The ACC/Big Ten Challenge commences tonight with Virginia at Minnesota and continues the next two nights with five games apiece. For the first time I can remember, the Big Ten is considered a heavy favorite to win the 11-game series. If you go game by game, you can easily come to the conclusion the Big Ten should win at least six games. Based on this morning’s ratings, this is how the matchups stand right now…


Virginia at Minnesota (88%)


Iowa (59%) at Wake Forest
Georgia Tech at Northwestern (72%)
Ohio State (70%) at Florida State
Michigan at Clemson (86%)
North Carolina at Illinois (72%)


Indiana at Boston College (74%)
NC State at Wisconsin (80%)
Purdue (52%) at Virginia Tech
Maryland at Penn State (56%)
Michigan State at Duke (87%)

Count ‘em up and you get the Big Ten as a favorite in eight of the contests, although that overstates their case a bit as three of those games have less than a 60% chance of panning out. A more scientific way to assess each conference’s chance is to do an exercise similar to the one that produces the win distribution charts. Let’s re-run the Challenge a bunch of times to figure how often each conference wins.

After playing out the series of games a million times, I came up with the Big Ten winning at least six games in 648,101 of those trials. The Big Ten has a 64.8% of defending last season’s title if the individual game probabilities are to be believed. Let’s see the distribution in graph form…

Even though it’s favored in eight games, the most likely outcome is that the Big Ten wins 6-5. In other news, there’s a 0.02% (1-in-5000) chance that the Big Ten goes 11-0, and a 0.002% chance that the ACC does the same. More realistically, there’s a 2.7% chance the Big Ten wins the first six games, thus rendering Wednesday useless for conference-bragging-rights purposes. There’s just a 0.1% chance of the ACC doing the same since those first six games are not as favorable to the ACC as the last five. Finally, there’s a 22.4% chance that the event is decided by the Duke/Michigan State game, which will probably be the last to finish. That’s a scenario that would please ACC fans.

Tonight’s game between Virginia and Minnesota may be the least compelling of the series, but as it’s the Big Ten’s best chance for victory, a win by the Cavaliers would flip the balance of power. The ACC would have a 59.8% chance of winning the series if Tony Bennett’s team pulls off the upset. More generally, if the ACC somehow gets through the Monday and Tuesday minefield with a draw or better, it’s bad news for the Big Ten, since the ACC has a 59.5% chance of winning at least three games on Wednesday.

What does this all mean? That I like probabilities. Also, that the Big Ten is the better conference, but the fact that the ACC gets six home games this year levels the playing field somewhat. Therefore, things aren’t completely hopeless for the ACC. They’ll need something unlikely to happen, but more unlikely things have happened. In this event, too. One of the craziest comebacks of last season occurred in the ’09 Challenge,  giving the Big Ten its first title.