How Can Gophers Win Big Ten West?

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The Big Ten West felt out of reach for the Minnesota Gophers just a couple weeks ago. They’d lost three-straight and Illinois appeared destined to run away with the division. But that’s why you play the games.

Because since then, Minnesota has won three-straight over Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern; and the Illini lost two of three in that same timeframe. Now suddenly, the Gophers find themselves in a four-way tie for first place atop the West.

Gophers Path to Big Ten West Supremacy

So the obvious questions must now be asked. What is the path for Minnesota? How likely is it that they actually come out on top of the division?

Well, the answer isn’t as complicated or unlikely as you might expect. PJ Fleck & Co do not hold their own destiny, yet. Still, their chances of playing in Indy in a few weeks are exponentially better and more plausible than before games kicked off yesterday.

First thing is first; the Gophers have to win out. That means victories over Iowa (home) and Wisconsin (away) to finish the season. Those wins, while simultaneously keeping Minnesota in the race, would eliminate the Hawkeyes and Badgers from contention.

That would leave Illinois and Purdue as the other two contenders. And both would have to find losses in one of their final two games, as well.

Can That Happen?

To recap, Minnesota must win both of their final two games, while Purdue and Illinois both lose one of their final two. Should those three things happen, the Gophers are heading to Indy to play in their first-ever Big Ten Championship game.

How likely is that to happen, you ask? Well, losing shouldn’t be a problem for the Illini, who faces #3 Michigan at the Big House next week. If Illinois pulls that one out (they won’t), they deserve the West.

Purdue, on the other hand, has a much easier path. The Boilermakers’ remaining schedule features conference bottom feeders, Northwestern and Indiana. And on paper, those should be Boiler victories.

But, as we’ve learned many times throughout this season, nothing is guaranteed in the Big Ten West. And while it’s difficult to imagine a Purdue loss vs Northwestern next week, it’s easier to see them losing at in-state rival, Indiana, to close the season.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan