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Here's How The Big Ten East - And Likely The Big Ten Conference - Will Be Decided In 2021

Heading into the final stretch of the 2021 season, things are about to get very interesting in the Big Ten East division.

Michigan's conference title and playoff hopes took a big hit following Saturday's brutal loss to Michigan State in East Lansing. Though it was a painful blow, the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2021 season proved that the Wolverines are still very much in title contention. 

However, the problem for the Wolverines is that they're going to need help from two of their greatest rivals if they hope to make Indy and potentially beyond for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era. With that, here's what each of the three Big Ten East contenders have left on their schedule - along with what each must do in order to punch their ticket to Indy.

No. 3 Michigan State

mel tucker

Games remaining

  • at Purdue
  • Maryland
  • at No. 5 Ohio State
  • Penn State

Mel Tuckers combined record vs final four: 0-2

For Michigan State, the math is simple: win and you're in. At a perfect 8-0, the Spartans are the lone remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten conference and they're currently sitting pretty at No. 3 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the year. 

Interestingly enough, Mel Tucker has never beaten any of the programs he'll face on the remainder of the 2021 schedule. Granted, this is only year two and his first year occurred during a shortened season in a global pandemic...but you get the idea. The Spartans look like the real deal, but there are certainly no guaranteed wins left on the schedule for Mel Tucker.

No. 5 Ohio State

ohio state buckeyes

Games remaining

  • at Nebraska 
  • Purdue
  • No. 3 Michigan State
  • at No. 7 Michigan

Ryan Day's combined record vs final four: 6-0

As is the case with Mel Tucker and the Michigan State Spartans, the math for Ryan Day is also simple: win and you're in.

The good news if you're a Buckeye fan is that Ryan Day does very, very well in November - particularly against the remaining teams on the schedule. In fact, Day is a perfect 6-0 against all four remaining opponents on the regular season schedule. 

If it's true that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, expect Ryan Day and the Ohio State Buckeyes to be hoisting the Big Ten Championship trophy later this year.

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No. 7 Michigan

hassan haskins

Games remaining

  • Indiana
  • at Penn State
  • at Maryland 
  • No. 5 Ohio State

Jim Harbaugh's overall record vs final four: 13-9

Unfortunately for Michigan, the math to Indy and beyond becomes a bit more complicated. Not only will the Wolverines need to win-out, they'll need a little help from some foes along the way. With the loss to Michigan State last weekend, the Wolverines now need help from both Michigan State and Ohio State if they hope to play for a Big Ten championship for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era. 

With the Spartans holding a head-to-head advantage over the Wolverines, Michigan needs Michigan State to lose at least two of their remaining four games in order to have a shot at Indy - but that's not all. 

In addition to hoping that the wheels come off in East Lansing, the Wolverines will also need to do something they haven't done since 2011 - beat Ohio State. 

After stumbling early in the year against Oregon, the No. 5 Buckeyes responded by ripping off six straight wins while averaging 50.8 points per game in the process. They may have looked relatively human early on, but the Buckeyes are now looking like a legitimate title contender. 

Is it possible that Michigan and Harbaugh finally shock the world, beat Ohio State and ultimately hoist the Big Ten championship trophy in 2021? Sure. There's absolutely no question that winning out is possible for the University of Michigan. 

On the other hand, the same logic I applied to Ryan Day and Ohio State earlier in the article also applies to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan as well. If it's true that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and you're also a Michigan football fan, chances are pretty good that you already know how this movie ends.

If there is somehow a three-way tie, which would happen if Michigan wins out and Ohio State beats Michigan State, here's how a winner would be selected per the Big Ten:

The following procedure will determine the representative from each division in the event of a tie:

  1. If two teams are tied, the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative.

  2. If three or more teams are tied, steps 1 through 8 will be followed until a determination is made. If only two teams remain tied after any step (or sub-step), the winner of the game between the two tied teams shall be the representative. If three or more teams remain tied after any step, move to next step in tiebreaker with remaining tied teams.

1. The records of the three (or more) tied teams will be compared based on winning percentage in games between the tied teams.

(a) Example: East 1 is 2-0 in games between the tied teams with wins over East 2 and 3 - East 1 would be the representative.

2. The records of the three (or more) tied teams will be compared based on winning percentage within their division.

3. The records of the three (or more) teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5, 6, and 7).

(a) When arriving at a group of tied teams while comparing records, use each team’s record against the collective tied teams as a group, rather than record against the individual teams.

4. The records of the three (or more) teams will be compared based on winning percentage against all common conference opponents.

5. The records of the three (or more) teams will be compared based on the best cumulative conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.

(a) Example: East 1 non-divisional opponents are 20-7, East 2 non-divisional opponents are 19-8, East 3 non-divisional opponents are 14-13 – East 1 would be the representative.


6. The records of the three (or more) teams will be compared against the highest placed non-divisional teams in their division order of finish (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7).

(a) When arriving at a group of tied teams while comparing records, use each team’s record against the collective tied teams as a group, rather than record against the individual teams.

(b) When comparing records against a single team or a group of teams, the record will prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e. 1-0 is better than 0-0, 2-0 is better than 1-0, etc.)

7. The team with the best overall winning percentage [excluding exempted games] shall be the representative.

8. The representative will be chosen by random draw.