IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — It turns out that Iowa might have a say in the Big Ten title race after all.
By stunning Michigan 14-13 on Saturday, the Hawkeyes made it possible for a two-loss team to represent the powerful East division in the conference championship game — and for the once-unthinkable prospect of a playoff without the Big Ten.
It can no longer be assumed that the annual rivalry game between the Wolverines (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) and Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) will determine the league’s playoff representative.
That’s because Penn State (8-2, 6-1), which beat the Buckeyes two weeks ago, has joined Michigan and Ohio State atop the East.
If Michigan wins out, including beating Ohio State in regular-season finale in two weeks, the Wolverines move on to the Big Ten title game. If Ohio State and Penn State win out, the Nittany Lions would win the East, leaving the Buckeyes out of a chance to win the conference title while likely being the Big Ten’s highest ranked team.
A loss by Penn State to either Rutgers or Michigan State in the next two weeks is what Ohio State needs to regain control of the East.
That seems unlikely, but so was the idea of Iowa (6-4, 4-3), a 24-point underdog, finding itself it time to stun Big Blue.
“Give Iowa credit. They tackled. They blocked. They played a very good football game. So, congratulate them and we move on,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
That’s exactly what Michigan needs to do, because if it wins out, it should be in the playoffs.
But the Wolverines’ resume still took a hit on Saturday.
Overshadowed by all of its big wins was the fact that Michigan didn’t have a single significant road win. Michigan State and Rutgers, the only teams Michigan had beaten away from Ann Arbor, had yet to win a Big Ten game until the Spartans throttled the Scarlet Knights on Saturday.
On a windy and chilly night in Iowa City, the Wolverines wilted.
The nation’s top-ranked scoring defense allowed Iowa to score a touchdown on fourth down on a perfectly timed screen pass.
On the biggest play from scrimmage, it let Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard run for a first down that set up the game-winning kick — after a facemask that gave Iowa 15 free yards.
Michigan’s offense, which had scored 49 points against Penn State, 78 against Rutgers and 59 against Maryland, gained just 201 yards. Wilton Speight missed a litany of deep balls, going just 11 of 26 passing and throwing a pick to true freshman Manny Rugamba late in the fourth quarter.
“There’s absolutely no excuse. We’ve got to be a lot better than we (were Saturday),” tight end Jake Butt said.
Iowa’s performance kept it alive in the West race, though just barely.
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2), by virtue of its win over Nebraska (8-2, 5-2), is in position to face whatever team the East sends to Indianapolis for the title game. The Badgers might also be in position to steal a playoff spot, should they win out and see more upsets like the ones that occured on Saturday further shake up the postseason picture.
But Iowa answered for one of its worst losses in years, a 41-14 wipeout at Penn State, with a win that was more about culture than talent.
“You’ve only got two options. You surrender and mope and feel sorry for yourself, or you do something about it,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Don’t think that we weren’t thinking about that on Saturday night coming home. But it’s more about just the way we operate and what our response is going to be. And we knew this was going to be a tough task.”