Kayser: The Big Ten West could end up a mess

The Big Ten West could very well be decided in the next two weeks, or it could come down to the last game of the season.


Megan Nagorzanski

Iowa players huddle up during a game against Northwestern at Ryan Field on Saturday, October 26, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 20-0.

Anna Kayser, Sports Editor

Welcome to the biggest two weeks of Iowa football’s season. These next two games will determine Iowa’s fate in the Big Ten West by a measure of two things: Iowa’s will to win and Wisconsin and Minnesota’s will to lose.

Let’s start with this weekend’s Iowa-Wisconsin matchup in Camp Randall Stadium. It’s elimination game No. 1 for the division, because you’d like to think three Big Ten losses would be hard for either team to overcome. You would like to think.

The West is Minnesota’s to lose, with three of its last four games coming against its first ranked opponents this season.  Whoever wins the Iowa-Wisconsin matchup just has to beat Minnesota, Iowa on Nov. 16 or Wisconsin on Nov. 30, to win the division.

This is about to be a whole mess of two weeks.

Situation 1: Iowa beats Wisconsin, Minnesota loses to Penn State on Nov. 9, Iowa beats Minnesota on Nov. 16

With a loss to Penn State, Minnesota moves to 5-1 in the conference and stays pat at the top of the leaderboard. Iowa would move into second place with a 4-2 conference record, and the Badgers would fall to 3-3.

Nov. 16 would then, theoretically, decide the West. If Iowa wins, it ties Minnesota for first in the division and wins in the head-to-head tiebreaker. With Illinois and Nebraska in its final two games, it’s hard to imagine a world where Iowa loses one of those games. For the sake of sanity, we’ll say that in this situation, Iowa finishes with a 7-2 record in the conference. Bam, let’s head to Indy.

Situation 2: Iowa beats Wisconsin, Minnesota loses to Penn State on Nov. 9, Iowa loses to Minnesota on Nov. 16

A loss to Minnesota on Nov. 9 would give Iowa a 4-3 conference record, with Minnesota at 6-1. All the Golden Gophers have to do is win one more game at this point, and on Nov. 23, they face Northwestern. Just take a second and imagine an Ohio State-Minnesota Big Ten Championship game.

Situation 3: Iowa beats Wisconsin, Minnesota beats Penn State on Nov. 9

 If Minnesota wins, it owns the West. If Iowa wins, it has to beat both Illinois and Nebraska, and Minnesota has to lose to either Northwestern or Wisconsin to set up the head-to-head tiebreaker.

RELATED: Ruden: Iowa in perfect position ahead of Wisconsin game

Situation 4: Iowa loses to Wisconsin

 Basically, any of the first 3 situations, but Iowa is out and Wisconsin is in. The Badgers and Gophers don’t face off until Nov. 30.

Situation 5: All heck breaks loose

 There are a few ways this can happen, but basically things get complicated if Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin all end up with three losses in the Big Ten.

The first tiebreaker is record between teams. If Wisconsin were to beat both Iowa and Minnesota, it wins. No brainer.

Next, it’s record within the division. Right now, Wisconsin is the only team with a Big Ten West loss after falling to Illinois. You’d like to think that would decide it, but there are six more tiebreaker steps, just in case: Record against the next-highest placed teams, record against common conference opponents, best record against Big Ten East opponents, record against the highest-ranked Big Ten East opponents, best overall win percentage, and, finally, a random draw.

All this for a chance to lose to Ohio State in Indianapolis. Gear up.

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