Penn State as Big Ten champs? It just might work out that way. While the Wolverines and Buckeyes have grabbed all the headlines -- and rankings -- it's entirely possible, perhaps probable, that neither will win even their own division. Consider:
Early in the season, Michigan, at home, walloped Penn St. OK, no big surprise there. The shocker came when PSU, again at home, turned around and dumped Ohio St. a couple weeks later. The last in the trifecta of games between the three will happen two Saturdays hence when Michigan travels to Ohio St.
Assuming both teams stay "clean" this Saturday, the game in Columbus will take on even more importance than the usual grudge match. And depending oh how that turns out, Penn St. could easily become champions of the Big Ten East. Few doubt that OSU will be favored over UM, especially playing at home.
If UM were to pull the upset, they would be champs of the Big 10 East, with only one conference loss as opposed to OSU having two and holding the tie-breaker over PSU. However, if the likely favored Buckeyes roll and Penn St. wins out, the Nittany Lions would claim the honor, having only one conference loss themselves.
Actually, the odds have it playing out exactly that way. This Saturday, PSU faces bottom feeding Rutgers on the road. Likely a romp. Then they come home for Michigan St. while UM and OSU are battling it out. The Spartans have experienced a great fall this season over the past several, so the Nittany Lions will likely breeze past them as well.
And that is a problem for the folks in Ann Arbor and Columbus regarding national playoff aspirations. While the almighty selection committee would probably dearly love to put a Big 10 team in the Final Four, chances are they're not going to put two. Alabama's in. Clemson is still very much in consideration. So is Louisville -- maybe even Washington out west if they win out as well.
So if Michigan or Ohio St. can't even win their own division, which means no conference championship game, how in the heck could either expect to make it into the national playoffs?
The answer is -- they can't and won't.
And after all the hoopla this season about how good both are -- wouldn't it be something if neither got a shot at the Big Dance?
Thing is, Penn St. might not get an invite either. That's because they lost to Pittsburgh earlier this year. Sure, it was a close game, and Pitt is no slouch, having gone into Clemson to knock off the Tigers just a couple weeks ago. But still, that makes PSU a two loss team. Would the committee invite them anyway so they can have a Big 10 representative, given they win the conference championship game? Maybe not.
Conversely, in the western division, both Wisconsin and Nebraska already have two losses. So if one of them were to be Big 10 champs, would they get to go? Maybe not either.
Turns out, Michigan narrowly losing at Iowa might just have a lot bigger ramifications than first met the eye.
And somewhere, Joe Paterno is likely enjoying how this is playing out.
Maybe even Jerry Sandusky. If the Nittany Lions wind up winning not only the division, but the conference, and -- gasp -- get invited to the playoffs --- would they let him watch it in prison?
Beats me. The only way this makes sense in the end is if UM somehow finds a way to upset OSU a couple Saturdays from now. Go Blue.
Coming off a huge win like that, the Wolverines would likely punch their ticket to the dance.
If not -- who would have seen Penn St. beating both of them out coming?