Potential paths for Nebraska to play baseball beyond next weekend have become clear. And none are easy.
The Huskers — at 8-13 and tied for ninth place in the Big Ten — have little margin for error if their season is to extend to the eight-team league tournament in Omaha beginning May 25. They conclude with three games at home against Michigan State beginning Thursday evening.
The top of the conference came into focus on its penultimate weekend.
Rutgers and Maryland — both 16-5 — are in a dead heat for the title, with Maryland holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Iowa and Illinois are both two games back at 14-7 and also assured of postseason play at Schwab Field.
Only last-place Minnesota (5-16) and 11th-place Ohio State (8-14) — the Buckeyes’ Big Ten season is complete — are eliminated, leaving seven teams to vie for the bottom four tournament spots.
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Here’s a look at those teams, with their final series opponents and games back of first to reach Omaha:
5. Penn State (11-10), vs. Illinois, five GB
6. Indiana (10-11), at Iowa, six GB
7. Michigan (10-11), vs. Rutgers, six GB
8. Purdue (9-10), vs. Maryland, six GB
9. Nebraska (8-13), vs. Michigan State, eight GB
10. Northwestern (8-13), at Minnesota, eight GB
12. Michigan State (7-14), at Nebraska, nine GB
Nebraska could finish as high as the No. 5 seed if everything broke perfectly. That is, it sweeps Michigan State while Penn State, Indiana and Michigan are all swept and Purdue loses at least twice. All four teams ahead of the Huskers are playing the four Big Ten schools still in title contention.
NU does not have the tiebreakers with Indiana or Michigan because it lost head-to-head series with both. It did not play Penn State but would own that tiebreaker by virtue of a better record against common Big Ten opponents — if the sweeps played out as needed, NU would be 8-7 against that group while PSU would be 7-8.
The most likely team for Nebraska to overtake is Purdue. The Boilermakers lost two league games to weather this year and, thus, tiebreakers won’t come into play because they won’t play a complete 24-game league slate. Two scenarios would mean the Huskers commandeer the No. 8 seed:
» Purdue loses two of three to Maryland and Nebraska sweeps the Spartans. Nebraska, at 11-13 (.4583 win percentage), would edge the Boilermakers at 10-12 (.4545).
» Purdue is swept by Maryland and Nebraska takes two of three from MSU. Nebraska, at 10-14 (.4167), would edge the Boilermakers at 9-13 (.4091) and get in as long as Northwestern doesn’t sweep Minnesota.
What about Northwestern?
The Wildcats are tied with the Huskers at 8-13 and have the easiest remaining opponent in Minnesota. Nebraska owns that tiebreaker if they finish with identical league records — the teams didn’t meet this spring but NU clinched a better record against common league foes if they were to tie.
The Purdue hypothetical is the only one in which Nebraska makes the postseason without a sweep of MSU. The Huskers would be 10-14 in the league in that scenario — they were the No. 8 seed in 2015 with a mark of 9-14.