For the Big Ten, everything was playing out nicely when it came to the College Football Playoff. The conference had two teams, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State, well within striking distance of the coveted top-four spot when the first playoff rankings came out. Either the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions could squeeze their way into a playoff spot, given the attrition that was bound to strike teams ahead of them.
Then last Saturday happened. Iowa 55, Ohio State 24. Michigan State 27, Penn State 24.
The front-runners in the Big Ten East each took knockout punches when it came to their playoff hopes because both now have two losses.
So where does that leave the Big Ten when it comes to the playoff race?
Just travel 270 miles to the east and south on Interstate Hwy. 94, and you'll find the conference's last playoff hope in Madison, Wis.
At 9-0 overall, Wisconsin is the last unbeaten team in the Big Ten, and the Badgers' one path to the playoff is easy to see but might not be as easy to navigate. Because of its less-than-grueling nonconference schedule — Utah State, a 2-8 BYU team and Florida Atlantic — and a weaker-than-expected Big Ten West, Wisconsin is getting little love from the playoff committee. The Badgers were No. 9 in the first rankings and moved up to No. 8 on Tuesday. To break into the top four, first they'll need to beat Iowa, Michigan and the Gophers, and beat the East champion — likely Michigan State or Ohio State — in the conference title game to get to 13-0.
But would 13-0 be enough for Wisconsin to get in?
"I don't see how an undefeated Power Five conference champion would not be in the final four," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "I just don't see that happening."
Jerry Palm, a CBSSports.com college football analyst who specializes in playoff and bowl projections, agrees to a point.
"At 13-0, they're an interesting test case," Palm said. "I don't believe this committee will leave out an undefeated major conference champion."
Palm uses the case of Florida State in the inaugural playoff season of 2014. The Seminoles finished 13-0 in the regular season, but were third behind Alabama and Oregon in the final playoff rankings. They ended up getting throttled 59-20 by the Ducks in the semifinals.
"Florida State was a team a lot of people questioned the first year, and they were the only undefeated major conference champion that year, but they were third," Palm said. "I don't believe a 13-0 Wisconsin would get left out. I'm not going to believe they're going to leave out an undefeated major conference champion until they do. … Having said that, if they were ever going to do that, Wisconsin would be the one to do it."
The fact the Badgers moved up a spot should be encouraging for them. Their strength of schedule will improve, with No. 20 Iowa and a 7-2 Michigan squad visiting Camp Randall Stadium, and the Big Ten title game to close.
Also in Wisconsin's favor: Teams ahead of them will knock each other off. On Saturday, No. 3 Notre Dame visits No. 7 Miami, with the loser likely dropping out of playoff contention. Same thing for No. 6 TCU at No. 5 Oklahoma, with the loser having two defeats.
First, though, the Badgers must take care of their own business.
Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib E-mail: email@example.com