The Big Ten’s hopes of landing a berth in the first four-team College Football Playoff seemed all but dashed after a slew of disappointing nonconference games.
After Week 3, Big Ten teams were 1-10 against opponents from other Power Five conferences and Notre Dame. That included Michigan State’s 19-point loss at Oregon, and Ohio State’s 14-point loss at home to Virginia Tech.
But now it’s Week 9, and with the selection committee set to unveil its first Top 25 playoff ranking Tuesday, the Big Ten isn’t out of this thing yet. Nor should it be.
Everyone knows the SEC West is the best division in college football, and it’s hard to argue with the current Associated Press top 5: Mississippi State (SEC West), Florida State (ACC Atlantic), Ole Miss (SEC West), Alabama (SEC West) and Auburn (SEC West).
Personally, I still don’t think filling two of the four playoff spots with SEC teams is in the best interest of the sport. The committee would run the risk of alienating — and overlooking — more than half the country.
Let the SEC West title race play out, in all its glory, for the next six weeks. See who survives, and then see if a one-loss Georgia squad can unseat that team in the SEC title game.
Florida State has a clear path to the playoff now, and I’m fine with that. The Seminoles are the defending national champs and already have beaten Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame.
So the SEC champ and Florida State will likely make up half the field. That would leave the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and Notre Dame vying for the other two spots. With the way things are playing out in the Big 12 and Pac-12, good teams are cannibalizing each other’s playoff chances.
TCU, the team that crushed the Gophers 30-7, might have the clearest path to a Big 12 title after taking down Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs lost a 61-58 heartbreaker to Baylor, but Baylor still needs to play OU, OSU and Kansas State.
Then there’s the Pac-12, which could make a case for being the nation’s second-strongest conference this year behind the SEC. You wouldn’t know that looking at the AP top 13, which features only Oregon at No. 6. But Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, USC and UCLA are all in the top 25.
The 13-member selection committee has been reduced to 12, as Ole Miss alum Archie Manning had to pull out for health reasons. The Big Ten is well-represented with Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez and Nebraska’s Tom Osborne.
The committee’s stated goal is to pick the four best teams — period. The committee also has stated, “It will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree.”
As Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, “My vision is that you should be the champion of your league before you can be the champion of the country.”
He’s biased, of course. But after leading Oregon 27-18 in the third quarter, Michigan State shouldn’t be finished just because of that late-game collapse, at Autzen Stadium, in Week 2.
The committee has said it would take injuries into consideration. Ohio State lost Heisman candidate Braxton Miller because of a season-ending shoulder injury and was still breaking in freshman J.T. Barrett in that Virginia Tech loss in Week 2. Over the past four games, Barrett has thrown for 17 touchdown passes and one interception.
Ohio State and Michigan State are barreling toward a Nov. 8 showdown in East Lansing. If the winner of that game runs the table — or if Nebraska or Minnesota does the same from the Big Ten West — they would have a strong case for one of those two open playoff spots.
Don’t worry, SEC fans. At least one of the Power Five conferences will still be disappointed.
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0): Defense might be down a bit, but Spartans rank third in the nation with 47 points per game.
2. Ohio State (5-1, 2-0): The Buckeyes get Penn State and Illinois before big showdown at Michigan State on Nov. 8.
3. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1): The Huskers outgained Northwestern last week 244-28 in a dominant second half.
4. Gophers (6-1, 3-0): Minnesota is 7-2 in its past nine Big Ten games, the Gophers’ best stretch since 1967-68.
5. Maryland (5-2, 2-1): WR Stefon Diggs has hit his stride and made nine receptions for 130 yards against Iowa.
6. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1): Badgers face Big Ten newcomers the next two weeks: home vs. Maryland, then at Rutgers.
7. Iowa (5-2, 2-1): Hawkeyes have a bye to stew over Maryland loss before playing Northwestern and Minnesota.
8. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2): All that momentum the Wildcats built before the Gophers game seems to have disappeared.
9. Penn State (4-2, 1-2): Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 20 times in six games behind a woeful offensive line.
10. Rutgers (5-2, 1-2): After 39-point loss at Ohio State, this team heads to Nebraska on Welcome to Big Ten Tour.
11. Michigan (3-4, 1-2): Sacked seven times vs. Michigan State last year, Devin Gardner has one more shot at revenge.
12. Purdue (3-5, 1-3): Boilers came close vs. Michigan State and Minnesota and travel to Nebraska in two weeks.
13. Indiana (3-4, 0-3): With no passing threat, Tevin Coleman still rushed for 132 yards vs. Michigan State.
14. Illinois (3-4, 0-3): Josh Ferguson is one of four FBS players with at least 450 yards rushing and 250 receiving.