The Big Ten accounts for half of the best eight teams in college football this week.
Ohio State is No. 2, Michigan No. 5, Wisconsin No. 6 and Penn State is No. 8 in the Associated Press and Coaches polls.
The conference’s overwhelming presence atop the rankings should be the leading talking point during the College Football Playoff committee’s deliberation Monday and Tuesday while they attempt to sort through which one, or possibly two, of these four teams deserve a shot at a national championship.
Mix in the wrinkle that neither Ohio State nor Michigan will play in the Big Ten championship game and the debate becomes even more compelling. The conference, which has six total teams in the Top 25, has been the focus of the sport for the past month with headlines “Welcome to the Big (Ten) Show” and “Top-heavy Big Ten.”
More than five decades have passed since the conference has established itself atop the polls in such a dominant way with four teams in the Top 10, back to an era when Big Ten football was arguably dominated by the Gophers.
The Top 10 rankings the week of Oct. 17, 1960, included Big Ten programs Iowa (No. 1), Minnesota (No. 6), Ohio State (No. 9) and Purdue (No. 10).
The Gophers climbed to the No. 1 ranking by Nov. 7, 1960, stumbled the next week against Purdue, then recovered in the final week of the regular season with a 26-7 victory over rival Wisconsin to win the Big Ten regular-season championship. The Gophers regained the No. 1 national ranking with an 8-1 record in the final poll.
Because the playoff committee or Bowl Championship Series did not exist 56 years ago, the polls decided the national champion and the Gophers were atop the AP/UPI rankings.
However, even back then there was controversy. Mississippi was awarded the national championship by the Football Writers Association of America. The Rebels were unbeaten (8-0-1), but finished third in the AP poll.
The Gophers earned a spot in the 1960 Rose Bowl, then lost to Washington 17-7. Mississippi beat Rice in the Sugar Bowl. The final wire services rankings were voted on before the bowl games.
The national title was Minnesota’s seventh in program history and its last.
The Gophers redeemed themselves in another Rose Bowl appearance in 1961 by beating UCLA 21-3. They ended the season ranked No. 6 and in 1963 finished No. 10 in the final poll. The Gophers have only been ranked twice (1999, 2003) in the final AP poll and claimed a share of one Big Ten title (1967) since this run of success in the early 1960s.
The 2016 Gophers entered the final week of the regular season with a small chance of sharing the Big Ten West championship, but lost to rival Wisconsin for the 13th straight year.
Like the 1960 Gophers, the 2016 Badgers began the season unranked. Now Wisconsin will attempt to prove to the CFP committee the Big Ten is worthy of two spots in the four-team playoff.
The competition is so stiff Michigan, considered to still be the league’s second-best team despite last week’s double-overtime loss to Ohio State, will likely be left out of the playoff. Even the Big Ten championship game winner, Penn State or Wisconsin, isn't guaranteed a spot in the final four with Ohio State sitting nicely at No. 2 in this week’s polls after the big win against Michigan.
While controversy continues to be a part of college football 56 years after the Gophers won their last national title, at least the playoff eliminates the need to rely on rankings to determine the next national champion.