If you're the Big Ten, you have to love the balance. The Big Ten East hosts three of the nation's top 15 teams, including two in the top-10. The Big Ten West has three teams ranked in the top-25, including a perfect Iowa team that is currently ranked sixth in the nation. The Big Ten has six ranked teams and four of them are in the top-15. Only the Big 12 can lay claim to having as many teams in the top-15.
The stage is set for the final two games of the regular season. Three Big Ten East teams are still in the hunt for the division title. Iowa has to beat doormat Purdue to punch their ticket to Indianapolis while Wisconsin battles Northwestern, and clings to the faintest of hopes that the Hawkeyes will stumble at the finish.
Big Ten East
Ohio State will play Michigan State and Michigan in their next two games. Michigan will play Penn State and Ohio State. Michigan State will play Michigan State and Penn State. The goal is simple for all three teams. Win both games. Win and you're in.
1) #2 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)
Ezekiel Elliott looked a lot like Ezekiel Elliott against Illinois. Michigan State might not have Connor Cook at 100 percent after he got hurt in the game against Maryland last week. The Buckeyes will want to pounce on the Spartans early and force Cook to throw Michigan State back into the game.
Ohio State is playing at home against a Michigan State team that hasn't really wowed yet this season except perhaps in their early-season win against Oregon. J.T. Barrett will have to be sharp and Elliott will have to top 150 yards. If they do that, the Buckeyes should win.
Up Next: #9 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) at home
2) #9 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1)
Michigan State has played three Big Ten games on the road so far this season. They are 1-2 in those games. The Spartans beat Rutgers and Michigan by a combined 11 points, six of which came on one of the craziest final plays to a college football game ever. They lost by one to Nebraska. What we have here is a team that doesn't play tremendous football on the road.
Now imagine this team going to the raucous home of the undefeated and defending national champions. Their starting quarterback got knocked out of their game last week due to injury and isn't 100 percent. Do you like their odds? I don't.
Up Next: at #2 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0)
3) #14 Michigan (8-2, 5-1)
The Wolverines escaped more drama last week as they held off Indiana in double overtime. How will Michigan react? Will they play tentatively against Penn State or will they display the same aggressive and physical play that has kept them in the Big Ten East race?
Michigan gets to watch Michigan State and Ohio State beat each other up before "The Game" next week. However, if the Wolverines don't take care of business in Happy Valley, it won't matter.
Up Next: at Penn State (7-3, 4-2)
4) Penn State (7-3, 4-2)
The Nittany Lions had the bye week to get ready for Michigan. A Penn State win could knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten East race and give head coach James Franklin a signature win.
Up Next: #14 Michigan (8-2, 5-1) at home
5) Rutgers (3-7, 1-6)
Rutgers just didn't look good at much of anything last week against Nebraska. There is change brewing in the air. I have a feeling Julie Hermann, Rutgers' athletic director, and Kyle Flood will both be shown the door.
Up Next: at Army (2-8)
6) Indiana (4-6, 0-6)
The Hoosiers keep coming up short. Will they be able to raise their spirits after their demoralizing loss in double overtime at home to Michigan? In a face-off of the only Big Ten teams without a conference win, only one can emerge victorious.
Up Next: at Maryland (2-8, 0-6)
7) Maryland (2-8, 0-6)
Maryland's football game against Michigan State last week reminded me of Maryland men's basketball's NCAA Tournament game against West Virginia in March. Maryland got beat up. Everywhere. These were NFL Blitz-style hits.
I saw Maryland and Michigan State players trading heavy hits but Maryland got beat up. Maryland somehow outgained the Spartans on offense and both teams had under 300 total yards of offense. This was an ugly game to watch.
Michigan State dominated the line of scrimmage, even if it didn't show in the box score. Maryland turned the ball over five times and they now have 35 turnovers this season. That is not a recipe for winning football, and it has to get fixed if the Terps want to win their first conference game of the season.
Up Next: Indiana (4-6, 0-6) at home
Big Ten West
For Iowa, the task is simple. Beat the Big Ten doormat that is Purdue at home this week and punch your ticket to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. For Wisconsin, the task is also simple. Beat Northwestern and pray. A lot. Even that might not stop the well-oiled machine that is the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes.
1) #6 Iowa (10-0, 6-0)
Win and you're in. Iowa should be able to handle a Purdue team that can't stop the run. They should be celebrating in Iowa City after this one goes final.
Up Next: Purdue (2-8, 1-5) at home
2) #21 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1)
The Badgers have almost no shot of winning the Big Ten West but they're still mathematically alive. They won't be if they don't beat Northwestern in Camp Randall. Luckily for Wisconsin, they had a bye week to rest and prepare.
Up Next: #20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) at home
3) #20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2)
Northwestern had a close encounter with Purdue last week but prevailed. Now they head to Camp Randall to face a ranked Wisconsin team that had an extra week to get ready for them.
Up Next: at #21 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1)
4) Nebraska (5-6, 3-4)
Chalk up another win for Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers! This team could be bowl eligible but they have to beat Iowa in the season finale to do it. A bye week will help.
Up Next: Bye
5) Illinois (5-5, 2-4)
Illinois only trailed 14-3 after the first half but got shutout in the second half at home against the Buckeyes. Wes Lunt couldn't complete even half of his passes and Illinois looked listless on offense against an Ohio State team determined to grind them into dust.
Bill Cubit and Co. have a legitimate chance to become bowl eligible this season and that would be a huge win for the program considering how their season started (with their head coach getting fired) and how it has ended (with the athletic director being let go two weeks ago).
Up Next: at Minnesota (4-6, 1-5)
6) Minnesota (4-6, 1-5)
This season seems to be one crushing defeat after another for Minnesota. Their head coach retired for health reasons. They lost on a fourth-down, go-for-the-win, goal-line play against Michigan at home and they played a really good game at Iowa but just couldn't take the lead.
The Golden Gophers played their last three games against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. Considering that all three of them are top-15 teams, that might be the most grueling three game stretch for any team in the country. They lost all three games by just a combined 22 points.
They get Illinois at home this week with the chance to make a last-gasp push for bowl eligibility.
Up Next: Illinois (5-5, 2-4) at home
7) Purdue (2-8, 1-5)
Purdue wasn't expected to push Northwestern the way they did last week. They nearly beat the Wildcats but will have an exponentially more difficult time doing the same thing to top-10 and undefeated Iowa in Iowa City.
Up Next: at Iowa (10-0, 6-0)