The road to Indianapolis

Submitted by dnak438 on October 24th, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Brady Hoke's self-avowed goal is to win Big Ten championships. Since we're facing the make-or-break section of Michigan's season after this bye week, it seems worth looking at what needs to happen for Michigan to win the Legends division and make it to the Big Ten championship game.

I decided to do this after reading on Football Study Hall that Michigan's chances of getting to Indianapolis by winning the division outright were 0.1% in a computer simulation. Why so low, I wondered? The author of that piece opined that

What truly surprised me is the almost zero chance that Michigan has to win the Legends Division outright. In 999 of 1000 cases model runs it needed help from someone else, or relied on tiebreakers to secure their place in the conference championship game. It looks like this is a direct result of the vagaries of their schedule...of the Legends Division contenders, they alone must face Ohio State. Also, if Michigan is to win the division outright it has to defeat both Nebraska and MSU. But in doing that it greatly aids the case of each to tie. It's a bit of a Catch-22 that Michigan finds itself in this year. Together, the odds of beating Nebraska, MSU, and Ohio State while Nebraska and MSU implode is pretty remote, hence the improbability of an outright Michigan division title.

To review, then: a team is selected to play in the Big Ten championship game by its overall conference record. Then there are a series of tiebreakers. If the records are the same, the head-to-head result is the tiebreaker. If three teams are tied for the same record, their records are compared to each other.

Scenario One: Michigan wins out

If Michigan wins out, then it ends the regular season at 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the conference. With wins over Nebraska and Michigan State, Michigan wins the tiebreakers even if Nebraska and Michigan State win the rest of their games (both Nebraska and Michigan State are undefeated in B1G play thus far).

Result: Big Ten championship game, almost certainly against Ohio State or Wisconsin.

Scenario Two: Michigan loses only one game, to a team not in the running for the Legends division

In this scenario Michigan ends the regular season at 10-2 overall, 7-2 in the conference, with wins over Nebraska and Michigan State. Michigan in this scenario drops one game against a team that is not a factor: Ohio State (not a factor because they're in the other division) or Northwestern (not a factor because they already have 3 B1G losses). We could probably put Iowa in this category: they have 2 B1G losses and are unlikely to run the table against Northwestern, Wisconsin, @Purdue and @Nebraska.

With wins over Nebraska and Michigan State, Michigan wins the tiebreakers. However, in this scenario Michigan needs Michigan State and Nebraska to lose one additional game in B1G play.

  • Nebraska still has to play @ Minny, Northwestern, Michigan State, @Penn State, Iowa.
  • Michigan State still has to play @Illinois, @Nebraska, @Northwestern, Minny.

So as long as Nebraska or State each lose a game, which seems very possible, then there would be three teams with two B1G losses, but Michigan would have wins against both of them, so Michigan goes to Indianapolis.

Scenario Three: Michigan loses to Michigan State or Nebraska

Note: this section has been edited thanks to a note by Key Play (see comments below).

Here is where it gets hairy. If Michigan loses to one of these teams, then it needs the following to advance to Indianapolis:

  1. Win the rest of its games, to end the regular season with two losses.
  2. The team that has defeated Michigan must lose three games in conference play (since it will have the tie-breaker over Michigan) OR it must defeat the other team and lose one other game in conference play.
  3. The other of the two teams, assuming that Michigan defeats it, must lose one additional game in conference play (since Michigan will have the tie-breaker).

Thus, if we lose to Michigan State and defeat Nebraska, we need Nebraska to lose one additional game (say, at Penn State) and we would need Michigan State to lose three of its four remaining games not against Michigan (say, at Illinois, at Nebraska, and at Northwestern) OR we would need Nebraska to defeat Michigan State and for Michigan State to lose one additional game. In the latter case, we would have a three-way tie, with no head-to-head tie-breaker because each of the three teams would have beaten one and lost to the other. Then the next tie-breaker is overall record, and both State and Nebraska have out-of-conference losses (to Notre Dame and UCLA respectively).

Discussion and conclusions

I won't go into further permutations, because it gets too complicated and would require running simulations, something that I'm not prepared to do at the moment. But this basic analysis points out several things:

  • Michigan still has the ability to control its own destiny and win the Big Ten, by defeating every remaining team on its schedule and then winning the Big Ten Championship Game.
  • BUT: The loss to Penn State is a really serious problem, because Nebraska and Michigan State have not lost yet in B1G play. That loss means that if we lose to Ohio State, beating both Nebraska and Michigan State may not be enough.
  • It is more important at this point that Michigan beat Michigan State and Nebraska than it is to beat Ohio State. A loss to Ohio State means that we need Nebraska and Michigan State each to drop a game, something that is certainly possible. But a loss to Michigan State or to Nebraska is much more problematic.
  • Our rooting interest is for Nebraska and Michigan State to lose games. It would be great if Wisconsin beat Iowa, just to put them out of the running.




October 24th, 2013 at 5:03 PM ^

Of course, the simplest one, we run the table and we are in. However chances are we lose to OSU, so we have to beat MSU and Nebraska. If we go 6-2, I would rather have Nebraska beat MSU beacuse I think Penn State is more likely to beat Nebraska then a Norwestern or Minnesota is to MSU. 

Double Wolverine

October 25th, 2013 at 6:35 PM ^

I know this doesn't fully answer your question, but it is a 0.1% chance that a subset of scenario 1 happens. If Michigan wins out and both MSU and Neb drop an additional game then we win the division outright - 1 in 1000 accoring to the OP.

Given 75%-95% probabilities of winning each of their remaining games outside of Michigan that puts MSU and Neb as a ~50-50 shot to drop 1 game outside of Michigan. If they both lose in 0.1% of scenarios that means that 1 or neither lose in 0.3% of scenarios. I would guess that scenario 1 has about a 0.5% chance of happening, but it is hard to tell without knowing the projected win probabilities for each game.

I'm surprised that it is so low; however, it looks like both MSU and Neb have fairly easy schedules remaining other than the game against us.

Eye of the Tiger

October 24th, 2013 at 6:26 PM ^

But we already knew that being in separate divisions as Ohio State, but still playing them every year (when our competitors get someone easier) was a disadvantage. That, at least, changes next year. 

Looking at our competitors, I'm significantly more concerned about MSU's chances than Nebraska's. We'll have a harder time beating MSU in East Lansing than Nebraska at home and Nebraska has five games on their schedule they could potentially lose (us, MSU, PSU, Iowa and Northwestern), while Sparty has three (us, Nebraska and Northwestern). 

My gut tells me we beat Nebraska and lose to MSU, but Nebraska beats MSU. We also lose to Ohio and Nebraska also loses to PSU and one more, leaving Sparty to play in the Big 10 Championship Game. 

That would leave:

MSU 10-2 (7-1)

UM 9-3 (6-2)

Nebraska 8-4 (5-3)



October 24th, 2013 at 7:30 PM ^

If M loses just once more and the loss is to OSU, Iowa or NW, then we'd just need the winner of MSU/NE to lose one other game besides the M game. All three teams would be 6-2 in that scenario and M would hold the tiebreaker.


October 24th, 2013 at 9:15 PM ^

helpful, thanks.

Basically, my take away is that if we lose to either MSU or NEB, then we're close to being screwed.  I wouldn't expect the team that beats us to lose three games.

If we beat both MSU and NEB, then I expect we have a very high probability to go to the championship b/c I expect both of those teams to lose at least one more.  And if we can beat both MSU and NEB, then I expect we can likely beat Iowa and NW.  Beating Ohio wouldn't even be neccesary.

Winning out?  I'm not optimistic.



Key Play

October 24th, 2013 at 9:51 PM ^

Scenario 3 while true, is more pessimistic than needed. Perhaps a Fourth Scenario is needed for the following situation:

  • Michigan loses to MSU, but wins out.
  • MSU loses to Nebraska and one other game (say @NW)
  • Nebraska beats MSU, but loses to Michigan and one other team (@ PSU, or Iowa)

This situation would send Michigan to Indianapolis as well by virtue aof a three way tie. This scenario may be considered (slightly) unlikely due to the possibility that Nebraska loses to both PSU and Iowa, which would drop them out of the three-way tie and MSU would own the tiebreaker.  This scenario works just as well if we lose to Nebraska and reverse the two. 

Lets hope we don't lose to MSU, but if we do, we don't need them to lose 3 games, so long as one of their future loses is to Nebraska, who also ends up with 2 loses. That being said- Go BLUE BEAT THE SPARTANS!


October 24th, 2013 at 10:36 PM ^

I didn't consider that because I figured that whoever beat Michigan would win the tie-breaker, but if State > Michigan > Nebraska > State, then there is no tie-breaker. At that point the first tie-breaker is overall record, and both Nebraska and State have an OOC loss (UCLA and Notre Dame respectively).

Thanks for the clarification! I'll edit the main post appropriately.

Key Play

October 24th, 2013 at 10:46 PM ^

I appreciate your work as well! I was wondering this very question on Sunday so it was good to see someone confirm my thoughts. 

I still think the season will be made or broken on Nov. 2nd.  If we can stop the run, we stand a real chance to make it to Indy. 


October 25th, 2013 at 1:20 AM ^

but in regards to getting to Indy this year, the UM-MSU game is way more important for UM to win.  If MSU beats Illinois and UM, they're 5-0 and 2 up on UM in the loss column with the head to head tiebreaker going to sparty.


October 25th, 2013 at 9:03 AM ^

With wins over Nebraska and Michigan State, Michigan wins the tiebreakers even if Nebraska and Michigan State win the rest of their games (both Nebraska and Michigan State are undefeated in B1G play thus far).

This can not happen as Nebraska and MSU have to play each other as well. Michigan could find itself in a three-way tie for first with MSU and Nebraska, but not at 7-1. Michigan finishes 7-1, then at worst it's a two way tie with somebody and we'll win the tiebreaker.

Unfortunately, I have this terrible feeling that we're going to come up short in the standings and it will be the fucking Penn State game that will cost us. Painful prospect.


October 27th, 2013 at 2:14 AM ^

if we can sweep MSU & Nebraska.

I'm guessing 2-1 vs @NW, @Iowa, and in THE GAME would do it.


2013 Michigan State Spartans Schedule
Sat, Nov 2 3:30 PM ET ABC  
Sat, Nov 16 TBD  
Sat, Nov 23 TBD  
Sat, Nov 30 TBD  


2013 Nebraska Cornhuskers Schedule
Sat, Nov 2 3:30 PM ET BTN  
Sat, Nov 9 TBD  
Sat, Nov 16 TBD  
Sat, Nov 23 TBD  
Fri, Nov 29 12:00 PM ET ABC