After the first weekend of action in November, the Big Ten’s West Division features three teams – Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska – tied at 4-2 in league play. And with three games remaining, the battle to win this division is likely to go down until the final Saturday of games (Nov. 26) before the conference championship.
Wisconsin owns the tiebreaker edge over Nebraska, but the Badgers still have to face Minnesota. The Cornhuskers have lost back-to-back games and could be without quarterback Tommy Armstrong for this Saturday’s matchup against Minnesota. In addition to the contest against the Golden Gophers, Nebraska still has a road trip to Iowa on Nov. 25.
Which team will represent the West Division in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game? Athlon’s panel debates:
Nebraska, Minnesota or Wisconsin: Which Team Wins the Big Ten West Division?
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I think the easy choice is Wisconsin. They've proven to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten behind the big two of Michigan/Ohio State thanks to the wins they already have and their stellar defensive play. Their schedule sets up the best the rest of the month too and they already have the head-to-head win over Nebraska plus get Minnesota at home to end the year. On Wisconsin indeed.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Mike Riley deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done in Lincoln this year, but I think the edge has to go to Wisconsin to win the West. The Badgers have the head-to-head advantage over Nebraska and it’s hard to find another loss on the schedule the rest of the way. Wisconsin hosts Illinois this Saturday, followed by a road trip to Purdue and a home date against Minnesota to close out the regular season slate. The Boilermakers have showed some life in recent weeks, but I can’t see the Badgers losing in West Lafayette or stumbling against Illinois or Minnesota.
While Nebraska is likely to fall short of a division title, the Cornhuskers still have a good shot at 10-2 or 9-3, which would put Riley’s team in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl spot or one of the Big Ten’s top games in Florida.
Minnesota isn’t getting much credit at 7-2, but the schedule gets tougher down the stretch with games against Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers could have a shot at the Holiday Bowl, which would be a good way to cap a solid season in coach Tracy Claeys' first year at the helm.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It's not a very sexy answer, but I don't really see a scenario where it's not Wisky.
Minnesota has the clearest path to the Big Ten West title, with games against both Nebraska and Wisconsin still to come. However, both of those games are on the road, and I just don’t see the Gophers pulling that off.
That leaves us with the Cornhuskers and the Badgers. Nebraska is coming off of a beatdown courtesy of Ohio State, a 62-3 thrashing that also saw quarterback Tommy Armstrong leave on a backboard. Armstrong should be OK, but I’m not sure about the Cornhuskers. The season finale in Iowa doesn’t help their case, as Wisconsin has the easier remaining schedule (next two games are against Illinois and Purdue, a pair of 3-6 teams) and an earlier win over Nebraska. Barring something unforeseen happening, I see a 10-2 Badgers team making the trip to Indianapolis to take on the winner of the Nov. 26 Michigan-Ohio State showdown.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
I wonder whether or not Nebraska's spirit was broken in the loss to Ohio State. They now need to pick themselves up and get ready to face a well-coached Minnesota team at home. I'm not sure the Huskers have it in them. I believe Minnesota pulls off a slight upset in Lincoln, then goes on to beat Northwestern at home. I see Wisconsin defeating Illinois and Purdue, setting up a winner-take-all matchup between the Badgers and Gophers on Nov. 26 in Madison. The Badgers win that game with what got them to this point: Defense.
Subsequently, given Wisconsin's 2016 schedule and preseason expectations, a 10-2 regular season and a Big Ten West crown should also be enough for Paul Chryst to take home at least one of the National Coach of the Year awards.