We love college football for the drama, the pageantry and the thought that anything might really be possible.
Rutgers was undefeated before it ran into…Kent State. Six Mid-American Conference teams gained bowl eligibility by the end of October, the second most nationally behind the SEC’s seven. Ohio State, 6-7 a year ago, is now 9-0, and Louisville somehow found a way to come back on Cincinnati last weekend to win, get to 8-0 and move up to No. 10 in the newest BCS rankings. Ohio University’s loss at rival Miami-Ohio last weekend dropped the Bobcats from those BCS rankings. Yes, Ohio University has a football team that is playing and was ranked among the big boys.
See? Just about anything is possible.
Below is a look at how the conference races involving Ohio’s major college football teams stand headed to the season’s tenth week and how they figure to play out the rest of the way. There are still plenty of big games ahead.
BIG TEN – LEGENDS DIVISION
HOW IT STANDS: Nebraska and Michigan each have 3-1 conference records, but Nebraska beat the Wolverines last weekend to get a huge leg up in what may become a battle of attrition as much as it’s a race for one of two berths in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan still has Northwestern and Iowa at home and Minnesota and Ohio State on the road. If Nebraska can win at Michigan State this weekend, Huskers fans can start making Indianapolis travel plans. If the Spartans win, all of a sudden Northwestern and maybe even Iowa and Michigan State are back in the race.
NEXT REALLY BIG GAME: Nebraska at Michigan State, Saturday. The Spartans probably have the Big Ten’s best defense, but a season of high expectations has become one of disappointment. Winning at Wisconsin last week gave Michigan State (5-4, 2-3) one last hope of making one last run, and this game is winnable.
WHAT THEY’RE CHASING: Assuming the division winner is Nebraska or Michigan, the winner will be a favorite to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 1 and get to the Rose Bowl. The team that gets to Pasadena won’t have to apologize for the Big Ten’s struggles this year and can enjoy the rewards.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT: Nebraska-Michigan State is a toss-up game. Northwestern is still kicking itself — and should be — for squandering a lead vs. Nebraska two weeks ago. Michigan now has to pass Nebraska in the standings, and it will need both some help and improved play to do that.
BIG TEN – LEADERS DIVISION
HOW IT STANDS: Ohio State is 9-0 and has a clear path to the division title now that it’s stopped Penn State’s run, but that’s where it gets messy. Neither the Buckeyes nor the Nittany Lions are eligible for postseason play, meaning Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2) can essentially clinch a spot in Indianapolis on the first weekend of December before it even plays Indiana in its next game, Nov. 10. Winning that game likely will clinch it, leaving the Badgers free to take a home shot at Ohio State on Nov. 17 with nothing to lose.
NEXT REALLY BIG GAME: Nov. 17, Ohio State at Wisconsin. See above. Assuming Ohio State comes in at 10-0, it will make for great television.
WHAT THEY’RE CHASING: Ohio State can play only for 12-0, and with the closing stretch including Wisconsin and Michigan, there’s plenty to play for even without extra games waiting. Wisconsin has had a rough year but will get to play for a third-straight Rose Bowl berth in the Big Ten title game. It’s highly unlikely that Purdue, Indiana or Illinois will be bowl eligible.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT: Ohio State has shown in previous road tests at Michigan State and Penn that it has the horses to win in what surely be will a hostile environment in Madison.
HOW IT STANDS: Rutgers is 4-0 in conference play, and Louisville is 3-0. The Cardinals are the buzz team and are all the way up to No. 10 in the BCS standings after beating Cincinnati in overtime. Rutgers suffered its first loss of the season to Kent State and doesn’t play another conference game until Nov. 17 at Cincinnati. Syracuse is next at 3-1; Cincinnati is 1-1 in league play.
NEXT REALLY BIG GAME: Syracuse at Cincinnati, this weekend. The loser is out of title contention; both would need help as is. Every Louisville game the rest of the way is big with the Cardinals sitting at 8-0. Temple is next for Charlie Strong’s team this weekend, followed by a trip to Syracuse.
WHAT THEY’RE CHASING: A BCS bowl game, almost certainly the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl. There’s a huge difference between that and other Big East bowl tie-ins in less esteemed spots like the Belk Bowl, so this race has plenty of meaning. Also, with just three teams currently with winning records, teams like Pitt, Syracuse, Temple and UConn are playing simply to have bowl eligibility when the regular season ends.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT: Louisville probably isn’t anywhere close to the 10th best team in the country, but it keeps finding ways to win and will be favored to keep winning its way to 11-0 before the season finale at Rutgers. Cincinnati barely remains in it. Even if the Bearcats win out and end up in a three-way tie with Louisville and Rutgers, the highest-ranked team earns the BCS bid per Big East policy. That essentially means the Bearcats need Louisville to lose twice.
MAC – WEST
HOW IT STANDS: Toledo and Northern Illinois have matching 8-1 records and 5-0 conference marks. They’ll play at Northern Illinois on Nov. 14, and the winner will likely represent the West Division on Nov. 30 in the MAC Championship Game at Detroit. Even if Ball State (6-3, 3-2) can win at Toledo next week, Toledo could still claim the league title by beating Northern Illinois and winning out.
NEXT REALLY BIG GAME: Ball State at Toledo, Nov. 6. Nothing beats MAC Football on the night of the presidential election, and this one shapes up as the kind of high-scoring shootout these mid-week MAC games have been in the past. It’s unlikely Toledo and Northern Illinois can replicate last year’s 63-60 game on Nov. 14, but a top-25 ranking could (and should) await the winner.
WHAT THEY’RE CHASING: The division title and the chance to play for the MAC title in Detroit. It’s been a while since Toledo has been there, and the Rockets remain on the cusp of the top 25.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT: Both the Huskies and Rockets are rolling right now. Give a slight edge to Northern based on being the home team in that Nov. 14 game, but it should be a great one. Both teams will likely be bowl teams, and a potential 12-1 MAC champion would be very attractive to a larger-scale bowl game looking to fill a spot vacated by the Big Ten, ACC or Big East not delivering enough bowl-eligible teams to meet their tie-ins.
MAC – EAST
HOW IT STANDS: Kent State is alone atop the East with a 4-0 conference mark but the Flashes still have to play all three teams that currently have one conference loss. Kent State doesn’t yet have one foot in the door and still has to play Miami-Ohio and Bowling Green on the road. The eventual winner will certainly have earned its ticket to Detroit, and there should be some very good games along the way.
NEXT REALLY BIG GAME: Bowling Green at Ohio, Nov. 7. More MAC mid-week madness, and one that lost a little sizzle with Ohio’s loss last weekend but still looms very large in the MAC East race. Now, it’s probably an elimination game.
WHAT THEY’RE CHASING: Ohio is no longer a BCS darkhorse, but an experienced Bobcats team will want to redeem itself and still has its goal of winning the school’s first MAC title since 1968 in sight. Kent State has all but locked up its first bowl berth in 40 years but wants to keep rolling.
HOW IT SHAKES OUT: Bowling Green will find it a tall task trying to win at Ohio, but the Falcons have already have beaten Miami-Ohio and get Kent State at home. Kent State has the right combination of speed, defense and momentum, but the Bobcats were the consensus preseason pick for a reason. Here’s a guess it comes down to Ohio at Kent on the day after Thanksgiving, and that one comes down to the fourth quarter.