November is nearly here, and the Big Ten race is about to hit the stretch run. Each Wednesday for the rest of the season, we'll take a quick look at where things stand in each division.
And away they go ...
Front-runner: Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten). Although the Huskers are tied with Michigan atop the standings and sit just a half-game ahead of Northwestern, they hold the all-important head-to-head tiebreakers against both the Wolverines and the Wildcats. A Nebraska win Saturday combined with a Michigan loss to Minnesota will put Bo Pelini's game a full game ahead -- and essentially two games because of the tiebreakers -- with three weeks to go.
Other contenders: All five other teams are alive in the race, but some need more help than others. Michigan (5-3, 3-1) needs Nebraska to lose once down the stretch, while Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) must avoid finishing in a two-team tie with the Huskers, who won 29-28 in Evanston. Michigan State (5-4, 2-3) finds itself in more of a spoiler role, but things can change if it beats Nebraska and Northwestern the next two weeks and Michigan goes on a slide. As bad as things look for Iowa (4-4, 2-2), one good weekend could change the scope of the race. Kirk Ferentz's team still has dates with Nebraska and Michigan, and if Iowa wins out and Northwestern loses once, the Hawkeyes head to Lucas Oil Stadium. Minnesota (5-3, 1-3) has the toughest climb with no division wins and two division losses, so the Gophers need to upset Michigan and reclaim the Jug to have any real chance.
(For the division championship, Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) can clinch it with a win Saturday against Illinois and a Penn State (5-3, 3-1) loss to Purdue. Although Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) has an outside chance, the Buckeyes' magic number -- Ohio State wins and Penn State losses -- is 2. Ohio State and Penn State both are ineligible to represent the division at the league title game.)
Front-runner: Wisconsin. Despite last Saturday's overtime loss to Michigan State and a season-ending injury to quarterback Joel Stave, the Badgers remain in the driver's seat for Indianapolis. They can clinch the division next week with a win against Indiana.
Other contenders: Indiana (3-5, 1-3). The Hoosiers are the only realistic threat to Wisconsin, but they could become very realistic in the next two weeks. IU hosts Iowa followed by Wisconsin, and wins in those games would draw Kevin Wilson's squad even with the Badgers but holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Indiana and Wisconsin both still must travel to Penn State, but the Hoosiers' other game comes against struggling rival Purdue, while Wisconsin takes on Ohio State on Nov. 17.
Fuhgettaboutit: Purdue (3-5, 0-4) and Illinois (2-6, 0-4) are technically still alive. Actually, only one team is, because the loser of their head-to-head matchup Nov. 17 will be eliminated. Bottom line: these teams aren't going to Indy.