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Will Big Ten Crossover games be the secret to Iowa Football’s 2017 success?

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Why all that matters is what’s west of the Tippecanoe.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Iowa vs Michigan State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I didn’t get the chance to follow along with the BTN’s campus tour to Iowa City last night but came across the following tweet:

Throughout the Twitter-sphere, it seemed like the last bit seemed to catch hold: crossovers. Marc Morehouse and Jon Miller lent credence to the idea but a look through time shows that significantly more often than not, beating the teams in your division is what matters and crossovers have little actual bearing on the outcome of the season.

2016

Division Winners: Penn State (East: 8-1); Wisconsin (West: 7-2)

East Runners-up: Ohio State (8-1); Michigan (7-2)

West Runners-up: Iowa (6-3); Nebraska (6-3)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Ohio State beats Penn State: OSU wins the East
  • Michigan beats Ohio State: Michigan wins the East
  • Michigan beats Iowa: at 8-1, each team would have lost to one another, it would have gone to the 5th tiebreaker: overall winning percentage. By way of losing to Pittsburgh in the non-conference season, Penn State is eliminated. Thus, Ohio State’s win over Michigan serves as the next step meaning: OSU wins the East.
  • Iowa beats Wisconsin: Iowa wins the West
  • Nebraska beats Wisconsin: Nebraska wins the West
  • Iowa or Nebraska win one more game: Wisconsin still wins by head-to-head tiebreaker. At the beginning of the conference season, Wisconsin was actually slated to play 3 top ten cross-division opponents: Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State. They went 1-2 in those games yet it had no bearing on their divisional championship because they took care of business in the division.

2015

Division Winners: Michigan State (East: 7-1); Iowa (West: 8-0)

East Runners-up: Ohio State (7-1); Michigan (6-2)

West Runners-up: Northwestern (6-2); Wisconsin (6-2)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Ohio State beats Michigan State: OSU wins the East
  • Michigan beats beats Michigan State: OSU wins the East, as Michigan State’s loss to Nebraska sends them to third place.
  • Michigan beats beats Ohio State: though all teams are tied at 7-1, the Spartans swept the other two so MSU wins the East.
  • Northwestern beats beats Iowa: Northwestern wins the West
  • Wisconsin beats beats Iowa: Wisconsin wins the West

2014

Division Winners: Ohio State (East: 8-0); Wisconsin (West: 7-1)

East Runner-up: Michigan State (7-1)

West Runners-up: Minnesota (5-3); Nebraska (5-3)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Michigan State beats Ohio State: Michigan State wins the East
  • Minnesota beats Wisconsin: Minnesota wins the West
  • Nebraska beats Wisconsin: Nebraska wins the West
  • Minnesota or Nebraska win two more non-Wisconsin games (or Wisconsin loses two games): Wisconsin still wins by head-to-head tiebreaker. Though their crossovers were at Rutgers and Maryland, flipping those games would have no bearing on the Badgers’ division title.

2013

Division Winners: Michigan State (Legends: 8-0); Ohio State (Leaders: 7-1)

Legends Runners-up: Iowa (5-3); Nebraska (5-3)

Leaders Runner-up: Wisconsin (6-2)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Wisconsin beats Ohio State: Wisconsin wins the Leaders despite their loss to fellow Leader Penn State

2012

Division Winners: Nebraska (Legends: 7-1); Wisconsin (Leaders: 4-4), both OSU (8-0) and PSU (6-2) were ineligible from participating in the Big Ten Championship

Legends Runners-up: Michigan (6-2); Northwestern (5-3)

Leaders Runners-up: Purdue (3-5); Indiana (2-6)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Michigan beats Nebraska: Michigan wins the Legends
  • Northwestern beats Nebraska: all three of Nebraska, Northwestern, and Michigan would be tied at 6-2 with losses to each other. All three had cross-division losses with Nebraska and Michigan to OSU and Northwestern to PSU. It’s unclear who would have won the division so another win against a lesser cross-division opponent could have impacted the outcome.
  • Purdue beats Wisconsin: Purdue goes to championship game
  • Indiana beats Wisconsin: It would be a similar situation to above but with Wisconsin at 2-3 in division, and Purdue and Indiana at 1-4, Wisconsin still would have gone to Indianapolis.

2011

Division Winners: Michigan State (Legends: 7-1); Wisconsin (Leaders: 6-2)

Legends Runners-up: Michigan (6-2)

Leaders Runner-up: Penn State (6-2)

Single Game Alternate Realities:

  • Michigan beats Michigan State: Michigan wins the Legends
  • Penn State beats Wisconsin: Penn State wins the Leaders
  • Penn State beats Nebraska: Penn State wins the Leaders; though Wisconsin also lost out of division to Michigan State

Conclusion

In the Big Ten’s short time as a divisional conference, rarely has a cross-division loss meant a team would not win their division. In fact, those cross-divisional losses often serve as blessings in disguise, since the second tiebreaker for a multi-team tie is: “The records of the three tied teams will be compared within their division.” In other words, a loss outside of the division means another win inside of the division so they would play in the championship game.

How it impacts Iowa?

With all of this in mind, it makes me think Kirk Ferentz truly understands the best path to winning a Big Ten Championship: Excellence inside the division. They do not need to compete with Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in terms of raw athleticism year-to-year. They need to compete with the brute force of Wisconsin, the West’s current standard-bearer.

In Kirk’s eyes, it seems, if his team is good enough to beat Wisconsin, they’re good enough to beat whomever Delany throws at him from the East.

With him in charge, the overarching philosophy of IOWA FOOTBALL (TM) will remain the same. Yet the promotion of Brian Ferentz and rhetoric emanating from Iowa City marks shift in the mindset. That mindset targets the Badgers. Only two more weeks until we see it in action.