Kings Of The Middle Five November 4, 2010
About 5 weeks into the season, one thing was clear. The Big Ten was a Top Four, a Middle Five, and an Awful Two. And the last few weeks have only furthered the separation. Four ranked teams, two winless-in-conference-play teams, and the Middle Five. The prize for winning the Middle Five? The Gator Bowl on New Years Day against an SEC team. I want that.
How do we get there? Become the Kings of the Middle Five. How do we do that? Split with Michigan and Northwestern and beat Minnesota. Why is it that easy? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Illinois (3-2 in conference): @Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern at Wrigley
Northwestern (2-2 in conference): @Penn State, Iowa, Illinois at Wrigley, @Wisconsin
Penn State (2-2 in conference): Northwestern, @Ohio State, Indiana in DC, Michigan State
Purdue (2-2 in conference): Wisconsin, Michigan, @Michigan State, Indiana
Michigan (1-3 in conference): Illinois, @Purdue, Wisconsin, @Ohio State
So say we split with Michigan and Northwestern, beat Minnesota, and finish 5-3 in the Big Ten. To even tie us as Kings of the Middle Five…
- Michigan would need to win out (including a win at Ohio State in The Game).
- Purdue would have to win 3 of 4 (and they might not win another game).
- Penn State would have to win 3 of 4 (which would mean they either beat tOSU or MSU).
- Northwestern would need to win 3 of 4 (meaning they’d win 2 of 3 against Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin).
I think our bowl picture is pretty clear. Win the rest of our Big Ten games, and we’re challenging the Ohio State/Iowa loser for the Outback Bowl (we’ll still go Gator, in my opinion). Win two of the next three, and we might accept a Gator bid before the Fresno State game. Only win one of the next three, and you know what? The Gator Bowl is still in play. Given the schedule above, it’s not very likely that any of those teams (besides us) get to 5-3 in the Big Ten, so then it would be up to the bowl committees to pick the 4-4 Big Ten team that they want. With a win at Fresno, it might be us.
(Hey, bowl committees! We have a large national fanbase that’s only broken our bowl fund piggy banks three times in the last 14 years. Pick us! Pick us!)
So I guess I started out this post saying “if we win the middle 5, we’re headed to the Gator”, and now I’m saying “we could finish 2-2 and still make the Gator”.
Yes, I fully realize that bowls don’t have to pick the best team available. For the Gator Bowl committee, a 7-5 Penn State team might be more attractive than an 8-4 Illinois team. I believe the rule is that a bowl can pick the lower team as long as they are within one win of the team in front of them, so we might get pushed down the list by the big boys.
But we also might make it impossible for a Penn State to jump us. And we could possibly wrap that up in the next 10 days. Win at Michigan and then hold serve against Minnesota, and you’re forcing Penn State or Northwestern to beat one of the Top Four just to finish within one win of us. And if they do that – if they upset one or two of the top 4 – they just put us in position to play leapfrog above us and start thinking Outback or Capitol One.
Taking that further, if we win this weekend, I’d put our Gator-Bowl-or-better chances at 84%. It would take us losing to Minnesota (not going to happen) or Penn State beating Ohio State (not going to happen) or Northwestern beating Iowa (not going to happen) or something of that magnitude for us to be pushed lower in the bowl order.
(And yes, I’ve taken my “I just want 6 wins and a bowl game – just give me 6 wins” hesitation, folded it up, and put it in one of those plastic containers down in the basement. Because we can reach so much more.)
Of the Middle Five, we’re in the best shape by far. We’ve played two of the five and destroyed them both (33-13 at Penn State, 44-10 against Purdue). And we don’t have any more games against the Top 4 (the other four teams in the Middle Five all have two each). That’s the bottom line right there. If Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State all hold serve against the Middle Five teams (and why wouldn’t they – they’re all fighting for a Big Ten title), then the best any of the 6 teams below us can finish is 4-4 in the Big Ten. We can get to 4-4 by simply beating Minnesota.
Why did I plan a trip to Colorado for the holidays, again?