When it comes to the final week of the Big Ten's regular season, the Maryland-Rutgers game is an outlier.
That's not because the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are league newbies, or because they're each suffering through miserable seasons. Actually, it is kind of about that latter point.
Their game is the only one on the docket that doesn't carry some major implications, involving the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten East Division race or the scramble for bowl eligibility, not to mention longstanding rivalries.
Yes, the league is mostly, blissfully free of turkeys as the curtain closes on Thanksgiving weekend. Six of the seven remaining regular-season games bear close monitoring -- and if you want to watch Maryland-Rutgers, too, we won't blame you.
Here's a closer look at everything that's at stake, and who needs what to happen ...
Iowa is now in the best shape of any league team as the Big Ten's only remaining unbeaten. The Hawkeyes are up to No. 3 in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' poll and could very well crack the top four of the selection committee rankings on Tuesday night after being No. 5 the past two weeks. The Hawkeyes play at Nebraska on Friday in the Heroes Game. The Cornhuskers have won two straight and had a bye week last week, while Iowa will be making a shorter-than-normal turnaround. Kirk Ferentz's team is going to the Big Ten championship game no matter what but likely will have to fight hard to go 12-0 first.
Michigan State jumped backed into the conversation with its huge upset at Ohio State. The Spartans would have wins over Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa if they were to win out, and that résumé could well be enough to overcome the loss at Nebraska. But first they have to beat Penn State at home, and Connor Cook's availability remains a question mark.
East Division race
If the Spartans handle the Nittany Lions, they're going to Indianapolis for a third time in five years. If they lose, it opens the door back up for Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes play in Ann Arbor in the heavily-hyped first meeting between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. If Michigan State loses, the winner between Ohio State and Michigan will claim the East title and go to Indy. If it's Ohio State, the Buckeyes might be able to sneak back into playoff contention if things break right elsewhere. The Rose Bowl or a spot in another New Year's Six game could be on the line at the Big House as well.
Four Big Ten teams enter the weekend with five wins, needing one more victory to secure bowl eligibility. Only one is a clear favorite.
That would be Indiana, and the Hoosiers might also be the most intriguing bowl candidates. Looking for their first postseason trip since 2007 and second since 1993, they will travel to Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game. IU has won two straight in the series and clinched its last bowl bid in the season finale against the Boilermakers on a late field goal.
Nebraska needs to upset Iowa to secure a bowl bid. The odds of a 5-7 team making a bowl this year fell over the weekend, as there are now 71 eligible teams for the 80 spots. So the Huskers will have to play like a desperate team in the Heroes Game, because they are.
Illinois has lost two straight since getting to five wins and now has to beat 9-2 Northwestern in the season finale to go bowling. This game was supposed to be in Champaign, but the Illini moved it to Chicago's Soldier Field in the offseason for marketing purposes. Northwestern is not upset about playing this game in Chicago. Illinois might live to regret the move.
Minnesota got its fifth win by beating Illinois at home on Saturday and hosts Wisconsin in the finale. The Golden Gophers are dying to get Paul Bunyan's Axe back in Minneapolis after losing 11 years in a row to the Badgers. This might be their best chance in a while, as Wisconsin is struggling mightily on offense.