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, 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 and secured the honor of national champion with a 26-7 victory over rival Wisconsin to finish the season 8-1 and on top of the polls.
Because the College Football Playoff committee or Bowl Championship Series did not exist 56 years ago, polls decided the national champion and the Gophers were atop the Associated Press/United Press International rankings.
However, even half a century ago there was controversy when trying to identify the top team(s) in the nation. 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 eventually lost in the 1960 Rose Bowl 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 with another Rose Bowl appearance the next year and beat UCLA 21-3. They ended the 1961 season ranked No. 6 and in 1962 finished No. 10 in the final poll. Since that run of success in the early ’60s, the Gophers have only been ranked twice (1999, 2003) in the final AP poll and claimed a share of one Big Ten title (1967).
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.
Michigan, still considered to be the league’s second-best team, is expected to be left out. Even the Big Ten championship game winner, Penn State or Wisconsin, isn’t guaranteed a spot in the final four with Ohio State sitting pretty in the latest polls after the big win against Michigan last week.
While controversy continues to be a part of college football 56 years after the Gophers last won a national title, thankfully the playoff has eliminated the need to rely on rankings to determine the national champion. However, if the playoff had existed in 1960, the Gophers national title drought would extend 19 years to 1941.