There’s high drama in the Big Ten West.
Four of the seven teams are still alive in the division race with two weeks to go and, by chance, the November schedule set up as a round-robin for the contenders.
“As a league you couldn’t ask for a better position to be in as far as everybody playing everybody that has a chance to win it right now,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday. “It’s a great spot to be in for the young men with these games they get to play late in the year. It brings tremendous attention to the Big Ten, which is great for all of us.”
Ohio State (9-1, 6-0) would wrap up the East on Saturday with a win over Indiana or a Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) loss to Rutgers at home.
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) would clinch the West if it wins at Iowa (7-3, 4-2) and Nebraska (8-2, 4-2) beats visiting Minnesota (7-3, 4-2).
The division winners meet in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 6 in Indianapolis.
The West race, with so many teams still alive in mid-November, is the closest in the Big Ten since the conference split into divisions in 2011.
Minnesota is the only West team besides Wisconsin that controls its fate. If the Gophers win out at Nebraska and at Wisconsin, they would own tie-breakers over those teams and Iowa.
“We’re in a situation where we’re playing for something in November, which is good for us as we build our program,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said.
The Gophers are trying for their first above-.500 conference record since 2003 and their first league championship since 1967.
Kill said he laid out Minnesota’s path to the division title right after last week’s 31-24 loss to Ohio State.
“It’s better to be in control of your own destiny than to have to see somebody else win or lose and so forth,” Kill said. “We’re excited about the opportunity of being in the situation we’re in. At the same time you have to go take advantage of it.”
The Gophers are playing their best right now, but they have the toughest final two games in the league.
“Winning on the road in the Big Ten or anywhere isn’t easy,” Kill said. “That’s what we’ve got to do to put ourselves in a position to win our side.”
Iowa is home for its games against Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes will have their hands full with national rushing leader Melvin Gordon, who set an FBS single-game record with 408 yards in the Badgers’ 59-24 win over Nebraska last week.
“I haven’t seen a better one than the one we’re going to see this Saturday,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Gordon.
Kill said he expects to play a Bo Pelini-coached Nebraska team that’s looking to atone for a dismal performance in Madison in a 59-24 loss to the Badgers.
“We’ve had one of those games this year. Sometimes things snowball,” Kill said, referring to his team’s 30-7 loss at TCU. “I promise you that his football team, and with his intensity, they’re probably getting after it right now. You’d much rather play a coach Pelini team that won a game … because they’re very proud at Lincoln and he’s a great coach.”
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