 13 vs. Indiana; Nov. 20 at Michigan; Nov. 27 vs. Northwestern
BCS ranking: 9th
Fatal flaw: As impressive as the wins over Ohio State and Iowa were, they go by the wayside if it comes down to a tie between Wisconsin and Michigan State. In a three-way tie, the Badgers would have to sweat Ohio State, which would have the ammunition to jump UW and win a three-way tie.
Trump card: Wisconsin’s November schedule can best be described as “ease of schedule.” The Badgers’ remaining four opponents sport a 5-11 record in conference. Wisconsin would be able to breathe with an MSU loss. It would welcome a tie with the Iowa-OSU winner, with the head-to-head factor.
Of course, the fatal trump card for the final four is the remaining four weeks. Anything can happen.
Link to BTN highlight (sorry, no embed).