There are two enormous games in the Big Ten on Saturday that will likely determine the participants in the conference championship game. Wisconsin-Northwestern and Indiana-Ohio State both have considerable magnitude in how the conference will shake out.
Let’s start with Ohio State vs. Indiana because this one is more straightforward for the consequences — not just for the Big Ten East, but also how we are looking at the College Football Playoff picture.
The No. 3 Buckeyes are 3-0, and the No. 9 Hoosiers are 4-0. Indiana might be the best college football story in the country that is not getting enough national attention yet. Indiana head coach Tom Allen was not an assistant at a college program with scholarship players until 2011, when he was assistant head coach at Arkansas State. He is in his fifth year as head coach of the Hoosiers.
You might scoff at the idea that Indiana could pull off an upset over Ohio State — the Buckeyes are favored by 20.5 points on FanDuel — but it’s 2020 and weird things happen all the time. IF Indiana does upset Ohio State, they would need to lose two of their final three games (Maryland, Wisconsin, Purdue) to be leapfrogged by the Buckeyes for a spot in the conference title game. The Buckeyes would also have to beat Illinois, Michigan State, and Michigan for that to happen, which is highly likely.
Wisconsin-Northwestern is a little murkier because of the COVID-19 issues that the Badgers battled earlier this month. Wisconsin is 2-0, and Northwestern is 4-0. The Big Ten rules for this weird season state that if a team has an equal number of losses but a different number of wins, head-to-head result would determine the participant in the conference title game.
Therefore, if there were a scenario where Wisconsin beats Northwestern but loses one of their remaining games while Northwestern goes undefeated, 5-1 Wisconsin would make it into the Big Ten title game over 7-1 Northwestern.
The Badgers will also be eliminated from contention if any more of their games are canceled due to COVID-19 — whether because they have an outbreak or their opponents do. The Big Ten rules stipulate that a team must play six games, so if the Badgers miss any more, they will fall below that threshold.
Nonetheless, barring future cancellations affecting the Badgers, it’s pretty difficult to envision a scenario where they beat Northwestern but are not playing the winner of Ohio State vs. Indiana in Indianapolis in December.