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Yes, Illinois still has paths to a Big Ten West title

It’s not over until it’s over.

Wisconsin v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

John Paddock’s heroic drive and Isaiah Williams’ epic touchdown against Minnesota brought Illinois back from the brink of bowl elimination and gave the Fighting Illini some breathing room in their quest to reach a second consecutive bowl for only the second time in the past three decades.

As a mid-30s Illini fan, I’m holding out hope that they can win 2 of 3 here. That would be more than satisfactory, and I almost feel greedy asking if anything more is possible.


You see, the Big Ten West refuses to go quietly into the wastebasket of college football history. Illinois’ win over Minnesota means they are still very much alive for the Big Ten title game despite their 2-4 record in league play.

Look, I know it’s not going to happen, and even if it does, this Illini team doesn’t have the juice to take down the Big Ten East champ. Last year’s team did, and it should have been them. But unlike 2022, the ending is not yet written for 2023. Let’s take a quick look at where things stand.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Illinois must win out

For reasons I’ll get into, any loss in the last three games will eliminate the Illini from Indianapolis. I won’t bother stating that Illinois wins out in any of the scenarios I describe because it’s a condition for all of them.

I’m only interested in scenarios that involve Illinois going to Indy, so I won’t bother with the rest, but there are three cases where Illinois COULD win the West.

Case 1: Outright and sole winner

Yes, this is still possible. Illinois’ best-case scenario is a 5-4 finish and despite several games among them, the other contenders have none among them guaranteed a fifth win.

  • Iowa, with a loss to Illinois already scheduled, must also lose to Rutgers this weekend and Nebraska on Black Friday to lose out and finish 4-5.
  • Iowa losing to Nebraska means the 3-win Huskers must lose their other two games.
  • Since 3-win Wisconsin has to beat Nebraska, they must lose to Minnesota and Northwestern
  • Minnesota also has three wins, so they must lose to Purdue and Ohio State.
  • Purdue can’t get to five wins and Northwestern is scheduled to lose to Illinois, so Purdue/Northwestern and Purdue/Indiana are the only two games that don’t matter.

There are 13 games left involving the Big Ten West. For this to happen, we need 11 of 13 to have a specific result. 3 of them we control, so we only need 8 of 10 games in which we don’t play to have a specific outcome, but that is still pretty steep. That’s the kind of parlay you could win a lot from.

If you want to bet it, the moneyline parlay for Week 11 is Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern.

Case 2: Tie involving two teams

The rules are pretty clear here. If Illinois and another team are tied at 5-4, the winner is whoever won the head-to-head between the two. This means that so long as the other team is Minnesota or Iowa, Illinois goes to Indy.

For this to happen, we still need Nebraska and Wisconsin to perform the delicate dance to 4 wins where they each lose this week, Wisconsin beats Nebraska and loses to the Gophers, then Nebraska beats Iowa. The main difference here is that either Iowa is allowed to beat Rutgers or Minnesota is allowed to beat Purdue. Let’s just go ahead and toss out any scenarios where Minnesota beats Ohio State; fortunately, none are relevant because Purdue isn’t part of the mix unless we’re talking about a tie at 4 wins that Illinois loses anyway.

Case 3: Tie involving three or more teams

In this case, the teams will be compared first by their records against the other tied teams. If two teams tie for the best such record, the head-to-head winner is the champ. If three or more teams tie for the best record among the tied teams, the next tiebreaker is divisional wins. Illinois, with three division losses already, will lose that one for sure.

Three-Way Tie:

Illinois wins a three-way tie with Minnesota and Iowa. Illinois loses every other three-way tie by virtue of their losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin creating a deadlock that either eliminates them or advances to the division wins tiebreaker

Four-Way Tie:

Illinois can only win four-way ties involving both Minnesota and Iowa. If Wisconsin is involved, Minnesota must beat Wisconsin. If Nebraska is involved, Iowa must beat Nebraska.

Illinois does not win the five-way tie among teams that can still win 5 games if the Illini win out.

Ultimate Big Ten West Finale Outcome

Okay, you absolute perverts, I went through the one and only scenario that would truly do justice to the Big Ten West.

  • Game 1: Illinois defeats Indiana
  • Game 2: Rutgers defeats Iowa
  • Game 3: Purdue defeats Minnesota
  • Game 4: Maryland defeats Nebraska
  • Game 5: Northwestern defeats Wisconsin

(End of Week 11)

  • Game 6: Illinois defeats Iowa
  • Game 7: Ohio State defeats Minnesota (imagine that)
  • Game 8: Wisconsin defeats Nebraska
  • Game 9: Purdue defeats Northwestern

(End of Week 12)

  • Game 10: Nebraska defeats Iowa
  • Game 11: Purdue defeats Indiana
  • Game 12: Minnesota defeats Wisconsin
  • Game 13: Illinois loses its home finale.

This would create a 7-way tie at 4-5 that would be broken by Nebraska having all four of its wins come against Big Ten West opponents.