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College Teams Mon Nov 14 2011

Big Ten Football: Contenders Come Full Circle

Thumbnail image for big ten divisions vertical.JPGAnother week, another new set of front-runners in the Big Ten's two football divisions.

Just one week after taking control of their own destiny in the Legends Division, Iowa (6-4, 3-3) lost to No. 17 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) at home, 37-21, and conceded that control in the division to the Spartans. Following a slow showing the past two weeks, Michigan State came out firing in Iowa City, scoring 28 points in the first half. And despite Iowa's push in the third quarter, Michigan State held strong and wrestled away control of the division.

Nothing is certain yet, though. The Spartans will be favored in both of their remaining games against Northwestern (5-5, 2-4) and Indiana (1-9, 0-6), but if they do stumble they will be right back into a tie with whichever team wins between No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) and No. 24 Michigan (8-2, 4-2) next week. Nebraska holds the tiebreaker over Michigan State, though the Spartans own the tiebreaker over Michigan.

The Wolverines spent Saturday cruising through the Fighting Illini (6-4, 2-4), 31-14, while Nebraska's day had much more drastic implications that led to a much more complicated shakeup in the Leaders Division.

No. 12 Penn State (8-2, 5-1) had entered Saturday with sole control of the division, but on a historic day in the national spotlight, they lost to No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2), 17-14, in the first game without Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions' lead atop the division shrank to just one game, while their final two games are on the road against the two teams tied for second place behind them: Ohio State (6-4, 3-3) and No. 18 Wisconsin (8-2, 4-2).

Ohio State had become the default leader because of their head-to-head advantage over the Badgers until they lost an overtime thriller to Purdue (5-5, 3-3), 26-23. With that, Purdue climbed back to third place in the Leaders Division, tied and holding the tiebreaker with the Buckeyes.

So it was up to Wisconsin to beat Minnesota (2-8, 1-5) and move into the pole position in the Leaders division, and they did so swiftly, winning 42-13. Despite trailing Penn State by a game, a victory at home against the Lions in two weeks' time would bring them into a tie for first and secure the head-to-head tiebreaker.

And that is how the carousel of teams atop each divisions has swung back around to exactly where we started: Michigan State and Wisconsin on a crash course to rehash their epic battle in East Lansing that came down to a miracle Hail Mary pass. Anything is possible.

 
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